Hindi cinema has seesawed wildly when it comes to the depiction of women: on the one hand we’ve had films that glorify womanhood (even if it’s long-suffering, almost-always patient womanhood, as in Mother India); on the other, we’ve had appalling stuff like Suhaagan, which made no bones about telling women exactly where their loyalties lie.
But let’s lay aside the filmi angst and sacrifice for the time being, and celebrate International Women’s Day—with a list of female duets. While bromances have been so very popular with film makers, it seems rather surprising that the number of songs in which two men get together are relatively few. But put two (or, even better, more) women together, and—hey, presto—they burst into song.
However, I’ve already done—in the past—a post on saheli songs. So, to differentiate this post from that one, I decided this list of duets will feature only songs where the women in question are not sahelis—they may be colleagues, relatives, strangers to each other, whatever. But not sahelis (they may be friends, of course, but there must be another relationship too). So, here goes; ten female duets from pre-70s Hindi cinema, all from films I’ve seen. Most importantly, they are all duets—it’s not as if one female singer sings playback for two different characters.
These are in no particular order, except for the first song, which is my favourite.
1. Kya ho phir jo din rangeela ho (Nau Do Gyarah, 1957): From a film that had one stunner of a song after another, a brilliantly sultry club song, picturised on Shashikala (lip-synching to Geeta Dutt) and Helen (for whom Asha sings). Of the two dancers who dominate the song, Shashikala, with her cigarette holder and her ringlets falling over one shoulder, is the more sophisticated femme fatale.
Helen is the more energetic dancer, the one who leaps and pirouettes and dances with a male companion towards the end.
I love everything about this song: the change in pace and rhythm between Geeta’s and Asha’s sections, the picturisation, the vocals, Helen, Shashikala: all perfect.
2. Humre gaon koi aayega (Professor, 1962): Two sisters—Lata and Asha—sing for two onscreen sisters, played by Kalpana and Praveen Chaudhary. Neena and Rita, ensconced in Darjeeling and bossed over by a harridan of an aunt, take time off while said aunt is away—to dance about in the hills and sing about the lovers they hope will soon be entering their lives. Cheery, infectious, and with some lovely views of the Darjeeling hills.
3. Ghoonghat hataaike nazrein milaaike (Rangeen Raatein, 1956): Another song from a Shammi Kapoor film. Sung by Sudha Malhotra and Mubarak Begum, this catchy little tune is picturised on a trio of dancers who are part of a travelling ‘entertainment company’ in Rangeen Raatein. The presence of the audience—and their cheering, clapping and general appreciation during the course of the song—gives this a realistic touch.
4. Garjat barsat saawan aayo re (Barsaat ki Raat, 1960): The voices of Suman Kalyanpur and Kamal Barot render the ultimate tribute to the monsoon, in one of my favourite Roshan compositions. Like Humre gaon koi aayega, this song is picturised on two women who are supposed to be sisters: Shyama and Ratna. No dancing and jumping around are involved here, though: since they are professional singers, the girls are sitting at home and practicing when the film’s credits roll.
5. Reshmi salwaar kurta jaali ka (Naya Daur, 1957): Professional dancers at work seem to be the basis for some of the best female duets. In this one, Minoo Mumtaz and Kumkum get together to—as in the Rangeen Raatein song—entertain a bunch of villagers. In what seems to have been a popular theme, one woman pretends to be male (here, Minoo Mumtaz is the Punjabi ‘man’ wooing a superficially reluctant village belle). Unusually (since Shamshad Begum’s voice was more nasal and considered ‘deeper’ than those of her peers), it is she who sings playback for Kumkum, while Asha sings for Minoo Mumtaz.
Note: A similar duet—sung by Asha and Sudha Malhotra—is As-salaam-aalekum babu kaho kaisa haal hai, from Kalpana, coincidentally also composed by OP Nayyar, who was the music director for Naya Daur. The reason it doesn’t feature in this list is because the ‘two’ dancers in the song are actually only one: Ragini.
6. Na na na re na na haath na lagaana (Taj Mahal, 1963): Almost a mirror song to Reshmi salwar kurta jaali ka, this one features Helen as the girl who’s trying to fend off the unwelcome attentions of a passing Romeo (Madhumati). Sung by Meenu Purushottam and Suman Kalyanpur, this duet, while it bears a strong resemblance in spirit to the Naya Daur song, is not a boisterous folksy song liable to appeal to villagers, but a more sophisticated one (even though it is playful) tailored for the elegant palace in which it’s being performed.
7. Jab-jab tumhe bhulaaya tum aur yaad aaye (Jahanara, 1964): Another dance performance, and another Asha-Lata duet. This time, though, the two dancers (Minoo Mumtaz and a very young Aruna Irani) aren’t merely dance partners; they also happen to be sisters.
I love the way Madan Mohan and Rajinder Krishan build this song: it begins with the same lyrics (and more than a hint of the same music) as of the beautiful Main teri nazar ka suroor hoon, then changes into something completely different—yet echoing the poignancy of bittersweet memories that will not be erased.
8. Na main dhan chaahoon (Kala Bazaar, 1960): For a change, a song where the two women onscreen—Nanda and Leela Chitnis—share a relationship not covered in any of the songs so far: they’re mother and daughter. Geeta Dutt sings for Leela Chitnis, Sudha Malhotra for Nanda. The lyrics of this song, the music, and the vocals (especially Geeta Dutt, who is one of my absolute favourites) are sublime. As is the picturisation—and how appropriate, for Women’s Day, that a song sung by two women should have such an effect on a man! (well, perhaps it’s got more to do with the fact that it’s a devotional song, but still).
9. Manbhaavan ke ghar jaaye gori (Chori Chori, 1956): This was one of the first songs that came to my mind when I began compiling the songs for this post. I love the melody, the singing (Asha and Lata, who despite their much-talked about rivalry, did sing some fabulous songs together, as you can see from this list), and the scenario: a wedding, with a bride sitting waiting to be wed to a man she no longer cares for—but with a happy end just round the corner.
And Sai and Subbulaxmi, as the professional dancers who bid the bride farewell on behalf of all her family and friends, are great.
10. Teri mehfil mein kismat aazmaakar (Mughal-e-Azam, 1960): The only one of its kind in my list, a song in which the two women are—not relatives, colleagues or even strangers—but rivals for the love of the same man, and that too a prince. Anarkali (Madhubala) is the outsider, the beautiful court dancer whose status is too low for her to even hope for the fulfillment of her love.
Bahaar (Nighar Sultana) is the lady in waiting who is manipulative enough, and better-placed, to make a more successful bid for the prince’s heart.
Their rivalry is expressed in this superb song, a fine battle of lyrics, music and vocals (Lata and Shamshad). One of the best qawwalis there is.
Which are your favourite non-saheli female duets? Tell us. And here’s wishing all of you women out there a Happy Women’s Day!