Songs for all times: Celebrating 100 years of Hindi film music

Late last year, an editor from ForbesLife India wrote to me, telling me they’d be doing special ‘100 years of Indian cinema’ editions this year. Would I be interested in contributing an article? That was a no-brainer (or so it seemed), but when I got over my initial excitement and began to think, I realised that:
(a) I know virtually nothing about Indian cinema in general. Hindi cinema, yes; other Indian cinema, almost negligible.
(b) It was too vast a canvas. What would I write?

Much thought later, I offered to write about something I know something about: Hindi film music. What follows is a version of the article that appeared in the April-June 2013 issue of ForbesLife India. Do buy yourself a copy to read the final article—and to read some more interesting writing on a century of Indian cinema.

Jaan-pehchaan ho, from Gumnaam

In May 1913, Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harischandra was released—the first indigenously produced full-length Indian feature film. Raja Harischandra proved a big hit and heralded the start of what has become the world’s largest cinema industry. Largest, and also, in some ways, very distinctive—and one of those fairly distinctive characteristics of Indian (not merely Hindi) cinema is the use of songs.

Alam Ara (1931) marked the advent of sound in Hindi cinema, and with that came songs specially written, composed and sung for films. (Do note that, in a carry-over from the nautanki tradition, even silent films did have songs: musicians—ranging from large orchestras in big towns to a lone tabalchi in smaller theatres in the countryside—would play during the screening).  With Alam Ara and the chance to finally fill a film with songs, Hindi cinema became synonymous with ‘all-singing, all-dancing’ films.

Dil cheez kya hai, from Umrao Jaan

Songs are remembered long after the films they featured in have been forgotten. Songs are parodied, and made the basis of jokes (“Most Hindi film heroines change outfits many times during a song; why, then, does Waheeda Rehman’s character wear only one sari throughout Gaata rahe mera dil?—because Dev Anand’s character sings to her, ‘Badle duniya saari, tum na badalna’”). Film songs are India. They reflect India, and India reflects them.

So, as we celebrate 100 years of Indian cinema: a look at some of Hindi cinema’s landmark songs. Songs that mirror the times in which they were made. One song for every decade of sound.

The 1930s:

Baabul mora naihar chhooto hi jaaye (Street Singer, 1938; Singer: KL Saigal; Composer: RC Boral; Lyricist: Nawab Wajid Ali Shah): The first decade of Hindi film songs was the decade of composers like RC Boral, Pankaj Mullick, and Hindi cinema’s first female music director, Saraswati Devi (of Main ban ki chidiya fame). This was a period of frenetic activity—almost as if Hindi cinema was making up for its twenty years of enforced silence. The average film featured nine songs; many had more. Playback singing, though it was introduced midway through the decade, did not completely dominate the scene; some songs continued to be sung and recorded in front of the camera.

Baabul mora was one of these. Composed by RC Boral (the ‘Father of Hindi film music’), its lyrics had been written by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah when the British exiled him from Awadh to Calcutta. Baabul mora is a thumri, set in raag bhairavi—and sung here by the legendary KL Saigal, who imbues it with all the pain and longing of a man in exile. It’s hauntingly beautiful, and sung perfectly onscreen. The director Phani Majumdar and his crew sat in a truck that moved slowly along, while Saigal followed, singing as he walked—a difficult feat in itself.

Babul mora naihar chhooto hi jaaye, from Street Singer

The 1940s:

Aaj Himalaya ki choti se (Kismet, 1943; Singers: Amirbai Karnataki and Khan Mastana; Composer: Anil Biswas; Lyricist: Kavi Pradeep): The 1940s saw the rise of Rafi, Lata, Noorjehan, Suraiya, and Mukesh. Among the music directors, there were Anil Biswas, Khemchand Prakash (whose Aayega aanewaala catapulted Lata to fame), and Naushad.  What with World War II and the freedom movement—followed by Independence, Partition, and the migration of some of Hindi cinema’s greatest talents to Pakistan—the 40s were, however, a turbulent time for the industry.

Of the hit songs from the 40s, one of the most memorable for me is Aaj Himalaya ki choti se, the ultimate ‘cocking a snook at the Brits’ song. The cinema industry of the Raj days, no matter how much its individuals supported the freedom movement, were repressed by censors. This song is a delightful thumbing of the nose at the censors themselves. The refrain—“Door hato ae duniyawaalon, Hindustan hamaara hai”—is in obvious defiance of British rule. But a couple of lines tucked away in the song talk about repelling the Germans and Japanese. Who could, technically speaking, find fault with that?

Aaj Himalaya ko choti se, from Kismet

The 1950s:

Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye (Pyaasa, 1957; Singer: Mohammad Rafi; Composer: SD Burman; Lyricist: Sahir Ludhianvi): The 50s were the golden age, the names associated with the songs of this period a veritable who’s who of Hindi film music:  Manna Dey, Rafi, Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum, Lata, Asha, Suraiya, Talat, Mukesh, Hemant, Kishore… and, among the music directors, greats like SD Burman, Salil Choudhary, Roshan, Madan Mohan, Naushad, O P Nayyar and Shankar-Jaikishan.

From the vast corpus of memorable 50s songs, one that stands out for me is Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye. SD Burman’s music showcases Rafi’s voice as it travels from slow, almost slurring, to a full-throated crescendo. Sahir Ludhianvi’s cynical, bitter poetry hurls contempt at a materialistic world which places wealth and power above all else.

The 50s was a period of nation-building (exemplified in songs like Saathi haath badhaana from Naya Daur and Mehnatkash insaan jaag utha from Insaan Jaag Utha); but along the way, perhaps a sense of disillusionment had begun to creep in. India was free; India was making progress—but at what cost? Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye was an uncomfortable reminder of all that was rotten in the still-fledgling republic.

Pyaasa - Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye toh kya hai

The 1960s:

Aage bhi jaane na tu (Waqt, 1965; Singer: Asha Bhonsle; Composer: Ravi; Lyricist: Sahir Ludhianvi): Although colour had come to Hindi cinema years ago (in 1937, with Kisan Kanya), it was in the 60s that it became almost universal. And with it, the films themselves became more colourful, more escapist. There had been comedies, romances, spy thrillers and suspense films before, but the ones from the 60s were more stylish, glamorous, Westernised: more masala.

Waqt was a film that stood out for its style and its glamour—both perfectly presented in Aage bhi jaane na tu. The music and its arrangement are a sophisticated blend of Indian and Western instruments and styles, Asha’s voice more alto than soprano, more suited to the quintessential 60s’ club crooner. And the lyrics, questioning the future and celebrating the present—are a perfect expression of the joie de vivre that ruled the silver screen in the 60s.

Erica Lal in Waqt, as the crooner in Aage bhi jaane na tu

The 1970s:

Ek main aur ek tu (Khel Khel Mein, 1975; Singers: Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhonsle; Composer: RD Burman; Lyricist: Gulshan Bawra): Flamboyance ruled the 70s. Loud prints and crocheted shawls, bell bottoms and broad belts prevailed. Young onscreen lovers were less compliant, more rebellious. Tradition was giving way to ‘progress’ (whatever that might be).  In Hindi film music, too, there was a new wave—with RD Burman, despite the presence of Kalyanji-Anandji and Laxmikant-Pyarelal, being the undisputed king.

Ek main aur ek tu is unmistakable 70s music: peppy, Westernised, the aural equivalent of the fashions then in vogue. In keeping with the youth of the two protagonists (another popular 70s theme, this college romance), it’s uncluttered, easy to dance to.

Ek main aur ek tu, from Khel-Khel Mein

The 1980s:

Raat baaki baat baaki (Namak Halal, 1982; Singer: Asha Bhonsle and Bappi Lahiri; Composer: Bappi Lahiri; Lyricist: Anjaan): As most of you who frequent this blog might know, my blog confines itself to focussing on pre-70s films, though I do occasionally make an exception for films that seem to be—if only in spirit and style, from the 60s. This, therefore, is where I step into territory I’m relatively (not totally) unfamiliar with.

The 80s saw the nadir of Hindi cinema, both in terms of stories and music. While some films (Arth, Masoom, and Umrao Jaan among them) were good, many top grossers—like Himmatwala and Mard—revealed cookie-cutter patterns: violence engendering more violence, all of it played out by ageing male stars who had been at their peak in the 70s (or worse, the 60s). There was also a change in the way love was depicted. Kissing was still taboo, but wet saris, heaving bosoms and come-hither lyrics replaced the innocence of teen romances. The look was loud, gaudy, often tasteless. So too was most of the music.

Raat baaki, baat baaki is a more subdued, tuneful version of the ‘disco’ songs that became the hallmark of 80s Hindi films. Unlike the loud, electronic music-dominated I am a disco dancer or Disco station (both also composed by Lahiri), this one lets the voices provide most of the melody. The words themselves, encouraging the beloved to let “whatever happens, happen—in the night that is still left” aren’t really explicit, but suggestive enough.

Raat baaki baat baaki, from Namak Halal

The 1990s:

Goli maar bheje mein (Satya, 1998; Singer: Mano; Composer: Vishal Bhardwaj; Lyricist: Gulzar ): While the 90s saw some hit romances (like Aashiqui and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai) and the comic reign of Govinda, it was the violent film that dominated. Agneepath. Narsimha: even their names conjure up images of blood, bullets and revenge. And, with socio-political issues like terrorism and communal strife becoming the subject of films, Roja, Bombay, Fiza, Mission Kashmir, and Dil Se.

This song, therefore, for the 1990s. A daaru song, a darkly comic song—yet a song apt for a film about the Bombay underworld. From the “dhishkyaoon!” sound effects to Gulzar’s lyrics—which talk of the ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ nature of these men’s lives—Goli maar bheje mein is an unpretty example of the gritty, realistic violence that took root in Hindi films in the 90s.      

Goli maar bheje mein, from Satya

The 2000s (the first decade):

Maula mere le le meri jaan (Chak De India!, 2007; Singers: Salim Merchant and Krishna Beura; Composers: Salim-Suleiman; Lyricist: Jaideep Sahni): And, finally: a song from the first decade of this century. While contemporary Hindi cinema does largely remain true to its escapist form, there are signs of the influence of international cinema. We’re experimenting with ‘new’ (for Hindi cinema) genres, such as sports—and trying, too, to make films more real. People in real life, for example, do not break off conversations or stop their lives to start singing.

Maula mere le le meri jaan plays in the background as the central character in Chak De India! falls from grace—and, years later, rises again. The song never jostles its way into the story. In fact (a reflection on decreasing attention spans?), it isn’t even played all at once: one verse here, a couple of verses further on, another at the end.

Maula mere lele meri jaan, from Chak De India!

And so we come, full circle. Baabul mora was the lament of a man in exile; Maula mere le le meri jaan is, too. The music, how it is recorded, how it is used in the film—these have changed. But the ethos remains the same: it is song that helps Hindi cinema express itself. That expression may evolve (perhaps even regress at times?), but it will hopefully still be a part of Hindi cinema a century from now.

Which songs would you choose, if you were to pick one song to represent each decade of Hindi film music over the past 100 years (well, 80 years, if you were to be technically correct)? Not just your favourite songs, but songs that actually reflect India—or Indian cinema—of the period in which they were made?

Lastly, a sad piece of news. Shamshad Begum, beloved doyen of Hindi film music, passed away last night, less than a fortnight after her 94th birthday.

Shamshad Begum, 1919-2013

A longer and more carefully thought-out tribute will follow sometime in the near future, but for the time being, here is one of my favourite Shamshad songs, from a film that holds its place as a classic example of ‘Bombay noir’: Kahin pe nigaahein kahin pe nishaana, from CID (1956).

Kahin pe nigaahein kahin ke nishaana, from CID

RIP, Shamshad Begum. You will be missed, but your voice will live on.

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85 thoughts on “Songs for all times: Celebrating 100 years of Hindi film music

  1. A lovely article as usual, and a very interesting selection of songs. Is it just a coincidence that it doesn’t contain a single Lata song?

    A very minor nit: Babul Mora is set to Bhairavi, not Bhairav (a completely different Raga).

    • *slaps forehead*

      Thank you for pointing out that typo – have corrected it.

      The omission of a Lata song was not intentional – it just happened, because I was focussing on songs, not singers. In fact, after I’d written the article, I had to go searching for the names of the singers (in some cases), composers and lyricists.

      (And if there’s no Lata song, there are also no songs by other singers whom I like very much – Manna Dey, Geeta Dutt, Talat and Hemant).

      • except the first two songs and the last, I don’t think so that the remaining songs are fit for this list (truly speaking before going through the list I never thought that these songs will appear) there are many songs that are required for this list. You stated that omission of Lata song was not intentional, but it seems intentional because all other songs were in Asha’s voice, this can’t be a coincidence. I still can’t believe this that you searched for the singers (I am saying this because I can identify any singers voice and since you are more professional than me then you must be an expert)

      • except the first two songs and the last, I don’t think so that the remaining songs are fit for this list (truly speaking before going through the list I never thought that these songs will appear) there are many songs that are required for this list. You stated that omission of Lata song was not intentional, but it seems intentional because all other songs were in Asha’s voice, this can’t be a coincidence. I still can’t believe this that you searched for the singers (I am saying this because I can identify any singers voice and since you are more professional than me then you must be an expert.)

        • “You stated that omission of Lata song was not intentional, but it seems intentional because all other songs were in Asha’s voice, this can’t be a coincidence.

          You may disagree with the songs I’ve chosen – after all, lists like these are always subjective, but I take very strong exception to being called a liar.

          Did I say I was an expert? No, I didn’t. And if you can identify every singer’s voice, well – good for you! You should really write a treatise on this and leave us poor lying souls to write blogs.

  2. R.I.P. Shamshad Begum. I was listening to her “Kabhi aar kabhi paar” and “Saiyan dil mein aana re” yesterday. To think that she is no more… Sad.

    • Yes, such lovely songs, aren’t they? Shamshad Begum sang some of the most effervescent songs I’ve come across in the 50s, especially. And she had such a very distinctive voice – along with Geeta Dutt, she was one of the very few female singers whose voice I could identify.

  3. Excellent, Madhu. The songs chosen from each decade represent the decade very well which also you have described so aptly.

    Interesting trivia about the filming of babul mora . Makes me think that they were very innovative then as compared to the easily available technical facilities today. I have come to appreciate KL Saighal. I think one has to mature first to do that :-)

    The way you’ve ended with the choice of song from CDI is brilliant.

    >it is song that helps Hindi cinema express itself. That expression may evolve (perhaps even regress at times?), but it will hopefully still be a part of Hindi cinema a century from now.

    Amen to that. Though they have already changed the singing to background or in a club rather than in a garden (which I accept wasn’t real) I still miss it. :-)
    I also wish that ‘new’ didn’t mean ‘western’. An original is always better than a fake copy, no matter how good.

    It needed great thought to come up with one song from each decade, and your have succeeded in doing that.
    I’ll need some time to come up with at least some songs from some earlier decades :-)
    Thank you DO.

    • Thank you, pacifist. I’m glad you enjoyed the article (it’s rather truncated, actually – the original article is much longer, since it was written for readers who may not be as familiar with Hindi cinema as we are)!

      I am with you about wishing that ‘new’ didn’t mean ‘Western’. I don’t mind Western influences (some of my favourite songs from Hindi cinema are very Western), but I see no reason to completely let Western tunes swamp our indigenous melodies – or our creativity. Which is perhaps why I liked Maula mere lele meri jaan – it’s very Indian, if you know what I mean.

      • >I don’t mind Western influences (some of my favourite songs from Hindi cinema are very Western), but I see no reason to completely let Western tunes swamp our indigenous melodies – or our creativity.

        I agree. A lot of songs in the 50s were based on western tunes, and I like them. So my one song from the 50s would be;

        • Quite a coincidence, your embedding this song. Because, in the version that I finally submitted to ForbesLife India of this article, I’d specifically mentioned C Ramachandra as being one of the first major music directors to bring Western tunes into Hindi film music. I didn’t mention this song in particular, but it was there in my mind.

  4. RIP Shamshad Begum. Your songs will live on.
    From the decade 40s my choice is a Shamshad Begum song from Dulari, which had lovely songs.

  5. 60s had quite a lot of qawaalis starting with Barsaat ki Raat. So my one song from 60s would be this qawaali na to karvan ki talaash hai

    • I did toy with this one for a long time, when I was thinking of the songs I’d choose for the article. Eventually, I decided to skip it (regretfully, I might add) because while it is a song from a 60s film, I thought Barsaat ki Raat was – in spirit – closer to the 50s than to the 60s. There was a certain nazaakat and tehzeeb about the film which put it more firmly with 50s films, rather than the 60s. In my opinion, totally.

      • Agree. Barsaat Ki Raat is more 50s than 60s. Besides, this wasn’t about genres (otherwise you’d have discussed a historical, a thriller, a romantic film and so on). This was about which movie/song best captured the mood/spirit of the times. And I think your selection is just great if you see it purely in this context.

        • >And I think your selection is just great if you see it purely in this context.

          raja, my choice was not meant to indicate that DO’s choice was not great.
          I was just responding to DO’s….

          >Which songs would you choose, if you were to pick one song to represent each decade of Hindi film music over the past 100 years

          …and I chose the qawaali because I’m familiar with a lot of qawaalis from the 60s rather than 50s. I had to pick a genre because I’m not so competent and it made things easier.

          I do hope I’ve redeemed myself. :-)

          • Oh, I never meant to suggest that you were indicating that DO’s choice wasn’t great. Why on earth would I? I know you weren’t – you were only picking your choice.

            As for the qawaali as a choice, again I never intended to mean that there is anything wrong with genre-based selection. Madhu used a different approach – she didn’t use genres. That’s not to say genres could not have been used as the basis.

            And of course, everybody can think of his or her own songs that they feel represent the decade. As for whether that song is 50s or 60s, that’s a detail.

            Pacifist, clearly my comment above has upset you. I never intended to belittle your comment, or your choice of song. I unconditionally apologise for this. Sorry.

          • Just jumping in to clarify: Yes, I did want people to suggest whatever songs they wanted to, for each decade – and even though I’d restricted myself to songs I thought represented trends in cinema (or what was happening in India) at the time, it didn’t mean that I expected readers to do the same! So you could certainly go the ‘genre’ way. Actually, I guess for the 90s, what with all that violence and Goli maar bheje mein, genre has come to the forefront even in my article – the ‘grimy underworld’ genre film.

  6. Wow! It could not have been easy picking one song for each decade – but trust you to manage to do that! And how! Each song you’ve picked just perfectly represents the story of that decade, whether it be the tumultuous 1940s or the colorful 1960s.

    I need to give you real credit for “ek main aur ek tu” though. It’s not the best-known song of the decade (though it was popular), but now that you mention it – and I think about it – it captures the decade really well. Although I’d never suggest that the songs or movies of the 70s were the greatest (not by a long shot!), I do have a lot of fondness (and not a little nostalgia) for that decade, seeing as most of my teenage memories are from that period.

    This was a wonderful read, Madhu. Thank you so much for it.

    • Thank you so much, Raja! You warm the cockles of my heart with your praise. :-)

      As for Ek main aur ek tu – somehow, while I was thinking which songs I’d choose, even before I got to finally choosing one from the 70s, I more or less knew I’d pick a Rishi Kapoor song. For me, more than Amitabh (who seemed to rule the roost for most people during that decade), it’s Rishi Kapoor and his boyish charm – ideally paired with Neetu Singh – that seems to exemplify the 70s.

      Incidentally, Bobby was the first film I ever saw. I was less than a year old, but sat up very intently and watched all of it!

  7. Thanks for more homework! I look forward to checking out the songs I don’t know from your list and all the excellent replies. ” Do buy yourself a copy to read the final article” – not quite sure how I’ll pull that off, but I am sure that your choice of a song from CDI for the 00s was inspired. As a non-fan, It is possibly my favourite SRK film for the fact that he actually acts, and the mix of message and entertainment was handled. Now I need to check it out again for the song you’ve mentioned. :)

    • “Do buy yourself a copy to read the final article”

      Actually, except for the introduction (which is longer and more detailed, with a more extensive history of Hindi cinema), the article is pretty much the same. The songs and how they fit my concept of what was happening in India/and or Hindi cinema at the time are written mostly as they are in this post.

      Chak De India! is easily my favourite SRK film. I’m not a fan, though I like a few of his films. I agree that CDI was one where he really acted – you could see that the man onscreen was Kabir Khan, not the superstar Shahrukh Khan. Coincidentally, I gifted that DVD to an Aussie friend of mine just a couple of months ago, as part of an introduction to Hindi cinema. I warned him that he might find the end a little politically incorrect, though! :-)

  8. Most of the song choices gave me goosebumps.

    I can’t listen to Babul mora without getting a lump in my throat. Only KL Sehgal could have done justice to this magnificent song.

    It could not have been easy picking one song to represent each decade, but you have really managed to do it. Lovely!

    I must say your post makes you think of the road our cinema has traveled.

    Thanks for the post Madhu.

    • I have a confession to make: till well into my teens (and later), I wasn’t fond of KL Saigal at all. Even now, there are songs of his that I find just too melancholy for words. But Baabul mora really does give me gooseflesh – it is so simply sublime.

      Thank you for the appreciation, Ava!

  9. N-i-c-e. :) (And turning green and purple with envy. [grin]) Quite a task you set yourself there.Trust you to come up trumps! I have just skimmed through the article very quickly but will come back for a more detailed reading (and listening).

  10. Wonderful post, Madhu! I would have thought it was an impossible task to pick out one song for each decade, but you have done it. While I am not familiar with the songs you have picked for the 80’s, 90’s and the 2000’s, you have described the essence of each decade perfectly, especially the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.
    How do you find these delightful little anecdotes, like the one about Waheeda wearing the same sari in the song, Gaata rahe mera dil …, and the lines in the song, Badle duniya saari, tum na badalna …? I was laughing away. Thank you, thank you, for a great start to my morning.

    • Thank you, Lalitha! :-) That’s very sweet of you. I’m glad you liked the post.

      Hehe. That joke about Gaata rahe mera dil was in a long-ago e-mail someone had sent me. It really stuck in my mind, as you can see!

  11. Wonderful post Madhu! Written with care and love for the Hindi film music.
    The 30s: Saigal reigns supreme! Speaking of Saigal, the first song that comes to my mind is ek bangla bane nyara.
    The 40s is the age of Noorjehan for me. Jawaan hai mohabbat from Anmol Ghadi
    The 50s full of idealism and disappointment. I agree with you, no other but ye duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai. With everyday my fondness for this song grows! It about nearly made to my birthday quiz even.
    The 60s, the colourful 60s! I would have chosen one of those in-Kashmir-shot O. P. Nayyar songs with Rafi and Asha
    The 70s, surely R. D. Burman! It was the age first of Rajesh Khanna the lover and then the angry young man Amitabh Bachchan and then alongside was the lover boy Rishi Kapoor. Difficult, very difficult to choose!
    The 80s! Hey Bhagwan! The typical 80s song would be one of those matkas and sari songs from a Jeetendra film. But I myself would like to remember with RDB-Gulzar song, mer akuch saaman tumhare paas pada hai.
    The 90s belong to Yash Chopra with na jaane mere dil ko kya ho gaya
    The 00s saw many things going retro and love for ethnic rose and also the cravings for remix thus saas gali dewe from Delhi-6. But I love the maula song from Chak de, India! So perfect!
    The 10s will belong to Ranbir Kapoor I think, thus a song from Barfi or so.

    R.I.P. Shamshad Begum. We’ll miss you!

    • Harvey, thank you so much! Not just for the appreciation, but for also coming up with your own list. :-) I especially like Jawaan hai mohabbat as your selection for the 40s (something ironic here: in my final draft of the article, I’d mentioned that among the major talents that left India and went to Pakistan after Partition was Noorjehan).

      The 80s! Hey Bhagwan! The typical 80s song would be one of those matkas and sari songs from a Jeetendra film.

      LOL! But I just couldn’t bring myself to choose one of those songs. The mere thought of them makes me wince. I did think of choosing something from Umrao Jaan or Maasoom, but realised that those were not typical of the period. Raat baaki, baat baaki manages to be fairly typical without being unbearable.

      I still haven’t seen Delhi-6, but I completely agree with you re: the sudden love for remixes. When I was searching for Kajra mohabbatwaala on Youtube for a tribute to Shamshad Begum, this is what kept coming up on the search before the song I actually wanted:

      • thanks Madhu!
        It was fun to make the list and it was completely spontaneous, otherwise it would have taken too long to answer and spontaneous answers are mostly the truthful ones!
        I have only heard praises for Tanu weds Manu, now I know why. Thank God, they haven’t remixed it and kept the original one intact and used it really well. Makes me want to see the film.

    • If I had to pick a Ranbir song for the current decade, I would choose a song from Rockstar. Sadda Haq. Though my heart will want to pick Katiya Karoon. Also because sufi numbers are seeing a resurgence these days.

      • Oh, I haven’t heard either of these songs. In fact, offhand, the only song I can think of from this decade that I’ve really liked is Senorita, from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.

        (An example of how international Hindi cinema is going?)

        Must go off and listen to the songs you’ve mentioned, Ava!

  12. 70s for me was also the era of Amitabh. I found him very tall, dark and brooding which appealed to me a great deal :-)
    Liked him more in his softer films (of Hrishikesh Mukherji and others) though AAA, Sholay and Deewar are also among my favourites. The top place is taken by Saudagar, and this song for me nails what appeals to me about him. :-)

    80s
    ughhhh!! The Sridevi era. Yuck!!!
    But it was also the era of small film which started late 70s into 8os. Films of Amol Palekar and Farooq Sheikh. The only film of 80s that comes to mind is chashme buddoor and the song kahan se aaye badra

  13. Awesome post, Dustedoff! I’m really sorry I haven’t been able to comment lately, what with finals and End of Course exams! I’m taking my Maths one soon and really stressing out over it! You’re right – I never would be able to condense all these awesome songs into just one post. And I probably would throw the 90’s and such out, so I think you did awesome!

    And I’m really sad about Shamshad Begum. :( ANOTHER one? I remember in March last year when the double whammy of Ravi’s and Joy Mukherjee’s deaths and then Rajesh and… sigh.

    • “ANOTHER one? I remember in March last year when the double whammy of Ravi’s and Joy Mukherjee’s deaths and then Rajesh and… sigh.

      Yes, that was one of the first things that came to my mind, too – another? :-( Sad, but inevitable.

      Oh, I didn’t have a choice about throwing out the 90s and the present day. When you take on an article not just for your blog, but for a magazine, you have to toe their line. And 100 years it was, whether I liked it or not. Thankfully, I love Maula mere lele meri jaan – and it fitted what I had to say about the period, too. Goli maar bheje mein is pretty good, I think, though all that violence has prevented me from watching Satya so far.

      P.S. Another song which struck me as being very appropriate for the 2000s was Banda yeh bindaas hai from Aks. Totally bindaas, and so true for cinema in this century.

      • Oh, yeah. I guess you really have to. It must be cool, writing for magazines and such! :D Maybe one day I will… who knows? :P

        And I just had a listen to the song. I’m quite oblivious to early 2000’s Hindi films/songs, since I was too small to remember what was going on then, but I know a lot of later 2000’s songs and films. :3 It’s an okay song I guess, and as you said, fits the mood perfectly!

  14. Back, Madhu, to read and relish your post and to listen to the songs. Love the way you condensed thousands of songs into a whittled-down list that represents the decades. An almost impossible task, I would say. ‘Almost’ because you obviously did it! :)
    My picks?
    30s – Piya milan ko jaana from Kapala Kundala (1939/Pankaj Mallik)
    40s – Noor Jehan, definitely! Or perhaps Naushad’s score for Ratan, but I think my choice would have been Yahan Badla Wafa Ka from Jugnu (1947).
    50s – Ah, the golden age. Raj Kapoor, Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt, Nav Ketan, Mehboob Khan, V Shantaram…. Definitely Ye duniy agar mil bhi jaaye from Pyaasa but also perhaps Awara hoon – it captured the imagination of a nation, or even Cheeno arab hamara from Phir Subah Hogi (1958).
    60s – to me, was personified by Shammi Kapoor. Possibly Yahoo. The nation was getting over the disillusionment of an earlier decade, and was open to new influences. Yahoo became the national anthem.
    70s – Kaka? :) It has to be a Kaka/RD/Kishore. Or even my pet-hate Hum tum ek kamre mein bandh ho from the first of the teenage lovestories.
    80s – The Amitabh phenomenon, the age of the disco, and the death of good music. Still… I liked both Raat baaki and Jawani Jaaneman from Namak Halal. The era also saw the influx of the Khans, who, twenty years later are still ruling the marquee. Anyone remember a boyish hero who sang Papa kehte hain? :)
    90s – uff! But the later half saw some changes. This was probably the decade of SRK. Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge anyone?
    The millenium decade – Koi kahe kehta rahe from Dil Chahta Hai (2001) on one side and/or Yeh jo des hai tera from Swades on the other – shows both sides of the millenium generation – the ‘what’s in it for me?’ attitude, and the willingness to put their shoulders to the nation’s wheel on the other.
    The 10s – All hail Ranbir Kapoor – he seems to have single-handedly changed the way the Hindi film hero should be. Definitely Aashiyaan from Barfi.

    You notice that the list is as different from yours as chalk from cheese. :) Let me tell you, my girl, I took great care that it should be. [grin] Because, of your list, 7 were my initial picks. :) Plus, my list isn’t even ‘my favourites’. It’s what I think best represents each decade.

    • “Because, of your list, 7 were my initial picks. :)

      Now why am I not surprised?! :-D

      But thank you for taking the trouble of making your own list – I find it very interesting to see other viewpoints on what represented India and/or Hindi cinema during a particular era. Of the songs you’ve suggested, Piya milan ko jaana is a favourite (I wonder why I never thought of it), as is Cheen-o-Arab hamaara. I agree that Yahoo is a great candidate for the 60s – even Harvey suggested a Shammi Kapoor-in-Kashmir song as representing the 60s. I think that was when Kashmir in all its glory really began to get popular among film makers (possibly because colour film was getting popular? And spending all that money shooting in Kashmir would be worth it only if you could see the beauty of the place in colour).

      Heh. I hate Hum-tum ek kamre mein bandh hon (though my parents tell me that I used to love it as a toddler) too.

      I keep forgetting that Aamir Khan debuted in the 80s. But yes, of course he did; I remember a schoolmate of mine being so completely besotted with him in his QSQT role that she said (wistfully looking down into the central courtyard below our classroom): “If Aamir Khan were to walk through that aangaan wearing jeans and a black shirt, I’d throw myself down from here at him.”

      I must check out Aashiyaan from Barfi

  15. Wonderful!!Pyaasa was indeed a milestone of Indian cinema.The song “Yeh duniya agar” is one of my favorite songs of all time. Sahir’s sarcastic and hard hitting lyrics expose the shallowness of the society.The film lingers in your mind for a long time.
    “Aage bhi jaane na tu” again by Sahir is also my favorite.

  16. Ok, some alternative songs (and justification for them):
    30s: Narrative – Film-makers now using talkies to weave in their social messages into storylines. Main ban ki chidiya (Achhoot Kanya)
    40s: Narrative – Escalation of freedom fight. Aaj Himalay ki choti (same as you).
    50s: Narrative – Now-independent India dealing with many challenges – mainly poverty and exploitation (especially of the landless by the zamindars). Duniya mein hum aayen hai to jeena hi padega (Mother India).
    60s: Narrative – The 60s was largely an escapist decade for cinema as India continued to deal with crisis after crisis. While most cinema was of the popcorn variety, a few storytellers believed in saying it as it was. And none better than Chetan Anand, who depicted the very real external threat from India’s neighbours, pulling at everybody’s heart strings with Kar chale hum fida jaan-o-tan saathiyon (Haqeeqat).
    70s: Narrative – Beginning of a more progressive outlook in society as large as India had completed a silver jubilee of independence. The song Chura liya hai tumne jo dilko (Yaadon Ki Baaraat) captured everybody’s imagination as a young Zeenat Aman strolled into everybody’s hearts as a breakaway from the typical bhartiya naari of the past.
    80s: Narrative – A troubled decade for Indian politics – at the start of the decade Assam and Punjab burnt, at the end of it Kashmir became violent again. In between, there was little respite with a PM being assassinated, the sending of peacekeeping forces to quell trouble in a southern neighbour’s affairs – and a lot more. The decade was rocky and largely forgettable – as were many of the films of the decade. Among the more memorable (and popular) films however was a film based on children – Masoom – with its ever-popular Lakdi ki kaathi. (Another option is to take “zindagi ki yehi reet hai” with Mr.India).
    90s: Narrative : The decade was heralded by major economic liberalisation measures by the govt. And this reflected also in cinema. Films were more expansive – and host in exotic locales abroad (usually Switzerland). There were other flavours too – violence (especially youth anger against the political system) continued to be popular as did slapstick, typified by Govinda. But a song that sits quite easily with cinema of the era would be “na jaane mere dil ko kya ho gaya” in the UK/Switzerland from the runaway hit of the decade, DDLJ. SRK-Kajol. Just right for the 90s.
    00s: Oops, I’m SO the wrong guy for this
    10s: Still the wrong guy.

    • Brilliant, Raja! I love the way you’ve given a rationale for each of your choices – I agree with most of them, especially what you’ve said about Na jaane mere dil ko kya ho gaya – yes, the 1990s were when Europe suddenly became hugely popular, and just about every film maker was filming at least one song in Europe, even if it had absolutely nothing to do with the film.

      Also like that you mentioned Main ban ki chidiya as your choice for the 30s. Good reasoning, there (and the feminist side of me is happy you chose to begin your selection with a song composed by a female composer)!

      I find it interesting that in two cases (the 60s and the 80s) you’ve chosen to go with ‘against the grain’ films, not the norm. I was tempted to do that too (especially in the 80s, when most of the songs were so terrible – I nearly went with a song from Umrao Jaan before thinking that was not the usual type of film being made back then).

      Thank you. That made for very satisfying reading. :-)

      • Thanks, Madhu.

        If we want to go with a now-independent India looking forward with hope to fulfilling its dreams, we could always go with “chhodo kal ki baatein”. Though it’s 1960, I’d see it more as a 1950s song.

        And then there was “nanhe munne bache teri mutthi mein kya hai…mutthi mein hai taqdeer hamaari”. Also a contender, depicting self-reliance.

        • Another coincidence. :-) When I was thinking of a song for the newly-independent India – probably for the 50s – the one that came first to my mind too was Chhodo kal ki baatein; it’s so very apt. That idea had to be shelved the very next moment, of course, because I remembered that Hum Hindustani is, technically, from the 60s. I wish I’d remembered Nanhe-munne bachche – that’s an excellent contender, too. An optimistic and inspirational song, which would’ve been just right for the 50s.

  17. Quite a task you set yourself, and frankly choosing one song from each decade is not easy. I could suggest several songs but I would rather not considering you have done a wonderful job as you set the limit of only ten songs. Great post- Shilpi

  18. Picking up one song that can represent the mood and trend of a decade is not only a difficult task, but riskier too, since our cinema does have several shades of grey in any given period.Congratulations for a great job done so well.
    BTW, congratulations for the new look of the site.
    I am not sure I noticed it when I had close look at the the previous post.

    • Thank you, Ashokji!

      I agree that Hindi cinema has ‘several shades of grey in any given period’, but the good thing about an article like this – which was meant to be just my take on it – means that one is allowed to choose whatever path one wants. As you can see, others – Harvey, Raja, Anu, pacifist – have chosen some radically different moods to suit each decade.

  19. You had me at “babul mora”, Madhu. I don’t envy you the task you gave yourself, but as always you came up with a thoughtful, informative and entertaining article.

    I can’t find fault with any of the songs you selected or the excellent reasons you provided, but I personally would have picked a Shanker-Jaikishen song for the 50s. Even though they aren’t my favorites, I tend to think of them as the dominant (or the most popular) musical voice in the 50s.

    • Thank you, Shalini! :-)

      As far as SJ for the 50s is concerned: like the omission of a Lata song (which someone else pointed out), this is a case of me not focussing on who sang/composed/wrote songs, but the songs themselves, and how they tied in to what was happening in India or in Hindi cinema at that time. I suppose a Shankar-Jaikishan song would have applied, had I felt strongly enough about it being representative of either 50s’ India or 50s’ Hindi cinema. But the song that did it for me just happened to be Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye.

  20. A nice post!
    30s-40s though I have heard and liked quite a bit of music, I haven’t seen much of the movies except the Ashok Kumar ones.With the freedom struggle at its peak, I pick the song from ‘Shaheed’

    50s is my favourite decade in music and it is really tough to pick one song from it for me.Lata did dominate the decadeYour selection of ‘Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye’ is very suitable though.
    60s, Surprising to see no mention of Shammi Kapoor in the article, for me he was the actor of that decade (Rajendra Kumar also had most of his success then as well). Mohammad Rafi ruled the era and I would have selected one from the Shammi-Rafi combo.Kashmir is mentioned in the previous comments, so

    70s , Agree with the selection in the post, I ‘ll still add my pick , Kishore Kumar singing a Rajesh Khanna-esque song(IMO) picturised on Rishi Kapoor in an angry young man mode ( Zehreela Insaan is the film), by RD Burman. (from

    • Oh, yum. Watan ki raah mein is a fabulous song. I wish I’d thought of that! Amazingly patriotic song, and so wonderfully sung, it gives me gooseflesh.

      As far as a Shammi song is concerned, or a Lata one, I – on purpose – didn’t take into consideration specific people. Whether actors/actresses, or singers/music directors: just what the mood of the song was, and how it tied in to contemporary India/Hindi cinema. If it happened to be a song by one of my favourite singers or picturised on one of my favourite people, well and good. If not, not. (Incidentally, I’d never seen Goli maar bheje mein before I began writing the article.

      But I like your picks for the 60s and 70s. :-)

  21. contd.
    80s everyone is dissing it and it is my least liked decade alongwith the 2010s.
    I disagree with it being called ‘Sridevi era’ though. Blame the 45+ heroes. Here’s a song from one of the good films she did and there were other good songs in this film as well. I have never heard bad songs from Suresh Wadkar (with Yesudas and Sadhana Sargam, coming to her next song)
    VK didn’t embarrass himself atleast in the songs thankfully.There was ‘Jab koi baat bigad jaye’ too in another film.

    90s couple of things which were famous then apart from Khans ,SRk etc.
    a. A R Rehman , I like him better in 90s. this is a very good song though less talked about.
    Sadhna Sargam only sings for Rehman now it seems , I don’t mind that.

    b. The music from the Bhatt ‘camp’. It might be inspired but mostly was very decent and very popular , ‘still’ popular remember Aashiqui.
    They actually credited the Pakistani lyricist Qateel Shifai in their films then, but that is never documented. Here ‘s one very original song from Zakhm , how Devgan won a national award is a mystery for me when the child artist was better and even had double the screentime.

    • contd. 2010s as I said is my least liked liked decade in music and films alongwith with the 80s. I couldn’t like Aamir the better actor somehow.I cannot stand his ‘goofy acting/dancing’ and the music of songs like ‘paathshala’ and ‘aal is well’,(good films no doubt) that kind of hamming probably suits SRK more IMO.
      I’ll go with choices the post and the comments for this decade.
      2011s , seen some decent songs from the movies of Vidya Balan (the only reliable ‘star’ at the moment for me. Yet to see a Ranbir Kapoor film other than the very good Rocket Singh, salesman of the year.

      • Again, as I’ve written in my comment for the 80s and 90s, the post isn’t about the best songs of each decade. But thanks for your suggestions! Maybe someone should do a list of best songs – one per decade. :-)

    • Mmmm… I think we’re going off on a tangent here. The point of the article was not which songs were the best ones of these decades (by that standard, I’d probably have put in a song from Umrao Jaan for the 80s) – but, which songs best reflected the period. They needn’t have been good songs.

      I have stuck to songs that I thought represented the period – not specific singers/MDs/actors, but society/developments in the cinema industry. Because I didn’t want to include songs that I can’t even bring myself to listen to, they were songs that I like. More importantly, they were songs that are a reflection, as I’ve written for each song, of what was happening in India or the industry then.

  22. Indian cinema began 100 years ago with the first “Bollywood” film, although the term was only coined many years later. The vibrant song-and-dance routines have millions of fans but here are some lesser-known facts that may have escaped their knowledge.

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