Happy birthday, Shyama!
Today is the 78th birthday of one of my favourite actresses, the gorgeous Shyama. Born in Lahore on June 7, 1935, Shyama debuted at the tender age of 9, when she appeared onscreen as one of the chorus in the Zeenat (1945) qawwali , Aahein na bhareen shiqve na kiye. In a career that spanned 40 years and close to 150 films, Shyama played everything—from the shrew to the vamp, the tomboy to the domestic goddess. And she invariably shone, quite literally. Shyama’s sparkling eyes and bright, 1000-watt smile could light up the screen like few other actresses were capable of doing.
So, to celebrate Shyama’s birthday, a list of some of my favourite Shyama songs. Shyama has had some lovely songs picturised on her, both solos as well as duets—and songs that feature a panoply of singers (Na toh kaarvaan ki talaash hai is a stellar example). If I went about listing each Shyama song I love, my list would run into dozens. I have therefore, restricted myself: these songs are all solos, in which Shyama lip-syncs to the song, and they’re all from pre-1970 films that I’ve seen. Furthermore, no two songs are from the same film.
Here goes, in no particular order:
1. Saiyyaan pyaara hai apna milan (Do Behnen, 1959): I did mention that this list isn’t in any particular order, but if the songs here had been in order of preference, this beautifully romantic one would’ve been pretty close to the top—if not the first song on my list. It’s a suhaag raat song, sung by a lovely bride to her new husband. Everything—from the unmistakable affection, now shy, now teasing, in Shyama’s eyes (and for Rajendra Kumar, too! What splendid acting!) to the words—“Baat hi baat mein, raat hi raat mein, ban gayi main tumhaari dulhan” (“In the course of a conversation, in the passage of the night, I have become your bride”), to the very soothing music—is perfect.
2. Kaare-kaare baadra jaa re jaa re (Bhabhi, 1957): Shyama is the sole emphasis of this song as she dances through a seemingly empty house, scolding the darkening clouds and shooing them away. They have woken her from sweet dreams (of her love, no doubt), she says—and tries to cajole the pawan, the breeze, into taking her side and blowing the clouds away. A very melodious song, and one which allows Shyama to hold centrestage.
3. Ae dil mujhe bata de (Bhai-Bhai, 1956): I tend to confuse this song with the one before it when it comes to picturisation, because Ae dil mujhe bata de is also all about Shyama, singing to herself in a large and seemingly empty house. (Not really, though; unknown to her, the man she loves—and whom she has been eagerly awaiting—has arrived even as she’s singing, and is walking towards her, entranced by her song).
This is a song that makes me think, as I’m watching it, that while Shyama may not have been one of the top dancers of the league, what she may lack in talent, she makes up for in enthusiasm. To see her trip about the room, leaping and frolicking, going from piano to divan to bed to parapet, her smile never dimming and her eyes always sparkling, makes you forget that she may not be as accomplished as some of her contemporaries.
4. Mujhe mil gaya bahaana teri deed ka (Barsaat ki Raat, 1960): Barsaat ki Raat was full to the brim with some of the best songs ever—definitely the best qawwalis in any one film. All of them, too, had Shyama in them, and if I’d decided to include songs other than solos, I’d have been torn between Na toh kaarvaan ki talaash hai, Nigaah-e-naaz ke, and Pehchaanta hoon khoob (not forgetting Garjat barsat saawan aayo re, which—while not a qawwali—is a brilliant song).
But, this list is about solos, and here is a Shyama solo from Barsaat ki Raat. Here she dances and skips about while her ‘sister’ (played by Ratna) accompanies her on a dholak. The song embodies all the joy of an upcoming Eid, the celebrations of which will give our singer a legitimate excuse to meet and talk to the man she loves. Shyama at her chirpy, starry-eyed, best.
5. Le jaa meri duaaein tadpaake jaanewaale (Lala Rookh, 1958): In a complete about-turn from the romantic, starry-eyed songs that I’ve listed so far, this one, which is addressed to a lover—but a seemingly faithless lover, who has broken the heart of the woman who loves him. Lala Rookh’s best-known songs were either Talat’s or duets (or, in one case, Mohammad Rafi’s), but this sad yet beautiful song is Asha’s—and Shyama’s. Her eyes are so expressive, that even without shedding tears, Shyama manages to convey all the pain and betrayal she feels.
6. Barkhaa ki raaton mein (Shrimatiji, 1952): The lyrics of this song bear a passing resemblance to the previous one: our heroine is bemoaning the loss of her love, the roothna of the man she had hoped was going to be hers for ever. That, though, is where the resemblance stops. Shyama in Shrimatiji was no shrinking violet; she was the ultimate kick-ass heroine. In this song, too, even though she talks about “aankhon se aansoowon ka dariya chalta-chalta hai” (“rivers of tears flow from my eyes”), you can see, now and then, that she is fairly certain of being able to get back the man in question; there’s steel beneath the silk.
7. Dil se main mujhse dil (Bus Conductor, 1959): At first glance, this song looks very much like another Ae dil mujhe bata de or Kaare-kaare baadraa: Shyama dancing and singing all by herself in an otherwise empty house. But, even though it begins with the lady sitting at a dressing table (and looking very sweet in a fluffy towel robe), it then moves outside—to a swing, to the beach where she sits under an umbrella or splashes along the shore, and finally to a boat. A lilting and frothy little love song, and there’s the bonus of seeing Shyama not just in sari or salwar-kurta (not to mention that robe!), but also in trousers—she looks wonderful.
8. Yeh lo main haari piya (Aar-Paar, 1954): From Aar-Paar, my favourite song that features Shyama unfortunately doesn’t qualify for this list—because while it has her at her athletic best (dressed in overalls, and climbing all over a car), it is also a duet. But this song comes a close second, and it is a Shyama solo, so here it is. This one’s featured in other lists of mine, and with good reason too: it’s a good example of not just great music and direction, but also excellent acting and lyrics.
Our heroine here is setting out to woo back her huffy sweetheart, and she uses everything she has in a fairly formidable arsenal: she begins with apologies and pleading, then goes on to emotional blackmail—telling him how her poor little heart will break if he goes on like this—and ends up with a threat to get angry and fling a few abuses at him. Along the way, she also swings into sultry seductress mode for a little while.
It’s easy to understand why Guru Dutt’s character, by the end of the song, is back in a good mood.
9. Yeh zaalim nigaahon ki ghaat (Khota Paisa, 1958): Besides her beauty, her vivacity and her acting ability, one thing I really like about Shyama is that she doesn’t seem to have had any qualms about which roles she’d do and which she wouldn’t. At a time when actresses swiftly got typecast—good girl (read wife material), vamp, suffering mother, sister, etc—Shyama did it all. In Aar-Paar, Shrimatiji, Mai Baap, etc, she was a convincing heroine; in Bhabhi, Chhoti Bahen, and Dil-e-Naadaan, she was the shrew; in Barsaat ki Raat, the woman who loved the hero but never spoke of her love—and in Bhai-Bhai, the other woman.
And here, in a madcap film opposite Johnny Walker, Shyama shows her flair for comedy too. She doesn’t get the nuttiest lines, but she’s quite clownish for a leading lady—and she gets to dance this absolutely delightful club song, where she puts on a seductive act for the benefit of an approving NA Ansari.
10. Dil toh razamand hai (Mai Baap, 1957): To end, a song that is very quintessentially Shyama: bubbly and cheerful and just so full of joy that it makes me want to get up and dance. Although there were two versions of Dil toh razamand hai, I prefer this one, which appears only about five minutes into the film. It’s a sweet panghat song, with Shyama’s character telling her friends—all of them ostensibly here to fill their matkas, but combining it with some dancing—about her views regarding her husband to be. Shyama, even with just a matka for a prop, steals the show.
(By the way, there’s a nice little interview with Shyama, here).