Some of you may know that I’ve recently returned from an exhilarating time at the Bangalore Literature Festival—one of the highlights (at least for a cinema fanatic like me!) of which was that I got to meet Nasreen Munni Kabir. (And was introduced to Farhan Akhtar, and met Sidharth Bhatia, and got to get photographed within the same frame as Gulzar… but that’s a different matter). Nasreen Munni Kabir and I actually shared a cab for the two-hour trip from the airport to the hotel, and spent most of it chatting about all things cinema. I told her about this blog, of course, and happened to mention that among the most popular posts seem to be song lists.
Which reminded me: it’s time for another list. And because this popped into my head while I was travelling, I decided to do another ‘sung in transit’ list. But because I’ve already done car songs (not to mention ghoda-gaadi songs and train songs), I’m going the water way this time: with boat songs. The criteria here (besides my usual ones, of the films being all pre-70s ones that I’ve seen) are:
(a) The singer(s) should be on the boat for at least three-fourths of the song’s duration
(b) All types of boats are allowed—shikaras, rafts, motorboats, ships, anything. Moving or not.
Here we go, then, in no particular order.
1. O pardesi chhora chhaila gora-gora (Savera, 1958): To begin with, a relatively little-known song, but one that’s utterly infectious in its sheer joie de vivre.
Meena Kumari and Ashok Kumar, she a widow and he a sort-of-sadhu, are going downriver in a rowboat, painfully aware of their undeclared (but forbidden) mutual attraction, when they pass a large sailboat—and get to see and hear this peppy love song of a girl talking about the pardesi she loves so much.
The inimitable Sheila Vaz, Herman Benjamin, Abe Cohen & Co. come together in a song that combines some fairly traditional ‘Indian’ elements (the costumes, some of the dancing, especially Sheila’s) with some distinctly Western ones (the watches on the men’s wrists, the madcap hooting in the background, the men’s dancing)—and without seeming incongruous. Absolutely addictive.
2. Yeh chaand sa roshan chehra (Kashmir ki Kali, 1964): Another love song on a boat (a shikara, to be precise), and with loads of eye candy around. Shammi Kapoor is his usual handsome self; Sharmila Tagore is pretty as a picture (even if not blue-eyed and blonde as the lyrics suggest); and Kashmir is—well, perennially beautiful. This song, compared to O pardesi chhora, is on a more lavish scale—the man doing the serenading is on one boat; the serenadee is on another (her own flower-laden boat), and the impressively large cast of extras each dance on their individual shikaras. And Shammi ends the song in style.
3. Din hain bahaar ke (Waqt, 1965): Sharmila Tagore again, just a year after Kashmir ki Kali, and with another of the Kapoor brothers, Shashi. Din hain bahaar ke, however, is a very different song from Yeh chaand sa roshan chehra, because here it’s she who’s doing the serenading and the “come on, let’s fall in love” stuff, while it’s he who’s trying to put her off (for more practical reasons than mere coyness). The boat here is one of those mostly-stationary (though it does move a bit in one of the shots) that tilts a little too close to the water when everybody on board is dancing rather too vigorously.
4. O mehbooba o mehbooba (Sangam, 1964): May as well make it a ‘Kapoor brothers’ hat trick, right? (Which makes me think: Raj, Shammi, and Shashi, between them, actually have a fair number of boat songs to their credit, though some, like Hum ko toh jaan se pyaari, or Aasmaan se aaya farishta, or Deewaane ka naam toh poochho, are only partly picturised on boats).
But, back to O mehbooba o mehbooba. Raj Kapoor’s character in Sangam isn’t one of my favourites (he’s too oblivious, too selfish, and downright stalkerish in places), and this song reinforces all of that—he literally grabs the poor heroine away from the man she actually loves. Despite that, this song features in this list, simply because I like the music, and the scenery—all that mist, fake though it may be—does look pretty. As do the wooded shores and the lake itself.
5. Ajeeb daastaan hai yeh (Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi, 1960): A party raft makes its sedate way down palm-fringed canals, as the staff of a hospital celebrate the wedding of their star doctor. And the heartbroken heroine, who has lost the man she loves, puts on a brave face and tries to congratulate the newlyweds. The happy face is just a veneer, though, and it slips every now and then. Poignant, lovely, and memorable.
Ajeeb daastaan hai yeh remains one of my favourite songs, irrespective of setting, theme, actors, anything. The music (by Shankar-Jaikishan), Shailendra’s lyrics, Lata’s rendition—all couldn’t be improved upon. Meena Kumari is expressive as always, and though the ‘boatishness’ of Ajeeb daastaan hai yeh tends to get overlooked at times (the group being on a boat isn’t one of the abiding features of this song), this qualifies—and resoundingly.
6. Hue hain tumpe aashiq hum (Mere Sanam, 1965): Quintessential OP Nayyar, and quintessential Kashmir-from-a-boat song. While Asha Parekh’s headgear doesn’t especially impress me (nor, really, does her outfit), I love the music and the scenery—and the fact that the two leads aren’t surrounded by a lot of gawping onlookers. Also, Biswajeet seems to be driving the motorboat all on his own, which, considering the fact that he gets up now and then to flirt with Asha, and clap, and prance about, is quite a feat.
7. Us paar saajan is paar dhaare (Chori Chori, 1956): Back to the Kapoors, even though Raj Kapoor, the hero of Chori Chori, doesn’t appear in this song. Nargis does, but only briefly, as she tries to swim across the river and ends up taking the help of a passing boat—one of several making their way along the water, with women dancing and singing on board while the men row (rather unconvincingly, I may add). The folksy feel of this song and the excellent picturisation make this one of the first songs that occurred to me when I thought up this list.
8. Maanjhi chal o maanjhi chal (Aaya Saawan Jhoomke, 1969): My lists usually end up with more 50s songs than 60s ones, but this one’s turning out to be an exception—because the 60s did have some great boat songs. This one, for instance. Unlike a lot of the ones listed so far, this isn’t a romantic song, but one offering comfort and hope. The lyrics echo the similarity between life and a boat ride (“tan hai naiyya toh man patvaar hai”—“if the body is the boat, the mind is the oar”), and the music ripples and gurgles appropriately. Plus, one of the best picturised boat songs, what with those lovely coconut trees, the ducks swimming along, the bubbling wake of the boat… perfect.
9. Woh shaam kuchh ajeeb thhi (Khamoshi, 1969): Rajesh Khanna had, like the Kapoors, his fair share of boat songs (Chingaari koi bhadke and Jis gali mein tera ghar na ho baalma were on my short list for this post too). This one, in my opinion, beats the others hollow. The cinematography—passing boats, the Howrah Bridge, the buildings on the shore—is superb, but equally so is Hemant’s music, Gulzar’s poetry, and Kishore’s rendition. And the turmoil in Waheeda Rehman’s face, the blissful joy in Rajesh Khanna’s as he sings of a love he does not know is just one-sided.
10. Kuchh aur zamaana kehta hai (Chhoti-Chhoti Baatein, 1965): I began this list with a little-known boat song, and I end it with another. I first watched Kuchh aur zamaana kehta hai when I was about 12 years old, and soon forgot which film it was from, or even what the words were. All that I remembered was that it featured Nadira, wearing a billowy white shirt and black pants, sitting in a boat and lip-synching to a slow and very melodious song. This one, which I was reintroduced to a year or so back, and recognized immediately.
This song’s lyrics (by Shailendra, a favourite of mine) are stellar (“Go basti hain insaanon ki, insaan magar dhoonde na milaa”—“this is a settlement of humans, but searching did not yield a single human”). Meena Kapoor’s singing, sweet and poignant, is haunting. And Nadira and Motilal make an unlikely but likeable pair in a film that was somewhat unusual, to a point.