A couple of months back, amidst a discussion on one of my posts, fellow writer (and fellow Sahir Ludhianvi fan) Karthika Nair and I got involved—as we are apt to do—in talking about Sunil Dutt (who, coincidentally, has appeared in a number of songs written by Sahir). I realized then that I’d never compiled a list of my favourite Sunil Dutt songs. This, despite the fact that he is one of my favourite actors.
Good-looking, very versatile, and just generally extremely watchable, Sunil Dutt (born Balraj Dutt, on June 6, 1929) started off as a radio announcer on Radio Ceylon, and debuted in cinema opposite Nalini Jaywant in Railway Platform (1955). In the nearly 50 years he appeared in Hindi cinema, Sunil Dutt acted in some of classic Hindi cinema’s biggest entertainers (Waqt, Mera Saaya, Humraaz), some of the most unusual and experimental films (Yaadein, where he was the sole actor), and some of the most path-breaking, daring films (Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke, Gumraah).
So, to mark what would have been Mr Dutt’s birthday, a compilation of ten of my favourite Sunil Dutt songs. This was a tough list to create, because my favourite Sunil Dutt songs run the gamut from solos (in which he lip-synchs to the song) to duets, to songs where he’s primarily sung to (as in the classic Tum mujhe bhool bhi jaao). I finally decide to pick one type of song: the solo, in which Sunil Dutt’s character is the one doing the singing. All these songs are from films I’ve seen, and no two songs are from the same film.
1. Chalo ek baar phir se (Gumraah, 1963): Considering this post was sparked off by a discussion about Sahir and Sunil Dutt, it seems appropriate to begin the list with a Sunil Dutt song written by Sahir Ludhianvi—and what a song. Chalo ek baar phir se brims with the anguish, the frustration and helplessness of a man trying to cope with the fact that the woman he loves—and who still loves him, too—has had to marry another man. On the surface, this is a song that speaks of putting the past behind, of forgetting a relationship that now can never be. In reality, it is quite different, because both the singer and the woman he sings to know that it’s difficult—if not impossible—to do that.
As good as the music and the lyrics are, so is Sunil Dutt’s acting: he begins the song in a ‘just-singing-a-song’ way: a guest performing to entertain his host and hostess. Smiling, relaxed (though his ex-lover probably knows him well enough to recognize the pain beneath the surface). That pain does come into his face later, especially at the critical moment when a distressed Mala Sinha puts her head on Ashok Kumar’s shoulder: the anguish on Sunil Dutt’s face is so very clear at that point, even though he rallies around and again slips into the garb of the genteel guest right after.
2. Jalte hain jiske liye (Sujata, 1960): From a piano song to a telephone song—and the quintessential telephone song. And, from the bitter and still-passionate ex-lover to a sweet, gentle man offering his love to a woman whose caste is held against her, even by her own foster mother.
The beauty of this song is in many things: its music, its words, Talat’s incomparable singing, Nutan’s acting—and, though often overlooked, also Sunil Dutt’s acting. Watch in the first verse, for instance, the earnestness in his face as he sings: as if he’s trying to be absolutely word-perfect, not one note out of place, focusing on his song and yet also addressing that girl he loves, who’s listening at the other end of the line. Then, as the song progresses, he begins to relax—not just physically stretching out, but also smiling more easily, letting himself feel more comfortable, more confident that she’s liking his song…
3. Aapke pehloo mein aakar ro diye (Mera Saaya, 1966): Sadhana’s character(s) got to sing all the top songs of Mera Saaya—from the title song (even though it had Sunil Dutt playing the piano) to a song that was written from the point of view of a man, Nainon waali ne. This tragic song was the exception: a bereaved husband grieves for the wife suddenly snatched away by death. It is in memories of her that he tries to find solace, but it is those very memories, too, that add to his pain.
4. Mere saamne waali khidki mein (Padosan, 1968): And, a change from all the romantic/tragic/serious songs that have gone before (or somewhat. Mere saamne waali khidki mein, while a romantic song if you only go by its lyrics, is nuttiness itself). My sister always says that she finds it hard to believe how someone like Sunil Dutt—handsome, a major leading man, and so very successful as the typical hero—could have agreed to take on the role of the plain, dumb (yes, I wouldn’t even call Bhola simply naïve; he’s definitely dumb) would-be brahmachari who falls for his pretty neighbour. But then, that’s why I call Sunil Dutt versatile.
A delightful song, and Sunil Dutt’s adas—as he hugs the pillow, or pretends to be affronted—are hilarious.
5. O meri baby doll (Ek Phool Chaar Kaante, 1960): And, before I move on to the rest of the songs on this list, another song that showcases Sunil Dutt’s prowess as an actor. In Ek Phool Chaar Kaante, he’s the hapless young man who falls in love with a girl—the ward of four uncles, each of whom has it firmly in his mind that the beloved niece will marry a man who shares that particular uncle’s passion. Sadly, all the uncles have very varied passions in life: yoga, religion, rock and roll—and our hero, in his attempt to get into the good books of all these uncles, finds himself acting in four different avatars. A fun film, and Sunil Dutt is super.
In O meri baby doll, he sets out to woo his lady love (and, actually, impress her rocker uncle, played by Johnny Walker). Sunil Dutt certainly lets his hair down here, and shows he can shake a leg. Perhaps not as well as Shammi Kapoor, but better than a lot of others!
6. Itna na mujhse tu pyaar badha (Chhaaya, 1962): With a tune based pretty faithfully on part of Mozart’s 40th Symphony, Itna na mujhse tu pyaar badha appeared in two versions in Chhaaya. One was a duet, the happy version (or, to be more precise, happier compared to the second version, since even in the first version, Sunil Dutt’s character dissuades the woman he loves, warning her away from loving him). This version, the sad one, is a solo, sung beautifully by Talat, and picturised on a very handsome Sunil Dutt (aside: Chhaaya, purely from the point of view of aesthetics, was a great film—it had a really radiant Asha Parekh, and Sunil Dutt looked drop-dead gorgeous). And his acting is, as always, excellent: that restrained unhappiness throughout the song is so very palpable.
7. Jab dekh liya toh chhupenge kahaan (Chiraagh, 1969): Only about seven years after they worked together in Chhaaya, Sunil Dutt and Asha Parekh co-starred in the tear-jerker Chiraagh, a melodrama pretty much akin to the (invariably Nutan-starring) films that Sunil Dutt acted in around the end of the 60s. Coincidentally, like Chhaaya, Chiraagh too had one song that appeared in two versions, a happy one (technically a duet, since Asha sang one line) and a sad one, sung by Asha.
Also in the film was this song, the sort of faintly stalkerish one that one tends to associate with Shammi Kapoor, Joy Mukherjee, or Biswajeet: hero sees heroine, immediately falls for her, and makes no bones about letting her know. Here, Sunil Dutt’s character doesn’t actually sing his song to the lady in question, but to himself and his bosom buddy (Mukri), reassuring them both that his love will be his. A very good song of the Pukarta chala hoon main style, though sadly underrated (and Sunil Dutt, in my opinion, far outshines Biswajeet).
8. Tum agar saath dene ka vaada karo (Humraaz, 1967): Humraaz ranks as one of my favourite Sunil Dutt films: it’s a good, suspenseful entertainer (and pleasingly unpredictable)—and it has fabulous music. As in Gumraah, here too Mahendra Kapoor got to sing playback for some superb Sunil Dutt songs, including Kisi patthar ki moorat se and Na moonh chhupaake jiyo. And Tum agar saath dene ka vaada karo, a beautifully melodious and romantic song picturised against a backdrop of the Eastern Himalayas, with a thoroughly wooden Vimmi as Sunil Dutt’s character’s ladylove.
The more I look closely at Sunil Dutt lip-synching to romantic songs, the more I realise that this man could give favourites like Shammi Kapoor and Dev Anand a run for their money when it came to oozing romance in all its many forms—from affection to teasing playfulness, to desperation and aching longing, to just sheer ‘I-can’t-live-without-you’ness.
9. Yeh waadiyaan yeh fizaayein (Aaj aur Kal, 1963): Sunil Dutt sings to another pretty lady—though, this time, the song is not really a romantic one. There is tenderness, and each verse sings praises to some feature of the lady—her face, her hair, her feet—but the purpose of the song is not to merely charm the wheelchair-bound beloved, but to get her out of that wheelchair. Nanda is shyly lovely, and Sunil Dutt manages to be both gentle as well as encouraging as he goes about trying to get her to stand up.
10. Rang aur noor ki baaraat kise pesh karoon (Ghazal, 1964): In a fairly boring, humdrum sort of film that—despite the combined talents of Madan Mohan and Sahir Ludhianvi—didn’t have terribly memorable songs, there was this one. Sunil Dutt plays Ejaz, the young poet invited by an unscrupulous and gloating acquaintance to sing at his wedding. The intention is spiteful; both Ejaz and the bridegroom know that the bride is Ejaz’s sweetheart, who has (seemingly) jilted Ejaz in favour of the other man.
What follows is Rang aur noor ki baaraat, a song of many moods, all of them superbly reflected in Sunil Dutt’s face during the course of the song. There is deep pain and hurt, of course, because the woman he loves has left him; there is, also, as is to be expected, anger at her betrayal. There is also, however, Ejaz’s love for the woman, which is sincere enough to wish her well even though it hurts him. Complaint, serenade, congratulations—all come together here.