The other day, thinking over the themes for song lists that I’ve posted over the years I’ve been writing this blog, two came forcibly to mind: rain songs (a list, in fact, which has proved very popular—I was even interviewed about it by a Canadian radio station); and wind songs.
Rain. Wind. And what goes with that? Clouds. Clouds, which are so common in Hindi film songs. Clouds, as harbingers of rain. Clouds that thunder, clouds that pour. Clouds that symbolize everything from relief and coolness to bleak despair. Time, I decided, to do a list of cloud songs that I like a lot.
To restrict this a bit and not let every song that contains the word baadal, badra, ghata, megh, etc to get a foot in the door, I laid down two important rules for myself:
Firstly, the synonym for cloud must be in the first line of the song.
Secondly, the reference to clouds should be literal; clouds should not be used only in the metaphorical sense. (Which is why Itna na mujhse tu pyaar badha ke main ek baadal aawara doesn’t qualify: not only does the word for cloud come only in the second line of the song, it’s also not literal; the singer refers to his own restlessness, his ephemerality).
Here goes, then, in no particular order. Ten cloud songs from pre-70s films (with one notable exception) that I’ve seen.
1. Kaare badraa tu na jaa na jaa (Shikast, 1953): To start with, a song where the cloud is there both as literal and as metaphor. Nalini Jaywant’s character, wandering past the pond and fields of her village where she is the jagirdar in part, sings to the rain-bearing clouds, telling them not to pass by, but to tarry a while. To rain down, to quench the thirst of the parched land. But hidden in the words of her song is also a plea to the old lover whom she had once parted from and who has returned to the village, causing turmoil, opening old wounds, embittering her but at the same time bringing her a happiness she finds hard to acknowledge, even to herself.
2. Kaare-kaare baadraa jaa re jaa re baadra (Bhabhi, 1957): Though the opening words of this song are almost the same as that of the previous one, the two songs couldn’t be further apart. There’s nary a cloud to be seen here, as a vivacious Shyama prances about inside her luxurious (and conveniently deserted!) home, only once peeking out of a window to look up at the sky. And what does she tell that cloud we can’t see? To be gone. The cloud’s thundering has startled her out of her dreams, wakening her. Can it please go? And, wind: can you please come along and help sweep away the clouds?
3. Megha re bole ghanan-ghanan (Dil Deke Dekho, 1959): As most of the songs on this list will show, some of the nicest ‘cloud songs’—at least among those I’ve seen and heard—are picturised on women. There are occasional duets, but male solos that talk about clouds appear to be few and far between. This is one of the rare ones; even rarer, because—while it has a definitely folksy feel to it, it’s filmed on someone who most people associate with a far more Westernised type of music: Shammi Kapoor. Even though this is a very short song—it’s really more a prelude to the longer, more full-fledged song, Bade hain dil ke kaale—it’s an infectious song about love and longing in the shadow of the thundering clouds. Interestingly, too, the lyrics include two synonyms for clouds: megha, and ghat.
4. Jhukti ghata gaati hawa (Dhool ka Phool, 1959): Moving on from a solo to a duet, and back to the outdoors. Jhukti ghata gaati hawa, melodious and lovely (composed by the sadly underrated N Dutta) is the fairly predictable—in terms of ambience and tone—as a romantic song: the two lovers (newlyweds, in this case), going out driving in the countryside, picnicking beside a river, going boating, reveling in the joy of new love. And, as in countless other examples, invoking the wind and the clouds and all of the beauty of nature to be witness to this love.
5. Pyaar bhari yeh ghataayein (Qaidi No. 911, 1959): A song that’s eerily similar to the one that precedes it. Pyaar bhari yeh ghataayein is very much like Jhukti ghata gaati hawa in many basics: Nanda is there in both; there’s the motif of the two lovers out on a jaunt. There’s the river, the waterfalls, the ride in a boat. The same paean to love and to nature, the theme of natural beauty being a fitting setting for a love song. Oddly enough, it’s always seemed to me as if this tune too, while not a copy (or even strictly similar), does have a haunting echo of Jhukti ghata gaati hawa. Even odder, both songs are from films released in the same year. This one, though, was composed by Dattaram.
6. Megha chhaaye aadhi raat (Sharmeelee, 1971): This was the ‘notable exception’ I meant when I wrote that—bar one—the songs in this list were from pre-70s films. Even though it was released in 1971, I always think of Sharmeelee—like Pakeezah—as a late 60s film: everything about it, from the actors, the plot elements, to the costumes and the music, is rather more in the style of An Evening in Paris than Seeta aur Geeta.
But: this song. A song unusual for Hindi cinema, which tends to—in the context of romance—equate clouds with a fruitful love, a love that is requited. Megha chhaaye aadhi raat is very different: it is a lament, a mourning of a love that cannot be, but which will leave painful memories. Very poignant, with beautiful lyrics and lovely music.
7. Allah megh de paani de (Guide, 1965): From the romantic and the frothy to the practical: the sheer need for clouds and the rain they bring. In a country where much of the agriculture still depends to a large extent on rain, the failure of the monsoon can be devastating—a theme Hindi cinema has visited again and again, in films as far apart in time, tone and theme as Do Bigha Zameen and Lagaan. And Guide, where the lead character’s ‘redemption’ eventually hinges on whether or not his penance will make the rains come.
Allah megh de—not lip-synched, but sung as a universal expression of the anguish of thousands of thirsty, starving people—is haunting. The lyrics are very poignant, and both SD Burman’s music and his voice give me gooseflesh.
8. Umad-ghumadkar aayi re ghata (Do Aankhen Baarah Haath, 1957): Another song that’s about the practicality of clouds, yet with poetry (that “dharti jal se maang bhare”—‘the Earth fills the parting of her hair [as a married woman does] with water’)—is such a lovely metaphor for the joy with which the parched Earth greets the coming of the monsoon. The fast pace of the song, the wildly joyful percussion, even the visuals—the little children playing in the rain, the adults too racing out, the excitement—are all a reflection of that happiness, that relief.
9. Ghir-ghirke aasmaan par chhaane lagi ghataayein (Baanwre Nain, 1950): From the practical to the romantic: another song which equates the monsoon and the gathering clouds with the singer’s relationship with her beloved. Somewhat like Kaare badraa tu na jaa na jaa, this song too is set in the villages. And it’s an excellent—in terms of picturisation—celebration of the monsoon in the countryside: vast masses of clouds, grey and white, fluffy and filling the sky. The breeze, the water, the waving grass. All classic images of the monsoon, and accompanied by a lilting song that uses the cloud as an intercessor, to tell the beloved not to go.
10. Jhir-jhir, jhir-jhir badarwa barse (Parivaar, 1956): This song bears the stamp of Salil Choudhary all over it: very melodious, very evocative of the monsoon (rather like O sajna barkhaa bahaar aayi). And the combination of two of my favourite voices—Lata and Hemant—is superb.
Like Kaare-kaare baadra jaa re jaa re baadra, this one takes place inside a house. There are no clouds to be seen, but there is the evidence of them: the wind, the rain to which the woman extends her hands joyfully. The premise that clouds and romance go hand in hand.
There are dozens of other songs about clouds. My long list had many many more, and even the short list was far longer than this final ten: it had songs ranging all the way from the three cloud songs of Rattan (1944), to O ghata saanwri thodi-thodi baanwri, from Abhinetri (1970). I know there are loads of them out there, some middling, some fantastic—and many, I’m sure, which I’ve never even heard of. Share your favourites, please!