Book Review: Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal’s Gaata Rahe Mera Dil: 50 Classic Hindi Film Songs

I know I’m a bit late to the party here; Anu had already written about Bhattacharjee and Vittal’s latest book over at her blog, and Harini reviewed it recently on her blog—but better late than never, I guess.


Bhattacharjee and Vittal’s book’s subtitle says it all: 50 Classic Hindi Film Songs. They define ‘classic’ too, in the prologue to the book, where they discuss what is for me truly a classic, the brilliant Baabul mora, by KL Saigal. A timeless song, a song as capable today as it was in the 30s of touching hearts, of making people catch their breath in sheer awe at the music, the lyrics, the rendition—and a song with a story behind it: the story of the exiled Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, ousted from his Awadh and sent away to Calcutta. A song rendered repeatedly by different singers, including some of the greatest voices. And the story, too, of its filming in Street Singer.

Gaata Rahe Mera Dil: 50 Classic Hindi Film Songs (Harper Collins Publishers India, ISBN 978-93-5136-456-6; Rs 350; 300 pages) then moves on to the fifty songs it focuses on. Fifty landmark songs from fifty different films, spanning the years from 1941 (Chale pawan ki chaal, from Doctor) to 1992 (Dil hai chhota sa, chhoti si aasha, from Roja). Plus a couple extra: Baabul mora, at the beginning; and to end, a landmark non-filmi song (Ae mere watan ke logon) and a song for the new millennium (Ae ajnabi tu bhi kabhi, from Dil Se).

Each song is discussed in a new chapter, prefaced by a screenshot from the song, along with basic details: film, song title, year of release, lyricist, composer(s), and singer(s). Then comes the nitty-gritty about the song itself: insights into what makes it special, interesting anecdotes about how it was created (and sometimes, not just about the song, but also about the film itself), observations on the picturization, and—to bring forth the relevance of the song itself—a brief setting of context.

For me, my lack of technical understanding of music led to some of the descriptions going completely above my head. Take this as an example (from Mera toh jo bhi kadam hai, from Dosti): “…The composers use two Komal notes—Dha and Ni—in the mukhra where all the other five shudh notes give the song a major-scale colour. The antara, with the emphasis shifting to a Komal Re, creates the transitory feel of a change in scale. The use of Komal notes—the Ga and Ni—creates an aura of unconventiality and underlines the desolate cry of grief…” 

Yes, I can guess at some of what that means, but I’m not absolutely sure.

That, therefore, didn’t work for me, but what did work were the meticulously researched stories behind the songs. Vittal and Bhattacharjee have obviously spent a good bit of time and effort interviewing various composers, lyricists, singers, musicians, actors, and others in the know—and the result shows in the delightful behind-the-scenes tidbits about these songs and these films. For instance, I hadn’t known that my favourite patriotic song—the wonderful Ae mere pyaare watan (Kabuliwala)—shares an interesting link with India’s first talkie, Alam Ara: the man who lip-synchs to Ae mere pyaare watan, WM Khan, was also the man who sang (and acted) the first ever song in Hindi cinema, which was in Alam Ara.

? in Ae mere pyaare watan, from Kabuliwala

There’s fascinating information here about everything from how the songs for Kashmir ki Kali were chosen (from a corpus of fifty-two tunes composed and played by OP Nayyar) to who was the first choice to sing Kasme vaada pyaar wafa. The trivia, for me, was what made this book so fascinating: there’s loads of it here, and relevant trivia too. (Though I have my doubts about one passing remark, about Asha Parekh having played the young Gauri in Baiju Bawra—that little girl really looks rather more like Tabassum than Asha Parekh).

... and a boatman's daughter befriends him

Even as I read this book, occasionally I’d think: “Why on earth did they choose this song instead of that one?” Why Main yeh sochkar uske dar se utha thha from Haqeeqat instead of Zara si aahat hoti hai or Hoke majboor mujhe? Why Mera toh jo bhi kadam hai from Dosti instead of Jaanewaalon zara mudke dekho mujhe? Why Woh shaam kuchh ajeeb thhi instead of Tum pukaar lo?

But the answer lies in the epilogue, where Vittal and Bhattacharjee list the criteria for their inclusion (or exclusion) of a song: the nostalgia it evokes, its recall value, sustained admiration for the song, its elements (words, musical arrangement, rendition), and something special in its picturization. Songs, basically, that stand out. The authors admit that they’ve had to drop some of their own favourites from the list. And, all said and done, there are a lot of my favourites in this book: Poochho na kaise maine rain bitaayi, Lag jaa gale ke phir yeh haseen raat ho na ho, Zindagi kaisi hai paheli haaiAe mere pyaare watanChalte-chalte yoon hi koi mil gaya thha


So, yes. For me, overall, this was a satisfying read. Slightly befuddling at times because of the technicality, but despite that, enjoyable. I just wish there’d been an accompanying CD included, with the songs.

You can buy Gaata Rahe Mera Dil: 50 Classic Hindi Film Songs on Amazon, Flipkart, and other online bookstores, as well as at major bookstores.

39 thoughts on “Book Review: Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal’s Gaata Rahe Mera Dil: 50 Classic Hindi Film Songs

  1. The book is a treasure trove of information – lots of little trivia. My husband is an avid quizzer and at times I help him frame questions for these. As I read this book, I kept making mental notes as to what to ask in the next quiz! :-)

    Hmm can imagine that the technical comments about the songs would have been tedious to understand. I found those interesting as my son is learning Hindustani classical music and I had learnt Carnatic classical when I was younger – so the jargon was familiar and understandable. I missed having a CD of the songs at hand / listening to the songs when I read the book though.


    • My only somewhat-exposure to the technicalities of music dates back to my final year at school, when I was part of the New Delhi YMCA’s Christmas choir – even though I never actually formally learnt music, our conductor used to now and then, in the course of rehearsals, tell us something. So Western music terms I can still, to a very tiny extent, make sense of. But Hindustani classical music… it goes completely above my head. :-( And when there’s so much of it coming at one, even the desire to actually go and look it up goes out the window.

      But then, there’s so much delicious trivia, I suppose it makes up!


    • :-) Though this isn’t a coffee table book (and, apart from the screenshots included with each song, there are no other photos to send the price soaring), so it’s not as expensive as – say – Sidharth Bhatia’s books on Navketan or the Patels.


  2. Not going to read your review, either, Madhu, until I get my hands on the book. :) Can’t wait, though. I really, really did like their book on RD (which perhaps I will review one of these days), and so am waiting eagerly for this one.


    • Yes, Anu – I did that with Harini’s review of the book, too – didn’t read it until I read the book too! Then I compared notes. Do that once you’ve read the book – I’d like to know what you thought of it.


      • Aaaand, I’m back. I read your review late at night yesterday after I published my post. I needed to come to your blog anyway to pick up this link. :) So I read it before I went to bed, but was so sleepy I didn’t feel like commenting then. :)

        Now that I have some time… as I said in my review, the technical stuff went over my head too. I mean, I recognise the terms because Sadu has been trying to educate me so they are not completely unfamiliar. But I honestly don’t know what they mean and so my eyes sort of glazed over when those passages came along. :)

        I did like the book, though I was a tad bit disappointed. In my opinion, the RD book was far, far better. In fact, I think the time has come to read it again and review that!


        • “the RD book was far, far better.

          That was what really heartened me after I read your review of Gaata Rahe Mera Dil! Because Anirudha had already warned me that the RD Burman book was pretty technical in parts, I was thinking: “Good lord, if he mentioned that as technical, and Gaata Rahe Mera Dil goes so over my head – what will the RD Burman book do to me?

          So I really am looking forward to reading the RDB book now!


  3. Sounds like a book I should definitely buy. I checked amazon. Don’t know why a Rs. 350 book costs $16.99+Shipping and will take 3 weeks or more to deliver.

    I am with you on respecting their criteria for selecting the songs they chose. It would be interesting to learn the trivia related to each song. 50 seems like a good number to work with. Authors seem to have very interesting background as well. Based on the excerpt you quoted, it would be fascinating to read about the musical reasoning that makes those songs stand out.

    Thanks for the review Madhu!


    • Wow. That’s a pretty unreasonable price. :-( Order the ebook version, I’d say; this isn’t a graphic-heavy book, so the ebook should work just as well as the paperback.

      And if you do, Ashish, do let me know what you think. I liked the trivia a lot – very interesting!


      • Surprise Surprise! Suddenly there are few more sellers on Amazon and is much more reasonable ($11) and also now kindle version is also available and is under $6. Just ordered my hard copy. Having bought a few ebooks, I don’t feel the same excitement reading eBooks, but is surely super convenient, especially for those who have a long commute.

        I would be sure to let you know once I go through it..

        I know songs are always personal choice and from the few songs you have mentioned they seemed to have picked really good songs. I can’t wait to read the details behind each song.. This book seems like a keeper!


  4. Good review Madhu.

    Yes, I would have preferred Tum pukar lo or Humne Dekhi hai any day compared to the Woh Shaam song. The chrous in Woh Shaam is a bit too much for me. Like you, I would also prefer Zara si aahat hai from Haqeeqat. But then, all our choices are based on our personal connect with the song. The authors may have seen something else in the songs they selected.

    You, Anu and Harini have made me curious and interested. Would like to know more about these 50 classics. I have ordered the book online. Waiting to read about all the 50 songs.


    • Yes, there were certainly several songs that I personally thought should’ve not been there, and other songs from the same movie could have been there. Harini mentioned, in her review, the sad absence of Aage bhi jaane na tu – which shocked me too, because I think of that song as close to iconic when it comes to the 60s. And while I do like Jaane woh kaise log thhe jinke, the best song from Pyaasa for me is Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye. But then, as the writers say, they used various criteria for each song, including – which I suppose might have been the main criteria for including some otherwise-not-that-great (from my point of view!) songs – the story behind the composition/writing/picturization etc of the song.

      And then, of course, there is the fact that music, all said and done, is a form of beauty. And beauty, as we all know it, lies in the eye of the beholder. Or, in this case, in the ear of the listener. :-)

      Do let me know what you thought of the book once you’ve read it. I am a self-admitted ignoramus when it comes to technical aspects of music, but Atul (who’s commented below, and knows his stuff) seems to think the technicalities a little off, so I’d be especially eager to know your opinion on that.


  5. I would definitely like to own and read this book. But seeing that I like in a small town, such books are not available here. I tried to purchase its ebook version, but that did not work either.

    The book is well researched no doubt, but I think that the “technical” discussions are of dubious nature. The authors mix up western classical music concepts with Hindustani classical concept and try to confuse /dazzle novice readers with their “brilliance”. The “technical” description of the “Dost”(1964) that you have quoted does not make any sense. What does “major scale” flavour mean in this Dost song ? Hindustani music does not have the concept of major scale, so I do not know from where the author is getting this idea of a major scale feel.


    • Hmm. This shows all the makings of an interesting (if for me, incoherent) discussion. :-) I should nudge Anirudha on Facebook and ask him to give their rationale here.

      How do you mean the ebook version did not work, either? If you’d explain, maybe the authors should know and can pass that on to the publisher to look into (I am an author too, so am always anxious to know why people who want to read my book are not being able to get hold of it).


    • Hi Atul, i am on my cell and not in a position to answer your query in a detailed manner. We have used both Indian classical and western scale based music for the analysis. Maybe you can touch base with me for the same in case of queries. I am not trained in music, though i sing and can play the rhythm..that is my pastime. Do add me on Facebook, Madhu is a common friend


    • Major scale flavour is something which is by ear. Given the notes used in the song. In fact, IIRC, all the Rafi songs are in major scale in the film. I know that ‘scale’ concept does not form a part if Hindustani music. I have not deconstructed based solely on Hindustani music.


  6. Here is a proper “Technical” analysis of this song from someone who knows his stuff.

    ” My preliminary thoughts. First off, this song is in rag Yaman Kalayan. Mood for this raga is “serene” and “haunting” (depending on the rendition) but I would not necessarily call it grief.. a more appropriate word would be feeling lost, or feeling of longing but not grief.

    To get a clear understanding of “haunting” vs “Grief”

    Contrast ‘Mujhko is rat ki tanhaai mein aawaaz na do” vs “Hum chor chale hain mehafil ko, yaad aaye meri to mat rona”.

    The “haunting” nature comes from the m rather than anything else which makes it yaman kalyan instead of pure yaman (which would have a “mM” instead. Yes mM not M). Compare that to Koi jab tumhara hriday tod de, tadapta hua jab koi chod de.. (Kalyan) which is again ‘haunting’ not sad.. I think the author intended to use the term melancholic instead of “sad” as in tragic or rondu as we would say in hindi.

    (cos of my fractured leg, I cannot really play my Keyboard right now (position of the foot pedals pls the distance where the KB will have to be cos of my leg and my back posture etc, and so cannot really “judge” by ear alone the impact of the komal dha and ni as the author suggests.. so I will not say they are wrong but my preliminary thought suggest the m being more emphatic than anything else.)

    m=Pure ma
    M=Teevra Ma (ma does not have a komal).

    (Note: Modern musicians consider Yaman, Kalyan (carnatic eq Kalyani) and Yaman-kalyan as one and the same but traditionalists consider them three distinct ragas).”


    • Are you discussing the song Mera toh jo bhi quadam hai ? Don’t think it is on Yaman / Yaman Kalyan. (We have many songs on Yaman btw). Do let me know your query, I’ll be happy to answer that with my very limited knowledge.


  7. Your doubt is correct. It is Tabassum and not Asha Parekh, who has played the roll of baby Gauri in ‘Baiju Bawara’. It is apparent and can be verified from the credits displayed at the beginning of the movie.


  8. And about the “technical” analysis of the song in the book , here is his view- “Honestly I have never come across such jargon ever. Trasitionary nature basically means nothing.. there is no such thing. You shift scales as in a ragamalika but what exactly a transitionary nature of a scale is foreign to me. And another thing, the major and minor “nature” of a scale is determined by its aroha avaroha progression and not by the pakads and gamaks at all. I am not sure I understand that piece of gobledygook at all. “


    • The texi is gives the ” feel of a transitory feeling of change in scale”. Not a transitory nature of the scale. I am still on my cell btw. Can talk on this when I am back home and the network works hopefully. It is raining like mad at present


      • I think I made my point clear in the previous comment.To add to that, I said that it is a major scale based composition (with dha (Komal Dha) and ni (Komal Ni) in the mukhra, which is not what it should be for a major scale, but these are passing notes and Hindi films songs do not stick to grammar in the sense a purist would like them to :) . The antara uses re (Komal Re) , and more importantly, ga (Komal Ga) , and the notes impart a minor scale feeling, as the tonic does not change. Do let me know if you have an issue regarding this..


  9. I was reading Anu’s blog and she referenced your review. I had missed it, so I read it now. Your views are quite similar, seems like a good read. Since I hardly own any books on films or film music, this might be a good start. I will be curious about the music behind the songs also. The comments here are quite interesting.


    • Yes, Anu and I seem to have had similar opinions about the book (though I personally think she managed to bring out some more aspects of it than I could – that bit about the incongruity between the trivia and the technicalities, for example). This is a good book to start if you want to read cinema/cinema music writing; another one I’d recommend is Ganesh Anantharaman’s Bollywood Melodies: I haven’t reviewed it on this blog, but it’s a good one, too.


  10. One of the reviews (by Anand) claims that the description in the book (songs) was biased against Rafisaaf with little or no credit to the “Greatest” Authors have done a similar anti Rafisaab, albeit, subtle, diatribe in their award winning book “R.D.Burman” (I have indeed read this book)
    Construe this as being prejudiced (or even immature) but that alone prevented me from purchasing the book.


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