Sometime back, I was watching Dil Hi Toh Hai, and for the first time, actually paid attention to the scenario and picturization of the classic Laaga chunari mein daag. Raj Kapoor, in disguise, plays a classical singer who prides himself on singing such complex tunes that no accompanying dancer can match him. That sparked off a memory: the situation in Madhuban mein Radhika naache re is similar—it’s a faceoff between a singer (a man) and a dancer (a woman).
And that led to memories of other songs, all with a similar setting: a man singing, a woman dancing. A good enough theme for a post, I thought—especially as I could think of some superb songs that would fit right in. I only had to set down some rules for myself, and these (besides my usual one of including only songs from pre-70s films that I’ve seen) would be that in each of these songs, the man shouldn’t dance, and the woman shouldn’t sing.
Also, the man must be physically present in the picturization of the song (which is why the popular Tu hai mera prem devtaa doesn’t feature in this list, even though I like it).
So, without further ado, my pick. These are in no particular order, though my favourites tend to be at the top (with one exception, song #10).
1. Laaga chunari mein daag (Dil Hi Toh Hai, 1963): Since this was the song that sparked off this idea, it might be appropriate to begin this post with Laaga chunari mein daag. A brilliant song, beautifully sung by Manna Dey (and with interesting lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi, who takes it from the more obvious innuendo-riddled superficiality to a mystic level where he equates the singer’s spirit with the chunari that has been soiled by the glamour of the world). Raj Kapoor—who was exceptionally knowledgeable about music—puts in a convincing performance as a classical singer, but the dancer (supposedly played by Padmini Priyadarshini; I’m not sure) ends up breaking her ghungroos and having to admit defeat.
2. Madhuban mein Radhika naache re (Kohinoor, 1960): How could I not include this song? If I were to actually assign spots on this list to every song here, Madhuban mein Radhika naache re would top the list. I love this song. I love it uninhibitedly. Naushad’s music is fabulous, Mohammad Rafi is sublime—and Dilip Kumar, or so it’s said, took special lessons to ensure he was able to play the sitar correctly for the frames in which he’s shown to be playing it. Kumkum, of course, is a delight to watch: so lovely, so skilled a dancer, so graceful and yet energetic.
One of those classic songs that is reason enough in itself to watch the film of which it was a part.
3. Yeh zulf agar khulke bikhar jaaye toh achcha (Kaajal, 1965): And, in a complete change of space and feel, a far more intimate song. Instead of an audience, the man sings to—who knows? The tawaif at whose kotha he has come, and who is dancing for him? The glass of wine in his hand? The wife whom he loves in his own selfish way? Himself? The Vaise toh tumhi ne mujhe barbaad kiya hai (“Truth to tell, it is you who has ruined me”) can be applied to each, all quite appropriately.
I’m not a Raj Kumar fan, but he manages the angst and the near self-loathing in this song well. Helen is her usual lovely self, and the music—and Rafi—are mesmerizing.
4. Dil deke dekho dil deke dekho (Dil Deke Dekho, 1959): Shammi Kapoor, in one of his biggest hit films, plays a drummer, while Asha Parekh is the girl who’s vowed vengeance on him for—or so she thinks—having jilted her friend. Our heroine, therefore, joins the troupe of dancers for the evening’s entertainment where our hero is playing and singing, all with the intention of bashing him up at the end.
Not much of that is shown in the song itself, but it is somewhat unusual to see Shammi Kapoor—one of the very few Hindi film actors of his time who was a naturally good dancer—sitting sedately at the drums and not doing any dancing at all. All the dancing is done by extras (Meena Fernandes is one of them, from what I can see), with Asha Parekh joining in after the vocals are over.
5. Hai kali-kali ke labh par (Lala Rookh, 1958): In a film that starred Talat Mahmood, it’s hardly surprising that all the songs in a male voice were sung by him—all except this one, which (ironically enough) seems to be the best-known of the songs of Lala Rookh. Sung by Rafi, this one’s a lovely song with a definitely Middle Eastern lilt to it. A host at a small dinner party, entertaining his friends with a dancer (supposedly played by Radhika, the younger sister of Kumkum), is told by a friend that this mute dance is boring. So, to oblige, he provides a song. In praise of the dancer’s beauty and charm, a serenade that’s very pleasing, and goes well with the choreography of the piece.
6. Kya se kya ho gaya bewafaa tere pyaar mein (Guide, 1965): For someone who was no good as a dancer (and perhaps that’s why he’s only lip-synching to all these songs, not even attempting to dance), Dev Anand has featured in several of these I-sing-you-dance songs. Here, in what most people (not me) regard as one of his greatest films, he derides the woman he loves and accuses her of being unfaithful (never mind that he was the one who forged cheques in her name). In a dream sequence-like setting, against coloured lights, his beloved dances, along with a troupe of others. It’s an interesting mirror (down to the tune, which is simply a slower version) of the song which directly precedes this one, Mose chhal kiye jaaye—the woman’s point of view.
7. Shivji bihaane chal paalki sajaaike (Munimji, 1955): Dev Anand again, and again on stage. I toyed with this song for a long time: should I include it? Should I not? The woman (Ameeta) does dance here, but she’s not the only one dancing—there’s also Sachin Shankar and his troupe, enacting the part of Shiv and his cohorts as they go to Shiv’s wedding with Parvati. Finally, I figured that there is a man singing (but not dancing), and there is a woman dancing (but not singing), so technically—according to my criteria—this fits.
And what a song Shivji bihanne chale is is. The lyrics, the music, Hemant’s rendition, the dancing: all are topnotch. I am not a fan of devotional songs, but this is one I make an exception for. I could listen to it, watch it, again and again.
8. Naache mann mora magan (Meri Soorat Teri Aankhen, 1963): Another song with a stage setting, and a public performance. Asha Parekh is the girl who is in love with Pradeep Kumar, and doesn’t realize that the ‘ugly’ but exceptionally talented and tormented singer played by Ashok Kumar is his rejected, abandoned-long-ago brother. Or that he is in love with her, even though he’s well aware that she doesn’t love him, and never will. Yet, she can feel empathy for this man, so rejected by society—and so this performance, where he (on his own insistence) sits in darkness while singing a song that is ironically all about happiness and light, while she dances in the pool of light at the other end of the stage. An interesting symbolism shines through both in the cinematography as well as the lyrics of the song, when considered against the tragedy that marks the singer’s own life.
9. Chali gori pi se milan ko chali (Ek Hi Raasta, 1956): From the stage to a very different setting: a home, and a young woman—a wife and mother—practising dance. (I like the fact that the picturization highlights the domesticity of the scene: the entry, even if brief, of the dancer’s child, who returns from school and interrupts the performance by doing a little dance of his own).
Unlike several other songs featuring dance practice at home (Jaa tose nahin boloon Kanhaiyya or Jhanan-jhanan baaje bichhua are examples), where the dancer also sings, this one is more realistic: the dancer focuses her energies on dancing, while her ustad—who sits on the side, only occasionally lifting his hands in gestures—does the singing. Hemant is brilliant here, almost reminiscent of Manna Dey.
10. Jaan pehchaan ho jeena aasaan ho (Gumnaam, 1965): Before I launched into this list, I wrote that the songs I liked best were grouped at the top—with one exception. And that’s this one. All the other dances on my list are primarily Indian (or, in the case of Hai kali-kali ke labh par, Middle Eastern) in origin.
This is the exception (remember that Dil deke dekho, while the song itself is fairly ‘Western’, is accompanied by a dance that’s a sort of hybrid Bollywood one, with the dancers in what seem to be faux tribal outfits). Laxmi Chhaya burns up the dance floor in her shimmery gold dress and with her headache-inducing head-shaking, while Herman Benjamin lip-syncs to Rafi’s vocals. A delightfully peppy song, so very Western (in a Hindi film way) that it’s probably become the one Bollywood song the West best recognizes, appearing everywhere from Ghost World to the Heineken ad, to the video game Far Cry 4, not to mention a definite resemblance in terms of visuals in White Lies’ There goes our love again.
(It’s interesting to note that Herman Benjamin—a superb dancer and choreographer—doesn’t really dance in Jaan pehchaan ho. He sways and moves a bit, even comes on to the dance floor, but that’s about it: he’s basically the singer here, not a dancer).
And, because it is one of my very favourite songs, but doesn’t technically really qualify for this post, a bonus song:
11. Hum bekhudi mein tumko pukaare chale gaye (Kaala Paani, 1958): Unlike the dancers in the preceding songs, Nalini Jaywant in this one doesn’t rise from where she’s sitting until a third of her guest’s song is over. And even otherwise, her dancing is really not dancing, just some gentle swaying while she sits (in contrast, Meena Kumari’s ustad in Chali gori pi se milan ko chali ‘dances’ more while seated). Nalini Jaywant’s character perhaps cannot even bring herself to get up and dance, she is so entranced by the man who’s sitting in front of her and singing. A self-professed shaayar, he has scoffed at her poetry and been challenged to show her how well (or not, as she suspects) he can put together a verse. And he does, with impressive results.
Which songs would you add to this list?