This post has been in the pipeline for a while. I had been thinking about compiling a list of philosophical songs from classic Hindi cinema, and blog reader Kamini Dey’s request for a post with that theme served to spur me on. I got distracted midway, and decided to do a cynical songs post, but here it is, finally: a list of ten philosophical songs from old Hindi cinema that I especially like.
When I began work on this post, I ran up against a major roadblock: a lot of Hindi songs, even when the main theme of the song is something else—romance, for example, or a broken heart—often resort to philosophy (for instance, the common ‘Let’s fall in love because who knows whether this moment will return again,’ embodied in songs like Lag jaa gale ke phir yeh. Or the ‘My heart is broken, but I will live on, crying all the while’ of songs like Toote hue khwaabon ne humko yeh sikhaaya hai)
So, I set myself an important limit besides the usual stuff about the songs being from pre-70s films that I’ve seen. The song must focus on a philosophy of life. The philosophy shouldn’t be hidden away behind another agenda; the philosophy must be the main theme of the song. And yes, not more than one song per film.
Here goes, then, in no particular order:
1. Aage bhi jaane na tu (Waqt, 1965): Aage bhi jaane na tu is one of my perennial favourites, because there’s so much to admire about this song: Ravi’s music, Asha Bhonsle’s fabulous rendition, Erica Lall’s perfect depiction of the typical 60s crooner, the fact that this is one of those rare old songs which do not make the story come to a standstill while the song takes place. And, the lyrics. Sahir Ludhianvi, at his best. A song about how both the future and the past are the unknown; whatever exists, exists in this moment alone. It does not specifically mention romance or love, but so much more (crime, for instance?). A reminder that time flies past, which is why you must grab every moment, leave no opportunity to go its way ignored.
(Incidentally, the way this song begins is an interesting segue from dialogue to lyrics; Sunil Dutt’s character tells his beloved, in reassurance, to leave everything to kismet).
2. Main zindagi ka saath nibhaata chala gaya (Hum Dono, 1961): Sahir Ludhianvi again, and with a song that’s all about a philosophy that helps tide over the difficulties of life. Dev Anand’s character sings of blowing away all his worries as smoke, going along with whatever life throws his way. Taking everything—sorrow, happiness, woe, pain, joy—in one’s stride, and treating them all the same. A short song, but one that can actually be pretty inspirational.
3. Aankhon pe bharosa mat kar (Detective, 1958): … duniya jaadoo ka khel hai, har baat yahaan ek dhokha, har cheez yahaan pe mel hai. Don’t believe your eyes, says this song (with lyrics by Shailendra); this world is a game of magic. Everything here is illusion, farce, deception. And, the next moment, the song changes track—and, to some extent, its philosophy. From being cynical it goes to footloose and fancy-free: because you can’t do anything to change the world—which is anyway out to fool you—you may as well join in the fun, Laugh, dance, sing, enjoy life. Be like a little child: innocent and carefree.
4. Chaahe koi khush ho chaahe gaaliyaan hazaar de (Taxi Driver, 1954): I imposed that restriction about not more than one song per film mainly because of this film. Taxi Driver—its music scored by SD Burman, to words by Sahir Ludhianvi—had two songs which were philosophical. One (and the one I was initially inclined to include in this list) is the sultry Ae meri zindagi aaj raat jhoom le, which is very similar in philosophy to Aage bhi jaane na tu.
But I settled on a very different philosophy, and one which is relatively uncommon in Hindi cinema: Mast Ram banke zindagi ke din guzaar de. Don’t give a damn whether the world praises you or kicks you; be mast, carefree. If the seth increases the prices of his wares, don’t worry. If he starts giving you credit, eat on while you can… an interesting little philosophy, actually, which could be a good recipe for happiness: don’t take on worries, because worrying doesn’t really get you anywhere.
5. Zindagi ittefaq hai (Aadmi aur Insaan, 1969): Like Erica Lal’s crooner in Aage bhi jaane na tu, or Sheila Ramani’s small-time club dancer in Ae meri zindagi aaj raat jhoom le, a somewhat unusual person, in an unusual place, singing philosophy. Mumtaz looking her absolutely gorgeous best, very stylish and oozing oomph from every pore, sings that life is but a coincidence. A series of coincidences. Friendships, relationships, love: these are all coincidences, happenstance. Reason for celebration. Har khushi ittefaq hai, she says. So live it up, while you can (a philosophy, really, that is pretty much an echo of the two other songs I’ve mentioned, above). Brash, cynical, self-centred, but oh, so practical.
6. Zindagi kaisi hai paheli haai (Anand, 1970): Like the previous song, also a song that is a definition of life. The ‘definition of life’ songs, of course, tend to be invariably philosophical, whether they define life as a dream, a journey, a coincidence—or, as in this case, a riddle. The eponymous (and aptly named) Anand, well aware that he is dying of a fatal disease, continues to not only smile, but almost gambol through what remains of his brief life.
He plays pranks, jokes about, sets about matchmaking for his friend, the shy and brooding doctor—but now and then, when he’s all alone, the mask slips. Sometimes, the face (and soul) it shows is obviously deeply unhappy and lonely; sometimes, as in this case, it is sad, but trying. As he walks down the beach, with colourful balloons soaring up into a bright blue sky, with children running about—all the signs of a carefree, joyful day—Anand sings of life: a riddle. A riddle that makes you laugh one moment, cry the next. A riddle that is so fascinating, so intoxicating, that it spins its web and entraps the human heart, which goes chasing after that elusive dream…
7. Aasmaan pe hai khuda aur zameen pe hum (Phir Subah Hogi, 1958): When I published my list of favourite cynical songs, Kamini Dey—who had suggested I do this philosophical songs list—was sweet enough to tell me that that list qualified to complete her request, since cynicism is also a philosophy, after all. The idea that the world is selfish, self-serving, too tied up in its own materialistic ambitions to have any heart left—that is a philosophy, too. So I decided I could include a song here which I like a lot and which missed being in the cynical songs list by a narrow margin.
Raj Kapoor, as the poor man catapulted into a high society party, uses the occasion to vent some of his ire at the way the poor are ground under the heel of the rich. But does he blame the rich? No, not completely: his sarcastic words are addressed not to the moneyed, but to God. A God who has stopped looking down at (or looking after) the Earth he created, the race he created. And what effect does that have? ‘Jab use hi gham nahin, kyon humein ho gham?’ (‘When He isn’t worried, why should we be?’)
8. Badal jaaye agar maali (Bahaarein Phir Bhi Aayengi, 1966): In sharp contrast to Aasmaan pe hai khuda, a song that is all about looking at the brighter side of things, of not letting go of one’s dreams. Dharmendra, as the earnest young journalist, finds himself surrounded by the poor, the weary, the downtrodden—and sings a song about hope. If the gardener changes, he says, the garden is not emptied; spring will still come. In similar vein, no matter what blows fate may strike, one should not let go of one’s hope. Spring will come; this, too, shall pass.
(It sounds somewhat sanctimonious, and the picturization makes it even more so, but still).
9. Mausam beeta jaaye (Do Bigha Zameen, 1953): And, the other side of the coin. The poor, giving hope to themselves, to their fellow-sufferers. As Balraj Sahni’s Shambhu leaves his village to go to Calcutta, in the vain hope that he will be able to earn enough to repay the debt and get back his meagre two bighas of land, villagers working in the fields sing of the seasons passing. One season makes way for another, and before one knows it, life is over—so, while one is alive, one should leave behind something. Some memory of one’s existence, some sign to show that one did pass this way.
I like the way this song is somewhat similar to Aage bhi jaane na tu, in that both talk of the unknown, of what the next moment will bring. But their tones could not be more different (and I don’t mean the music or the rendition): the crooner’s song is more of an ‘enjoy this moment’; the villagers’ is more ‘don’t give up; this may be the only moment you have.’ Beautiful song, and beautifully sung.
10. Kisi ki muskuraahaton pe ho nisaar (Anari, 1959): And, to end, a feel-good philosophy. Raj Kapoor has lip-synced to several songs that repeat this sentiment—of living for others, of being selfless and of believing in a universal brotherhood of man—but of all of them, this song’s my favourite. The music is superb, and for once, Mukesh (who more often than not tends to sound somewhat sanctimonious when singing songs in this vein) is believable, sweet-voiced, conveying a sense of genuine kind-heartedness rather than preachiness.
Which songs would you add to this list? Please share—there are lots of great philosophical songs out there, including some I’m sure I don’t even know about!