In November last year, friend, fellow blogger and soul sister Anu came to India on work—and actually came all the way to Delhi to meet me (now if that isn’t flattering, I don’t know what is!) We spent two days chatting, comparing notes on everything from books to our families to recipes; wandering around Chandni Chowk; buying jewellery and sarees and whatnot… and, as a gift, Anu bought me this absolutely lovely dupatta from Mrignayani, the Madhya Pradesh State Crafts Emporium on Baba Kharak Singh Marg.
And me, being what I am, on the way back in the car to drop Anu off where she was staying, remarked, “I should do a post on dupatta songs.” Anu agreed. Because dupattas have been a fairly important part of female attire in Hindi cinema for a while. If you wore a salwar-kurta (or churidar–kurta) or a sharaara, or even a ghaagra, the dupatta served to drape the upper part of the body: the bosom, at least, but in some cases, even the head. It thus became a symbol of modesty—and, in some instances, an extension of the heart, the feelings of the wearer. More than the saree or any other garment, the dupatta became the theme for songs. (It even gave its name to one really lovely Pakistani film starring Noorjehan).
Therefore, without further dilly-dallying, the list. These are all, as usual, from pre-70s films that I’ve seen, and the songs are in no particular order.
1. Hawa mein udtaa jaaye mora laal dupatta malmal ka (Barsaat, 1949): While this is by no means my favourite dupatta song, it was the song that first occurred to me when I thought of this post—mainly because the colour is the same as that of the dupatta Anu bought me. Red. Not that you can see the colour here, since the song is in black and white, but this is still a classic: the music is good, as is the rendition, and the song has all the innocent charm of a young woman celebrating youth as she dances through the valleys and streams of Kashmir. Well, not exactly, since the long shots are of Kashmir, but the close-ups are obviously a set. But still. And that, by the way, is Bimla Kumari, in case you (like me, till a few days back) didn’t know.
2. Gora rang chunariya kaali motiyon waali (Howrah Bridge, 1958): If Bimla Kumari’s red muslin dupatta reflected the unspoilt beauty of the countryside, Minoo Mumtaz’s dupatta is rather more in keeping with the urban boisterousness of a metropolis. It even sounds fashionable: black, embroidered with beads: a far cry, indeed, from the simple muslin dupatta of a Kashmiri village girl.
While the picturization of this song doesn’t focus on the dupatta, it’s interesting to note the way in which the lyrics use the dupatta as a stand-in for the woman herself (a symbol which is used, vice-versa, for the man and his turban). He tells her that her dupatta has stolen his heart away; she tells him that she likes his colourful pagri. All another way of saying that it’s the wearer, rather than the garment, which is really the object of the admiration and the affection.
3. Dupatta mera malmal ka rang saleti halka (Adalat, 1958): Several songs that mention dupattas also mention the colour of the dupatta. Here, the dupatta (also malmal, or muslin) is a ‘halka saleti’—a pale grey. Like the previous song, this one too features Minoo Mumtaz (though acting the ‘male’ part of the dancing duo, to Nargis’s female), and like the previous one, too, this one is definitely Punjabi in flavour. The woman talks of the prettiness of her dupatta, and the shine on the buttons of her kurta—and her ‘lover’ agrees. That dupatta only has to slip once, revealing the loveliness of the wearer, and the world will be at her feet.
4. Dhaani chunri pehen sajke (Hare Kaanch ki Churiyaan, 1967): While this song is known for its refrain—Baj uthengi hare kaanch ki churiyaan—it begins with a reference to the similarly-coloured chunri the new bride will wear: dhaani, or deep green (literally, the ‘colour of dhaan’, or paddy). The hero has gone away, promising to return soon, and his beloved, missing him every moment of the day, sits about in a reverie, imagining what he’ll bring when he comes: bangles of green glass, to signify her marriage to him. And she will be wearing a green chunri, too, and greeting her new husband. I don’t like Naina Sahu (she looks too much like her father, Kishore Sahu, which may not have been terrible if she were a man, but…). Biswajeet doesn’t float my boat. And I didn’t much like this film. But the song isn’t bad, and of course it provides us with another dupatta in another colour.
5. Inhi logon ne le leena dupatta mera (Pakeezah, 1972): And one absolutely classic song about a dupatta. A song, too, in which the dupatta occupies centre stage: the song is all about it. How it was bought, at an asharfi a yard. How it was coloured (pink). How it was snatched while the wearer walked through the bazaar. Ghulam Mohammad’s music is superb, Lata’s rendition is (to me) faultless, and Meena Kumari—in one of the scenes shot when she was still young and energetic, not worn and tired as she was by the time Pakeezah was finally done and released—rules the screen.
Inhi logon ne, incidentally, is a traditional song (some credit it to Amir Khusro), and one not restricted to Pakeezah. There have been other versions of Inhi logon ne, including one by Shamshad Begum, and this one which has Yaqub singing the song, dupatta draped over his head and all. Yaqub is no oil painting, but he certainly shows here that he can carry a tune pretty well.
6. Dhalki jaaye chundariya hamaari ho Ram (Nau Do Gyaarah, 1957): SD Burman composed some of his best tunes for Navketan, and Nau Do Gyaarah was, as far as I am concerned, one of those stellar scores with not one bad song. In fact, one great song after another. Between Kali ke roop mein and Kya ho phir jo din rangeela ho and Aankhon mein kya ji, however, this gentle and soothing little song that celebrates romance sometimes tends to get overlooked. The instrumentation acts as a soft backdrop for Asha’s voice, and Majrooh’s lyrics are at times (“… jaise chupke se ban mein bahaar aa gayi…”) reminiscent of Faiz Ahmed ‘Faiz’. A lovely song that uses the sliding down of the dupatta (not that Kalpana Karthik wears one here) as a metaphor for the young woman’s falling in love.
7. Maine rang lee aaj chunariya (Dulhan Ek Raat Ki, 1967): Very similar in tone and metaphor to Dhalki jaaye chundariya hamaari is this song from Dulhan Ek Raat Ki: the heroine rejoices in the love of her sweetheart, and her chunariya (in this case, as in the song of Nau Do Gyaarah, not really appearing in the picturization as a dupatta, but as perhaps the pallu of her sari). Nutan’s character sings of how she has ‘coloured her chunri’ in the love of her beloved: the chunri becomes a symbol of her. She has coloured herself, soaked her very being (and if you’re watching this song from the beginning, you’ll see what a messy job she’s done of it) in his love.
8. Laaga chunri mein daag (Dil Hi Toh Hai, 1963): Amidst all the songs of women singing about their dupattas and how those dupattas signify their modesty, their virtue—a song sung by a man. A song, though, which has three distinct layers of meaning to the words (Sahir Ludhianvi was the lyricist for this song; the words, sadly, tend to get overlooked in the face of Manna Dey’s brilliant rendition of a tune composed by Roshan).
The literal meaning is clear enough: her chunri has gotten stained; how will she return to her father’s home with a dirty chunri? The underlying meaning—and one which is often used—is easily understood, too: she has lost her maidenhood (there is a mention of a sasuraal, so this isn’t as scandalous as it might appear at first glance); she is too embarrassed to return to her childhood home, no longer a virgin.
And—the final, deepest, meaning. A meaning which is mystic, and turns the whole song around to apply to not just a woman, but any human being. Kori chunariya atmaa mori, mail hai maaya jaal; woh duniya mere baabul ka ghar, yeh duniya sasuraal (My spirit is the clean, unstained chunariya; the glamour and attraction of this world is the filth that threatens to stain it. That world—heaven—is my father’s home; this world—Earth—is my husband’s home, to which I am now tied). Profound. And, oh, so beautifully sung.
9. Chunri sambhaal gori udi chali jaaye re (Bahaaron ke Sapne, 1967): Another classic and very well-known chunri song. Chunri sambhaal gori udi chali jaaye re sounds, at first, like another version of Arre yaar meri tum bhi ho ghazab (when it comes to lyrics, not tune, I hasten to add), with Anwar Hussain’s character admonishing the dancer, Padma Khanna, to watch out and not let her chunri slip (not that she’s actually wearing a chunri, but by now we all know what is really meant by that word of caution).
After that, though, the song takes a completely different route, with Asha Parekh’s character being allowed to take it up and change it into a song offering comfort to her lover, who stands by, looking forlornly on. Raina nahin apni, par apna hoga kal ka savera, she sings. The night may not be ours, but tomorrow’s dawn will be ours.
Beautiful song, well-picturized, and with such a very infectious tune.
10. Main toh odhoon gulaabi chundariya aaj re (Humayun, 1945): And, to end, a song that’s little-known, but which is worth including for several reasons, besides the fact that it is about a chundariya (a pink one). One reason is that this song is picturized on a young and radiant Veena. Another is that Veena’s character in this film was a very satisfying one: brave, feisty, intelligent. The third reason is that this song moves away from the trope of the chunri/dupatta being a representation of the woman’s modesty. It still represents her emotions to some extent, though: she sings that she has donned a pink dupatta today because her brother has donned the crown today. The entire song is about the happiness in her heart, and all through the land, because her brother will now be the ruler. (Interestingly, the man she refers to is not even her real brother; he is Humayun, whom she, a Rajput princess, has accepted as a brother after having been adopted by Humayun’s now-dead father, Babar).
What dupatta/chunri/chunni/chunariya/chundariya (or synonyms thereof) songs would you add to this list? Bring ‘em on!