Happy Krishna Janmashtami!
I am not a Krishnabhakt (I’m not even a Hindu), but when you’re a diehard fan of old Hindi cinema, you can’t really avoid noting the many, many references to Krishna, can you? The fact is, Krishna is one Hindu deity who seems to appear in just about every other old Hindi film featuring a Hindu household. Mostly, he’s in the form that little painted/gilded idol, draped dhoti, peacock feather, and flute in his hands, that stands in the little household shrine, seen in passing. Often, when some tragedy hits (or threatens) someone (invariably female) comes and weeps before the idol. Or sings, pleading for mercy, for succor.
But Krishna as the protector, the giver of divine help, is just one of the ways in which Krishna is viewed. He is, as is obvious in songs like Mohe panghat pe Nandlal chhed gayo re or Madhuban mein Radhika naache re Giridhar ki muraliya baaje re, also an embodiment of romance: teasing the milkmaids, wooing Radha, charming them all. And there’s the Krishna who exemplifies mischievous childhood: the matka-breaking, butter-stealing infant that is alluded to in songs like Bada natkhat hai Krishna-Kanhaiyya.
He’s everywhere in old Hindi film songs.
So, I thought: why not have a post (appropriately timed, of course) celebrating Krishna in Hindi film music? And, just because there would otherwise be no end to the songs, I imposed one important restriction on myself: this list would only consist of songs addressed (even if only nominally) to Krishna. So, Govinda aala re aala (much as I love it), wouldn’t be part of this list, because it’s addressed to the gopis, the ‘brijbaalas’; similarly, Mohe panghat pe Nandlal chhed gayo re wouldn’t qualify, because it’s a third person account, so to say.
Here goes, therefore. Ten songs, addressed to Krishna, from pre-70s films that I’ve seen. Though these are in no particular order, my favourites tend to be toward the top.
1. Aan milo aan milo Shyaam saanwre (Devdas, 1955): Two mendicants, stopping in a grove to entertain a lonely little girl, do so by singing her a song. They take it in turns to express Radha’s anguish when Krishna is away: how she weeps for him, how she yearns for his return. If only he would show his face once to her, that would help her stay patient… it’s a beautiful song, sung with great feeling, and the little girl, Paro, is deeply affected, because she too has been separated from her little sweetheart, who has gone far, far away. Like Radha, she misses her Krishna.
Anybody who’s been on this blog long enough should realize by now how much I love this song. The music is wonderful, Geeta Dutt’s and Manna Dey’s rendition lovely. And, in the context of this post, it’s interesting to see how many different appellations for Krishna appear in the lyrics of this song: Shyaam, Kanha, Mohan, Natnaagar.
2. Manmohana bade jhoothe (Seema, 1955): One of those classic classical compositions, and sung brilliantly by Lata Mangeshkar. At first, the lyrics sound as if the singer is speaking of (not to) Krishna, the ‘enchanter’ who, despite having lost (his heart?) to her, refuses to accept. But, as the song progresses, it becomes increasingly obvious that she is, in fact, obliquely addressing him. This becomes explicit in the line “Tumhri yeh baansi Kanha, bani galphaansi” (“This flute of yours, Kanha, has become a noose around my neck”). Lovely song, and Nutan, trained in music that she was, looks convincing as the singer.
3. Jaago Mohan pyaare (Jaagte Raho, 1956): While this song meets the criterion—it is addressed to Krishna, even quite obviously so (Nargis’s jogan first appears singing it while offering a lotus at the feet of an idol of Krishna)—there is more to Jaago Mohan pyaare. It is not a bhajan; it is more a heralding of the dawn, both literal and figurative. A welcoming of a better day, a day when a poor man will not have to stumble from pillar to post, worn out from thirst, because of the corruption, selfishness and deceit that mar society.
4. Kanhaiyya tori murali bairan bhayi (New Delhi, 1956): And, the only one of its kind in this list, a song that is part of a dance performance. Vyjyanthimala leads a troupe of dancers (though, as would be expected—considering this is, after all, Vyjyanthimala—she holds centrestage). There is no Krishna to be seen here, neither someone pretending to be him, nor a statue of him: but the song is all about him, how he has entranced her, enchanted her, robbed her of her senses. His flute, especially, is blamed: the tune he plays on it has driven her mad with desire. Lovely song, and a lovely dance from a great, fun film that had some interesting and pertinent points to make despite the fun.
5. Banwaari re jeene ka sahaara tera naam re (Ek Phool Chaar Kaante, 1960): A classic bhajan, at least as far as its lyrics go: the singer (Waheeda Rehman, looking oh so luminously lovely) sings of the deceptiveness of this world and its people, and how the one true, real pivot of her life is Banwaari (‘he who lives in the woods’—of Vrindavan). The ironic bit, of course, is that this is all a farce: the entire plot of the story is based on deception, because this girl’s saddled with four uncles, each of them very different from the other, and each intent on getting her married to a man who shares his interests. So Sunil Dutt’s character, whom the girl falls in love with, ends up pretending to be four very different men. And this too, this bhajan to get Ma’s approval, is a farce.
6. Ab tere siva kaun mera Krishna Kanhaiyya (Kismet, 1943): A change from the previous: an actual plea to Krishna, to come to one’s aid. Crippled, alone, pretty much left by fate to fend for herself, Mumtaz Shanti’s character sings to her god to save her. She invokes the name of another devotee—the famous Meera—reminding Krishna that he came to Meera’s aid; can he not come to hers, too? (an interesting insight, this, into another of the ways in which Krishna is viewed in Hindi cinema: he is the romantic figure, but he is also the one who saved Draupadi’s honour when her five husbands sat by helplessly).
7. Kanha Kanha aan padi main tere dwaar (Shagird, 1967): I have to admit, every time I think of Shagird, I think of Bade miyan deewaane or Duniya paagal hai ya phir main deewaana or Woh hain zara khafa-khafa. But it also has this bhajan, which is really quite pleasant: nicely sung, not shrill, and really rather sweetly devotional. And with our hero’s approving mother sitting along and watching benevolently, how can his rather naïve and nutty country bumpkin of a girlfriend not be a huge hit? A bhajan-singing would-be bahu, even if rather daringly clad, gets brownie points. Big time.
8. Meri sun le araj Banwaari (Aankhen, 1968): I’ve tried, more or less, to steer clear of the many (and yes, there are lots of them) bechaari aurat songs that are all addressed to Krishna, but there are some that just—well, have to feature on any ‘songs addressed to Krishna’ list. This is one of them. Kumkum, as our secret agent hero Dharmendra’s sister, finds herself in the direst of straits: she is being forced to betray her own father, brother and country, by having her child held captive. Does she confide in Dad and Bhaiya? Does she somehow manage to get these two highly efficient and well-connected men, with all their gadgetry and other connections, to help her out? No, she goes to Krishnaji.
9. Manmohan Krishna Murari tere charnon ki balihaari (Saanjh aur Savera, 1964): Saanjh aur Savera was a painful film, but it did have some fairly pleasant songs. This one, pretty much in the classic bhajan style, has Meena Kumari, the happily-but-deceitfully wedded bahu (and she dares sing “Jhoothi hai yeh duniya saari”!) doing her pooja of Krishna. I like the somewhat unusual picturization at the start: she’s just sitting there in front of the Krishna idol, looking at it, singing to it as if she were singing to someone, not an idol. It’s only later in the song that she begins to do things, like putting the tilak on the idol’s forehead and so on. That detail makes the first half of the song more intense in its devotion, as far as I am concerned (I also think Meena Kumari looks serenely beautiful here, so that adds to my liking—even if it’s not love—for this song).
10. Jaa tose nahin boloon Kanhaiyya (Parivaar, 1956): And how I could I close this list without one of my favourite songs? Jaa tose nahin boloon Kanhaiyya is one of those songs that are ‘nominally’ addressed to Krishna; there’s no Krishna around, not even in the form of an idol. But Krishna, as a representation of romantic love, is used in this song to symbolize the affectionate banter between the two people here. The wife, dancing to her tabla-player husband’s accompaniment, refers to him as Krishna and, mock anger and all, spurns him. And he (referring to himself in the third person) sets about to woo her back. Wonderful music, and beautifully sung.
And, before I end this post and leave the field open for readers to add their songs to the list, one last song, a bonus:
Darshan do Ghanshyam Naath mori akhiyaan pyaasi re (Narsi Bhagat, 1957): This is the song, actually, which sparked off the idea for a post. Over the years, lots of people have suggested I try compiling a list of favourite bhajans, and I’ve always put them off by saying that I don’t usually like bhajans; the film bhajans I really like are probably less than half a dozen. Then, somehow I heard Darshan do Ghanshyam a few months back, and was awestruck.
Perhaps it’s the beautifully subdued music, the fact that the three voices—Hemant, Sudha Malhotra, Manna Dey (Dey only at the very end)—are allowed to shine, the music ever gentle and more a background than anything else. Wonderful tune, brilliant blending of voices (the way Hemant leads and Sudha ‘follows’ reminds me of another great bhajan, Na main dhan chaahoon, which has Sudha Malhotra similarly singing in tandem with Geeta Dutt). And don’t miss the lyrics: a fine, restrained plea to Krishna to show himself, to give his worshippers one glimpse of him.
Do please add your suggestions to this list—which songs addressed to Krishna do you like?