When I was in school, all school functions—even, on special occasions, school assembly—would have one particularly talented child presenting a solo (the first time I heard Ae mere pyaare watan was in school assembly, sung brilliantly by a classmate of mine; her rendition made me want to listen to the original song because I guessed that if she sang it so well, what must the original be like?). For very special occasions, like the annual day, there would be a couple of solo performances. But the norm for school songs (most of which, by the way, were patriotic, with the occasional folk song here and there) was the group song. A choir, picked from those who could more or less hold a tune, had loud voices, and didn’t mind standing and singing Tu zinda hai toh zindagi ki jeet par yakeen kar while the rest of the school trooped slowly out of the assembly ground.
In contrast, ‘group songs’ in Hindi cinema tend to be relatively few and far between. Yes, choirs there are aplenty, singing for dancers, supporting actors, and so on—even, at times (Ajeeb daastaan hai yeh being a very good example) providing a certain magic to the song without which one now cannot imagine the song being complete. But the overwhelming bulk of Hindi film songs tends to consist of solos or duets. With, as I mentioned, a choir joining in now and then.
But how many good songs are there that have three (or more) well-established singers in them? Not ‘Rafi and Lata with chorus’, but ‘Rafi, Lata, Manna Dey, Asha Bhonsle’ (or along similar lines)?
This post, therefore, which has been the pipeline for a long time now. Here I cover ten songs that I like and which have three or more well-known singers. All, as is usual with song lists on my blog, are from pre-70s films that I’ve seen. These are in no particular order of preference.
1. Hoke majboor mujhe usne bhulaaya hoga (Haqeeqat, 1964); Bhupendra, Mohammad Rafi, Talat Mahmood, Manna Dey. This was the song that actually sparked off the idea for this theme. I remember hearing Hoke majboor mujhe long before I saw it; my father told me then that it was “picturized on a group of officers singing together”, and I had imagined men sitting happily clustered in a mess, perhaps around a warm fire, some of them with whiskies… the truth, of course, couldn’t be more different.
Because these men aren’t officers, they’re jawans. They’re not in a comfortable mess, but out in the mountains, exhausted and sleepy and weak. There is little likelihood of succor; the chances of them returning to their homes and families grow dimmer with every passing hour. And they sing of the women they miss, their wives and sweethearts. A beautiful, very touching song, and impeccably rendered by four of Hindi film music’s biggest names. Bhupendra even appears onscreen, singing for himself.
2. Sun le pyaar ki dushman duniya (Pyaar Kiye Jaa, 1966); Asha Bhonsle, Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar, Manna Dey. Lovers in Hindi cinema are rarely bashful when it comes to expressing their feelings in song; I’ve lost count of the number of songs in which two lovers sing of their love with an entire chorus joining in. Much less common is this situation: two pairs of lovers go dancing and singing through the gardens. Perhaps it’s because the women are sisters and the men are best friends that they don’t feel shy about expressing their love before someone else. Perhaps, too, it gives them some much-needed morale-boosting, since the chances of the girls’ father agreeing to his daughters marrying these men are dim. Whatever; this is a fun song, combining some good old-fashioned wooing with a chest-thumping defiance of the big bad world that frowns on romance.
3. Jab-jab bahaar aayi aur phool muskuraaye (Taqdeer, 1967); Usha Mangeshkar, Mahendra Kapoor, Usha Timothy. Taqdeer had three versions of this very popular song: one, a solo by Mohammad Rafi; another, a solo by Lata Mangeshkar—and this. An old man, missing (and with his mind gone for a toss) for the past many years, regains his memory and returns home, only to find that his wife, believing herself to be a widow, has married his rich friend. The three little children he had loved are now adults—but, just as he’s beginning to despair and think that he’s dead for them, they sing the very song he used to sing to them years ago: and he realizes that even if their father is dead (as they suppose him to be), they will not forget him. A touching and sweet song about love.
4. Na toh kaarvaan ki talaash hai (Barsaat ki Raat, 1960); Manna Dey, Mohammad Rafi, Asha Bhonsle, Sudha Malhotra, SD Batish. If I’d arranged this list in order of preference, this one would have topped it. Barsaat ki Raat had the very best qawwalis in Hindi cinema—and this was the best qawwali in the film. The sheer perfection of this song blows me away. Sahir’s brilliant lyrics; Roshan’s music, the singers. The fact that it’s such a long song (combined with Yeh ishq ishq ishq hai, into which it segues, it clocks in at an impressive twelve minutes), but there’s not a false note anywhere. Not in the music, not in the rendition, not even in the picturization. A superb song, and one of Hindi cinema’s finest ever.
5. Chaandi ka badan sone ki nazar (Taj Mahal, 1963); Asha Bhonsle, Suman Kalyanpur, Manna Dey, Mohammad Rafi. Another superb qawwali, another coming together of Sahir’s lyrics and Roshan’s music. A take on the classic battle-of-the-sexes theme, Chaandi ka badan sone ki nazar has the men praising the beauty, the adas, the general peerlessness of the women they love—and the women, by turn, dampening their ardour , poking fun at them, and letting them know that their advances aren’t entirely unwelcome.
6. Mohabbat kar lo ji bhar lo (Aar Paar, 1954); Mohammad Rafi, Geeta Dutt, Suman Kalyanpur. A trio, with the man (Guru Dutt, as a taxi driver frustrated by all the canoodling going on in the back seat as he takes two lovers on a jaunt) cribbing about the idiocy and uselessness of love—while the women are all for love. They concede that love has its pitfalls; the world frowns down on it, but the joy of love is such that it makes up for everything. Interestingly, this song is in two versions. The one that is shown in the film is the trio, with Rafi singing for Guru Dutt while Geeta Dutt and Suman Kalyanpur sing for various women. Another version, not used in the film but available on the record, is a duet with only Rafi and Geeta, supported by a chorus.
7. Phir tumhaari yaad aayi ae sanam (Rustom Sohrab, 1963); Manna Dey, Mohammad Rafi, Saadat Khan. Although Saadat Khan wasn’t anywhere in the same league as Rafi and Manna Dey, he does sing solo in this haunting, nostalgic song about a love left behind but never forgotten. In a situation somewhat reminiscent of Hoke majboor mujhe usne bhulaaya hoga (but not as desolate or despairing), a group of soldiers out on a campaign strike camp for the night—and, as they sit around their campfire while their commander walks the ramparts deep in thought—they sing, remembering the sweethearts they have left behind. A wonderful tune by the oft-ignored but immensely talented Sajjad Hussain, with lyrics (“Haal-e-dil yaar ko likhoon kaise, haath dil se judaa nahin hota”) that borrow from the classic Urdu poet Momin.
8. Ramaiyya vasta vaiyya (Shree 420, 1955); Mohammad Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Mukesh. A classic song, from a classic RK film. The poor but upright young man, swayed by wealth and the illusion of happiness, comes away from one of his grand parties, still clad in tuxedo and patent leather shoes—and happens upon a song and dance among the people with whom he was once best friends. Sheila Vaz and a fellow dancer (does anyone know who lip-syncs for Rafi?) sing most of the song while an emotional Raj Kapoor watches from the sidelines. It’s only when he finally comes into their midst that he can pluck up the courage to sing of his own disillusionment—in the voice of Mukesh.
9. Bas mujhko mohabbat ho gayi hai (Biwi aur Makaan, 1966); Mukesh, Manna Dey, Hemant, Talat Mahmood. An utterly comical song from a laugh riot of a film. Bas mujhko mohabbat ho gayi hai is not notable for the music—which is forgettable—but for the lyrics, the situation, and the picturization: the entire package. Mukesh sings for Ashish Kumar, who, while pretending to be a much-married man, has gone and made the mistake of falling in love with his landlord’s niece. His four friends (one of whom, in drag, is acting as his wife) team up to try and jolt their pal out of this idiocy. So much fun, including that delightfully shocked gasp from Biswajeet when Keshto Mukherjee (in Talat’s voice) sings, “Marna ho toh ispe mar lo, aur kisi pe yoon nahin marte”.
10. Khile hain sakhi aaj (Grahasti, 1963); Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Usha Mangeshkar. And, to end the list, a song that features three of the four Mangeshkar sisters: Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle and Usha Mangeshkar sing for Rajshree, Shubha Khote and Indrani Mukherjee in this all too brief song. It’s light and peppy, fast-paced but in a very typically Indian style. Three young women celebrate their coming nuptials, looking forward with anticipation to their weddings and their meetings with their respective beloveds.
Which songs would you add to this list?