Whew. That’s a long title for a song list.
But at least it covers the basics for what this list is all about.
I listen to a lot of old Hindi film music. Even when I’m not listening to one old song or another, one of them is running through my head. And the other day, remembering some old song, I realized just how uncommon it is to find a good song that’s a duet (male and female) that doesn’t have some shade of romance to it. When the song’s a solo, there seems to be no problem doing themes other than romance: the singer could philosophize, could sing of life or past childhood, of—well, just about everything. When the song’s a duet between two females or two males, it could run the gamut from friendship to rivalry on the dance floor, to devotion to a deity, to a general celebration of life.
But bring a man and a woman together, and it seems as if everything begins and ends at romantic love. They may be playful about denying their love; they may bemoan the faithlessness of a lover; they may try to wheedle and cajole a huffy beloved—but some element of romantic love always seems to creep in. Even when there’s no semblance of a romantic relationship between the two characters in question (for instance, in a performance on stage, or—in my favourite example of a very deceptive song, Manzil wohi hai pyaar ki)—they end up singing of romantic love.
So I set myself a challenge: to find ten good songs which are male-female duets, and which do not mention romantic love in any form, not even as part of a bhajan (the Radha-Krishna trope is one that comes to mind). Furthermore, I added one more rule for myself: that the actors should both be adults (because there are far too many songs which have a female playback singer singing for a child onscreen).
It’s taken some compiling, mostly because while I found several songs which fit the criteria I set for myself, the majority weren’t songs I liked.
Here’s my list, all from pre-70s films that I’ve seen. As always, these are in no particular order.
1. Chhuppa-chhuppi o chhuppi (Savera, 1958): To begin with, a children’s song, and that too my favourite of the genre: a whacky, funny little song about a bunch of mice who’re scurrying about, fearful of the cat—who tries her hardest to convince them that she’s very good, very devout: Main toh chali Kashi, gale mil jaao (I’m off to Kashi, come and give me a hug). The mice aren’t taken in so easily, though.
While Meena Kumari’s character—a widow—does have a romantic relationship with Ashok Kumar’s not-really jogi in this film, this song shows only one easily missed visual sign of that: when each of them, surrounded by their respective groups of children, momentarily find themselves in close proximity and look briefly over their shoulders—and their eyes meet. But the lyrics, and even the picturization, have nothing to do with romance.
2. Saathi haath badhaana (Naya Daur, 1957): Like Chhuppa-chhuppi o chhuppi, a song where the two singers are surrounded by others (though when has that ever made two lovers in Hindi cinema flinch from expressing their love?) Here it’s not children, but fellow villagers and workers on a road, being built in a race against time, to be ready for a crucial race: of our hero’s tonga against the ‘motor’ of the outsider—a metaphor for dehumanized (and dehumanizing) modernity. As they work, they sing: the hero and the woman he loves, urging their friends on, encouraging them to join hands to get their work done. A classic song of socialism.
3. Dharti kahe pukaarke (Do Bigha Zameen, 1953): From one song set in the village to another—and this one a very poignant one about how time passes, how the seasons change, and how a human being should move on. Even as Shambhu (Balraj Sahni), crushed under the weight of a debt he cannot hope to repay, is forced to go to the city (Calcutta) in order to make money enough to get back the two meagre bighas of land that are his—he passes through the fields where the people he has lived amidst all his life are busy at work. Their words encourage him, yet tug him back, reminding him of all that he will miss. A lovely song, and rendered beautifully by Manna Dey and Lata Mangeshkar. Interestingly, Do Bigha Zameen had another male-female duet that wasn’t romantic in tone: that classic celebration of the monsoon, Hariyaala saawan dhol bajaata aaya.
4. Gagan jhanana raha (Nastik, 1954): Several of the best devotional songs, the bhajans, in Hindi cinema seem to be sung as solos, at the most with a chorus. And most of them are picturized in the staid, sanitary surroundings of temples. Not this one. Nastik’s heroine, played by Nalini Jaywant, is all alone by herself in a boat (without even the support of oars), and is headed for what looks like certain death. A storm tosses her boat about, and (just in case she hadn’t realized just what peril she’s in), the silhouette of some sort of celestial being appears in a far-away vision, singing to her to beware. And she, storm notwithstanding, joins in the singing, addressing her song to all the gods that be, begging them to let her survive. Who, in such a condition, can possibly think up words and belt them out so perfectly in tune, at a time like this?
And yes, despite all that sarcasm I’ve heaped on it, a lovely song. Bhajans aren’t usually my cup of tea, but this one, I like.
5. Woh subaah kabhi toh aayegi (Phir Subaah Hogi, 1958): Raj Kapoor and Mukesh isn’t a combination I like much, but this song happens to be one of my favourites. Khayyam’s very restrained music showcases Sahir’s lyrics—lyrics that provide a ray of hope for people sunk in despair, people crushed under the heel of a rapacious society that has no room for humanity. Interestingly, while the picturization does show the deep love between the two characters—mark the affection in the way they look at each other, the obvious comfort they derive from each other—there is not a trace of romance in the words they sing.
6. Umad-ghumad kar aayi re ghata (Do Aankhen Baarah Haath, 1957): I watched Do Aankhen Baarah Haath when I was in my early teens (possibly not even a teenager); till then, almost all the Hindi films I’d seen had had romance as a pivotal element of the plot. This film shook me, because it was so different from all that I’d seen before—even down to the fact that though there was a woman playing an important role in the film, there really wasn’t a romance. (I didn’t know back then that Sandhya had been married to V Shantaram; had I known, that would have made it even more surprising for me).
But I am now old enough to accept (and even appreciate) the lack of a romance in a film. And this song, celebrating the coming of the monsoon, is a fine example of a duet that has nothing to do with romance—unless it’s the romancing of the land by the rain. Barkha dulhaniya (‘cloud bride’) is what Sandhya’s female minstrels call the storm clouds that loom, heavy with rain, and it’s an apt description of how welcome the monsoon is.
7. Saanwle-salone aaye din bahaar ke (Ek Hi Raasta, 1956): The appreciation or praise of nature and God (or, as some who think them synonymous would say, nature/God) seem to be among the main themes for songs that are non-romantic but sung by men and women. Umad-ghumadkar aayi re ghata falls into that category, and so does this one. Even though pyaar (love) is mentioned a couple of times in Saanwle-salone aaye din bahaar ke, it’s not specifically romantic love, but love in its very essence: a love for family, a love for nature and for life.
I like the picturization of this song: Sunil Dutt, Meena Kumari and Daisy Irani on that bicycle are the very picture of a happy little family out on a jaunt in the spring. Really sweet, and there’s an especially cute moment when Meena Kumari, gesturing (and therefore having let go of the cycle or of Sunil Dutt), suddenly lets out an inadvertent gasp and grabs, because a jolt nearly throws her off-balance.
8. Ae dil hai mushkil jeena yahaan (CID, 1956): A classic song. Classic in many ways: classic Bombay, classic philosophy, classic when it comes to music and lyrics and singers and picturization. Plus, of course, the reason why it’s here in this list: it’s a song that features a man and a woman (who are sweethearts), but singing not of their love but of other matters. He bemoans the fact that Bombay is such a brutal city, so harsh and materialistic; she disagrees—how you treat others is how you will be treated, she implies, so if you stand up to it, Bombay (or, by implication, anybody anywhere) will also cooperate with you. Even though the picturization has elements of affection in it—in the playful way Johnny Walker and Kumkum tease each other, both in the Victoria and later off it—the lyrics have no romance in them. Just pure philosophy.
9. Jai Raghunandan Jai Siya Ram (Gharana, 1961): When I set out to compile this list, I thought I’d probably be able to find several instances of non-romantic male-female duets among devotional songs. There are some (one which I especially like, though it’s sung by a trio rather than as a duet, is the beautiful Darshan do Ghanshyamnath), but the majority here too seems to be solos. Or duets that aren’t that great. But there’s this one, in praise of Ram and Sita, which has a small family, children and bahu included, gathering to worship. While the two boys gaze greedily at the edible goodies heaped up in the household shrine, the adults sing a bhajan.
10. Mud-mudke na dekh (Shree 420, 1955): And, to end, a superb song that has so much to recommend it: a very attractive Raj Kapoor in a tux, a steely-eyed but beautiful Nadira in (towards the latter half of the song) a sheath dress that was so tight, she wasn’t able to sit in it); and a young Sadhana, supposedly as part of the dancing extras. Plus, lovely music, great rendition by Asha Bhosle and Manna Dey—and a song that, despite that “Hum bhi tere humsafar hain” (“We are fellow travellers on this road”), has absolutely nothing to do with romance.
Because, from the moment the naïve Raju has met the aptly-named Maya, there has not been a jot of affection or passion between them. He, initially dazzled by her wealth and power, has allowed himself to be ushered into her world, and she, realizing his usefulness as a profitable partner in crime, has made this relationship what it is: a cynical understanding of what a harsh world this is, and how one needs an ally in order to get through.
Which songs would you add to this list?