Sometime back, blog reader Anup remarked that some songs had a major singer not really doing much singing. Duets, he pointed out, where one singer does almost all the singing, while the other one just does a supportive ‘la-la-la-la’, or something along those lines. Anup suggested I compile a song list of duets like that. Of what I call ‘technically duets’: not songs in which both singers play an equal part in making the song what it is, but in which the ratio is somewhat skewed.
Then, only about a week after Anup made this suggestion, yet another blog reader, Bhagwan Thavrani, sent me an e-mail with pretty much the same suggestion. He was rather more precise: songs in which one singer only hummed, while the other did the singing.
Two readers, both requesting songs of the same basic type? I decided I had to take up the challenge. Especially as, offhand, I couldn’t think of many songs that would fit the bill. This would require a good deal of research, and a lot of listening to songs. I decided, however, to make this a little more wide-ranging: not necessarily one singer humming, but definitely one singer dominating the song.
And here it is (and, interestingly, I realized later that a lot of these songs are favourites of mine, anyway). Ten songs that are, technically speaking, duets (and, in a couple of instances, with a chorus), but not quite. These are songs in which one person does most of the singing, while the other is around just to provide some sort of relief. Rather like a human voice taking the place of an instrument in an orchestra. As always, all are from pre-70s films that I’ve seen. In no particular order:
1. Pyaar par bas toh nahin (Sone ki Chidiya, 1958): This one, I will admit, is the song that Bhagwan Thavrani gave me as an example while explaining what he meant—and since this is both an excellent example of the ‘technically duet’ song as well as one of my very favourite songs, I figured this needed to be right at the top.
Pyaar pas bas toh nahin is in two versions: one, sung by Asha alone, does not feature in the film (or at least did not feature in the VCD version that I watched). The other, a better-known version, is the one that’s sung primarily by Talat. A lovely, lilting love song in which a man addresses the woman he loves and asks her if he dare love her or not. She doesn’t give him the answer to his question, but she hums sweetly along.
2. Teri aankhon ke siva duniya mein (Chirag, 1969): Like Pyaar par bas toh nahin, this song from Chirag also appears in two versions (though both are retained in the film): a female solo, and what seems—until the very last verse—like a male solo. Rafi sings this song playback for Sunil Dutt, as Dutt’s character sings the praises of the woman he loves. Of her eyes, specifically, which mean the world to him: eyes that enchant, eyes that offer love and support and companionship. At the very end, in response to him and affirming all that he sings, she replies. Lata has only ‘Yeh hon kahin inka saaya mera dil se jaata nahin, inke siva ab toh kuchh bhi mujhko nazar aata nahin’ to sing here, but it helps round out the song beautifully.
3. Na tum humein jaano (Baat ek Raat ki, 1962): Yet another song which appears in two versions in a film. Suman Kalyanpur sang the female solo of Na tum humein jaano. Hemant sang the bulk of this version, the better-known one that has Dev Anand, a lawyer trying to discover the truth behind a murder his client is supposed to have committed, singing to her a song that was once her signature song. Suman Kalyanpur’s voice features here, too, as Waheeda Rehman’s character, her mind gone halfway for a toss, begins to come to a consciousness of her surroundings. A glimmering of a memory arouses her to join the song a little beyond halfway through the song. She only begins singing the words right at the end, though, joining the male voice for just that one line.
4. Phir aane lagaa yaad wohi (Yeh Dil Kisko Doon, 1963): Interestingly, Yeh Dil Kisko Doon featured not one, but two, songs that were sung primarily by a man but had a woman pitching in occasionally to add another dimension to the song. In Kitni haseen ho tum, Asha Bhonsle sings half a line here, half a line there while Rafi sings the rest of the song. In Phir aane lagaa yaad wohi, however, the female singer (in this case, Usha Khanna) has even less to sing: all she sings is three words, repeated at intervals through the song: Pyaar ka aalam, while Rafi sings the rest of the song. It works very well in this dreamy dream sequence.
5. O nigaah-e-mastaana (Paying Guest, 1957): A song which, like Pyaar par bas toh nahin (and, coincidentally, also picturized on Nutan, with Asha Bhonsle ‘singing’ playback for her), has the female mostly just humming (and breaking into a little ‘Aaaa’) while the male sings. O nigaah-e-mastaana has been a favourite of mine ever since I first watched it, at about twelve years of age. It’s beautifully picturized, very romantic and playful, and it’s sung brilliantly by Kishore. I also especially like the care with which Asha’s humming has been inserted—at just the right places, where it complements Kishore’s singing perfectly.
6. Thandi hawa yeh chaandni suhaani (Jhumroo, 1961): This song is probably the one which best exemplifies the theme of this post, because one singer has only a few seconds of singing to do, consisting of very little humming and a note or two, before the song is taken over by someone else. I have no idea who the woman singer is (Lata? Asha?), but Kishore, who also composed the music for this (based, very obviously, on Domani), sings this beautifully, making it one of the most soothing of his songs that I’ve heard from the 1960s.
7. Ae dil kahaan teri manzil (Maya, 1961): Dev Anand seems to have been a part of several songs that fit the theme of this post (and I’ve not even counted Aankhon hi aankhon mein ishaara ho gaya, where Rafi only gets to sing the refrain while Geeta Dutt sings the rest of the song). Here he is, again, this time with a relatively little-known singer, Dwijen Mukherjee, singing playback for him. Ae dil kahaan teri manzil is a beautifully poignant song of heartbreak and loneliness, and Mukherjee renders it soulfully—and Lata, who leads the chorus with perfectly-timed ‘Aaa’s (not a single word sung)—is wonderful. So high, but never shrill.
8. Vande mataram (Anand Math, 1952): A song with a difference. All the songs which I’ve listed earlier in this post (and the overwhelming majority of those which I came across during the course of researching this list) have a male singer dominating the song while a female singer provides support, whether it’s only one line sung here, or a few notes hummed there. Vande mataram, however, is sung by Lata, and though there’s a very strong choir component (some of whom were, on the sly, singing One day Bombay one day Goregaon instead of the actual words), there is also Hemant. Hemant’s voice comes in every now and then, echoing in the distance—never singing words, but just carrying the song forward. Stirring, fervent, and a classic.
9. Bachpan ke din bhi kya din thhe (Sujata, 1959): Another unusual song in this genre, because it has two women singing—even though only one of them (Geeta Dutt, singing playback for Shashikala)—sings the words. The privileged daughter of the household sits at her piano and sings nostalgically about the childhood she has left behind. Outside, her foster sister, the eponymous Sujata (Nutan) joins in the song (with Asha Bhonsle ‘singing’ playback for her), humming along and adding a few ‘Aaas’ here and there. It is Geeta Dutt’s song, but Asha adds that extra something to it.
10. Aa ab laut chalein (Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, 1960): I must admit I didn’t particularly like Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, and the climax of the film was even more irritating than the rest of it. But the music of the film was good, and this song is a fine example of one which, while a duet, has one person (Mukesh, singing playback for Raj Kapoor) doing most of the singing, while the second singer (Lata, singing for Padmini) only joins in now and then. She sings only a few words—Aaja re—but still forms an integral part of the song. Lata’s voice rises really high in this, but is beautifully controlled.
Which songs can you think of that conform to this theme?