Happy 70th birthday, Mumtaz!
I have gone through phases when I’ve been very fond of a certain actor, only to later start disliking them. Or vice-versa. Dev Anand, for a while, I could watch in anything (until I discovered his post-Johny Mera Naam films, and began disliking him even in some of his earlier films). Mehmood I was fond of as a child; now, it’s only the rare film where I like him. Balraj Sahni I found boring when I was a kid: for many years now, he’s been an actor I admire immensely.
Mumtaz (born in Bombay, on July 31, 1947) is one of the exceptions. I have adored Mumu ever since I can remember. From that gorgeous smile to that cute little button nose, to those dancing eyes: I have never not loved Mumtaz. Initially, I remember loving her just for the fact that she was so very pretty and vivacious; later, when I saw films like Khilona, I realized just how good an actress she is, too.
So, in celebration of the 70th birthday of one of my favourite actresses, ten of her songs that I like. Although Mumtaz had some great songs picturized on her during the 1970s (in films like Loafer, Chor Machaaye Shor and Jheel ke Us Paar), since my blog confines itself to pre-70s cinema, that’s what I’ve stuck to here. As always, these songs are all from films I’ve seen.
1. Aajkal tere-mere pyaar ke charche (Brahmachari, 1968): When Shammi Kapoor hits the dance floor, it’s actually pretty tough for an actress sharing the same space to be remembered. Offhand, if I think of actresses who’ve held their own dancing alongside Shammi, I immediately think of Asha Parekh in Aaja aaja main hoon pyaar tera, Helen in O haseena zulfonwaali—and Mumtaz in Aajkal tere-mere pyaar ke charche. In her iconic orange sari—draped in a style that came to be known as the ‘Mumtaz sari style’—Mumtaz is fabulous. She’s as peppy and frothy as Shammi, and for once, it’s the actress I’m looking at, not Shammi. And such a delightfully foot-tapping number too.
2. Zindagi ittefaq hai (Aadmi au Insaan, 1969): Saira Banu was billed as the heroine of Aadmi aur Insaan. For me, she pales into insignificance in comparison to Mumtaz. Not just because Mumtaz was the one who lip-synced to the best song in the film, but because Mumtaz was, from the very first moment she appeared onscreen, exquisitely stylish. She oozed oomph; her clothes were stunning, her hairstyles were fabulous, and her character was an interesting one. Here, in a philosophical song about the ‘coincidental’ nature of life (a philosophy her character espouses throughout the film), Mumtaz is the undoubted focus of the party. She’s gorgeous and bold in a classy way, and there’s a certain Who-gives-a-damn-about-the-world air about her that I find very attractive.
3. Yeh hai reshmi zulfon ka andhera (Mere Sanam, 1965): I will admit that Mumtaz doesn’t look her best in this particular song: those slightly curly tresses aren’t especially pretty, and that body-hugging gold-and-black striped outfit is unflattering—it wouldn’t have suited Mumtaz in her later years when she was much more svelte, and it’s almost embarrassing here, when she’s still fairly chubby. But despite these drawbacks (not to mention the presence of Biswajit, not a favourite of mine), this remains a classic Mumu song. She manages to convey a seductiveness that I would not have expected to be a successful attempt given the circumstances.
4. O matwaare saajna chhalak gaya mera pyaar (Faulad, 1963): Mumtaz’s career had an interesting trajectory: a slow but consistent beginning (as a child artiste, graduating to a heroine of B-grade films); a mid-career rise to recognition, with supporting roles in films like Saawan ki Ghata, Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi, Mere Sanam, etc) and finally as heroine—sadly, for too few years—in big films like Khilona, Sachcha-Jhootha, Loafer, and Apradh.
One major part of her early career consisted of a series of faux historical-action films she starred in opposite Dara Singh (sixteen films in all, according to most sources). Most of these films had little to recommend them in the way of story or coherence, but they had a young and pretty Mumtaz, and often some good songs. O matwaare saajna is an example: a melodious and romantic song with a lovely Mumtaz and a muscular Dara Singh, she looking demure and shy as she sings of her love for him.
5. O meri maina tu maan le mera kehna (Pyaar Kiye Jaa, 1966): For me, Pyaar Kiye Jaa ranks as one of the best Hindi comedies of the 50s and 60s: it’s hilarious, and it has some fine performances from a great ensemble cast that included Shashi Kapoor, Kalpana, Kishore Kumar, Mehmood, Om Prakash—and Mumtaz. As a village belle who is ‘discovered’ by an aspiring film maker (Mehmood, in one role where I actually find him pretty amusing) and groomed to be his heroine, she shows a real flair for comedy. Here, in a song I love, Mumtaz and Mehmood show off their dancing skills. Mumu is pretty, she’s cute, and she’s so very watchable.
6. Bindiya chamkegi churi khankegi (Do Raaste, 1969): Mumtaz in an orange sari, again. But a very different Mumtaz from the one who sizzles in Brahmachari: in Bindiya chamkegi, churi khankegi, she looks the traditional bhartiya naari to the T. There are flowers in her hair, paayals on her ankles, bangles on her wrists, a bindiya on her forehead—all carefully calculated and aimed at distracting the lover who’s trying so hard to get some studying done for his upcoming exams. I don’t especially like the music of this song, but Mumtaz is lovely, and Rajesh Khanna’s acting—his reaction to her song and dance—is so very apt! There’s that initial resistance, the half-wish that she would leave him to study; and then, the growing interest and the final capitulation.
7. Humein toh ho gaya hai pyaar (Mere Humdum Mere Dost, 1968): By the mid- and late-60s, Mumtaz was acting in A-grade films, including several (Pathhar ke Sanam, Sawan ki Ghata, Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi) where she played the third wheel, occasionally just merely irritatingly clingy when it came to the hero. In Mere Humdum Mere Dost, however, though her character does fall in love with a man who loves another (and there’s a birth secret involved here…), she backs off gracefully. Here, clad in a blingy crimson-and-gold sheath dress, she does a song and dance, telling him how she’s crazy about him, never mind whether that love is requited or not. In reality, though, this is all a ploy to help him escape a bunch of thugs.
8. Tik tik tik mera dil (Humjoli, 1970): And, a song from the cusp of the decades. Interestingly too, an item song, before they became so common in Hindi cinema. Humjoli’s lead actress was Leena Chandavarkar; in the story, her character falls in love and when her sweetheart realizes that it will be better for her (or so he thinks, as is usual in Hindi films) to be separated from him, he contrives to put up a farce—by performing a romantic song-and-dance with a gorgeous girl at a club. Much as I like Leena Chandavarkar, I do think Mumtaz is miles ahead of her in the looks department: she’s so pretty and so effervescent. Plus, that outfit is pretty eye-catching.
9. Chaand bhi koi deewaana hai (Apna Ghar Apni Kahaani, 1968): I’ll admit that in this case, at least, it’s the sheer beauty of the song—the tune, the lyrics, the rendition—that played a large part in its being on this list. But I will also admit that if the actress here had been someone else (Vimmi? Kalpana? Priya Rajvansh? Saira Banu?), I may not have liked this song so much. In a change from the effervescent, dancing and energetic Mumtaz of almost all the other songs in this list, here she’s tranquil, calm, singing softly in a dreamily romantic song under the moonlight. This was an especially good Mumtaz film for me, too, even though her role was fairly limited: her character’s romance was probably the most beguiling I’ve ever seen, and Mumtaz did total justice to the role.
10. Dhadka toh hoga dil zaroor (CID 909, 1967): Mumtaz was unfortunate enough to spend a good bit of her career working—even as heroine—in films that may have starred fairly big names, but were forgettable. CID 909, as the name suggests, was a convoluted and incoherent spy film starring Feroz Khan as the eponymous CID 909, with Mumtaz as the daughter and assistant of a scientist who’s invented a crucial formula (for peace, with FORMULA emblazoned across the top of the file, easily identifiable by enemy agents). What CID 909 could boast of was some fine music (courtesy OP Nayyar)—and Mumtaz, pretty and stylish as always. Here, our heroine abandons her bouffants and chic slacks to disguise herself as a gypsy, singing and dancing to a peppy song, teasing her lover. Infectious and delightful, and Mumtaz steals the scene from her fellow danseuse and Feroz Khan.
Happy birthday, Mumtaz, and thank you for your films!