Sometime last month, I discovered that one of my favourite music directors would have celebrated his birthday centenary this year. Born Roshanlal Nagrath on July 14, 1917, in Gujranwala (now in Pakistan), Roshan played the esraj for All India Radio, Delhi for about 10 years (during which he also composed music for various programmes) before moving to Bombay to try his luck in the world of cinema. Roshan’s career as a music director took off fairly soon afterwards, with the resounding success of the score of Baawre Nain (1950); he went on to compose music for over 50 films until his death in 1967.
If I’d known in July that it was a hundred years since Roshan’s birth, I’d have compiled this list and posted it back then as a tribute. But, what’s done is done—so, to mark the hundredth year of his birth (if not the exact date), ten of my favourite Roshan songs. As for all my song lists, these are all from films that I’ve seen. In Roshan’s case, since he passed away in 1967 and all the films for which he composed were released at the most within the next couple of years, my old rule of ‘from pre-70s cinema’ doesn’t need to be applied. But yes, I have stuck to another rule: no two songs are from the same film.
Here goes, in no particular order:
1. Na toh kaarvaan ki talaash hai—Yeh ishq ishq hai (Barsaat ki Raat, 1960): I am wary of applying the term ‘best’ to anything and anybody: it’s so subjective, I think. Most romantic song? Funniest song? Best ghazal? I steer clear of all those appellations. With one exception—I think Na toh kaarvaan ki talaash hai is the very best qawwali ever in Hindi cinema. There are many others that are good, even excellent, but there is none that is quite in the same class as this qawwali (and the one into which it segues, Yeh ishq ishq hai).
Sahir’s lyrics are superb, and Roshan puts them beautifully to music, using a range of voices—Manna Dey, Asha Bhonsle, Sudha Malhotra, Mohmmad Rafi, SD Batish, and others—musical instruments, and rhythmic clapping, to create an unforgettable qawwali that clocks in at twelve minutes but never palls. Yeh ishq ishq hai, especially, has some brilliant variations in tempo and tune, making it even more interesting than Na toh kaarvaan ki talaash hai.
2. Baar-baar tohe kya samjhaaye (Aarti, 1962): Roshan scored the music for several films starring Meena Kumari, Pradeep Kumar and Ashok Kumar (as you’ll see when you read the rest of this list). Aarti was one of these, and while it wasn’t a film I liked all that much, it did have some great songs. I had a hard time choosing between Kabhi toh milegi kahin toh milegi and Baar-baar tohe kya samjhaaye, but finally settled for the latter, because it incorporates such an interesting twist. It starts off all fast-paced and folksy, very much the street performance by a dancer in a village—and then turns into a gentler, romantic (yet still playful) song sung by two people deeply in love. Beautiful, and also very well put together in the film: well-picturized and well-acted, besides, of course, being beautifully sung.
3. Jurm-e-ulfat pe (Taj Mahal, 1963): Like Barsaat ki Raat, Taj Mahal was one of Roshan’s most standout films: both boasted of a score that was stellar, not one song that could be considered a dud. Taj Mahal, for instance, had the very romantic Paaon chhoo lene do and Jo waada kiya woh nibhaana hoga, as well as the teasing, fast-paced Na na na re na na haath na lagaana and the qawwali Chaandi ka badan sone ki nazar. More than those, though, it’s this quiet, contained song that impresses me: Roshan uses music in a very subdued way to let Lata’s voice (and Sahir’s gently defiant lyrics) to shine through. My only complaint is that this song is so short: it deserved to have been longer.
4. Mann re tu kaahe na dheer dhare (Chitralekha, 1964): Another song from a Pradeep Kumar-Meena Kumari-Ashok Kumar film, and (like Taj Mahal), a historical. Chitralekha had some beautiful songs, of which this one is easily my favourite. The lyrics are from Sahir, whose collaboration with Roshan, while not often recognized as much as his association with SD Burman, produced some memorable music, and the voice is Rafi’s. While this song does have a lot more instrumentation than (say) Jurm-e-ulfat pe, it’s all controlled, all carefully built up to complement the lyrics and the voice. That is one of the things I like a lot about Roshan: his ability to control the instrumentation, and not let it take over the song.
5. Chhupa lo yoon dil mein pyaar mera (Mamta, 1966): Mamta was an excellent showcase of Roshan’s versatility as a composer: on the one hand, it had two very different styles of love song: the romantic yet somehow fatalistic Rahein na rahein hum, and the more playful In bahaaron mein akele na phiron. It had the bitter ghazal, Rehte thhe kabhi jinke dil mein.
And it had this beautiful song about a romance that can now never be but which has been allowed to turn into a more platonic love. The lyrics conjure up an image of a love that is sacred, to which a sanctity is accorded: a love that must be hidden away, like the lamp in the inner sanctum of a temple. Roshan’s music, with that gentle tinkling of finger cymbals, echoes the feel of a temple—and the overall softness of the music, coupled with two very appropriate voices (Hemant’s and Lata’s) is sublime.
6. Laaga chunari mein daag (Dil Hi To Hai, 1963): If you’ve heard Roshan’s many qawwalis and ghazals for films like Taj Mahal and Barsaat ki Raat, you might be tempted to think him only good at that style of music. But Roshan was as versatile as he was brilliant. Here, in what many consider among the best Hindustani classical songs to appear in Hindi cinema, he uses raag bhairavi to create an unforgettably impressive song. Sahir (again!) weaves a song that has several layers: the literal, and the metaphorical (on two levels: that related to love, and that which equates the entire relationship to that of the soul and the world). Brilliant lyrics, and Roshan’s music—rich, layered, dazzlingly complex—do justice to them. As does Manna Dey, who is superb here.
7. Hum intezaar karenge (Bahu Begum, 1967): Bahu Begum included two versions of Hum intezaar karenge: a duet (Asha Bhonsle and Mohammad Rafi) which is romantic and happy; and a solo (Rafi) which is sad. Both are beautiful songs in their own way, with good lyrics, and Roshan doesn’t play around with the base music too much, just sobering the tempo down a bit for the sad version to make it more restrained.
The duet, one of those classic ‘songs of waiting’, is a particular favourite of mine. Lilting music, rippling and light, two wonderful voices. Roshan pretty much makes the garden setting come alive just through the music.
8. Oh re taal mile nadi ke jal se (Anokhi Raat, 1968): The very last film for which Roshan composed (with his wife, Ira Roshan, being associate composer), Anokhi Raat had some good songs, all the way from the rueful Mahalon ka raja mila and the resigned Mile na phool toh kaanton se dosti kar li, to the ‘phadakta hua’ Meri ber ke ber mat todo. And there was this, one of those philosophical songs that seem tailor-made for the soulful voice of Mukesh.
While the lyrics (Indeevar’s) are thought-provoking and poignant, Roshan’s music plays a major part in giving life to this song. There’s a rustic feel to it (very appropriate, given that the singer and the milieu is in the rural countryside), and the chorus, adding those ‘hayi-re’ and ‘ho-ha’ sounds in between, adds to the effect.
9. Dil jo na keh saka (Bheegi Raat, 1965): Yet another Pradeep Kumar-Meena Kumari-Ashok Kumar love triangle. Bheegi Raat was based on An Affair to Remember (which was a copy of Love Affair): a time-tested (and rehashed ever since, too) tale of two lovers separated by what seems like infidelity on the part of the woman, only to turn out to be supreme self-sacrifice.
The best-known song of Bheegi Raat, Dil jo na keh saka, is (like Hum intezaar karenge) in two versions: the female one is an erotic, slow, quietly happy song, while the male version is—despite being angsty and bitter—fast-paced rather than brooding. One of Rafi’s best songs, I love the way Roshan lets him sing full-throated and high, with the swelling notes of the wind instruments (trumpet? Sax? I have no idea) to match.
10. Main dil hoon ek armaan bhara (Anhonee, 1952): And, to end this list, a song from one of Roshan’s early films. Raj Kapoor, who starred in the film (Baawre Nain) that shot Roshan to fame, also starred in Anhonee—as a young lawyer who falls in love with a wealthy girl, who (unknown even to herself) has a half-sister who looks uncannily like her. At a party, the young hero, called upon to sing a song (and expected, by the snooty company, to disgrace himself) ends up surprising everybody—and impressing the woman he’s falling for.
Instead of Raj Kapoor’s more usual ‘voice’, Mukesh, Roshan chose to use Talat for this lovely little song. Unlike a lot of songs that use a piano onscreen but have precious little piano to be heard in the song, this one has the piano well in evidence in the song itself, especially in the interludes. The result is something that’s a great cross between a romantic serenade and something a bit more peppy: the quintessential ‘happy’ party song.
Which songs would you choose for a Roshan list?
Happy birthday (or birth centenary year, really), Roshan Sahib! May your songs live on forever.