Some months back, I was listening to a music programme on the radio, and heard a song I hadn’t heard for ages: the title song from Dreamgirl. Once upon a time, a six- or seven-year old me used to love Kisi shaayar ki ghazal, not just because it sounded good, but because to me, Hema Malini, in all those frilly, frothy dresses was just—oh, gorgeous. This time, I heard the song with a warm sense of nostalgia; and it struck me that dreams have been, for a long time now, an important part of Hindi cinema. And of Hindi film songs.
For one, there are several songs which are set completely in people’s dreams. The heroine (or the hero) goes to sleep and dreams of singing a song along with the beloved. Then, there are songs which fit the very specific cinematic style known as the dream sequence: a dream which does not require anybody to be really asleep (though some of the best dream sequences in cinema history do involve people who are asleep). In a dream world, there can be little semblance to reality: special effects, grand backdrops, feats that people would not achieve in real life—all come to the fore, and are celebrated, in dream sequences. Look at Ghar aaya mera pardesi, for instance.
And then, there are the literal ‘dream songs’, songs which talk about dreams. Dreams in which the beloved features, dreams about a rosy future alongside the love of one’s life. (It’s interesting that dreams, in the context of Hindi film lyrics, almost always seem to refer to happy dreams, never nightmares. Those dreams may be shattered, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t wonderful to start with).
But, to get on to the post itself. Ten songs, each of which features a synonym for dream (khwaab, sapna, swapn, etc) in the first two lines of the song. These are in no particular order, and are all from pre-1970s films that I’ve seen.
1. Khwaab ho tum ya koi haqeeqat (Teen Deviyaan, 1965): This song comes in at the top of the list simply because it was the first song that came to my mind when I thought of doing a ‘dream songs’ post. Dev Anand’s character (also called Devdutt, the actor’s real name) sings a song at a party. The ultimate in ambitious serenades, Khwaab ho tum ya koi haqeeqat addresses a mysterious woman—whom the singer never positively identifies, leading to some smugly confident misunderstandings on the part of two ladies—and asks her if she is a dream, or a reality. Who is she? Flesh and blood, substantial? Or not? Beautifully romantic lyrics, fabulous music, beautifully sung by Kishore Kumar, and very well-picturized.
2. Rulaake gaya sapna mera (Jewel Thief, 1967): Also a Dev Anand film, but one which is diametrically opposite from the frothily romantic Teen Deviyaan. And this song, sung by a despondent Vyjyanthimala, playing a mysterious woman who insists that the protagonist is none other than her fiancé, is a far cry from Khwaab ho tum ya koi haqeeqat. This singer rues the dream that has left her weeping. A dream, perhaps, of joy and love, which—when her eyes have opened—she has found to have vanished. A khwaab, not haqeeqat. The last song to have been written by Shailendra, this is a lyrical, touching one.
3. Phaili hui hain sapnon ki baahein (House No 44, 1955): And, before I move on to other actors, one more song from a Dev Anand film, even though he doesn’t put in an appearance in Phaili hui hain sapnon ki baahein. Instead, this is sung by Kalpana Karthik’s character, a young woman in love who wanders through the woods, singing an invitation to her absent lover to come and join her. Our dreams have spread their arms for us, she sings. Come, let us go forward. Where your paths lead, there too is my destination; come, let us walk away into the distance. Sahir Ludhianvi, known more for his angsty revolutionary poetry, here proves again (see Parbaton ke pedon par, or Pighla hai sona door gagan par) that he was also exceptionally good at describing nature. And, as he does here, using the beauty of nature as a backdrop for romance.
4. Mere sapnon ki rani kab aayegi tu (Aradhana, 1969): Another of those quintessential serenades. Rajesh Khanna, playing the dashing air force officer, is en route to Darjeeling in a jeep driven by his colleague (Sujit Kumar) when, driving alongside the Toy Train, our hero falls head over heels in love with a total stranger whom he sees on the train. He takes the opportunity (it’s a long journey, after all, many hours longer even than the few minutes Mere sapnon ki rani occupies) to sing her a song. The refrain is a question: the queen of my dreams, when will you come? As the queen of his dreams simpers and smiles, he goes on to add both incentives and ultimatums. Why she should become a part of his reality, rather than being merely a part of his dreams.
5. Toote hue khwaabon ne (Madhumati, 1958): This is the sort of song that helps reinforce the popular image of Dilip Kumar as the King of Tragedy: a man with tears brimming in his eyes, singing for a lost love, for shattered dreams. Not that Madhumati was anywhere close to being as much of a tragedy as (say) Devdas or Deedaar; this was much more, all the way from romance to supernatural to comic. But yes, Toote hue khwaabon ne certainly ranks right up there as one of Dilip Kumar’s most memorable songs, as his character goes about grieving over the death of the village girl whom he loved so deeply. With her sudden death, he has, just as suddenly, been left bereft and inconsolable. His shattered dreams remind him: dil ne jise paaya thha, aankhon ne ganvaaya hai (she whom the heart had found, is now lost to the eyes).
6. Jaane kaise sapnon mein kho gayeen akhiyaan (Anuradha, 1961): A young woman in love celebrates her love by singing of the effect it has had on her. What dreams are these, she wonders, that have turned her world upside-down? She is awake, but her eyes have fallen asleep (to sleep, perchance to dream? Of the beloved?) The song’s primary motif is that of her eyes: her eyes which now can see nothing except the face of the man she loves, her eyes which dream of him, whether he is absent or present, whether she is awake or asleep.
7. Tere-mere sapne ab ek rang hain (Guide, 1965): Dev Anand seems to have acted in more than his fair share of films that featured ‘dream songs’. Here he is again, this time lip-synching to a song that, while romantic, has a touchingly comforting feel to it. As Raju, the tourist guide who has fallen in love with the neglected and repressed wife of an ambitious archaeologist, he sets out to assure Rosie of his love for her. Our dreams are coloured alike, he sings; wherever our paths will lead us, we will walk side by side. Her reaction is worth watching: the sad disbelief slowly giving way to assurance and to a reciprocation of his love.
8. Kaun hai jo sapnon mein aaya (Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan, 1968): Rajendra Kumar, also a tourist guide like Dev Anand’s Raju in Guide, has just driven his girlfriend to the airport, a scary drive at breakneck speed to get her there in record time. Now, having seen her off, he relaxes—in the most idiotic of ways: by singing a song and flinging his arms about as he drives back (with, of course, disastrous consequences). The song, however, is a good one, a celebration of his love. Who is this who has come into his dreams? Who is this who has filled his heart?
9. Raat ne kya-kya khwaab dikhaaye (Ek Gaon ki Kahaani, 1957): One of the few songs in this list which isn’t strictly about romance. Talat Mahmood, singing playback for himself a song written by Shailendra and composed by Salil Chaudhury, bemoans the shattering of an illusion. What beautiful dreams the night had spun, what hopes it had given rise to; all have shattered with the passing of the night (an interesting inversion of the otherwise common trope of the night giving way to dawn and new hope). All those dreams were false, he realizes; the truth is bitter and nothing like what he had imagined.
10. Zindagi khwaab hai (Jaagte Raho, 1956): And, to end: a tribute to the link between life and dreams. What is life, after all, but a dream? asks Motilal’s happy (but philosophical) drunk. What is true in a dream, and what is false? He answers his own question in the very next breath: everything is true. In a dream, and in life. You follow your instincts, you take the path you want to, irrespective of what the rest of the world thinks. That is where happiness lies. A philosophy that is beyond the comprehension of the wide-eyed and desperately thirsty villager who watches from the sidelines. Is this a dream for him? Or is his life a nightmare from which there is no escape?
Which songs would you add to this list? Remember, this isn’t about songs picturized as dream sequences (unless the lyrics also include, in the beginning, a synonym for ‘dream’), or for songs that are picturized as a result of someone dreaming. But songs that include a synonym for ‘dream’ in the first couple of lines.