I get requests for song lists from readers all the time. Often, it turns out that the person hasn’t been through my list of lists I’ve done. Occasionally, the suggestion is something that’s either so difficult to do (songs about war, one I’ve promised myself I will someday achieve) or so ludicrously easy (songs about broken hearts) that I don’t even want to begin.
Very occasionally, though, a reader writes in with a suggestion that makes my eyes light up. Sometime back, a reader named TN Subramaniam wrote, asking me if I’d like to do a list of songs that were the one major hit song in a film otherwise characterized by forgettable songs. As an example, Dr Subramaniam suggested a song: Tum jo aao toh pyaar aa jaaye from Sakhi Robin, a lovely song, but one which wasn’t merely from an obscure film, but also from a film that had no other songs that readily come to mind.
Since I have a self-imposed rule about including songs only from films that I’ve seen, I can’t include the Sakhi Robin song, but here are ten songs that I think meet the criterion: a single great song, or at least a very popular one (not necessarily a great song, even), from a film that had otherwise no very well-known songs – among the general public. Connoisseurs of old Hindi film music, who know and love the obscurest of songs, please do not count yourself among the general public!
Of course, these are all from pre-70s films.
1. Dhalti jaaye raat keh le dil ki baat (Razia Sultana, 1961): The only woman to have sat on the throne of medieval Delhi, Razia Sultan (not Sultana, which is a term used for the consort or the daughter of a Sultan—which Razia, a Sultan in her own right, was not) has had at least two Hindi films based on her life. The Hema Malini-starrer is definitely the more well-known, but this one too, despite its very ahistorical plot, was not bad either. This film, starring Nirupa Roy and P Jairaj, had a fairly lacklustre score—barring this one song, which is lovely. It’s not seemly (apparently) for royalty to go singing and dancing in the moonlight, so the feelings of Razia and her beloved, Malik Altunia, are voiced by an unnamed couple. Commoners, but with wonderful voices, and singing a beautifully romantic song.
2. Saba se yeh keh do (Bank Manager, 1959): Lots of people, on learning that I prefer Asha Bhonsle to Lata Mangeshkar, have said that Asha can only sing peppy or flirtatious songs. To them, I have responded with various examples of songs that have been sung by Asha and do not fall into either of those categories. This one, a gorgeously subtle and beautiful one in praise of a sweetheart, is invariably top of my list. Saba se yeh keh do was composed by Madan Mohan, and I love the fact that he keeps the music so subdued that Asha’s voice is allowed to hold centrestage.
3. Ek haseen shaam ko (Dulhan Ek Raat Ki, 1967): Loosely based on Thomas Hardy’s classic Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Dulhan Ek Raat Ki is a film I watched once, long ago, and have never felt the urge to revisit. Not because I didn’t like the cast (Nutan, Dharmendra and Rehman can always be counted upon to deliver), but because this one was just too depressing and grim for my liking. It didn’t even have great songs—except for one, which is memorable. Ek haseen shaam ko is one of those all-time great romantic songs that I can listen to (and watch) again and again. I love the picturization, with Dharmendra and Nutan walking under the trees. I love the echo effect that comes in now and then. I love the lyrics.
4. Gumsum sa yeh jahaan (Duniya Jhukti Hai, 1960): Yet another classic love song, from a film that was otherwise fairly forgettable. Duniya Jhukti Hai starred Shyama as a married woman with a child, who remembers her past with her lover (played by Sunil Dutt) in this song. Hemant, who composed the music for Duniya Jhukti Hai, did give it several songs, but none of the calibre of Gumsum sa yeh jahaan, a duet with Geeta Dutt. Their voices meld together beautifully and the lyrics are a good balance between playful and romantic.
5. Raahi matwaale (Waaris, 1954): Do composers, like writers (I can speak for writers, since I am one myself), know when they’ve created something good? Something that has the potential to be repeated? Songs with several versions in the same film—female solo, male solo, duet, etc—are not exactly uncommon, but Raahi matwaale (composed by Anil Biswas) is one of those songs that the composer—or the film’s director?—seems to have recognized as being pure gold. It appears the first time round as a duet, sung by (and picturized on) Talat and Suraiya. Later, it appears as a fast-paced but sad solo sung by Suraiya as the (presumed) widow. Later still, Suraiya sings it again, but this time as a slow, sad song.
Of all three versions, this one—the duet—is my favourite. And what a fabulous song it is, too. Both to listen to, and to watch.
6. Thandi hawaayein lehraake aayein (Naujawan, 1951): I would’ve thought a film with a score by SD Burman would have had one hit song after another. The music of Naujawan is—possibly since this was one of SD Burman’s earliest films—all right (not great), barring this one song. Picturized on a lovelorn Nalini Jaywant, wishing her lover (played by a dashing Premnath) were with her, Thandi hawaayein lehraake aayein occupies a special place in Hindi film music not just because it’s a lovely song, but also because it has inspired so many other songs: Roshan used it as a basis for Tera dil kahaan hai (Chandni Chauk) and then pretty much reused that in Rahein na rahein hum (Mamta). And RD Burman did his take on the tune at least twice: once in the highly popular Saagar kinaare dil yeh pukaare (Saagar), and in the less popular but lovely Humein raaston ki zaroorat nahin hai (Naram Garam).
7. Tum na jaane kis jahaan mein kho gaye (Sazaa, 1951): And, from the same year that SD Burman composed Thandi hawaayein lehraake aayein to words by Sahir Ludhianvi, the two men teamed up again to create another immortal song in a film that had otherwise relatively forgettable songs. Tum na jaane kis jahaan mein kho gaye is a poignant plea, a cry of distress from one who has been left alone and friendless, and who now teeters on the brink of despair. Picturized (appropriately enough, considering she seemed to fit so easily into these roles and moods) on Nimmi, this is one of those songs that made me watch a film, only to discover that the film itself was not worth the watch.
8. Na jaane kahaan tum thhe (Zindagi aur Khwaab, 1961): It’s not as if Zindagi aur Khwaab had bad songs (it was very rare for a Hindi film during the 50s or 60s to actually have songs that hurt your ears). But all the other songs of Zindagi aur Khwaab pale into insignificance in comparison to this absolutely lovely one for which it is known. Na jaane kahaan tum thhe is one of my favourite Manna Dey duets, as well as one of my favourite romantic songs. Fabulous music (by Dattaram Wadkar, a sadly underrated composer), good lyrics (by Kavi Pradeep)—and the rendition by Suman Kalyanpur and Manna Dey is wonderful.
9. Eena meena deeka (Asha, 1957): Although Dil Deke Dekho is invariably named when it comes to Asha Parekh’s debut (with reason: the film’s credits billed her as a ‘Filmistan Discovery’), she actually first appeared as an adult in Asha, released just a year before Dil Deke Dekho. Asha was a forgettable film and its music, by C Ramachandra, wasn’t spectacular—except for one song. Eena meena deeka, a delightfully peppy number, incorporating the Western rhythms that C Ramachandra embraced so wholeheartedly and well. And C Ramachandra (as also possibly the director, MV Raman?) seems to have realized that this song was a winner—it appears in two versions, male (by the lead actor, Kishore) and female (by Asha Bhonsle, picturized on Vyjyanthimala). My favourite is the Kishore version: it has more zip and zing to it, plus Kishore brings his own brand of zaniness to it.
10. Mohabbat zinda rehti hai (Changez Khan, 1957): The 1950s saw two Hindi films with similar story lines: an all-conquering warrior falls headlong in love (or lust, call it what you will) with a beautiful girl whose homeland he has invaded—and tries to force her into being his, irrespective of her own wishes or the fact that she loves another. One film, starring Pran in the title role, was Halaku, which wasn’t a complete dud and had pretty good music as well. The other was Changez Khan, with Sheikh Mukhtar in the title role. This one, with a past-his-prime Premnath, teamed with real-life wife Beena Rai, came a cropper.
But for this one song. Mohabbat zinda rehti hai, a paean to love, defiant love, ever-lasting love, ‘love that laughs at locksmiths’ (as Wodehouse would have put it). Rafi renders it brilliantly, making it perhaps the only reason to remember this otherwise obscure film.
Which songs would you add to this list?