Today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Since 1992, this day has been promoted by the United Nations in an effort to promote the rights and well-being of people with disabilities, and to increase awareness ‘of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life’.
I must confess that as a child, while I didn’t ever laugh at anybody who was disabled, I rarely felt anything other than pity for them. I wanted to help, but always felt awkward. I wondered what disabled people would do if they didn’t have family members to help them out. I used to think that to be disabled meant that you basically sat about and waited for people to do most things for you.
Thankfully, I’ve grown up and now know better. I acknowledge that there are different types of disabilities, from the completely crippling to the type that can, at first glance, go unnoticed. I acknowledge that a physical disability can have absolutely nothing to do with the mental or other abilities of a person (think Stephen Hawking). I deeply and truly appreciate Indian corporates like Lemon Tree Hotels, Pantaloons and Costa Coffee, at all of whose stores or properties I have been served by people with disabilities. I wish for a world that is more accepting of the abilities of those with disabilities.
That said, how about a post on Hindi film songs lip-synced by characters with disabilities? Blog reader John suggested this idea way back in February this year, and I was immediately drawn to it. Partly because I did want to observe this particular day on my blog, and partly because Hindi cinema has some superb songs ‘sung’ by people with disabilities. Hindi cinema, especially back in the 50s and 60s, may have used disability—especially blindness—in a convenient way to complicate the lives of already-suffering characters (and restoring their sight/other ability even more conveniently), but at least nearly all of them got a chance to sing. Mournful songs at times, philosophical ones at others, but songs, all right.
So here they are. Ten songs, all from pre-70s Hindi cinema, which are ‘sung’ by characters with disabilities. As always, these are in no particular order.
1. Jaanewaalon zara mudke dekho mujhe (Dosti, 1964): One of those classic films in which both main characters are disabled: one is blind, the other is lame. Dosti was a bit of a drag for me, but what really stood out in this film was the superlative music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal. The film had some great songs, of which three of the best—Jaanewaalon zara mudke dekho mujhe, Raahi manwa dukh ki chinta kyon sataati hai, and Meri dosti mera pyaar—were all picturized on Sudhir Kumar, who played the blind teenager in the film. Of the three, I chose Jaanewaalon zara, because its tune is so lovely, Rafi’s rendition is so perfect, and the words are so evocative of what it could be like for a person with a disability: that sense of being ostracized, of being set apart from others. Of being ignored, not even looked at by those passing by. Even if he is a reflection of divinity: Main vidhaata ke haathon ki tasveer hoon. A beautiful, beautiful song.
2. Aaj puraani raahon se (Aadmi, 1968): Dilip Kumar in Aadmi played an arrogant, self-centred man, far too sure of his wealth and stature to realize the harm he does by always insisting on having his own way. But, after he’s wrecked the lives of his best friend as well as the woman both of them are in love with, he ends up crippled—and that realization helps make a better man of him. Why a man who has to use crutches should deliberately make himself go through some pretty difficult terrain is beyond me (when I had to use crutches for a month or so thanks to a fractured ankle, I tried to keep as much on level ground as I could)… but it’s dramatic, I suppose. And the song, again one sung by the inimitable Mohammad Rafi, is excellent.
3. Dil ka diya jalaake gaya (Akashdeep, 1965): This is a somewhat unusual song, because you wouldn’t expect someone who’s mute to be lip-syncing to a song, would you? But Nimmi (who, by the way, seemed to be drawn towards roles that required a certain bechaargi about them—what with her characters being everything from disabled to dreadfully poor to otherwise put upon by fate/other characters) does manage to do so. She lip-syncs to a song that’s actually playing on an LP, and which suits her situation perfectly.
In a refreshing change from the usual Nimmi style (and the usual style of most disabled characters in Hindi cinema), this one is not about the character feeling sorry for themselves or bemoaning their fate or whatever. It’s about a young woman realizing she’s fallen headlong in love, and celebrating it. Besides the fact that Lata sings Dil ka diya jalaak gaya very well and its music is lovely, I like the spirit behind the song: it doesn’t call attention to the singer’s disability but is a simple expression of a very universal human emotion.
4. Yeh mere andhere ujaale na hote (Prem Patra, 1962): From one of my favourite romantic films comes this love song, sung by a blind man (played by Shashi Kapoor) and the woman he loves but (as far as he is concerned) has never seen. The hero here is only temporarily blind—he was blinded in an accident in a laboratory, has been operated upon and is certain to recover—but while he’s convalescing, he tells his sweetheart what she means to him. Light in the darkness, a beacon of hope. She has her reasons to fear that when he finally sees her, he will be repulsed instead of relieved, but he refuses to listen…
5. Kasme vaade pyaar wafa (Upkaar, 1967): While Manoj Kumar—as a film-maker—does not really float my boat (mostly because of the melodramatic and almost xenophobic nature of his ‘patriotic’ films), one thing I appreciate about his cinema was that he often gave actors who were always typecast as villains a chance to show that they could portray other, more endearing, personalities as well. Most prominently, he gave Pran, the quintessential villain, a chance to play one of Hindi cinema’s most memorable war veterans: the crippled Malang Chacha of Upkaar. Malang Chacha, hobbling about on one leg, embittered and angry and cynical, but with a heart of gold beating under all that anger. In this, one of the all-time great philosophical songs, he really stands out, his ire and his anguish spilling over into words that sear.
6. Teri aankhon ke siva duniya mein (Chirag, 1969): This was one of the first songs that popped into my head when thinking about songs featuring people with disabilities. The better-known version of Teri aankhon ke siva duniya mein is the romantic duet (mostly sung—and brilliantly—by Rafi, but with Asha joining in with a line near the end), but there is also this version, the female one, sung solo by Lata. Asha Parekh’s character finds herself blinded in a sudden accident, and the mother-in-law who has been berating her for being infertile, goes ballistic until our poor heroine is left feeling helpless and a burden on her husband. Then comes this song, a sad echo of happier times. His eyes are now the world to her, simply because her eyes are powerless.
7. Nanhe-munne bachche teri mutthi mein kya hai (Boot Polish, 1951): David’s John Chacha of Boot Polish is a far cry from Pran’s Malang Chacha of Upkaar. This man, never bitter, never cynical—even though he lives amidst squalor and crime and utter poverty—becomes the sole pillar of strength and encouragement for two orphans. Every time they are low, every time they are on the verge of giving up, John Chacha comes to their aid. He may be a bootlegger, but he is the one who shores up their flagging courage, who eggs them on towards the fulfillment of their dreams. A sweet little song, and I love the fact that a disabled man is depicted as one imbued with a strong sense of independence, something that is echoed in his own life.
8. Raha gardishon mein hardam (Do Badan, 1966): Of all the disabilities that Hindi cinema espouses, the impairment of vision seems to be the most common: people are easily blinded, and just as easily cured as well (sometimes in utterly ridiculous ways: see Nirupa Roy in Amar Akbar Anthony, for instance). One reason, I think, that blindness is so popular a ploy is that the eyes are the windows on the world, and losing one’s vision can be used in dramatic ways to cut a character off from others.
In Do Badan, Manoj Kumar’s character goes blind after an accident engineered by the villain (Pran) and takes the help of his doctor (Simi Garewal), to convince his beloved that he is unfaithful—with the result that she is bullied into marrying the villain. Yes, very complicated, indeed, especially as the blind man cannot forget his love and bemoans his fate in this song. It is depressing, but still good, mostly because Rafi renders it with so much feeling.
9. Maut kitni bhi sangdil ho (Aaj aur Kal, 1963): A lot of Hindi film songs sung by disabled characters are all about them facing up to, and conquering their disabilities and whatever restrictions their disabilities impose on their lives. Maut kitni bhi sangdil ho is one of the exceptions: Nanda’s character, a wealthy young woman, is crippled and bound to a wheelchair—and desperately lonely and depressed because of it. Here, in a burst of unhappiness, she sings of how death, no matter how hard-hearted it may be, will be a relief from the burden of life at any rate. An unhappy song, despairing and full of pain, but beautifully sung.
10. O jaanewaale babu ek paisa de de (Vachan, 1955): I must admit that when I began researching the songs for this post, I thought I’d probably find several songs featuring blind beggars. After all, which old Hindi film worth its salt didn’t have a blind person wandering through the streets, singing, begging for a little pity, a little help? Surprisingly, after the Dosti song, I couldn’t recall any others (and, really, the singer in Dosti isn’t really a beggar: he’s more a street singer, entertaining people with his song and being paid for it). But here is one, and it’s a good song, too.
Geeta Bali’s character in Vachan sees her life fall apart when her elder brother dies in an accident and their father goes blind. Just as she’s finding herself torn between getting married to the man she loves, and staying unmarried to look after her father and younger brother, a blind beggar with a boy in tow passes by, singing, begging for a little money to keep body and soul together. And suddenly, she foresees what could happen—what will almost certainly happen—if she leaves them.
What other songs would you add to this list?