Songs ‘sung’ by people with disabilities: my favourites

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?

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87 thoughts on “Songs ‘sung’ by people with disabilities: my favourites

  1. Wonderful post and while the songs on people with disabilities abound in older Hindi cinema, they are, as you pointed out , more of sympathy generators than actually insightful scenarios . In that I find the recent Cinema more empathetic and to celebrate this empathy is this lovely song Choone chali aasman , from Margerita with a Straw

    • Not really ‘sung’ by people with disabilities, but definitely in context perhaps, is this song from Khamoshi..Yeh Dil sun raha hai tere dil ki zubaan

      The older Koshish (Jaya Bhaduri, Sanjeev Kumar and OmShivpuri )also has a song that may fit into context here.

      • I don’t know if not having ‘sung’ the song disqualifies this from the post, but here is the song Anjali Anjali Anjali from the 1990 movie of the same name by ManiRatnam, music by Illayaraja .

        • All nice songs. Even if they don’t strictly meet the criterion of being ‘sung’ by someone with a disability, at least they are about a person living with a disability… and I guess that’s what matters.

  2. I used to like this song from GHAR KA CHIRAG ( 1965 ), a very good Lata/ Madan Mohan / kaifi Azmi creation. Don’t know the name of the child artist playing blind but the song has a typical Madan mohan stamp on it.

  3. Hi Madhu, below are my suggestions mainly from pre 70 movies. Its been a long time I saw them so not sure if all are valid. Apologies!
    1. Rang dil ki dhadkan.. Mala Sinha..Patang
    2. O mitwa…Sandhya…Jal bin machli nritya bin bijli
    3. O shankar mere…Dilip Kumar…Bairaag
    4. Multiple songs..Ashok Kumar…Meri surat teri ankhen
    5. Tum bin jaun kaha…short version for Bharat Bhushan…Pyar ka mausam
    6. Dafliwale and other songs…Sargam…Jaya Prada
    7. Deewana leke aaya hai..Rajesh Khanna…Mere Jeevan Saathi
    8. Roz shaam aati thi…Tanuja…Imtihaan
    9. Soja mere baba soja….Om Shivpuri…Koshish
    10. Tera mujhse hai pehle ka…Master Tito…Aa gale lag jaa

      • Yes, Khaandaan was on my shortlist, but I don’t particularly like the songs from that film, so it got dropped.

        As for the songs you suggest, some definitely fit the criteria though they’re not pre-70s: Roz shaam aati thi, Dafliwaale, Tera mujhse hai pehle ka naata koi, Soja baba… and is Ashok Kumar’s character disabled in Meri Soorat Teri Aankhein? It’s been a while since I watched that film, but from what I remember, he’s only very dark (and therefore supposedly very ugly), but otherwise fine. I could be mistaken.

        I wish I’d remembered the version sung by the blind Bharat Bhushan in Pyaar ka Mausam! I tend to remember only the other three versions of the song!

  4. Hi,
    Nice picks, and David has two more songs in Boot Polish, right.
    And how come no songs from Jagruti, like De di humen aazadi bina khadag bina dhal. There is no despair or mourning in this one.

    I remember one other song- Nazar aati nahin manzil, taqdeer mein ae mere dil, sung by Mohd. Rafi., though I neither know the movie nor the actor.

      • Not seen Jagriti, How come??

        Any ways I just remembered Ravindra Jain, he wasn’t just a wonderful musician but also a great lyricist. And sometimes sang too. Besides he could make couplets (what is called ashu kavi) at the go. I guess he both wrote and composed all the songs of movies made by Rajshri Prodns.

        I was just going through all the comments and saw that AK ji also mentioned him.

        • “Not seen Jagriti, How come??

          Never really felt the urge to do so, except briefly when I discovered that it was remade as is in Pakistan. Then I’d searched on Youtube for Jagriti, but didn’t find it. And was not committed enough or keen enough to keep looking for it.

  5. “Why a man who has to use crutches should deliberately make himself go through some pretty difficult terrain is beyond me”

    Penance, I guess? Haven’t seen the film but I looooove the song.

    Anyway, my contribution: “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” by The Hollies:

    • Thank you for posting He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. It’s been so long since I heard this one – wonderful song, and one which always brings a lump to my throat.

  6. That’s indeed a wonderful and a highly laudable post from you. And special thanks from my side for including Yeh Mere Andhere Ujaale Na Hote and Nanhe Munne Bachche Teri Mutthi Mein Kya Hai because both these songs are pretty close to my heart and I am never tired of listening to them repeatedly.

    • I have to admit I’d never watched Dekho veer jawaanon (or not that I remember), so I didn’t realize it could fit this theme – that is, of course, if I included 1970s songs. I have long loved this song, so very happy to see this here (am listening to it all over again, because I like this so much). Thanks for this!

  7. Madhu ji ,
    I hav worked as reader for the blind students nd had recorded books for them in the past .
    I found all of them very self reliant having great self – respect .

    I know that my comment is getting irrelevant nd lengthy but just to give an idea how these guys are ,
    Some years ago , a totally blind student Raju Badgujar contacted me to go to his place as a reader , in very first conversation on telephone he said ” so this is my address Sir ji . आप बराबर आ सकोगे क्या , नहीं तो मैं ऐसें करता हूँ कि मैं खुद ही आ जाता हूँ बस स्टॉप पें आप को लेने के लिए !!!!!! ”

    Sorry for this irrelevant comment.

    Btw , I will be back with the comment on Ur post , but thnx in advance for presenting this somewhat हटके theme.

    • Pramodji, I am so glad you posted this comment! It’s not irrelevant at all; in fact, to be honest, I welcome that more than the comments that simply mention a song that fits the theme – because I did want to draw attention to the fact, too, that people with disabilities are not the completely helpless, ever-dependent type that most Hindi cinema (at least till some years back) portrayed them.

      Some months back, I was at a Pantaloons store, and of the row of cashiers, the one I was in queue for was differently abled. His speed, his efficiency – even his ability to stop customers from trying to jump the queue – was exemplary. I was so happy to see someone not letting a disability get in their way of earning a living with dignity and professionalism.

      • Madhu ji ,
        So U too hav the experience how the bollywood writers misguide us about those blind ones.
        I think ” Sparsh ” was an exception where Nasiruddin Shah played role of a very strong , intelligent blind person .

        • I remember watching part of Sparsh many years back – it was being shown on DD, I think, and then the electricity went so I didn’t see all of it. But one scene I remember very vividly: where Naseeruddin Shah’s character makes a point of making the tea himself for a guest, even turning down – somewhat brusquely – her offer to do it. That really made me realize how important it is to respect the dignity and sense of self-worth of a person, even if it might seem to us that we are not being helpful by doing so.

                • I agree. In fact, I think today’s schools, at least the better ones, are perhaps doing a better job of that than back in our days. I studied in KVs all along, and except for one classmate who was partially immobilised due to polio, we never had any differently abled children in our school. These days many more schools are making an effort to be more inclusive (my daughter’s school, for instance, has children with mental disabilities as well, and I think it makes a big difference to the other children when, from their earliest years, they learn to interact with those different from them).

                  • I guess the first step is the inclusion, which makes the interaction possible. American schools have to follow the law (Americans with Disability Act) which prevents discrimination against disabilities which applies to all schools including private ones. There is special funding to provide additional aid/teacher for students who need that. Happy to hear that it is changing in India too.

  8. ” Shaan ” being a movie of 1980 , is out of your time-line , has a song of a disabled but strong person.
    Mazhar Khan is seen playing the role of a crippled , singing
    ” नाम अब्दुल हैं मेरा , सब की खबर रखता हूँ “

  9. There does seem to be a lot of songs picturised on disabled people in Hindi films, no? A theme with a difference, Madhu. And some of the songs you have listed are absolute favourites.

    Here’s one from Boxer – a very young and pretty Tabassum.

    I haven’t read the comments so I’m not sure if someone has already posted this, but Deewana leke aaya hai from Mere Jeevan Saathi may fit your bill.

    This Rajesh Khanna song is sung to a disabled person, his sister.

    This is a song to a disabled person as well: Dekh sakta nahin from Majboor.

    • Thank you, Anu! Glad you liked some of these songs. Yes, disabled people in Hindi cinema do have some good songs to their lot, don’t they?

      Do nain bechain was new to me – and I don’t think I’ve ever come across Tabassum from this stage of her life before. Early 70s? Because she certainly looks older here than she does in films like Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon and Pyaar ka Mausam

      Meri pyaari beheniya banegi dulhaniya is a song I’ve got lined up for another post, too. ;-) I also like the Majboor song, lovely one. As well as Deewaana leke aaya hai… lovely songs, Anu. Thank you.

  10. Thanks Madhu for another interesting post!
    I was thinking of ‘Shor’ where the child is deaf and then when he regains his hearing the father loses his..in this version Manoj sings the song at that time

    Another one is the very well know Bhaiya more rakhi ke bandhan – the happy version sung by Nanda and this one after she has lost her eyesight – except she is not actually singing it so not sure if it qualifies.

    • Lovely, Nishi! Thanks so much, both for Ek pyaar ka naghma hai (I love that song, though I’ll admit I’d forgotten that there was a sad version too) and for Bhaiya mere raakhi ke bandhan ko nibhaana (which also I’d forgotten when it came to the sad version – though I remembered that Nanda’s character goes blind in that film).

  11. Surprisingly no one mentioned this famous song from “Shaan”, which was quite popular in its era, and perfectly fits the theme.

  12. Interesting topic for sure. If multiple personality (dissociative identity) disorder is considered a disability, Raat aur Din title song (and other from the movie) may fit the bill?

    Or may be this from the same movie more appropriate (Na Chhedo Kal Ke Afsane)

    or Dil Ke Girah Khol Do

    Another possible big tear jerker – I can only listen to this song but not watch it :) from Samjhota (1973) – Koi Nahi hai Mera by Rafi

    • I wish I’d remembered Raat aur Din, because mental disability was certainly on my list of possible disabilities that appear in cinema. Of course there’s a little bit of uncertainty about whether it is a disability or a disease – I think there’s a difference, because a disease may disable you, whereas a disability may not be a disease. And I’m not knowledgeable enough about medical science to be able to pass judgement on whether schizophrenia is disease or disability, but since these songs are so good, let’s retain them and appreciate them – they are lovely songs. Thanks, Ashish!

    • Was Balraj Sahni’s character disabled in Seema? From what I recall (it’s been many years since I watched that film), he had a heart problem – a disease rather than a disability.

  13. On this theme, I think it’d be appropriate to mention Sudha Chandran, who lost her leg in an accident at the age of 16 and went on to act in a film based on her life ‘Nache Mayuri’ which was based on her life .
    Two songs from the film, in one of which ‘Jhoom Jhoom..’ she is actually dancing with a prosthetic foot , and of course ‘Sadhna reh gayi adhoori..’

    • Well done, ak! I’d completely forgotten about Sudha Chandran, though I do remember reading about her and being very impressed by her life. Such an inspiration. Thanks for these songs!

      • It’d be nice to also remember Sh. Ravindra Jain, who was blind, and gave us some very melodious tunes…
        Just one here to commemorate , also because it is such a positive , cheerful song

      • Wow! AK brought such old memories. I was very impressed by Sudha Chandran at the time. I was about her age when this movie came out and I loved her. Thanks for this.

  14. What a wonderful list this time, Madhuji! Brilliant! I don’t have anything to add to your list; I seldom do. But just reading your posts and the minutiae about the songs/movies makes my day!
    Sharing this on Twitter.

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