This blog has been in existence ten years, and I suppose you can tell how important (or not) Valentine’s Day is over here by the fact that in all these years, I’ve dedicated a post to this day only twice—once, with a list of love songs in ten different moods, and (more recently) with a list of romantic duets.
So here we are, jumping on to the bandwagon yet again. This time, it’s a list of romantic serenades, of people singing in praise of the person they’re in love with (or, as in the case of a couple of fraudulent characters in this list, pretending to be in love with). There are serenades to others (Hindi cinema is full of serenades): to mothers and their near-divine maternalism; to the motherland and to the bond between siblings. None of these, I think, are as ubiquitous and as common as the serenade to a loved one. The praise in honour of his/her beauty, charm, sweetness, simplicity, virtues: going by the way Hindi songs serenade a love interest, you’d think the realm of Hindi cinema was crammed with utter paragons.
But, to get down to business. Ten romantic serenades that I especially like. As always, these are all from pre-1970s Hindi films that I’ve seen. The one condition I’ve imposed here, besides this, is that the serenade is one-sided: all of these songs are solos in which the singer praises another, but is not praised back. Note: these are not any old love songs: in each of these songs, the primary focus is the praise of the beloved. There may (there usually is) some mention of love, but most of the song is sung in praise of the virtues or features of the person it’s sung to.
1. Chaudhvin ka chaand ho (Chaudhvin ka Chaand, 1960): Although the songs in this list are in no particular order, this one, for me, is the one which most accurately describes the sort of song I had in mind. Guru Dutt plays the young man who has married a young woman out of duty, all sight unseen, and has ended up getting the most pleasant shock of his life: she is more ethereally beautiful than he’d ever imagined. His first glimpse of her face (and Waheeda Rehman is so gorgeous) renders him pretty much speechless on their wedding night, but some days later, he gets the chance to tell her exactly how he feels. Her tresses are like dark clouds gathered on her shoulders; her eyes are glasses brimming with wine; her face is like a lotus… she is the dream of a poet, unbelievably beautiful.
2. Yeh hawa yeh raat yeh chaandni (Sangdil, 1952): This was one of those songs I was referring to in the introduction to this post when I mentioned that there were some frauds singing a serenade too. Dilip Kumar’s character in Sangdil is not in love with Shammi’s character: he knows well enough that though she pretends to be in love with him, all she wants is his wealth and his position. He knows it, and he lets her know that he knows—but he serenades her anyway. This breeze, this night, this moonlight: all will be sacrificed to your charms. For you are the most beautiful of all God’s creation. Intoxicating, heady as wine, sublime.
It’s easy to why some enterprising Youtuber has ripped the audio of this song and pasted it onto a video of Madhubala and Dilip Kumar: that looks so much more appropriate!
3. Saba se yeh keh do (Bank Manager, 1959): There are several reasons why this song holds a special place in this list. Firstly, it’s one of those rare instances where a female character serenades a man in public—in a mushaira, no less. Secondly, it’s a fine example of Asha Bhonsle’s versatility: for all those who accuse her of being primarily a singer of cabaret songs, this is one song I always point to. Third, it’s another example of the fraudulent serenade. Minoo Mumtaz’s character, while she praises the beauty and the love of the man who is now walking into the assembly, suddenly making the air fragrant and brightening the space—doesn’t love him at all. She’s a con-woman, and this romance is all part of the con.
4. O mere shahekhubaan o meri jaan-e-janaanaan (Love in Tokyo, 1966): Mirza Ghalib once offered his diwaan—his entire corpus of poetry—in exchange for just one couplet of his contemporary, Momin Khan Momin’s: Tum mere paas hote ho goya koi doosra nahin hota. Such is the beauty of this one line. A line that appears as the refrain in this exquisite love song from Love in Tokyo. Although there are two versions of O mere shahekhubaan (one sung by Rafi, the other by Lata), the lyrics for both are the same—but I have a particular fondness for the Rafi version, which comes across as far more romantic. When no-one else is around (or, alternately interpreted simply as ‘no-one else is around’), you are there. Wherever I go, your picture goes with me. You are in the dawn, and in the wilderness. You are everywhere, within me and around me… could there be a more flattering paean to a sweetheart?
5. Rukh se zara naqaab utha do (Mere Huzoor, 1968): While the person being serenaded here (Mala Sinha) starts off being indignant at the praise being lavished on her by a random fellow-passenger (and so she is perfectly right to be!), it doesn’t take long for her to change her mind. After all, the man in question is heaping such plaudits on her (and in such lyrically beautiful language too), it’s hard to be unaffected. Lift that veil and show me the magnificence of that spectacle again. That fragrant body, those soft hands. Her beauty and her radiance have intoxicated him, even glimpsed merely in a mirror.
6. Yeh chaand sa roshan chehra (Kashmir ki Kali, 1964): Whoever thought a serenade had to be soulful? Shammi Kapoor, in true Shammi style (not the more tragic hero of films like Shama Parwana or Rangeen Raatein) shows that you can, in fact, heap praise on the girl you’re besotted with, and not leave off being a clown.
To be fair, he starts off in fairly romantic style: in a shikara on a shimmering lake, with Sharmila Tagore sitting pretty in another shikara, full of flowers. His praise is lavish: her face is as radiant as the moon, her eyes are blue (er… no), her hair is golden (yes, that’s another flight of fancy, which is later corrected by saying that “har shaam ki chaadar kaali saaya ha tere baalon ka”—‘the coverlet of each evening is the shadow of your tresses”). She is beauty personified: and as much as he praises her, he praises the one who crafted such perfection.
7. Ae phoolon ki raani bahaaron ki mallika (Aarzoo, 1965): Aarzoo was a huge hit, and though I don’t like it myself (it gets too, too melodramatic and weepy in the latter half), what I do acknowledge is that it had excellent music. From Ae nargis-e-mastaana to Chhalke teri aankhon se—there are several songs here that praise the lady (Sadhana), but I think the one which most epitomizes the ‘serenade’ is this one. Her lips are lotuses, her way of fluttering her eyelashes is devastating. Her smile, her walk… everything about her is beautiful. Her flowing hair imparts cool shadows to the surroundings themselves: she is the queen of the flowers, the very empress of the spring.
8. Tumhe jo bhi dekh lega (Majboor, 1964): Possibly not as popular as most of the other songs on this list, but a classic serenade still. Biswajeet’s character begins his serenading of Waheeda Rehman while both of them are still in a huge pond in which they’ve landed. (And you can tell he’s besotted by the mere fact that he thinks this woman, all drippy and with her hair looking like rats’ tails, is so gorgeous).
What a list of adjectives he has for her. She’s a fairy, a wonder, the very essence of intoxication. All she has to do is glance at dew, and it will turn intoxicating. Those kohl-lined eyes can make not just his heart sway, but his very conscience: she is the dream of an idol-worshipper. Glowing, so beautiful that even God, who made her, would be proud of this creation of his. To be fair, Waheeda Rehman does look lovely here.
9. Tauba yeh matwaali chaal (Patthar ke Sanam, 1967): Waheeda Rehman has, and deservedly so, I think, a lot of serenades sung to the characters she’s played. Here she is again, though this time the serenade is addressed not just to her, but to another as well—Mumtaz (who has another pretty iconic serenade, Yeh reshmi zulfein yeh sharbati aankhein, also to her name). The two women play friends who decide to pull a trick on the newcomer (Manoj Kumar), convincing him that both of them are in love with him. But the tables are turned when he catches on and sets about convincing both women he’s in love with them—while actually falling in love with Waheeda’s character. All very complicated, but here he sings in praise of the woman he’s with: what an intoxicating walk! What a face: even the sun and moon beg for radiance from her! What charm! What adaas! Is there anyone to rival this beauty?
10. Teri pyaari-pyaari soorat ko (Sasuraal, 1961): To end, a classic serenade that I first encountered in the form of a parody. When I was in school, I remember hearing someone in school singing, with a jaunty cheeriness, “Teri kaali-kaali soorat par powder ka asar na lage!” This was a time well before fairness creams made one’s complexion such a sensitive topic, but all of us in class ignored that colourist tone and giggled over the song, especially when we discovered what the original was.
And what a serenade this is. Because, while he praises her beauty to the skies, the singer is also careful to constantly wish the evil eye away. His beloved is so beautiful that everyone, everything even, is likely to gaze at her with evil intent. Chashm-e-buddoor, he says: literally, ‘the eye of evil be distant’. He tells her to veil herself, because his gaze may be unwittingly evil. He tells her not to look into the mirror, because the evil eye may be hers. In every particle there is the potential for the evil eye, he says: her beauty is such.
Which songs would you add to the list?
And, yes. Happy Valentine’s Day!