Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the momentous occasion of the first moon landing: on July 20, 1969, two American astronauts—Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin—set foot on the moon, the first human beings to do so. “One small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind”, Armstrong’s words about his epic first step on Earth’s natural satellite, became the stuff of legend, quoted and misquoted thousands of times in as many contexts.
In the fifty years since then, only a further ten astronauts—in all, twelve people—have set foot on the moon. An interesting reflection of just how much effort goes into putting a human being on the moon (or perhaps how unnecessary it is, in today’s age of AI, to actually put a human being through all this trouble? I don’t know).
But, to come to the point. To celebrate 50 years of this landmark event, a post. I had initially toyed with the idea of reviewing the Dara Singh-starrer Trip to Moon, but the memory of my last attempt at watching that film (I gave up after five minutes) made me abandon that idea. Instead, I thought of a song list. A moon songs list.
The moon, far more than the sun, appears in lots of songs, simply because it is the companion of the night. And the night, as we all know (thanks to Hindi cinema, but thanks also to a long and almost universal tradition of love poems) is synonymous with romance. The moon is beauty itself; it wanders the sky, and is awaara; it is the beacon of hope, it is the destination of those in love.
There are many, many songs—from some of my absolute favourites, like Chaand bhi koi deewaana hai to Chalo dildaar chalo chaand k paar chalo—which are about the moon. There are (I think) a smaller number that are addressed to the moon itself. Pleas, favours requested, or simply using the moon as a stand-in for someone to whom the song is actually addressed.
As always, these are all songs from pre-70s Hindi films that I’ve seen, and they’re in no particular order. To make it more challenging for myself, I’ve added the stipulation that each song must be explicitly addressed to the moon, and that that ‘naming’ must happen in the first two lines of the song. Also, songs in which the ‘moon’ is used as a metaphor for something or someone else (like Door ke o chanda, where the moon actually refers to a baby) don’t count.
Here we go, then:
1. Ae chaand zara chhup jaa (Laat Sahib, 1967): Laat Sahib, one of those very few films that featured Shammi Kapoor as a villager (and he didn’t make for a convincing one), had little to recommend it, except for a couple of songs. This one is my favourite.
A moonlit night, and two people who are in love but have been shying away from admitting it. She is the one who begins, taking the first tentative step—by begging the moon to hide itself briefly: perhaps the dark will give her the courage she needs to say what she must? Of course the moon does no such thing, but her song emboldens her admirer to echo her feelings too, in more ways than one.
2. Dum bhar jo udhar moonh phere (Awara, 1951): From Shammi Kapoor to elder brother Raj Kapoor, and a song which has a somewhat similar tone to it when it comes to the female singer. Nargis’s character sings to the moon, asking it—as does Nutan’s character in Ae chaand zara chhup jaa—to hide its face, so that she may make love to her man. She is far bolder than was Nutan’s rather more demure miss: this one has no qualms about admitting her love for the man, but she’s not brash enough to do so in broad moonlight, so to say. She’d rather some privacy. But her lover, instead of seconding her request, counters it with an opposite request: he begs the moon to show its face, because then he’ll be able to see her in the moonlight. Their gazes will meet, and the moon will be witness to their love.
Erotic, and yet playful at the same time, a classic moon song.
3. Ruk jaa raat thehar jaa re chanda (Dil Ek Mandir, 1963): In the association of the moon with love, here’s a different take on the theme—a song of tragedy, of the impending blow to a love. Instead of petitioning the moon to hide itself, Meena Kumari’s character begs it to stop. If only the night would halt, if only the moon would stop: tomorrow would not come. Time would freeze, and she would not lose her husband, who is almost certain to die in the critical operation he must undergo the next day.
I am not usually affected by much weeping and wailing, but Ruk jaa raat always touches me: Meena Kumari’s acting as the desperate wife is very convincing, and Lata’s voice is full of emotion.
4. Taaron ki zubaan par hai mohabbat ki kahaani ae chaand (Nausherwaan-e-Aadil, 1957): From a somewhat unusual historical film from Sohrab Modi comes this lovely moon song. Two lovers, out in a boat on a moonlit night, sing to the moon, congratulating it on the beauty of the night. The youthfulness of the moon, its reflection of their own love, is echoed by the stars themselves. Whether or not the lovers themselves will endure, their love will. The moon is witness to their love.
5. Mere bhaiya ko sandesa pahunchaana (Didi, 1959): In a change from the usual association between the moon and romance, here’s a song that is about love of a different type: the love between a brother and a sister. The eponymous didi (Jayshree) of this film finds herself, on the festival of Bhai Dooj, far away from her brother (Sunil Dutt). She gets everything ready for the pooja, and ropes in the moon to send her message of love to her bhaiya. She wishes the moon well: prays that its light may increase—if only it will carry her love to her brother. And then, because her brother looks like the moon, and because he is not here, she offers to hug the moon as proxy for her bhaiya.
Sweet song, and possibly the only song about Bhai Dooj (unlike Rakshabandhan, for which there are songs aplenty)?
6. O raat ke musaafir chanda zara bataa de (Miss Mary, 1957): The moon may be messenger, the moon may be silent onlooker. The sentinel of the night—or an arbitrator, a magistrate sitting in judgement. In this song from a delightful little comedy about a pretend marriage, Gemini Ganesan, acting as the very frustrated ‘husband’, fed up with the seemingly baseless ravings and rantings of his ‘wife’, appeals to the moon. What is his crime? What has he done that he’s being subjected to such treatment? Of course, his song isn’t really addressed to the moon; it’s addressed to the woman in question, and she responds. What started off as a mock lament ends up as a somewhat light-hearted mutual pulling of legs.
7. Chanda re jaa re jaa re (Ziddi, 1948): While aficionados of 1940s Hindi film music may recognize this song without any added references, for the rest of us this might recall a much later song. In Ek chatur naar from Padosan (1968), the musical duel between Kishore Kumar/Sunil Dutt and Mehmood (lip-syncing to Manna Dey’s singing) plummets to some fairly racist name-calling, with Kishore singing Kaala re jaa re jaa re, khaare naale mein jaake tu moonh dhoke aa re. To the tune of Chanda re jaa re jaa re. Which, coincidentally (or not?), was from the film that marked Kishore Kumar’s debut, twenty years earlier.
But, on to the real song, the moon song. This is a lovely little song, begging the moon to tell the lost lover to come. Kamini Kaushal’s heroine has written to the ‘secret husband’ from she’s been separated by accident, but while she waits for a reply, she decides she may as well put the moon on the job as well. I love the gentle, slow way this song starts, and the way it picks up subsequently.
8. Ae chaand kal jo aana (Devta, 1956): What do you do when the man you’re in love with doesn’t show up? What if you don’t even know where he is, and so can’t tell him to come on over? What if you actually don’t even really know him, since you’ve met him only briefly a couple of times? (But yes, this being Hindi cinema, that doesn’t deter you from being passionately in love with him). You pass the buck on, to the moon. You sing and dance, and tell the moon that when it turns up the next night, it should bring your beloved along. You exhort it to reveal your beloved’s whereabouts, and basically pull the moon into something that isn’t really its business at all.
But that’s par for the course for this list, isn’t it?
9. Chanda re chhupe rehna (Lajwanti, 1958): Interestingly, Lajwanti had not one but two songs addressed to the moon. The second one, picturized on Baby Naaz, is a school performance: Chanda mama mere dwaar. The first one, picturized on Nargis and a baby, is this sweet little lullaby that is in some ways reminiscent of Nanhi kali sone chali: the devoted and protective mother exhorts nature—the chameli flower, the moon itself—to not disturb her sleeping child (Yes. I can understand that: once my baby went to sleep, I would happily skin alive anybody who came along and woke her up!) Nargis’s character is more gracious than I am, and simply pleads with the moon: please, stay hidden within the clouds, lest your bright light wake up my little darling.
10. Jaa jaa re chanda jaa re (Private Secretary, 1962): And, to end, a song that is a little different from all the others, in that it has nothing to do with love (of any kind, romantic or other). The moon here is not a stand-in for anyone; the singer is not thinking of someone else and using the moon as a convenient but passive listener. No; this song is actually addressed to the moon, and nothing but the moon. Jayshree Gadkar plays a woman who finds herself utterly friendless and miserable. She has escaped a wedding to a brute, and in her mad scramble for freedom, ends up completely without anybody to turn to. The moon is her only friend—or not, because even its moonlight burns her.
Dilip Dholakia, who composed this lovely song, probably realized how good it was, since it appears several times in Private Secretary, with the repeated verses appearing as vocals without instrumentation to support them.
And, because there are so many ways in which the moon motif is used in Hindi film songs, this isn’t the only moon songs post (as you might have guessed from the title). Watch this space.