Ten of my favourite muhaavara/lokokti songs

I must admit to a great fondness for proverbs: there is something about the earthy wisdom, the often humorous or even irreverent insight into human nature offered through these that is very memorable and hard-hitting. And (though I may be prejudiced here), there’s something about proverbs and idioms in Hindustani (muhaavara and lokokti) that is hard to beat. Many years ago, I remember reading a newspaper advertisement in which ‘Dhobi ka kutta, na ghar ka na ghaat ka’ had been translated into English—and the entire flavour lost in the process, even though there was really nothing wrong with the translation itself. The point being that there are some things that need to be conveyed in the original language (the ad was for a Hindi-language newspaper).

Old Hindi cinema tended to use a lot of proverbs and idioms. Characters often bunged in a muhaavara in dialogue (I have actually come across, in some films from the 40s and 50s, phrases that were immediately identifiable as proverbs, but which I’d never come across before otherwise). And, sometimes, there were proverbs in songs as well.

Therefore, ten songs that feature proverbs. Besides my usual criteria (the song should be from a Hindi film that I’ve seen, from before 1970), I added one more: that the proverb should be mentioned either in the first couple of lines of the song, or in the refrain. Note that I am allowing some poetic license in the use of the proverb: for instance, Oonchi-oonchi dukaan instead of the original Oonchi dukaan, or Sau-sau choohe khaake instead of Nau sau choohe khaake.

Here goes, then, in no specific order:

1. Begaani shaadi mein Abdullah deewaana (Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, 1961): Literally, ‘Abdullah goes mad in someone else’s wedding’. In other words, someone getting worked up—whether excited or upset or just excessively concerned to the point of being intrusive—about something that isn’t even their business.
This song from Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai doesn’t really use the proverb in the context of its meaning, just as a handy little ditty to rhyme with the words following it. Though it features two people I don’t particularly like, it’s still a song I like a lot—mostly for the music and the rendition.

2. Ek roz hamaari bhi daal galegi (Bandi, 1957): A take on the common idiom ‘daal galna’:  literally, for lentils to soften, but meaning to accomplish something—as lentils are edible only when tender, so to have something reach the point where it’s finally successful, finally of use.

This hilarious song was first brought to my notice some years back when I made a list of funny songs, and I fell in love with it immediately. Kishore Kumar’s character, labouring away (none too successfully, either) at cooking a meal, dreams of the day when things will finally fall into place. His older brother will get a good job, life will start looking up. Hamaari bhi daal galegi, we too will live in comfort. The fun bit here is that the idiom used is so completely in keeping with the situation: Kishore’s character is actually waiting for a pot of lentils to cook.

3. Daane-daane pe likha hai (Baarish, 1957): ‘On every grain is written the name of the one who is to eat it.’ This is one of those proverbs that I’ve heard fairly commonly used even in everyday life, mostly in its literal sense: a delicacy ends up being eaten by someone who originally wasn’t supposed to have been among the diners. There is, however, a meaning beyond the literal one: that what is destined for you, will come your way. It needn’t necessarily be food. It could be anything, both tangible and not. As long as it’s written in your fate, it will come to you, whether you try for it or not.

Interestingly, Baarish had another song featuring a proverb: Yeh moonh aur daal masoor ki. Since I always stick to one song per film, I’m not going to be featuring that one in this list, though.

4. Kya hawa chali… sau-sau choohe khaaike billi Haj ki chali (Parakh, 1960): Translated literally, this proverb would be: ‘After eating many hundreds of mice, the cat goes off on Haj’ (the actual proverb is ‘Nau sau choohe khaake…’, which means ‘After eating nine hundred mice…’). The implication being that someone guilty and laden with sin pretends extreme piety and righteousness.

In Parakh, a film that centred round a wealthy man’s search for a truly honest, good person in a village, this song is especially apt: because everybody around, vying for that coveted wealth, is putting on a show. All of them are, in their own way, corrupt and self-serving, but their greed makes them pretend to be oh so good. This song, in its lyrics and its picturization, is one of the rare examples of a song that is all about the proverb and where everything comes together to showcase the true meaning of the proverb.

5. Andher nagri chaupat raja (Railway Platform, 1955): Another somewhat cynical proverb, and used in a song to full effect. ‘Andher nagri chaupat raja, take ser bhaaji, take ser khaaja’ literally means ‘A dark town and a crooked king; vegetables at a taka for a ser, expensive sweets (khaaja) for a taka’. More broadly, where the leader is corrupt, all will be corrupt. Whether you eat pedestrian vegetables or rich sweets, you’ll pay the same price for them.

Jis mol  bhaaji us mol khaaja’ is lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi’s somewhat more user-friendly interpretation of ‘take ser bhaaji take ser khaaja’ but the meaning is clear: this is a land of the corrupt, everybody’s out to fleece everybody else. Sunil Dutt (in his debut film), Manmohan Krishna, Sheila Ramani and their companions here play a group of people stranded at a small railway station out in the countryside and obliged to survive somehow until they can move on—if they can survive that long, since there are enough people here trying to make a quick buck from the plight of the stranded travellers. The irony of it is that Sheila Ramani plays the princess of a province actually named Andher Nagri—though here, she’s travelling incognito.

6. Boodha hai ghoda laal hai lagaam (Sargam, 1950): The actual proverb in this case is Boodhi ghodi, laal lagaam (‘An old mare, with a red bridle’—a thoroughly ageist saying which implies that someone who’s old and therefore decrepit and ugly, is flaunting finery). Poetic license has been used to twist the gender around in the proverb in order to apply it to the gentleman who’s being made the butt of the joke in this song. An old man with a taste for the good life, he’s come to watch a puppet show—and Raj Kapoor, Rehana, and another couple, as the puppeteers/singers, sing a song that’s supposed to reflect the puppets (an old man with a young woman) but actually makes a snide remark about the audience.

7. Bholi soorat dil ke khote, naam bade aur darshan chhote (Albela, 1951): A fairly well-known song which uses a common proverb to describe a person (or other—it could be a place, an event, whatever). ‘Naam bade aur darshan chhote’ literally means ‘big names, but little when seen’: another way of saying that something or someone doesn’t live up to their reputation. This song from Albela tags on another initial line, also saying something along the same lines: Bholi soorat dil ke khote (‘An innocent face, but false of heart’).

In this situation, the proverb becomes an excuse for a ‘battle of the sexes’ duet: Bhagwan’s and Geeta Bali’s characters use it, and sundry other phrases, to teasingly fling taunts at the opposite sex.

8. Subaah ka bhoola shaam ko (Gehra Daag, 1963): A song that could pretty much be representative of the film—and which, ironically enough, espouses a motto that the singer herself goes against in the latter part of the film. Mala Sinha’s character in Gehra Daag falls in love with a kind, good-hearted man whom she realizes only much later is an ex-convict, no less than a murderer (played by Rajendra Kumar). Worse still, he is the man who murdered—though it was in self-defence—her brother. Here, though, in happier times and in the first flush of new love, she and a troupe of dancers perform onstage, singing a song of forgiveness. ‘If the one who was forgotten during the morning returns in the evening, he is not considered forgotten’ is the literal meaning; less literally, this means that someone who repents and returns to the flock should be forgiven and taken back, given a second chance.

9. Oonchi-oonchi dukaan pheeka-pheeka pakwaan (Pehli Jhalak, 1955): Literally, this proverb translates as ‘a high shop, insipid dishes’: the connotation being that the shop is very fine, but the dishes it sells are tasteless and bland. In other words, and applied to life in general, the outward trappings are fine and good, but the real worth is missing.

A proverb that’s fairly well applied in this situation. Vyjyanthimala’s character, a feisty girl who’s just witnessed a very wealthy woman berating a beggar, is shocked to discover that same wealthy woman presiding at a function to help the poor—in particular poor women. The hypocrisy of the situation strikes our heroine to such an extent that she makes a song and dance out of it.

10. Tikdambaazi: miyaan raazi biwi raazi (Adhikar, 1954): Adhikar is a good example of the way old Hindi films tended to include lots of now mostly forgotten proverbs in dialogues; this film had some memorable ones, for instance this pithy retort for someone who was piling on: “Jaan na pehchaan, badi khaala salaam!”—literally, ‘Neither an acquaintance nor even someone one recognizes, but “Greetings, dear old Aunt!”’)

And this song has not one, but two proverbs in its lyrics. The song starts with a variation on ‘Miyan biwi raazi toh kya karega qazi’ (literally, ‘when the husband is willing and the wife is willing, what will the qazi do?’, though that can be extended to imply that when two people who are the most invested in a common matter are in agreement, a third party is unnecessary). Later on in the song, ‘Chhuri bagal mein moonh mein Ram’ (‘a dagger under one’s arm, and Ram on one’s lips’) also occurs—a proverb which is very similar to ‘Nau sau choohe khaake billi haj ko chali’, in that both are about hypocrisy, about people who preach all manner of virtue, but are otherwise devious and evil.

What other songs can you think of that mention proverbs?

And, as an aside: outside of Hindi film songs, do you have any proverbs you especially like? I, for instance, have a fondness for ‘Na nau mann tel hoga na Radha naachegi’ (‘If there aren’t nine maunds of oil around, Radha won’t dance’—using flimsy and illogical excuses to get out of doing something).

Bring them on!

64 thoughts on “Ten of my favourite muhaavara/lokokti songs

  1. What an interesting premise for a song list! I hadn’t heard Oonchi oonchi dukaan before – such a lovely song. And Gehra Daaag sounds interesting – worth watching?

    ‘Andher nagri chaupat raja, take ser bhaaji, take ser khaaja’ literally means ‘A dark town and a crooked king; vegetables at a taka for a ser, eaten at a taka for a ser’.

    I think the “khaja” here refers to the sweet khaja or some expensive food. Meaning that things that should be cheap and things that should be expensive, both cost the same.

    My favorite song that includes a proverb/saying, is Yeh duniya gol hai from Chaudhvin Ka Chand

    And I also found this – not a good song but it fits the bill: Naach na jaane kahe angad tedha from Zamana.

    • Oh, nice! I love Yeh duniya gol hai – but, a confession – I hadn’t realised that was a muhaavra. :-( We live and learn. Also about the khaaja thing. I will correct that, thanks for telling me about that!

      Gehra Daag is ho-hum. It starts off with a good premise, but slips and slides into melodrama a little over midway through. And, frankly, for me Mala Sinha and Rajendra Kumar doing melodrama is too much. They go overboard.

  2. Congratulations
    What an interesting post Madhuji.
    Really wonderful. Cant think of a song to add, but will come back later.
    You made my morning really enjoyable. Thanks for the treat.

    :-)

      • Someone on my Facebook network also suggested Jangal mein mor nacha. I had to admit I hadn’t realized it was a proverb. I guess, since I had heard the song when I was a little kid (before I was exposed to proverbs), I had always thought those were the lines of the song. And I’ve never come across the proverb being used other than in songs. The same goes for Tum jiyo hazaaron saal – but it could well be a proverb, and if it is, it certainly counts.

        And, since I mentioned that I came across Jangal mein mor naacha only in ‘songs’, here’s one besides the very famous Johnny Walker-Rafi one from Madhumati. Many years ago, when one could go to an audio cassette shop and get them to put songs onto it for you, I’d asked our neighbourhood shopwallah to put Jangal mein mor naacha on a cassette for me. This is the one he put on it, and in the middle of a selection too, so there was nothing I could do to have it erased!

        Jangal mein mor naacha kisne dekha, from Shatranj:

        • Thats a great memory and anecdote. Another song loosely based is the Savera song…Chhupa chhupi…the billi going to haj comes up in the refrain!!

          • I had thought of that one, but it’s not just the fact that the proverb comes too far into the song, it’s also that the proverb doesn’t really appear in its own form – more as an indication, with the kanthimala and Kashi alluded. But it’s one song I really love.

  3. Must watch the film someday…

    Oh
    It’s there ony watch list too!
    Now that I’m writing reviews too. I’ve watched it on Doordarshan lot many years ago. As a child I loved it. I do remember the basic plot as well. But nothing in detail.

    Let’s see.

    :-)

  4. Madhu ji ,

    What a wonderful theme …
    Full guarantee of entertaning songs .

    I liked Ur selection of songs .

    Does any of the following befit in Ur theme ?

    1) In movie बारिश , Nutan teases Dev
    ” ये मुँह और दाल मसूर की
    जरा सूरत तो देखो हुजूर की ”

    2) In अजी बस शुक्रिया , Geeta Bali in marathi नऊवारी साडी dances singing
    ” सच कहता हैं जॉनी वॉकर
    घर की मूर्गी दाल बराबर “

    • Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed this post.

      I have mentioned Yeh moonh aur daal masoor ki in my post, even though it’s not on the list.

      Thank you for the Aji bask shukriya song – I had completely forgotten about that one.

  5. What a fun post! I wasn’t familiar with a few of the adages such as “bhoodha hai ghoda…” so your explanations were very helpful.

    Here’s one that I think qualifies – ghar ki murgi daal barabar:

    Sach kehta hai Johnny Walker, ghar ki murgi daal barabar – Aji Bas Shukriya/Roshan/Asha Bhonsle/Prem Dhawan

  6. Want to add this song as “Aapne yaad dilaya tau mujhe yaad aaya” is certainly a proverb, and what a lovely song from “Aarti”.

  7. Actually there is no dearth of completely forgettable movies with lokoti songs :)
    here is Jaise ko Taisa Mila from the movie of the same name ..

  8. I remembered this song from childhood, so hunted it out now..
    Jin Khoja Tin Paaiiya…form a Rajshri movie called Pyaar ki Jhankar… typical Rajshri fare, with Ravindra Jain and Jaspal Singh..

  9. What an absolutely fabulous idea for a post, Madhu. I smiled as I read through it. Some of the songs that came to mind when I read the title have already been posted, etiher by you (Andher Nagri Chaupat Raja) or in the comments (Jhooth bole kauwa kaate, Nach na jaane aangan thedah).

    Here’s one though that has, not just one but many proverbs included in its lyrics, including Kauwa chala dekho hans ki chaal, Chaubeyji chale Chabbeji ban-ne, Dubeyji banke laute, etc.

    • Wow, Anu. I’ve seen Jolly LLB, but I had completely forgotten this one! What a fabulous song. Plus I have a special fondness for Kailash Kher. :-)

      I think it was Ava who first suggested this theme, many years ago. It’s taken a long while to get around to it.

  10. A really novel idea. Is the song in opening snap “Dene wala jab bhi deta” from “Funtoosh”? I can’t think of any song yet. Will come back if I do.
    P.S.: I am volunteering the information that I have a new series of posts out. First part was on 21st Jan and next will be in 2-3 days. Please visit.🥺

  11. What a unique idea for post! Really enjoyed this.

    Few songs/poems I remember

    Gali mein aaj chand nikala

    Arman nikale

    How about ‘aaj kal paanv jameen par’

    Cannot help but add Satrangi Re though Ishq par Zor nahi appears midway through song

    And same goes for Manzile Apni Jagah hai. It has not one but two muhavare in song ‘kashtiya sahil pe dubna’ and ‘Dubnewale ko tinke ka Sahara’. Second one comes near end

    Ramta Jogi

    Chdhata Suraj

    Kaarava Gujar Gaya, isn’t it a muhavara? Each stanza feels like one.

    In fact I feel poetry written by greats like Sahir, Gulzar has become new muhanvare in itself.

    Anyways I will end with my all time favourite Que Sera sera

    • I must admit I hadn’t realized several of these were proverbs or idioms – I always thought, for instance, that Kaarvaan guzar gaya or Aajkal paanv zameen par were just lyrics.

      Thanks for the songs!

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