Main Chup Nahin Rahoongi: Ten ‘Outspoken Woman’ Songs

This post had been written up before the violence referred to in my previous post had occurred. Back then, Shaheen Bagh—and similar women-dominated anti-CAA/NRC/NPR protests across India, all inspired by Shaheen Bagh—had been foremost in my mind). Though the violence in Delhi, and now Coronavirus, seem to have pushed Shaheen Bagh to the back burner, it seemed to me a still appropriate post for Women’s Day.

The escalating lawlessness and intolerance has been a matter of grave concern over the past few years. Every act, every statement that questions the establishment, no matter how logically or innocuously, seems to be an invitation to more violence. It takes courage to even speak up now.

This is why the women of Shaheen Bagh (and, by extension, their sisters in other parts of the country) who have been sitting in peaceful protest to push for love and harmony have my vote. These are women who may have been ‘mere housewives’ earlier, but have come out of their homes to speak up against what is wrong. They are an inspiration, a now-potent symbol of how powerful women can be if they speak up. They can draw others to their cause (as the women of Shaheen Bagh have done); they can inspire others; they can frighten bullies.

So, in admiring tribute to the brave women of Shaheen Bagh—and women everywhere, from Greta Thunberg to Rosa Parkes—who dare to go against the establishment: a list of ten songs featuring women showing they won’t sit back and be docile doormats. Women who speak up, who question the status quo, who dare to go where others fear to venture. Eventually, too, filmi females who dare to sign of freedom, who don’t meekly knuckle down and sing bhajans or romantic songs or lullabies (which, I discovered when I got deep into researching this post, seem to be the most obvious choice of songs sung by onscreen females. The men, overwhelmingly, are the ones who spout philosophy or sing cynical songs, or tell the world to go take a walk). Women who assert their individuality.

As always, these songs are all from pre-1970 films that I’ve seen.

In no particular order:

1. Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko (Sadhana, 1958): Possibly the biggest bane of women’s lives across the world stems from patriarchy—a patriarchy so deeply embedded in society that women themselves propagate it, unwittingly co-operating with it and supporting it. In what is easily the most powerful song of its kind in Hindi cinema, this brilliantly hard-hitting song from Sadhana says it as it is. The double standards of a patriarchal society which trades in women, which humiliates and uses women, never mind that without woman humankind itself wouldn’t exist. Lata’s singing and N Dutta’s are superb, but in this case, it is Sahir’s lyrics for the song that especially stand out for me. He pulls no punches here in describing the brutality with which women are treated by a patriarchal society.

2. Sansaar se bhaage phirte ho (Chitralekha, 1964): Lata again, and again singing Sahir’s words, and (coincidentally enough), as in Sadhana, singing playback for an actress who plays a courtesan/tawaif. The words are more philosophical than cutting here, but the taunt is implicit, the barb isn’t just implied, it’s right there, upfront. How will you ever attain the Almighty, she challenges the would-be ascetic, when you keep running away from the world itself? “Yeh paap hai kya yeh punya hai kya? Reeton par dharm ki mohre hain,” she states baldly. What is vice and what is virtue? Just a stamp that religion places on rites and rituals—not, it is implied, what is really good or really bad. A somewhat offbeat (for the time) perspective on religion, though hardly surprising, given that Sahir was an atheist.

 

3. Pyaar kiya toh darna kya (Mughal-e-Azam, 1960): One of those immortal love songs of Hindi cinema. And, while Pyaar kiya toh darna kya is often discussed mostly for the grandeur of it, the spectacle, the glitter and glamour—it’s worth noting the lyrics and the situation of this song. Madhubala’s Anarkali isn’t just proclaiming her love for her man, she is proclaiming it in the fuming face of his father. Who is none other than Akbar, the Emperor of much of India. Under Akbar, the Mughal Empire was at its greatest spread (he tripled the size of the Empire over that ruled by his father Humayun), and to defy him wouldn’t have been an easy thing to do: it would have required guts. Real guts. But this is just what Anarkali does. She tells him straight out: I have not committed a crime, I have merely fallen in love; then why should I be scared?

4. Aaj Himalaya ki choti se (Kismet, 1943): A patriotic song, yes, but also one that cocks a snook at the authorities in a different, more real way. Lyricist Kavi Pradeep wrote this song about telling the world to get out of India, and (since Kismet was made during the war years) put in an anti-Axis slogan in one line where the singers mention “German ho ya Japani”—all will be countered, and how. But anybody, even the censors, would have realized that the underlying message was just as much anti-British as anything else. Except that, since the words are so seemingly innocuous, they couldn’t really do anything about stopping the song.

While there are men in this song, I think of Mumtaz Shanti’s character as the leader here (she is even, in the second part of the song, dressed up as Mother India herself). And the line her character sings—“Yahaan hamaare mandir-masjid, Sikhon ka gurudwara hai”—actually made me tear up when I was listening to it this time: it’s such a poignant reminder that India is the home of all of us, no matter what our religion.

 

5. Jurm-e-ulfat pe humein log sazaa dete hain (Taj Mahal, 1962): This song has several things in common with Pyaar kiya toh darna kya. The Mughal period, for one. A prince, his parent, and a court setting, for another. The marked disapproval—even outright fury—of the royal in question. And the defiance of the woman who dares to stake a claim on the affections of the prince. But Bina Rai’s Arjumand Bano Begum, unlike Madhubala’s Anarkali, does not fling her words in her future mother-in-law’s teeth. Hers is not an open challenge, but a more subtle one. She spurns the wealth, the fame, the power that her opponent holds dear, turning it all down for love. No fanfare here, just a quiet, calm confidence in the strength and rightness of her love.

6. Lara lappa lara lappa (Ek Thi Ladki, 1949): There are several reasons for this song being on this list. For one, it proves that you don’t need to be holding a sword or spewing rage in order to make a statement: a sense of humour can be just as effective. For another, though it is a funny song, Lara lappa lara lappa also makes a point for the empowerment of women: at the end, Meena Shorey’s character makes a powerful (and prophetic) statement. That women will someday sit at these desks to which men think they have the sole right.

And, last but not least, for Meena Shorey and her all too brief career in Hindi cinema. Because, in an era when women were relegated to playing only a few predictable roles—arm-candy, damsel in distress, long-suffering mother, or vamp—she was one actress who starred as the lead in several films, every bit as crucial (often more crucial) to the film as her male co-stars. Whether it was in Ek Thi Ladki, Dholak, or Ek Do Teen, Meena Shorey played a series of feisty, go-getting girls who always managed to outshine the ‘hero’.

(Note that in this song, too, it is Meena and her gang who have the last word. The men do get a somewhat ineffectual verse in which they try to retort, but it’s the women who wind up the song).

7. Humko samajh na lijiye daali gulab ki (Kalpana, 1960): I must admit to having been a total wimp when I was a teenager. Nobody had ever told me how to handle unwelcome attention, so if anybody tried to grope me in a DTC bus, I’d try to move away. It was only later that I figured out that a sharp jab with an elbow, accompanied by a loud rebuke that could be heard across the bus, was a good way to nip any such overtures in the bud.

Ragini’s character in Kalpana seems to know how to deal with men who get too fresh. Even if that’s only her perception of the situation; Ashok Kumar’s character here isn’t actually to blame, since her practicing of her dance is what has got him irritated in the first place. But this isn’t a girl who will kow-tow to a bossy man; she will boss him right back. And give better than she gets.

8. Jaago jaago savera hua (Baaz, 1953): It is appropriate that this list should include a song from a film named for another bird of prey. A baaz is a falcon, and though it was Guru Dutt’s character in Baaz who was the anti-colonial freedom fighter ‘Baaz’, in Jaago jaago savera hua, it is Geeta Bali, playing his love interest, who eggs people on to wake up, to not give in to Portuguese domination. A performance of music and dance is being held in honour of the Portuguese General Barbarossa, and Nisha (Geeta), along with her associates, gatecrashes to jolt the assembly out of its lackadaisical attitude (or, worse, its conniving with the Portuguese in their oppression of Goa).

9. Kuchh aur zamaana kehta hai (Chhoti Chhoti Baatein, 1965): There is something to be admired in the feisty, fearless candour of female characters like Meena Shorey’s in Ek Thi Ladki or Ragini’s in Kalpana, but there is, at least for me, something even more admirable about the more mature outspokenness of this woman. Nadira in Chhoti Chhoti Baatein plays a woman no longer in the first flush of youth, and with her age there is an accompanying maturity, a self-assurance that allows her to have her say. No, she’s not abusing anybody, or being angry: she’s simply expressing her will. Should she follow the dictates of society, or should she follow what her heart says (the very fact that she even considers this is telling enough in itself). A lovely song, and such a quietly dignified expression of feminine power.

10. Hum panchhi mastaane (Dekh Kabira Roya, 1957): And, to end, a song about women asserting their freedom. From one of my favourite films comes this frothy song—frothy when it comes to Madan Mohan’s music, Geeta and Lata’s vocals, and Anita Guha and Shubha Khote’s bubbly energy. The lyrics, however, are strikingly different from what one would expect of two young women singing together in an old Hindi film (where, as my post on female duets proved, the usual trope is of a mutual teasing about each other’s lovers). In fact, the lyrics (by Rajinder Krishan) could be almost an anthem for the anti-CAA/NRC protests. Here are three of my favourite examples:

Dharti ko chhodkar peechhe baadal ke paar jaana hai (‘Leaving the earth behind, one has to go beyond the clouds’; note—for those who don’t know— ‘shaheen’ means ‘hawk’, which makes the image of soaring into the sky even more apt).

Dil ki lagi yeh kehti hai rukne ka naam mat lena; toofaan rasta roke, chhupne ka naam mat lena (‘My heart says, do not even consider stopping; if a storm blocks your path, do not hide away in fear’).

Ek saath chal pade hain toh manzil ko dhoond hi lenge (‘We’ve set out together, we will be able to find our destination’).

Happy Women’s Day!

51 thoughts on “Main Chup Nahin Rahoongi: Ten ‘Outspoken Woman’ Songs

  1. Thanks, Madhulika! This is a great and apt collection. Happy Women’s Day! I would add this number from Shagoon – Tum Apna Ranjo Gum-Apni Pareshani – sung by Jagjit Kaur and picturised on Nivedita/Libi Rana. She is not afraid to express her feelings even though Kamaljeet is already married to Waheeda Rehman in the movie. It’s rare for a woman to express her feelings so openly in an Indian film as far back as 1964. The reason is that she has returned to India after living in the US.
    Spoiler alert: Kamaljeet angrily rebuffs her suggestion to divorce Waheeda and marry her (after this song ends).
    What I liked best is that she is not depicted negatively in the film.

    • Thank you for this one, Rohit! I think this is a very good example of an ‘outspoken woman’, because though there are several women characters who profess their love for married men (e.g, Smriti Biswas’s character in Tera dil kahaan hai (Chandni Chowk) and Meenu Mumtaz’s character in Saba se yeh keh do (Bank Manager)), but they aren’t ‘good women’. Libby Rana’s character in Shagoon, on the other hand, is an achhe ghar ki beti, though her ‘boldness’, so to say, is probably a result of her education abroad. :-)

  2. Very interesting subject indeed considering the atmosphere around us today.
    One song which immediately came to my mind was from Ladki 1953. The content of the film was way ahead of it’s time. The song is called Main Hoon Bharat Ki Nar sung by Lata.
    Music by Dhaniram, Sudarsanam R.
    Lyrics by Rajendra Krishan
    It is here

    The black and white era had quite a few songs on outspoken women. I will try to remember them and share.

  3. Madhu,
    I first thought after reading the first part of the title of your post, that it is about the recent women-oriented films: ‘Mardani’, ‘Mom’, ‘Saandh Ki Aankh’, ‘Panga’, climaxing with the wonderful ‘Thappad’, though in the last film the protagonist Tapsi Pannu shows her strength more by her silence.

    Of the songs you have selected ‘Jab pyar kiya to darna kya’ is the most befitting, a kaneez showing defiance to the Emperor.
    AK

    • Thank you, AK. I am afraid I haven’t seen any of the films you’ve mentioned, but I’ve heard of all of them, and several are on my watchlist. I agree that in recent years there have been many more women-oriented films (going back a little further, I’d also mention Queen and English-Vinglish). Also, I suppose the rise of women directors and writers helps.

  4. A great post, a good idea to celebrate lnternational Women’s Day .
    I would add,
    badal rahi zameen from fashionable wife

  5. Very nice post..a song that comes to my mind is “Panchi banu udti phirun mast gagan me, aaj main azad hoon duniya ke chaman me”..from Chori Chori. The heroine is celebrating her independence.

    • Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed this post! And yes, Panchhi banoon udti phiroon fits this post perfectly – I had it on my shortlist, so am especially glad to see you mention it.

  6. A great list, Madhu. I know and love most of those songs.

    I had a few more in mind…

    A woman standing high on a hill, riling up the troops in a revolutionary army in Dr. Kotnis…:

    Ghulam nahin tu josh mein aa

    A woman leading the morale-building effort at the construction site in Insaan Jaag Utha:

    Mehnatkash insaan jaag utha

    A woman leading a song telling off the rich in Basant. She is reluctant at first, but after a little encouragement, she definitely takes the lead. (Mumtaz Shanti was good at portraying that kind of transition. ;) ) And remember, International Women’s Day started as a socialist holiday!

    Tumko mubaarak ho

    Unfortunately, I can’t follow the next song too well because I don’t have a copy with subtitles anymore :), but I recall that the woman leading the sermon in this song from Eelan had some wise and unconventional things to say. I sometimes like to post a screen cap from this where the subtitles read, “Education should be our religion.”

    Insaan ki tehzeeb

    • Thank you, Richard! For the appreciation, and for the songs. I had Mehnatkash insaan jaag utha on my shortlist, so am especially happy to see it here.

      I should have remembered Ghulam nahin tu josh mein aa, given that I’ve seen the film. The others were new to me, and the Elaan song was unusual. It does talk about education – but the emphasis seems to be specifically on Quranic education!

      • Madhu, it is interesting that you also thought of “Mehnatkash Insaan Jaag Utha.” There are a few songs like that which I have seen – in which a woman is portrayed as encouraging the morale of the people to help build a good future for India (whether on the construction site or in other contexts). I think the song in Dr. Kotnis is basically the same thing, at a metaphorical level – obviously, it was a message for the Indian independence movement, though it’s interesting also because it takes place within a division of Mao’s army. (Unfortunately, this film has an added relevance at the moment, because it is a story about a doctor who set out to try to cure a plague).

        Regarding the Elaan song (btw, sorry about my typo in the transliteration – I know that it is fine to double the “a,” but not the “e’ :) )… Well, I don’t think that the subtitles that I saw made it quite that clear to me that the education being promoted was specifically Quranic education (as opposed to other kinds). This was a Muslim social, and a lot of things took place within that religious context. What I also recall, though, is that the character here is a woman who is very progressive within this context – promoting education and opposing social backwardness. The heartbreaking consequences of unwanted arranged marriage is part of this backwardness, which presents a big problem in her life (of course), etc. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the film in that much detail – it is several years since I watched it, and I looked at it only once before returning it to the library. But I thought this character, as portrayed in this song, would fit nicely with the theme of your post.

        • “There are a few songs like that which I have seen – in which a woman is portrayed as encouraging the morale of the people to help build a good future for India

          That reminds me of Saathi haath badhaana from Naya Daur (though of course Vyjyanthimala’s character isn’t the only one singing). Interestingly, Vyjyanthimala also does the ‘outspoken woman’ bit in Oonchi oonchi dukaan pheeka pheeka pakwaan, where she chastises the rich for looking down on the poor, or for only paying lip service to philanthropy:

          I should watch Elaan – it sounds interesting! I remember Raja having recommended it years ago.

  7. What a powerful post, Madhu. Again, a timely one. We still don’t have too many women raising their voices in film, though as AK points out, things are slowly changing. I put this in your ‘Songs for the times’ as well, but I think it fits here too: Ae watan ke naujawan from Baaz.

    Geeta Bali, playing his love interest, who eggs people on to wake up,

    She’s not just his love interest; she’s a freedom fighter. In fact, she’s a captive-turned pirate, who fights the Portuguese.

      • Here’s one that fits (I think) – what do you say?
        Suraiya, who’s a rich woman, spends her time in working for the villager’s future. She’s helped by Dev Anand, her love interest. Here, she exhorts the villagers to work together so they can break the shackles of poverty and escape the clutches of the money lenders. Rather unusual even for those times. And her outspokenness isn’t limited to this song; it extends through out the movie.
        Kaam karo bhai kaam karo from Jeet

  8. “Pyar kiya to darna kya”!! It is THE DEFIANCE”. Very in face.

    I wonder whether “Tu mere saath rahega munne” from Trishul fits the bill. Waheeda totally avoids rona-dhona when she learns abt. her beloved’s betrayal but she does not refrain from telling him that she is bearing his child without begging/berating him. She makes him redundant to discuss abt. her and her child’s future. We will keep aside whether it is a good idea to burden your offspring abt. your personal situation and revenge but she never shies from telling her child “Mein tuze reham ke saaye mein na palne dungi, jindagani ki kadi dhup mein jalne dungi, taaki tu faulad bane” In the age of chupchaap sehnewali weepy screen mothers, this was very different.

    How about “Teer-e-nazar dekhenge” from Pakizaa? She is challenging not just Rajkumar but entire society when she says “Aap to aankh milate hue sharmate hai, aap to dil ke dhadkane se bhi dar jaate hai. Fir bhi yeh jid hai ke hum jakhm-e-jigar dekhenge”

    And then effervescent Geeta Baali of Baazi when she tells Dev Anand “Apne pe bharosa hai to ek daav laga le” I mean heroines or goodnatured vamps of those era were supposed to hold the hero on pedestal and here Geeta Baali is questioning hero “Darta hai jamaane ki nigaho se bhala kyon” and egging him to take a chance.

    When Amrita Sing tells Shahrukh Khan “Tu mere sath sath aasman se aage chal” in Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman,she makes no bones about she likes him and they are good together. The lyrics and her body language are so natural and relaxed that they scream here is a woman who is holding her own even in love.

    • Oh, nice! Yes, that’s a great list of songs that fit perfectly. I especially like your having chosen Tadbeer se bigdi hui, because it’s an unusual song for a vamp to sing. Otherwise, the vamps do tend to be outspoken, but in a vampish way, if you know what I mean. This one, with her using her song to egg him on (and none too gently at that) is such a refreshing change from the usual.

  9. I have no suggestions for this, which seems odd. The only even slightly relevant one I can think of is that one in Swayamvar where Sanjeev Kumar mansplains to one of the heroines that women can do all sorts of stuff now and she doesn’t have to be a slave at home. It’s actually really cute though.

  10. That’s a fantastic post and you deserve lots of accolades for it. It’s a pleasant surprise to find songs like Kuchh Aur Zamaana Kehta Hai, Jurm-e-Ulfat Pe and Hum Panchhi Mastaane in this list. If you have watched Dekh Kabira Roya, you can remember that Hum Panchhi Mastaane appears twice in the movie as it is (i.e., exactly the same footage). And the spectator can enjoy it twice (though there is no apparent reason to show the same song twice).

    • I must admit I don’t remember Hum panchhi mastaane appearing twice, though I have watched the film several times (it’s one of my favourite films). Apparently time for a rewatch!

      Thank you so much for the appreciation. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post.

  11. Vyjayanthimala was so much fun in the first part of Sadhana as a greedy, pert tawaif.So assertive and confident.But all her confidence seems to go away after her transformation.While Sahir’s lyrics are thoughtful,I can’t say the same for the music.I have to admit that I’m ignorant of most of the songs on the list.But then I can console myself that I’m hardly alone. Just watched Rajeev Masand’s Newcomer’s Roundtable. Most of the new girls- Tara,Geethika etc-haven’t watched a single Hindi film till they were adults. As for the rest, DDLJ and Poo from K3G seems to be some sort of golden standard.

    • “Most of the new girls- Tara,Geethika etc-haven’t watched a single Hindi film till they were adults. As for the rest, DDLJ and Poo from K3G seems to be some sort of golden standard.

      So true. I search for “old Hindi films” on Google and the search results show up films from the 90s, which (by my standards) are totally new. ;-) Makes me feel horribly old.

      • IMO, the 90s are no different from the 60s, the only difference being that the former decade had more enjoyable masala films (Haathi Mere Saathi, Upkar, Aradhana, Johny Mera Naam, Bobby and so on…). Based on what I’ve seen, looks like most 90s films sort of paid tribute to the 60s when you look at the Europe-pictured songs and the fancy houses and clothes and so on.

        • Yes, there’s that similarity, certainly – but then, if you look at it, Hindi films since the 1950s have tended to follow those patterns. It’s only been in the past few years that more and more films have been able to break free and address other topics. The usual trope has, for several decades, been romance-comedy-villainy, in a pretty locale (Kashmir or Europe), with the main characters wealthy and sophisticated.

          That said, the songs of the 50s and 60s are unparalleled – as was the general likeability of most films.

      • Isn’t it.. Kanu Roy again, with Basu Bhattacharya . Griha Pravesh also belongs to same urban marriage theme that he explored in Anubhav , then Aavishkar (with Mansi and Amar as the protagonists) and therefore Kanu Roy again, though sadly no Geeta Dutt. Also interesting that Sanjeev Kumar and Sharmila Tagore had been part of Anubhav and Avishkar previously.
        Aastha with Rekha and OmPuri was also part of the same series

  12. I would like to add this..because Radha is the original ‘woke’ woman I feel. And here she chides Shyam for being abhimaani and too caught in himself and his principles..
    Shyam Abhimani from Geeta Gata Chal …Also Padma Khanna and Sachin as Radha and Krishna also fit the bill of what lore would have us believe of Radha being an older woman to an adolescent Kanha..and a pleasant enough song

  13. And though this is a bit teary, this song (and lyrics) do potray a quiet anger at the injustices heaped by the world at large and also at the ex-admirer who judges… here is a woman who has had to accept her circumstances , which she does with a quiet dignity, but also lashes out for being unfairly judged.

    Rehte the kabhi Jinke dil mein from Mamta

    • I am so glad to see this song here, firstly because I love it, and secondly because it had been on my shortlist for this post. I was hoping someone would post it. Beautiful song.

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