Ten of my favourite ‘This is my work’ songs

I love it when blog readers suggest themes for song lists: it invariably provides food for thought. For instance, about a couple of years back, one of my readers, Ashish, sent me a mail with a suggestion: songs  about people selling their wares (he was spurred onto that by listening to the song Zindagi hai kya sun meri jaan, in which Dev Anand is selling ice cream—the point being that the song is used as a means of promoting the wares of the seller). A very good post on songs like that had already been done by Pacifist (as a guest writer on Harvey’s blog), but it made me think: goods, after all, are not all that’s sold. Services, equally, are sold. And the service can be anything: from transportation to tailoring, from entertainment to—well, something rather more intimate.

So, here are ten songs in which the singer sells his/her services. As always, all songs are from pre-70s Hindi films that I’ve seen. These songs are in no particular order, though my favourites tend to be towards the top of the list.

(Interestingly enough, between the time I compiled this post and published it—a gap of several months—Anupji, over at Mehfil Mein Meri, published a similar list, though his post included songs of people selling both services as well as wares).

1. Sar jo tera chakraaye (Pyaasa, 1957): Champi. This one is, to my mind, the iconic ‘Come along and avail of my services’ song. A champi or telmaalish waala (literally, a man who offers oil massages, both for head and for body) wanders along the streets, seeking business. Johnny Walker, as Abdul Sattar, was a breath of fresh air in what was otherwise an extremely grim tale of the hypocrisy and materialism of the world. Abdul Sattar does touch upon that—the fickleness of the world, its ability to reduce to despair anybody who cannot stand up to it—and offers a solution: an oil massage. It will wipe away your worries, he promises; whether monetary or romantic, whether you’re a beggar or a prince—you will leave his magical hands carefree and relieved.

2. Main rickshawaala (Chhoti Bahen, 1959): Rickshawaala. Mehmood, as the man whom a fickle fate has separated from his nearest and dearest—including his sweetheart—is reduced to taking up the only work he can find: as a rickshaw-puller. Unlike a more famous screen rickshawaala (Balraj Sahni in Do Bigha Zameen), this one doesn’t quietly and stoically pull his rickshaw along, trying to conserve his strength; no, whenever he can pause long enough to draw breath, he sings of how his two legs are as good as four (and, to prove it, he even races a tonga near the end of the song). He sings of his strength and dependability to prospective passengers, but when he’s on his own, having delivered a man to a date, he looks on wistfully, wondering when life will bring him to his destination.

3. Kaho jee tum kya-kya khareedoge (Sadhana, 1958): Prostitute. It’s interesting (and ironic, perhaps) that almost every mujra picturized in a filmi kotha tries to present the tawaif as a woman offering her love, her beauty, as something to be cherished, not bought. An illusion is maintained (say, in the songs of Pakeezah) that what is on sale is only the platonic aspect of a relationship that is, in reality, only a transaction: the woman’s body is on sale; her song and dance, her beauty, are just lures.

This song was written by the inimitable Sahir Ludhianvi, who also gave Sadhana another extremely hard-hitting, no-holds-barred song about womanhood, Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko. And it is a song that says it as it is, no sugarcoating at all: for some money—tossed at Vyjyantimala’s dancing figure as she whirls in front of an excited audience—everything here is on sale. Every aspect of her, everything she lays claim to, from her intoxicating eyes to her sensuous arms, are theirs for the buying. She promises them nights of passion, every delight that will take them to the heights of rapture. She eggs them on to buy. The world’s oldest profession, and advertised in a coldly clinical manner.

4. Kismat phati hui thhi (Ali Baba aur Chaalees Chor, 1954): Tailor. A decrepit tailor—his clothes covered with patches—is promised 1,000 dinars if he will take on a macabre bit of stitching: attaching a decapitated corpse to its head. Initially taken aback, this doughty (and greedy) tailor quickly settles down to his work—and sings as he works. His song is an interestingly philosophical one, which uses metaphors from his work to set forth a path to follow. Matlab ki kainchi se kaate baap ho ya woh bhaai ho, usi ke taanke pakke jisne daulat khoob kamaayi ho, he sings. Use the scissors of your own interest to cut off whatever or whoever you need to, even if it’s your father or your brother; the strongest stitches are those of he who is wealthiest.

The onlookers (including the woman who brought him here in the first place, giving him this commission) look on in horrified fascination as this man puts in stitch after stitch (thankfully, we are not shown the details) and cheerfully sings that one should use the needle of one’s mind to stitch strong and firm, making sure the thread doesn’t break. Very macabre, but appropriate too, in its own way. And good guidelines for what a tailor does, even if it’s just clothes he’s sewing.

5. Thehar zara o jaanewaale (Boot Polish, 1954): Boot polishwaala. In a refreshing change from the creepy work of the tailor in the last song, a somewhat more light-hearted job: polishing shoes. It is sad that this song is about child labour, but there mitigating circumstances: Master Rattan and Baby Naaz’s orphaned characters have no other option, but they do have the moral support of their beloved John Chacha (David), who teaches them this song, which they take up, calling passersby to stop awhile to get their shoes polished.

While most of the song extols the joys of labour, of using one’s own work to earn a living, this is one of the few ‘this is my work’ songs I came across that actually sets out by saying how much it’s going to cost: one anna for black polish, one anna for brown polish, one anna for the labour. While lots of people—including plenty of suit-clad, boot-wearing men—stop by and watch the song and dance of the children, no-one actually wants to get their shoes polished. Proof, perhaps, that too much advertising can distract people from what you’re really trying to sell.

6. Main hoon Papa Khan (Post Box 999, 1958): Magician. This otherwise rather forgettable B-grade crime thriller was notable for its good music, which boasted of popular songs like Mere dil mein hai ek baat and Neend na mujhko aaye. This one, less well-known, has Sunil Dutt and Shakila’s characters—sweethearts trying to get to the root of a crime—masquerading as a magician and his assistant. ‘Papa Khan’, from ‘Iran’, assisted by ‘Madam Bilbilaan’, if you want to be precise. Besides a relatively brief introduction that comprises of boasting about how Papa Khan has travelled the world and entranced everybody with his magic, there’s little in the lyrics that actually talk about all he does—but if you match the lyrics to what is happening onscreen (hats appearing suddenly on the heads of bareheaded men, and two Shakilas materializing)—you’ll see that it’s all a demonstration of Papa Khan’s skill as a magician.

7. Ghoomke aaya hoon main bandhu (Basant, 1960): Musician. Coincidentally, this song shares more in common with Main hoon Papa Khan than may appear at first glance. Here too, there are two people—a man and a woman—posing as performers, in order to turn the tables on the villain. And, here too there’s a good bit of boasting about how lucky Indians are that these immensely talented people, having roamed the world (in this case, Russia, China and England), have finally come to India to show off their skills.

Johnny Walker is his usual highly watchable self, and the lyrics are tongue-in-cheek, incorporating lots of references to Hindi film music personalities: our baajewaala from Patiala has no qualms about boasting that SD Burman, OP Nayyar, Shankar-Jaikishan, Asha and Rafi (the latter two, delightfully enough, actually the singers of the song) have all been his disciples; they’ve learnt from him.

8. Hum bahisht ke maalik (Ek Din ka Sultan, 1945): Water-carrier (bhishti). From the life of the Mughal Emperor Humayun comes an interesting story, the stuff of legends—though this was true, and not a legend. In the aftermath of a battle, trying to cross a river, Humayun nearly drowned and was saved by a water-carrier or bhishti, who helped the Emperor across. In gratitude, Humayun granted the man (whose name was Nizam) any wish he asked for, and Nizam asked to be made king for a day. This was duly granted, and Nizam sat on the Mughal throne for a day. Sohrab Modi used this story as the basis of this 1945 film, which had this enjoyable song picturized on the bhishtis (or bahishtis, as they’re referred to in Ek Din ka Sultan). The men here (and a boy) rejoice in the work they do, talking of their importance: how even kings who bow before no-one, bend with cupped hands before a bhishti.

9. Zara ruk jaa, pyaare ruk jaa (Sitaaron se Aage, 1958): Bicycle repairman. This song is an unusual one in that while it actually does focus on the work done by the singer—who is soliciting business through the song—the lyrics themselves are deliberately vague. A random passerby (onscreen) or a random listener/watcher, who hasn’t seen Sitaaron se Aage but only comes across this song may not realize that there’s more to this than Johnny Walker telling passersby to stop, and entertaining them by doing tricks with his bicycle. But if you listen carefully, you hear the reference to ‘service’. And, of course, if you watch, you see how Johnny Walker’s cronies, near the end of the song, take advantage of the distraction of the spectators to rush about, puncturing bicycle tires and letting out air—all a means of revving up some business.

10. Chaakuwaala chhuriwaala chaakuwaala (Al-Hilal, 1958): Knife-sharpener. And, to end, a song whose lyrics aren’t really all about what work the person does (though it’s shown, well enough), but which I couldn’t resist, because the song is so good. Till sometime back, the only version of Chaakuwaala chhuriwaala chaakuwaala that I’d seen was the one which appears early in the film, where Shakila, accompanied by a troupe of other girls, sings and dances in a royal court. That one is misleading, since the lyrics are more romantic than anything else, and so (in the absence of any visual clues) I ended up thinking it was about somebody who sold knives.

But no, there is a second version of this song, and it proclaims, loud and clear, what this person (Shakila again, a woman pretending to be a man) does for a living: she doesn’t sell knives, she sharpens them. She sets up her sharpening wheel at a marketplace, and sets about sharpening dulled knives brought by customers. The song still has only the ‘Chaakuwaala chhuriwaala chaakuwaala’ to indicate her profession, but at least it shows what she does. And what a deliciously peppy and fun song, in Shamshad Begum’s gloriously earthy voice.

(To watch this song, fast-forward this video of Al-Hilaal to the 40 minute: 40 seconds mark).

55 thoughts on “Ten of my favourite ‘This is my work’ songs

  1. Madhuji,
    Yet another wonderful post. This is a theme that I always think of.
    Any reason you left “Zindagi Hai Kya Sun Meri Jaan” from Maya? Is it because you mentioned as an example?

    Looks like the list is a Md Rafi list all the way.

    2 songs that I would suggest:

    1) Insurance – Johnny Walker (Who else !!) – “Baabu Insurance Kara lo” – Kaala Aadmi – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtHIOeuZADY

    2) Baby Sitting – “Naa ro bhai naa ro” – Deep Jalta Rahe – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prVFy8Yhs0w

    • Thank you for the two songs you suggested! Babu insurance kara lo was one I too had come across, but I hadn’t seen the film, so I didn’t include it, and the other one was new to me.

      I didn’t include the song from Maya because he’s selling ice cream, not a service.

  2. Thats another interesting theme by you. The first song is made very popular by Navratna oil advertisment and guess few will only know that it is originally taken from a hindi cinema.

  3. Madhuji,
    Thats a vary interesting list of songs. Several that hadn’t known before, I liked those songs too.
    And a special thanks for mentioning and adding link to my post, that shares a few songs with this list.
    Off hand I don’t remember any song that fits the list. Let me think about it.

    :-)

  4. Madhuji, very Interesting list of songs, goods and services are for sale.
    This song from “Dastak” may fit the theme.

    • Hum hain mata-e-kucha-o-bazaar ki tarah is a beautiful song, but I think it’s a bit of a stretch, because it’s not as if she’s actually offering a service, she’s just comparing her situation to that of an object for sale.. That’s my perception.

  5. Madhuji,

    A very interesting and uncommon theme with a nice list of songs depicting varied professions.

    Here are few songs from my side:

    1. Ber lo ber lo mewa garibon ka tere mere nasibon ka – Paisa Ya Pyar 1969 – Asha,
    Tanuja selling ber

    2. O babu tel polish kara lo boot polish – Baraat 1960 – Rafi, Manna Dey with Ajit and Mukri

    3. Le lo ji gubbare humare pyare pyare – Bandish 1955 – Rafi – Bhagwan as the balloon seller

    One famous song from post-70s
    Rajesh Khanna as postman – Dakiya daak laya – Palkon ki Chhaon Mein 1977 – Kishore

    • Glad you liked this post! And especially thank you for the Daakiya daak laaya song. Though it’s from beyond my timeline, I’m always happy to have readers go beyond my timeline in their comments, and when a song fits the bill so well, it’s a bonus. Thank you for that!

  6. Sorry, I missed the fact that the post is on songs where people sell services, not goods.
    So, the ber song and gubbare song don’t fit in.

    This typical Mehmood song is more appropriate, which shows him as a barber.
    Do Kaliyan 1968 – Manna Dey
    Are ghar ki kheti saaf kara lo Muslim ko taslim arz hai Hindu ko parnam pyare
    main hoon ek hajjaam pyare

  7. Bonjour Madhulika.
    I know your blog for years now and it’s the first time I comment on it…and it has nothing to do with the review “of the day”, it’s really “out of topic” …sorry for that.
    It’s about a demand you made three years ago on the korean movie “Maengjinsada gyeongsa 1962″, about the 1977 version you saw years ago and express the (big) desire to rewatcht (also in your two post about the same story) . I’m almost(if not) sure having found it…Sadly without subs and in a…”watchable” quality (taken from a TV airing). After watching it fastly and by “bits”,one can see the same storyline…same characters… some scenes are almost identicals…and google translate give “the day of marrying”
    Four days ago I made a reply to your post,but I don’t know if you receive it (sometime YT reply get lost or don’t show up on notification),so I thought it could be bettter to try and warn you here. You can find the link in my reply to your old YT post (for fear of “Cerberaksimet”).
    A little thought on “maegjinsadaek gyeongsa”, if someone ask me…why do you like and watch “old scool movie”…a one like this could be among my best answers.
    Toute mes amitiés et bonne continuation.

    • Bon jour, Cyril, and merci for your comment!

      I did come across the 1977 version of the film on Youtube, but soon discovered that it was not subtitled. And since I can understand only stray words of Korean, watching a film without subtitles isn’t much fun for me.

      Youtube didn’t show me a notification, and I don’t remember which video I commented upon, so I’m going to have to stick with your comment here. :-)

      By the way, have you seen Shijibganeun Nal (1956). It’s another version of the same story, and it’s very good. I reviewed that some years ago too:

      https://madhulikaliddle.com/2014/03/02/shijibganeun-nal-1956/

  8. An iconic song would be John Jaani Janardhan from Naseeb. Given your timeline for the blog though, guess I’m late by a decade :)

    • Oh, readers are welcome to go beyond the timeline of this blog, to wander off into other languages, etc. So John Jaani Janardhan is perfectly valid. What’s the service he offers, by the way? A waiter?

  9. Just curious, I understand that this is a little off-topic. Anyways, how do you think Indian cinema would have turned out if India was not the India we know it to be today, but was instead governed by the aristocratic Mughal empire?

  10. Zanjeer, the movie, is famous for many reasons but not really its songs :) and perhaps not even remembered for Jaya Bhaduri..
    However here is a song from Zanjeer with Jaya selling a service….Chakku Churiyan Tez Kara Lo ..

  11. And here is Dev Anand , in Heera Panna , as a professional photographer, trying to convince Zeenat Aman to model for him… this qualifies I hope?

    • Oh, yes! Totally. :-)

      While we’re on RK, here are two more songs where he talks (though not in so much detail) of the work he does. And interestingly enough, in neither case is it about something he sells.

      Main hoon ek khalaasi mera naam hai Bhimpalaasi from Sargam:

      And Mujhe kehte hain Kallu Qawwal from Dulha-Dulhan:

  12. I read this post and meant to comment, but… sorry, my mind is completely addled these days! Nice one, Madhu, and it serves as a complement to pacifist’s post of yore, as well. Since I’m so late to the game, most of the songs I knew have already been added in the comments…

    But I don’t think this one has been. It’s from an old film called Do Deewane starring Motilal and Shobhana Samarth.

    Do you think it fits?

    What about Zindagi hai kya sun meri jaan from Maya? Dev is selling ice cream, and in the second verse he talks about ice cream wala aaya, aao ji.

  13. I’d like to add this one here as well..
    Tere aane se saj gayi hamri yeh tooti phooti naw…from a Rajshri movie, Naiyya

  14. Would this qualify .. she speaks of being a Malan (which of course in this context is a ruse), but is a bonafide service provider nonetheless :)

    Mere Naam hai Chameli from Raja aur Rank

  15. On a tangential, lighter note, this song could be included, as a dis-service provider …
    Jab andhera hota hai from Raja Rani. :)

  16. Ear cleaning service in Qaid 1975, even though it is a masquerade.

    Kara le saaf kara le kaanon ka ye mail – Mehmood, again!

  17. I would like to think that our truck drivers, in moments of philosophical rumination, might actually think of something like this…

    Raah pe Rehte hain..from Namkeen

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