When, some weeks back, I posted my list of ten of my favourite ‘This is my work’ songs, several people who didn’t read the introduction to that post got a bit confused and assumed that the post was about people selling things as well as services (the post was about people specifically selling services, not things).
So, to rectify that and to let people post links to all their favourite songs about people selling things, this post. It features all those onscreen vendors of everything from flowers to jewellery to cosmetics to—well, whatever they feel called upon to draw attention to.
As in all my other song compilations, here too the songs are all from pre-1970s films that I’ve seen. Furthermore, I’ve only gone by the basic theme of the song’s lyrics: they should draw attention to something being sold. A detailed description of the item is not necessary, and (to cover some bases in a couple of the songs here), it’s not necessary that the person should actually be a vendor; merely acting as one is sufficient.
Here we go, then. This list is in no particular order.
1. Zindagi hai kya sun meri jaan (Maya, 1961): Ice cream. This song appears first on my list because it was the one I mentioned as an example, in my previous post, of someone selling something. Dev Anand’s character in Maya is a wealthy man who, disillusioned by the greed and materialism of the world he lives in, leaves that world behind and goes to live in a chawl, as an ‘ordinary’ man. There, to make ends meet, he is forced to look for work—and becomes an ice cream vendor. Wheeling an ice cream cart along, he sings this song of how life is (or should be) all about spreading sweetness and love. The love will come to you from the Almighty, he says; let me give you the sweetness. Given the way he freely dispenses the ice cream, even giving it free to those who can’t afford it, he certainly seems to exemplify that message.
2. Chana jor garam babu main laaya (Naya Andaaz, 1956): Roasted chickpeas, peanuts, sugarcane, jalebis. Not one, but several food stuffs are on sale in this song. Meena Kumari and Kishore play two actors who perform onstage, and their performance consists of them using their song to sell various goodies. The song begins with her talking of how good her roasted chickpeas, with a dash of garam masala, are, while he extols the virtues of the delicious peanuts he sells. The next time around, they’re selling completely different things: she’s talking of sweet, cool sugarcane, while he’s taken charge of a sweet stall and is selling jalebis, all filled with the syrup of love: so good that anybody whom you feed them to will fall in love with you.
3. Mera naam Abdul Rehman (Bhai-Bhai, 1956): Pistachios. The same year that he was onscreen singing alongside Meena Kumari to sell all the eatables in the previous song, Kishore Kumar also appeared ‘selling’ other things in this song from Bhai-Bhai. This too is a performance of sorts: it’s on the street, but Kishore Kumar’s and Nimmi’s characters are performers, not actual sellers of dry fruit and nuts. As they dance and prance about in front of a crowd of eager spectators, they talk of the excellence of their pistas, their almonds and more. ‘Abdul Rehmaniya’ is more inclined to sing of her relationship with her beloved, but ‘Abdul Rehman’ gets the song back on track, back to business. Whoever eats his pistas, whether Muslim or Hindu, Sikh or Christian, will feel their hearts fill with love.
4. Le lo ji hamaare gubbaare pyaare-pyaare (Bandish, 1955): Balloons. From a delightful film about an orphan who latches on to a total stranger, this song is designed to appeal to children. Bhagwan, as a balloon-seller, wanders through the streets, singing to children to buy his colourful, beautiful balloons: yeh dharti ke phool, gagan ke hain taare (‘these are the flowers of the earth, the stars of the sky’). They will be good friends to you, he promises: sit on them, and they’ll float you right away to school (I don’t think I’ve ever known a child, myself included many years ago, who thought something or someone who took you to school counted as a friend).
5. Rang-rangeeli botal ka dekh lo jaadoo (Shriman Satyawadi, 1960): Wrinkle Remover Face Cream. Most ‘This is what I sell’ songs are the songs of the itinerant vendor, the hawker who walks through the streets singing to draw attention to his or her wares. But why should it stop at that? After all, as anybody who watches TV (or reads newspapers, surfs the net, watches cinema) knows, big business too does a lot to advertise its wares.
Rang-rangeeli botal ka dekh lo jaadoo is an example of a song when big business advertises a product. Mehmood, playing a character whose company has produced a wrinkle removing face cream, sings of it at a big bash. Against a backdrop on which Wonder Wrinkle Remover Face Cream is written in fairy lights, dancers dance holding small jars of the face cream. The singer, who sings of how this magic cream will turn the dark fair (yes, Fair and Lovely comes from a long line of racist fairness creams) and turn the aged young and the young fair—also wanders through the upscale diners sitting at the venue, handing out jars of the wonder cream. An interesting example of the crassly commercial side of the ‘buy this!’ song.
6. Laila ki ungliyaan bechoon (Ghar ki Laaj, 1960): Kakdis (Armenian Cucumbers). This absolutely horrible film had the distinction of having not one song but two in which a character uses a song to sell an item. Johnny Walker here plays Babulal Churiwala, who (true to his name) is a bangle-seller. At the beginning of the film, Babulal goes about selling bangles, singing Le lo churiyaan main laaya niraali rangdaar; but later in the story, wandering through town with his girlfriend (played by Sheila Kashmiri), Babulal comes across somebody selling Armenian cucumbers or kakdis.
He immediately jumps in, using the popular poetic call of kakdi vendors in North India, likening the long slim kakdis to Laila’s fingers and Majnun’s ribs. His song is inventive, singing of how Shirin and Farhad couldn’t marry because they never ate his delicious kakdis; he even talks (rather tangentially) of how everyone should turn vegetarian. But my favourite line of his song (written by Rajinder Krishan) is this one, using a brilliant metaphor for the refreshing coolness of kakdis: Pyaas bujhaa lo garmi mein, saawan ki badliyaan bechoon (‘quench your thirst in this heat; I sell the clouds of the monsoon’).
7. Le lo le lo do phooldaani (Jaadoo, 1951): Bouquets. Another performance in which the performers are pretending to be vendors; in this case, what the two ladies are selling are flowers. ‘Phooldaani’, actually, which is usually applied for vases, but I suppose in this case is taken to mean the huge bouquets the two flower-girls are trying to persuade the man to buy. They entice him by listing all the flowers they’ve got: gulaab, nargis, bela, chameli, raat-ki-raani (rose, narcissus, Arabian jasmine, jasmine, night-blooming jasmine). Soon after though the song develops into what seems too obviously double entendre, with each woman begging the man to try out the sweetness of her buds… and he hoodwinks them by leaving them singing and dancing while he makes off with both bouquets.
8. Phoolon ke haar le lo (Inspector, 1956): Garlands. This Shakti Samanta film had Ashok Kumar playing an inspector trying to track down a murder in the red light district of Bombay. Shyam (Ashok Kumar) has come to the conclusion that the culprit is probably a well-heeled frequenter of the kothas, likely to be identified by a distinctive handkerchief he favours. To find out who exactly, he uses a rather hit-or-miss method, which consists of going into each kotha and flicking out the handkerchiefs of the patrons sitting there. All as part of a song and dance: he poses as a seller of garlands, barging into kothas, dancing with the women, and teasing everyone around.
A good, peppy song, as much about the beautiful flowers as about the phoolwaala (from Banaras, and temperamental). And equally as much about the kothas, the dancing girls, and the patrons: alluring, beguiling, but corrupt, deceptive.
9. Le lo churiyaan (Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thhi, 1970): Bangles. Blue, yellow, red, green, azure: the many colours of bangles a bangle-seller offers to a pretty girl. This bangle-seller, however, isn’t really a vendor; like many other suitors in Hindi cinema, Sanjay Khan’s character has merely donned a disguise in order to woo the girl he’s fallen for. As soon as she realizes who he really is, she happily joins in the song, telling the churiwaala how much he means to her, and how much she would like for him to put bangles on her wrist (a symbolic reference to marriage).
10. Le lo ji le lo gudiyaan (Suvarna Sundari, 1958): Dolls. An apsara is banished from the celestial court of Indra and ends up on Earth, befriended by a seller of toys. One day the eponymous Suvarna Sundari takes her friend’s place to sell toys, and does so in style, not merely going around with her handcart full of dolls, but singing and dancing, too. Her song is mostly about her dolls: this one, a doll dressed as a bride, has her ghoonghat pulled down low. This one sways from side to side; this one is lighter than a flower; that one is so delicate, she’ll wither away at a harsh glare. That one clinks her bangles together… a good song which focuses well on the item being sold.
Which songs can you add to the list? Please share!