This is a post that’s been in the works a long time. Several years back, I’d compiled a list of string instrument songs—songs where the person lip-syncing to the lyrics is also shown ‘playing’ a guitar, sitar, ektara, mandolin or other stringed instrument. I also did a post featuring, in a similar vein, percussion instruments of different kinds: castanets, tabla, bongos, and more. Here, then, after a very long gap, is the third post in the series. Wind instrument songs.
Wind instruments, as the name implies, are instruments that create a sound as a result of wind: mostly (not always) the player blows into them—the wind in the player’s lungs produces the sound, which is amplified, made to resonate, and varied by the use of various devices built into the instrument, such as resonators, holes, the length of the air column in the instrument, and so on. Or, in some cases, the player doesn’t use his or her breath but uses his or her hands to work bellows that draw air into the instrument.
But, without further ado, onto the list. As always, this consists of songs from pre-70s films that I’ve seen. Plus, with two important rules that I imposed on myself for the previous two posts on musical instrument songs:
(a) The ‘singer’ (the actor lip-syncing to the song) should be the one playing the instrument in question. In the case of wind instruments, it’s difficult for the person to be singing and playing at the same time (if the instrument happens to be one you have to blow into, like a bagpipe or flute), but some singing and some playing, in the course of the song, by the same person, is acceptable.
(b) The singer should actually be pretending to play the instrument. Prancing around with it and using it like a prop doesn’t count.
Onto the songs, then. These are in no particular order.
1. Harmonica. Aankhon pe bharosa mat kar (Detective, 1959): The harmonica—also known as the mouth organ, the blues harp, and the French harp—is among the most unobtrusive of musical instruments. It looks rather like a fat comb (in fact, the main body of the harmonica is known as the comb) and is played by blowing air into and out of the many holes along the front. (This, by the way, was the only musical instrument I remember having seen at our home when I was small. My sister, as a toddler, trying to play the harmonica, ended up kissing it repeatedly).
For me, the best ‘performance’ with a harmonica onscreen is in Hai apna dil toh awaara (for the recording of which the harmonica was played by a very young old RD Burman). However, since Sundar doesn’t sing even a single line of the song, I had to regretfully drop that one from the reckoning. Instead, there’s this—also very likeable—duet, in which not only do Pradeep Kumar and Daisy Irani prance all over the deck of a ship and sing their hearts out, both of them also play the harmonica. Bonus.
2. Saxophone. Aajkal tere-mere pyaar ke charche (Brahmachari, 1968): The sax—named for its inventor, Adolphe Sax (a Belgian who created the instrument in 1841)—is typically made of brass, and has long been a very popular instrument across genres: all the way from jazz to classical music. It’s often part of bands, including classical orchestras as well as military bands.
And Hindi cinema has its fair share of saxophones appearing onscreen: one of my favourite examples is Hai duniya usi ki, in which choreographer Surya Kumar (aka Master Robert) appears, playing the saxophone. Shammi Kapoor, who lip-syncs to the song, however doesn’t play the instrument there.
Here, though, in a song crowded with musical instruments—from a piano accordion to a piano, all of which Shammi Kapoor plays at some point or the other— he does play the sax. And, importantly, the sax plays an important part in the music of Aajkal tere-mere pyaar ke charche: it dominates the interludes. A fabulously infectious song, and perfect for the sax.
3. Trombone. Dilbar dilbar kehte kehte (Haseena Maan Jaayegi, 1968): Like the saxophone, the trombone is a brass wind instrument, though this one dates from a much earlier period than the sax: the trombone is believed to have been derived from the sackbut, which had originated in Europe in the 1400s. Its name is derived from the Italian tromba (‘trumpet’) and the suffix –one (‘large’): a ‘large trumpet’. The trombone is characterized by a sliding mechanism on the side.
Although he spends a wee bit of time ‘playing’ a guitar (and loads of time not pretending to play anything) in this song, white-jacketed Shashi Kapoor does pick up a trombone twice in the course of Dilbar dilbar kehte kehte. He doesn’t merely toot on it; he even does some pretty agile acrobatics while still holding it (I wonder if any real trombone player could hold a tune while somersaulting the way Mr Kapoor does).
4. Harmonium. Bahut shukriya badi meherbaani (Ek Musaafir Ek Haseena, 1962): The harmonium came to India from the West, and was soon adopted and made part of Indian classical music. Also known in the West as a pump organ (and most often seen with a foot pedal used to pump the air), in India the harmonium became more popular without the foot pedal—and with one hand being used to work the bellows that pump the air, while the other hand plays the keyboard.
The harmonium, while not as ubiquitous as the sitar, makes its fair share of appearances in Hindi films songs, especially in ones where the singer is a bonafide performer: a professional musician, a music teacher (or pupil), for instance. Bahut shukriya badi meherbaani is one of the relatively rare exceptions, since Joy Mukherjee’s character is an army officer, not a musician. Having lost his memory as a result of concussion, he finds himself rescued by a girl (who’s a runaway bride, no less). He sets about expressing his gratitude to her (and to her companions, a boy and a dog)—with a harmonium for accompaniment. Ek Musaafir Ek Haseena had an excellent score, and this is the first of several great songs in the film.
5. Accordion. Har dil jo pyaar karega woh gaana gaayega (Sangam, 1964): Like the harmonium, the accordion is a bellows-driven instrument. Inside the accordion are reeds (metal strips) which vibrate to produce sound when air flows over them—air which is controlled by working the bellows and simultaneously pressing the keys on a keyboard. There are a wide range of accordions found across the western hemisphere; it is generally accepted that it was invented in its basic form in about 1822, but the actual date could have been even earlier according to some sources. A lot of dance music and folk music in Europe and the New World tends to use the accordion. Not so much Hindi cinema; unlike the harmonium, the accordion isn’t quite so common. In Har dil jo pyaar karega, however, Raj Kapoor carries his accordion all through the song (and appears to be playing it fairly convincingly in places, though since I’m no authority, I can’t say).
6. Shehnai. Haule-haule ghoonghat pat khole (Goonj Uthi Shehnai, 1959): After two instruments that involve working bellows to produce sound, it’s back to an instrument that, like the trombone and sax, requires the player’s breath to enable it to produce music: the shehnai. A ‘double reed’ instrument (which means it contains two lengths of cane, vibrating against each other), the shehnai flares into a bell-shaped end, which makes it resemble a clarinet. Across much of the Indian subcontinent, the shehnai (also appropriately known as the mangal vaadya) is equated with auspicious tidings, and is therefore a popular instrument at weddings and other occasions for celebration.
(And, though it’s making my post grow long, I can’t resist adding a delightful little legend surrounding the origins of the shehnai. The shehnai is believed to have originated from the pungi, and the story goes that this happened when a certain king—a ‘shah’—banned the pungi from his court, objecting to its shrillness. A barber (a ‘naai’) who hailed from a family of musicians took it upon himself to change the pungi, soften its notes, make it a more refined instrument—and what resulted was the ‘shah’+’naai’: the shehnai).
But, the song. For a film which was named after a shehnai, Goonj Uthi Shehnai had only a couple of songs in which Rajendra Kumar, who acts as a shehnai player here, actually sings and plays the instrument in the same song. In Haule-haule ghoonghat pat khole, he sings in the middle of the song, and plays the shehnai at the beginning and towards the end. Beautifully played, too, by the shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan. His shehnai (and the songs of the film) are the main reason to watch Goonj Uthi Shehnai.
7. Been. Hey Abdullah naaginwaala aa gaya (Ishaara, 1964): Also known as the pungi, this is an instrument used by snake charmers in their performances. The pungi or been consists of a spherical gourd—which is held to the snake charmer’s mouth—ending in two or three reed pipes. Contrary to popular belief, though, it’s highly likely that snakes (which lack external ears, and sense sound through vibrations) don’t actually dance to the music of the been, but mimic the snake charmer’s swaying as he plays.
One would have expected the Vyjyanthimala-Pradeep Kumar starrer Naagin, what with its motif of snakes and snake charmers, to have a number of songs that featured the been, but while the been is there, the snake charmer is too busy playing it to actually have time to sing. Not so with Joy Mukherji’s character in this song from Ishaara (but that’s possibly because he’s not really a snake charmer, just a stage artiste acting as one).
8. Penny whistle. Pyaar hua ikraar hua hai (Shree 420, 1955): The penny whistle or tin whistle is one of the simplest of wind instruments: a thin flute with six holes. This is one of a group of wind instruments known as ‘fipple flutes’, of which the baansuri (the common Indian flute, so synonymous with Krishna) is one. While it’s widely associated with Celtic music, the penny whistle does show up in other cultures as well.
Raj Kapoor, who had a good ear for music and was even musically trained, appears in many songs with a musical instrument (three in this list itself, quite a feat). In this classic song—one that remains popular even after so many years—he toots along on the penny whistle in between singing a duet with his lady love.
9. Bagpipe. Tere mann ki Ganga aur mere mann ki Jamuna (Sangam, 1964): As its name suggests, a pipe which centres round a bag—an airtight reservoir made of a variety of materials, including thick cloth or (more commonly) skin. A blowpipe is used to blow into the bag; there are other parts to create different types of music. While most people tend to associate bagpipes only with Scotland, they are in fact widespread across several other regions, including Continental Europe, North Africa, and West Asia.
Tere mann ki Ganga aur mere mann ki Jamuna isn’t one of my favourite songs, but it will have to do here, because I couldn’t think of another song in Hindi cinema where someone plays the bagpipe and sings (a horde of children form a marching band dominated by bagpipes in Hum bhi agar bachche hote, but they don’t sing). Raj Kapoor, on the other hand, manages to multitask pretty well: he plays the bagpipe, he sings, he gesticulates, and he maintains his balance up on a tree.
10. Baansuri. Tu mera chaand main teri chaandni (Dillagi, 1949): The bansuri or murli is one of the most visible of musical instruments in Hindi cinema: as the instrument associated with Krishna, it also finds itself associated generally with shringaar ras, with love and courtship and an expression of joy. The baansuri is a type of flute, more specifically a side-blown flute, traditionally made from bamboo (though now some other materials, including fiberglass, are also used). The baansuri is played by blowing through the blow hole while closing or opening (with fingers) the series of holes at the other end of the flute.
Many actors (and some actresses, playing Krishna in dances) have used the baansuri as a prop. Few do it as convincingly as does Shyam in Dillagi. His character here is a village man who plays the baansuri so well that it (somewhat predictably, given that this happens frequently in Hindi cinema) draws to him the young woman whom he falls in love with. Suraiya begins this song while Shyam ‘plays’ the baansuri, and soon he joins in too (Shyam Kumar, who also acted in this film, sang playback for Shyam in this song). A classic love song, and the baansuri pieces are excellent.
Which other songs can you think of that fit this theme? Please share!