Ten of my favourite ‘Impossible Duets’

Hindi film songs, in the context of being part of films, have always struck me as rather unreal. Of course it’s a miracle that people in cinema (and that’s not just Hindi cinema, but almost any cinema that produces musicals) break into song at the drop of a hat. How do they think up lyrics on the fly? How do they think up a tune as they go along? How can they dance and jump around and not run out of breath while singing?

Let’s say that’s all artistic license, and that we need to accept it (we do). But what happens when there’s no way a song could be possible? A duet, for instance, sung perfectly in tandem—the tune the same, one verse completely responding to the previous one, even the voices sometimes blending together? —when the two people supposedly singing the song are nowhere close to each other? One is one part of town, the other in another. Or even, in some cases, not even in the same town. Impossible, that’s what I call such duets.

So, a list of ten of my favourite ‘impossible duets’, in which the two characters shown singing the song are nowhere close enough for them to logically be able to sing a song together. By their very nature, background songs—even when sung by two people—are not eligible, since nobody is seen lip-syncing to them (this I specifically mention because one of my favourite duets—Chhupa lo yoon dil mein pyaar mera—doesn’t qualify even though the characters of Ashok Kumar and Suchitra Sen aren’t together, because neither character lip-syncs to the song).

I also exclude from this list songs where it could be possible for the two people to sing the same song at the same time, because both of them happen to know the song. For instance, in Albela, Dheere se aaja ri akhiyan mein: while Bhagwaan and Bimla sing it miles apart, the song is a familiar one to both, because she used to sing it to him.

As always, these are all from pre-70s films that I’ve seen. In no particular order:

1. Dil-e-naadaan tujhe hua kya hai (Mirza Ghalib, 1954): Although I did mention that this list wasn’t in any particular order, it begins with one of my favourite songs of this type. Lovelorn poet Mirza Ghalib and the woman who loves him and his poetry sing one of the legendary poet’s best-loved ghazals—and sing it very well together. I admit that it’s not absolutely impossible for Ghalib and Chaudhvin Begum (Suraiya) to be able to hear each other—after all, they both live in Shahjahanabad and not so very far from each other—but it does seem highly unlikely, given that neither of them is belting it out, and that they aren’t exactly neighbours. A lovely song, and Talat and Suraiya sound fabulous. 

2. Shaam-e-bahaar aayi (Shama Parwaana, 1954): In the same year that she starred opposite Bharat Bhushan in a quasi-historical film about a famous poet, Suraiya acted with an as-yet-unestablished Shammi Kapoor in another period film, loosely based on what is supposed to be a true story from (possibly) the life of Aurangzeb. In my favourite song from Shama Parwaana, Suraiya’s and Shammi Kapoor’s characters, both accompanied by groups of ‘friends’, celebrate their love for each other. In completely different places, in very dissimilar ways (his singing is rather more exuberant, hers more muted but happy nevertheless)—but the music and the lyrics are very definitely of the same song.

3. Yaad mein teri jaag-jaagke hum (Mere Mehboob, 1963): This one is a prime example of the song. The two lovers, separated by fate and their own sense of duty, mourn over their lost love. He wanders through some ruins and along a dirt track flanked (appropriately enough) by wooden spikes; she wanders through a quiet little enclosed garden, with fountains and pavilions and lamps against which she can lean and weep over her fate. They’re nowhere close to each other, but their voices meld perfectly into a song of sorrow.

4. Sambhal ae dil (Sadhana, 1958): Sadhna may have been best-known, as far as its songs were concerned, for the scathing, no-holds barred Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko, but another absolutely lovely song from this film takes the form of the impossible duet. Vyjyanthimala’s tawaif, having fallen in love with an idealistic teacher (played by Sunil Dutt) as a result of participating in a farce to help him out, confronts the bitter truth: she is a ‘fallen woman’; she can never be anyone’s. As she sings mournfully of her useless love in the confines of the kotha, across town, her beloved sings the same song—but expressing an emotion in complete opposition to hers: he loves her, she is his. Why the reticence, then? Why this putting off of what is inevitable?

5. Do akhiyaan jhuki-jhuki si (Prem Patra, 1962): From one of my favourite Hindi films, starring two of my favourite actors as the leads, comes this song. Shashi Kapoor’s character, a house surgeon at a medical college-and-hospital, has spent the night saving the life of a critically ill patient. He has been helped by a medical student (played by Sadhana), and the experience has brought them closer together—to a realization that there’s an attraction here. Morning comes, duty is over, and they head to their respective homes (no, not next door to each other, as in 12 O’Clock). As he finishes bathing, he breaks into song, praising her eyes—and she, in her own home, has a bath and joins in the song too. Besides the music and the rendition, I love the picturization of Do akhiyaan jhuki-jhuki si: there’s something very innocent and sweetly wholesome about both Sadhana and Shashi Kapoor.

6. Kisike dil mein rehna thha (Baabul, 1950): Having watched so many ‘impossible duets’, I have come to the conclusion that a film maker’s rationale (probably) for justifying something like this is that two people who are very close—‘two hearts that beat as one’—would, in some telepathic way, be able to match sur and taal. However, as is proven by songs like O chaand jahaan woh jaayein and Neend ud jaaye teri, this phenomenon is possible too between rivals. Two people (invariably women) vying for the love of a common love interest, can sing a duet too.

Here, in Baabul, Nargis plays the naïve village girl who mistakes the easy friendliness of the local postmaster (Dilip Kumar), who, unknown to her, is actually in love with the rich and sophisticated daughter (Munawar Sultana) of his father’s old friend. When the two women each realize (one mistakenly) that she is not the one he loves, they sing a song of reproach: poor Ashok (Dilip Kumar) gets it from both sides—from the mansion and from the hut next to the post office.

(Interestingly, Baabul boasted of two impossible duets: Duniya badal gayi, meri duniya badal gayi has Dilip Kumar and Munawar Sultana’s characters, far away from each other, but singing perfectly in tandem).

7. Ae mere pyaar bata kyon hua mujhse juda (Ghar Basaake Dekho, 1963): What is the ultimate proof of two people’s love for each other? Even when fate has separated them, they sing the same song. In Ghar Basaake Dekho, Rajshree’s character is a village girl who comes to visit her brother in Bombay, and in the process falls in love with Manoj Kumar’s character, who (unknown to any of the people involved) is her brother’s boss. Things fall apart when she overhears her sweetheart berating her brother for having embezzled a hefty sum: and, ashamed and mortified, she runs away home to her village.

The man, of course, hasn’t the slightest idea why his fiancée has fled. He mourns her fleeing, he sings a sad song wondering why she’s left him. And, far away in her village, she sings the same song, telling him to forget her.

8. Aawaaz de kahaan hai (Anmol Ghadi, 1946): An old classic, from a film that was chockfull of wonderful songs. Surendra stars as the man whom two women (played by Noorjehan and Suraiya), both of them dear friends, fall in love with, unaware of each other’s feelings for the man. Of course, much angst ensues. A love triangle like this is great material for love songs of different types, and Aawaaz de kahaan hai fits the bill when it comes to the impossible duet. Noorjehan’s character is in her home, looking wistfully up at the stars and wishing her beloved was with her. He can’t achieve that—he’s too far away—but he compensates by singing the same song.

9. Kise maaloom thha ik din mohabbat bezubaan hogi (Saqi, 1952): And again. Two lovers, separated, singing the same song. The situations in which Madhubala’s and Premnath’s characters find themselves in this entertaining fantasy couldn’t be more different. She, the princess, has just realized that it’s impossible to rid her father (the Sultan) of his belief that his actually treacherous wazir is a gem. Plus, the said wazir has had her lover imprisoned.

And the lover couldn’t be in a more unsanitary and depressing prison: he’s been thrown into a pit that’s obviously been used for this purpose again and again: it’s full of skeletons, and try as he will, our hero can’t get out. But when his girlfriend starts singing a sad song in her room in the palace, he joins in too.

10. O chaand jahaan woh jaayein (Sharada, 1957): As in the case of the Baabul song, another song where two women both in love with the same man sing a song about him. In this case, Meena Kumari (playing the eponymous Sati Savitri Sharada) and Shyama (playing the glamorous city girl), both in love with Raj Kapoor’s character wish him well—message courtesy the moon—as he travels to China. These women have never met in their lives; they don’t stay anywhere near each other (Sharada lives in a naturopathy ashram in the wilds, while the other woman lives in the city); and there is no possible way they could have picked up the song from a common source. Yet, they sing it. The same words, the same sentiment, the same enrolling of the moon as confidant.

Impossible, but a wonderful song: Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle make this one of the most memorable female duets in old Hindi cinema.

Which other songs fit this description? Please share your favourites too!

48 thoughts on “Ten of my favourite ‘Impossible Duets’

    • I had thought of that one too, but from what I can tell they are in the vicinity, perhaps even on the same mountain. I remember having rewatched the entire song when I was compiling this post, and realizing that he hears her singing (because he’s approaching and has come near enough to hear her) and that makes him join the song too.

  1. पिया कैसे मिलूँ तुझसे मेरे पाँव पड़ी ज़ंजीर

    लता मंगेशकर -रफ़ी
    फ़िल्म- सारंगा

  2. What a coincidence. I was a planning a similar post with a name, distant duets or faraway duets.
    Now let me see if I can add another dimension to it and make it more appealing.
    Some of the songs are overlapping. I found most of the songs on my list were sad songs.
    I can add,
    Shama se koi kehde

    But it seems they are in the same building or primises.

    And
    Mohabbat mein aise zamane

    • Thank you for these songs, Anupji! Nice ones, both. Mohabbat mein aise zamaane was on my shortlist, so I’m especially glad to see it here.

      And I’m really looking forward to seeing your selection of these songs! Doesn’t matter if it’s the same theme, even – Anu and I, for instance, have ended up doing lots of posts on the same theme, and with mostly overlapping songs too, all unintentionally. So do go ahead. :-)

    • Oh, nice! I’d forgotten this one. I like Mujhe teri mohabbat ka sahaara, have even seen the film (though I didn’t like it), I should have remembered this one.

  3. Madhoooo… would you believe me if I tell you I had a list along the same theme? A long time ago when young Harvey used to frequent our blogs, he had mentioned the theme in his comment on one of my posts.

    We have four common songs. :)

    I might – eventually – do the list myself, so I won’t add all the other songs on the list, but I will add one of my favourite songs that fits this theme:
    Seene mein sulagte hai armaan from Tarana – two people, separated, he assuming she’s dead, expressing their emotions – he, in his home; she, wandering the streets outside, searching for him. Neither hear the other, so there’s no reason why they should be singing the same song, but it fits your ‘Do dil, ek jaan’ hypothesis.

    • I would certainly believe that you would have the same post lined up! Soul sisters, after all. :-) What I’m surprised about is that we only had four songs in common – are we losing our touch?

      Seene mein sulagte hain armaan is a wonderful song. I do need to watch Tarana some day – I’m just a bit worried about it; Dilip Kumar films back then tended to invariably have unhappy endings, and I am right now not in the mood for sad films, no matter how good the music or how gorgeous the stars.

      • What I’m surprised about is that we only had four songs in common – are we losing our touch?
        Heh. I don’t think so… If I include my shortlist, there would have been 7.

        And oh, you should watch Tarana – both Dilip and Madhubala were so, so good together, and the film was sheer romance. There is a bit of tragedy in between (what’s a good love story without?) but no, it doesn’t end in tragedy. I reviewed it a while back.
        https://anuradhawarrier.blogspot.com/2012/03/tarana.html

        And Tom has a nicely cleaned up print on his channel too.

        • I do remember having read your review (especially that bit about the chemistry between them – that really stayed with me!), but I’d forgotten everything else. As long as the end isn’t tragic, I can manage the rest. Thank you for giving me the link to Tom’s cleaned up version, Anu. Have bookmarked it and will watch.

      • Hello, Madhu and Anu! :) I wanted to mention that I also immediately thought of a song from Tarana, but it was a different song! The song is “Bol Papihe Bol Re,” in which Madhubala and Shyama are pictured “singing” the same song (with the voices of Lata Mangeshkar and Sandhya Mukherjee, respectively) from completely different places, far away from each other.

        And by the way, I remember having a discussion in the comments about this song when I posted it to my blog in May of 2010, and one curious thing a few people agreed upon was that Lata was not the better singer in this duet; Sandhya Mukherjee actually sounded better. :)

  4. If there’s one thing I love even more than a non-diegetic song, it’s ambiguity about diegesis. So I LOVE these kinds of songs. The Sadhna one is great. I have difficulty thinking of more, though, except Muhje Maar Daalo from Geeta Mera Naam (it’s not on youtube) where Sadhana sings a song and Helen dances to it in the next room, although the revolving door is open sometimes.

    There have to be some in Shashi Kapoor movies.

    • I need to watch Geeta Mera Naam someday. It’s been on my list for several years now.

      Oh, and talking about Shashi Kapoor movies with impossible duets. There’s Kisne pukaara mujhe main aa gayi from Pyaar Kiye Jaa, which isn’t strictly impossible but could be. She’s in her room, he’s outside the house in a tent he’s pitched. They could both be belting it out (but why hasn’t anybody else woken up?), or it could be another instance of an impossible duet.

  5. I loved your post because it reminded me of my question in childhood – how do these people know the words to the song started by the other person, and how do they know when to start and when to stop? Foolish questions, no doubt, to lovers and followers of Bollywood but puzzling to a child of 3 or 4. When I read your post yesterday, I was wondering which song it was that made me ask that question. All I could remember was that the man was in a room like a hospital and the girl was somewhere else and crying. I found the song, finally! Aaja re ab mera dil pukaara … It is from Aah, and I think Raj Kapoor is supposed to be dying. I am sure he gets cured in the end, but I don’t remember the ending, all I remember is this scene.

    Another one would be this song Aaj kal mein dhal gaya … from the movie, Beti Bete. Siblings, separated by circumstances, remembering the song she sang in their childhood, and I wondered how they knew when to start and when to stop and why their singing didn’t overlap!

    Great post!

  6. Ha! This post made me chuckle. You know you’ve crossed over to the dark side, ie. Hindi phillum logic, when you no longer question these kind of impossible situations. :-) Indeed, I’m quite sad that these simpatico duets have disappeared from contemporary Hindi films and rather mourn their absence. :-(

    So, here is one of my favorite songs on this theme. I particularly like this one because the two singers express opposing sentiments – to the same tune and from different places. :-)

    Kisi ki mohabbat mein sab kuch bhula ke – Kaise Kahoon/SD Burman/Asha-Rafi/Shakeel Badayuni

    Another favorite is the song which your intro screenshot comes from – Neend ud jaaye teri chain se sonewaale. Three different women in three different places all wishing insomnia upon poor Shashi. :-)
    Neend ud jaaye teri – Juari/Kalyanji-Anandji/Mubarak Begum, Krishna Kalle, Suman K

    • “You know you’ve crossed over to the dark side, ie. Hindi phillum logic, when you no longer question these kind of impossible situations.

      LOL! Yes. Though I think with people like us, who probably grew up watching Hindi cinema, there was never even an initial phase when one questioned all the illogical things that happen in Hindi films. I know I was a devotee from very early on, and I’ve always calmly taken everything in my stride. :-)

      Thank you for the songs! Especially for Neend ud jaaye teri – I was wondering why nobody had mentioned that so far.

  7. Madhu,
    Long ago I called such songs as Long Distance Duets of Separation (LDDS). I wrote a post on Naushad’s LDDS in the series on him. I realise every major music director has composed several LDDS. As a film expert you should not be surprised. What else do you expect our hero and heroine to do? Everything is going well, they are gallivanting around trees and flowers in the park, and then there is a fly in the ointment. The gullible father can’t stand his beti cavorting with the good for nothing hero, when such a nice guy Pran is around. He locks the girl. Or an obsessed Pran abducts her and lodges her in some far-away kothi. The hero-heroine have to sing a duet of separation. Since it is a duet, it has to be in sync.

    Scientifically possible? Is there any doubt, when Indian Science Congress confirms, our ancients knew everything which the modern science is discovering today? We had Sanjay seeing the Great War by his divya-drishti and giving live commentary to Dhritraashtra. It is the same technology, preceding video calling by 5000 years.
    AK

    • Hehe! AK, you are a complete scream when you’re in one of your witty moods. I still remember very fondly that delightful review you had done of Sangam (I think?). Do please write more of this hilarious stuff on your blog.

  8. Great post. I wish in some of your future posts you would cover the following kind of duets as well:
    – Which are more of dialogues (starting with Kala Bazaar ‘Accha ji mein hari…’ and leading to such ones as Kal Aaj aur Kal ‘Aap yahaan aaye kisliye…’ and Aan milo Sajna ‘Accha to hum chalte hain…’.
    – Which are also dialogues but with minimal ‘noise’, so to say: from Dev Anand-Nutan classic ‘Chhupke se mile pyaase pyaase…’ till Farooq-Deepti ‘Kaise ho pagal…’

  9. Madhuji,

    What an enjoyable post! I like the title, though when it comes to conventional Hindi movies and film songs, nothing is impossible.
    As a die-hard hindi-film-song fan, one gets used to these inexplicable and unreal song situations accepting them as a cinematic liberty and enjoying!!.

    There are many songs fitting the theme.
    Here are some from the pre-70s. Hope they fit in:

    Wo jab yaad aaye bahut yaad aaye – Parasmani 1963

    Aap se humko bichhde huye – Vishwas 1969

    This one, I am not fully sure. One feels that she has heard his voice at the start but throughout the song, they seem too far from each other.
    I had sat through the film only for this song but cannot recollect.the situation.
    Zara samne to aao chhaliye – Janam Janam Ke Phere 1957

    • Oh, I wish I’d remembered Woh jab yaad aaye! I’ve watched the film, and I love the song – so it would have fitted this list perfectly. Thank you, very especially, for this one.

      I hadn’t seen Zara saamne toh aao chhaliye before (or not that I remember) but looking at it now, I think she does hear his voice and that sends her running out, singing to join him.

  10. I am amazed at the ideas striking your mind for creating such themes to make lists of Bollywood movie songs . It’s a rare talent. Songs no. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 8 are very close to my heart. The rest will be listened to by me now. Hearty thanks and compliments.

    • I did think of Dil todne waale tujhe dil dhoond raha hai, but though they’re singing in two different places, she’s on TV, and he hears her song on TV – so there’s a logical reason for him to sing the same song. While it’s a beautiful song, it’s not impossible at all. :-)

  11. Chand ne kuchh Kaha from Dil To Pagal Hai 1997.

    Shahrukh sings at a Valentines Day party while Madhuri sings in her house. Though, they seem in the same area, definitely one cannot hear the other. And even Karisma imagines herself singing,
    Its a duet as Udit Narayan sings for Shahrukh while Lata sings for both Madhuri and Karisma.
    This, I feel, is another impossible situation. Two heroines or heroes singing the same song together in the same voice.
    Wondering if it can be theme- One song – one voice on two actors

    There’s another one by Lata & Udit.
    Andekhi anjani si from Mujhse Dosti Karoge 2002
    Both Rani & Kareena lip sync to Lata’s voice and that too they are together and Hrithik is seen to be in another country.

    • I had forgotten these songs, though I’ve watched both these films… as far as I can remember!

      One voice, two actors is a theme someone else too had suggested to me. A great idea, and I’ve been working on it. Am still trying to finalize the list, and will do that post sometime hopefully not too far into the future.

  12. What a wonderful concept, miss! It almost astonishes me how you think so deep, always. These themes really do keep us glued, make us want to read more of your stuff.
    Obviously, to encapsulate only ten such songs at once would be getting just to the tip of the iceberg; but you did manage to pick very radiant options. Thank you for giving us a bit of backstory which helps people like me, who hates sitting through movies, understand the context.

    Furthermore, I may have missed something; but I had an idea for a post. How about a list of songs in which two people on screen debate with each other? Something like what takes place in the Mughal-E-Azam Qawwali song? Another example would be the Aar Paar duet “Mohabbat Kar Lo Jee Bhar Lo”. A relatively contemporary example would be the Dil Chahta Hai song that was filmed in Sydney, “Jane Kyon Log Pyar Karte Hain…”
    Forgive me if this was a theme you’ve already covered. I’m only catching up with all of your writing!

    • I am so glad you enjoyed this post. Thank you so much for the appreciation!

      As for the ‘debate’ or ‘question-and-answer’ songs post, I had been thinking of that too, but it’s been done by others – including Anu Warrier (@Conversations Over Chai). She did a wonderful post on that theme, so while other people also have suggested this theme to me, I’ve not been very eager to do it – Anu has done it the best. :-)

  13. Awesome duet “Maine Dekhi Jag Ki Reet Meet Sab Jhuthe Pad Gaye” -Sunahre din 1949-Mukesh-Shamshad-DN Madhok-Gyan Dutt-Raj Kapoor-Rehana. RK sings live onAIR Rehana Sultan follows him while listening Radio.

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