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!