Several years back, to mark International Women’s Day, I’d compiled a list of ten female duets: songs celebrating the friendship between women, women teasing friends, women performers dancing and singing together, women singing a devotional song together… a range of emotions and situations, but all featuring two women singing one song.
Sometime back, blog reader Naghma happened to come upon that post, and suggested I do a list of male duets. A great idea (and one I wondered why I hadn’t thought of). After all, there are plenty of instances of two men singing together: sometimes as friends, more often, it seems, in a competition of sorts. And more. Here, therefore, are ten songs I really like, all from pre-1970s Hindi films that I’ve seen, which feature two men singing: two actors (at least) onscreen, two playback singers contributing their voices to the song. An important caveat: these songs do not include trios, quartets or more singers; they’re only all duets.
Here goes, in no particular order:
1. Ketaki gulaab juhi champak (Basant Bahaar, 1956): Manna Dey and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. Bharat Bhushan got slotted fairly early on as the classical poet/musician/singer, a historical or otherwise legendary figure with a near-mythical musical talent. Whether he was playing Baaz Bahadur in Rani Rupmati, the eponymous singer in Baiju Bawra or Tansen, or even just a musical character in a period film, like Basant Bahaar or Shabaab: Bharat Bhushan got to lip-sync to some brilliant songs which were designed as face-offs between his character and another. Here, Bharat Bhushan’s character Gopal, singing in the voice of Manna Dey, sings a stunning duet in tandem with another singer, whose voice is that of the maestro, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. Interestingly, Manna Dey had initially refused to sing this song, arguing that he was not good enough to compete against Joshi; it was Joshi who persuaded him to accept the offer.
2. Ve ki main jooth boleya (Jaagte Raho, 1956): Mohammad Rafi and S Balbir. A peasant, confused, lost and thirsty in the bewilderingly busy and ruthless city, stumbles onto a group of Sikhs in the building he’s entered. As they break into bhangra, they sing a song, commenting on the state of affairs around them: the corruption, the every man-for-himself, the sheer lack of scruples in society. While Hindi cinema has its fair share of Punjabi words and phrases appearing in songs, this is one of the rare examples of an entire song in Punjabi (its lyrics written by Shailendra): hard-hitting and brilliant in its earthy candour. Rafi’s and Balbir’s singing is spot on, since they bring their Punjabiyat to the fore in their rendition of Ve ki main jooth boleya.
3. Jis pyaar mein yeh haal ho (Phir Subaah Hogi, 1958): Mohammad Rafi and Mukesh. There areplenty of songs between sahelis where one woman (typically the heroine’s friend) teases her friend about a lover. The male equivalent is relatively rare; while male characters may chaff their pals about a lady love, they tend not to sing about it. This song is therefore even more of a rarity: not only does Rehman’s character tease his friend (Raj Kapoor) about his love, he does so by barging in on the two lovers. While Mala Sinha’s character is shy (and occasionally amused), her lover is annoyed at this interruption and gives back as good as he gets, making this a delightful song of opposing views, though it’s all in a spirit of camaraderie.
4. Babu samjho ishaare (Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, 1958): Kishore Kumar and Manna Dey. From one of the great comedies of old Hindi cinema comes this gem of a song. Real life brothers Ashok Kumar, Kishore Kumar and Anoop Kumar play onscreen brothers too in a mad romp that includes everything from romance to adventure to some angst—and plenty of hilarity. Here, as the three brothers go on a mad ride, careening through the streets of Bombay (and narrowly avoiding running over several pedestrians), they sing a song of insouciance and joy. Kishore Kumar sings playback for himself while Manna Dey sings playback for both Ashok Kumar as well as Anoop Kumar. Pure fun all the way.
5. Ek chatur naar karke singaar (Padosan, 1968): Manna Dey and Kishore Kumar. Kishore Kumar and Manna Dey sang some great songs together, and the glorious madness (though coupled with great singing by both men) of Babu samjho ishaare comes through in this, probably the most famous of their duets, in another very popular comedy. Personally, I find the lampooning of South Indians in this film distasteful and unfunny, but the songs of the film are very good. Many people—especially the die-hard fans of Manna Dey—find it hard to stomach that Kishore Kumar (singing playback for himself/Sunil Dutt) beats Manna Dey (singing for Mehmood) in a rivalry of classical vocals, but I find it admirable that Manna Dey found it acceptable. It’s a fantastic jugalbandi, as far as I am concerned.
6. Pyaar ka maara hoon main Julie (Private Secretary, 1962): Manna Dey and Mohammad Rafi. I haven’t done any research into this, but it seems to me that Manna Dey and Mohammad Rafi probably led the pack when it came to duets with other male singers—each of them seems to have sung more songs with other men than most of their contemporaries. This song, from a little-known film, its music composed by Dilip Dholakia, has a situation similar to the Padosan set-up: a timid lover, wanting to woo his lady love, asks a more seasoned and confident friend for help. Besides giving the sort of advice Kishore Kumar rendered in Meri pyaari Bindu (butter up the lady!), the pal also sings playback here (as in Mere saamnewaali khidki mein)—but the aspiring lover joins in too.
A little-known song, but a delightfully infectious one.
7. Kaabe mein raho ya Kashi mein (Dharamputra, 1961): Balbir and Mahendra Kapoor. Qawwalis tend to be among the songs that offer most scope for duets between males, and there are several examples of filmi qawwalis which brought together two or more great male playback singers. Here is one, a fine example not only of excellent music (N Dutta) but also meaningful, sensitive lyrics (Sahir Ludhianvi, who else?). Balbir’s voice suits the sherwani-clad qawwal perfectly, and the ‘pandit’, for whom Mahendra Kapoor sings playback, fits well too.
8. Kaisi haseen aaj bahaaron ki raat (Aadmi, 1968): Mahendra Kapoor and Mohammad Rafi. Mahendra Kapoor was an unabashed fan and imitator of Mohammad Rafi—an aspect of his singing which I think mostly went against him, because his attempting to sing like Rafi generally fell short of Rafi’s more accomplished vocals. When Kapoor was more himself, less trying to be a Rafi clone, he was better (as in Kaabe mein raho ya Kashi mein). Here, Kapoor and Rafi sing in the only song they ever sang together: an unusual onscreen situation that features one man at a piano and another man singing alongside. Dilip Kumar (lip-syncing to Rafi’s voice) is the man serenading his beloved, blissfully unaware that the man she actually loves is his friend (Manoj Kumar, for whom Mahendra Kapoor sings playback). The duet which results has the blinded-by-love man pouring out his heart to the lady, while the other man can only pass oblique hints (oblique enough, at least, to be disregarded by all but the lady) about his misfortune.
Note: This song was recorded in two versions; in both Rafi’s was one of the voices. In the first version, Talat sang playback for Manoj Kumar, but Manoj Kumar is supposed to have made a fuss about it, leading music director Naushad to re-record the song with Mahendra Kapoor. Eventually, this version—with Rafi and Kapoor—was retained in the film.
9. Taaqat watan ki humse hai (Prem Pujari, 1970): Mohammad Rafi and Manna Dey. War films, while few and far between in Hindi cinema, tend to offer scope for songs by groups of male singers. Most of these, like Phir tumhaari yaad aayi ae sanam or Hoke majboor mujhe usne bhulaaya hoga, or even (in more recent times) Kandhe se milte hain kandhe or Maston ka jhund, tend to feature three or more voices. Taaqat watan ki humse hai is an exception: a marching song sung in two voices, even though the men lip-syncing to Rafi’s and Manna Dey’s voices are several. A good, peppy song that’s pure adrenalin (or testosterone? I don’t know) all through, and pretty patriotic too.
10. Baat chalat nayi chunari rang daali (Rani Rupmati, 1957): Pandit Krishnarao Chonkar and Mohammad Rafi. I began this list with a classical jugalbandi starring Bharat Bhushan as one of the singers onscreen, and with playback being sung for the other actor by a classical vocalist of repute; I’ll end this list in a similar style. Pandit Krishnarao Chonkar, of the Gwalior gharana, here provides vocals for the actor (?) with whom Bharat Bhushan’s music-loving Baaz Bahadur does riyaaz. There is no competition here, no need to show oneself as better than the other—and how superbly Pandit Chonkar and Rafi pull this off, this masterpiece of classical music.
What other songs fit this theme? Please share your favourites!