The vivacious Minoo Mumtaz is gone. She passed away, at the age of 80, on October 23.
Minoo Mumtaz, who invariably got slotted in supporting actress roles, sometimes as the heroine’s friend (Akeli Mat Jaiyo), often as the vamp (Bank Manager, Mai Baap), but who was just as often to be seen only in a cameo as a dancer (Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam, Naya Daur, Jahanara). And who, to her credit, also appeared in leading roles (Black Cat is the one that comes most readily to mind, in which she was paired with no less than Balraj Sahni). It’s a pity that the news article I read started off (even in its headline) by referring to her as Mehmood’s sister; while Mehmood may be more well-known to the general populace, Minoo Mumtaz was not to be sneezed at—but you can read more about that at this wonderful little tribute Richard posted over at his blog.
I will, instead, restrict myself to what the title of this blog post indicates: a list of ten songs that feature Minoo Mumtaz. Some are dances, some are not. Some have only her lip-syncing to the song, some have other people too joining in. But all feature, in ways that make me remember her, Minoo Mumtaz.
As always, these songs are all from pre-70s Hindi cinema, and are in no particular order.
1. Boojh mera kya naanv re (CID, 1956): This is the first Minoo Mumtaz song I ever saw—from the very first Hindi film I recall watching. I was perhaps eight or nine years old when my parents took me to a cinema hall to watch CID, and I remember being enthralled when this song came on. There’s lots to love about the picturization of this song, from the way the women’s hands beat on the water in time to the music, to the chemistry between Dev Anand and Shakila. And, ruling over it all, Minoo Mumtaz as the coquettish, bold village girl who teases these two not-yet-lovers from the city.
2. Jaanu jaanu ri kahe khanke hai (Insaan Jaag Utha, 1959): Placed in an unusual setting (the construction site of the Nagarjuna Sagar Dam), Insaan Jaag Utha had some wonderful songs, most set in and around the construction site. This one, where two sahelis, played by Madhubala and Minoo Mumtaz, tease each other about their beaus, is my favourite. It’s dusty, the girls are not glamorous, and those oversized tires do not provide an especially romantic backdrop; and yet, the effervescence, the fun and playfulness in this song, make it a classic one. Interestingly, there’s a story about how SD Burman, in trying to figure out the beats of the tune, actually measured the distance between the tires, so that the picturization would fit with the tune.
3. Thodi der ke liye mere ho jaao (Akeli Mat Jaiyo, 1963): Akeli Mat Jaiyo was one of those films I’ve watched just because of one song. It turned out to be a pretty idiotic film otherwise, but Minoo Mumtaz, playing the role of the heroine’s friend, at least did not disappoint. I find it refreshing that the heroine’s friend is a ‘Western’ dancer (or faux Arab dancer?) in a club—and it doesn’t take away from the fact that she’s a ‘good girl’. The music (Madan Mohan’s) and the rendition (Asha Bhonsle’s) are superb, but a good bit of the seductive sultriness of this song owes itself to Minoo Mumtaz, who does it brilliantly, running the gamut from mysterious to bold, to vivacious to teasing.
4. Jab-jab tumhe bhulaaya (Jahanara, 1964): As good as she was doing a somewhat exotic (in the sense of non-indigenous) dance in Akeli Mat Jaiyo, so was Minoo Mumtaz superb at Indian dance forms, including the hybrid versions, dominated by (I think) Kathak, that were so common in Hindi cinema. In this period film centred round the Mughal princess Jahanara (played by Mala Sinha), Minoo Mumtaz appears in a dance along with a very young Aruna Irani. The energy and the verve are striking as these two women dance up a storm at court. I love the contrast between Minoo Mumtaz’s somewhat more mature, assured beauty, and Aruna Irani’s girlish prettiness.
5. Chaandi ka badan sone ki nazar (Taj Mahal, 1963): Another Mughal period film, which also featured Minoo Mumtaz. Here, in one of the greatest qawwalis of Hindi cinema, Minoo Mumtaz is paired with Jeevan Kala, the two women forming the leads of a women’s qawwali ‘team’ as they exchange banter with their male counterparts. The men’s teasing flirting and the women’s sharp put-downs, all in the spirit of the song, are delightful. In a somewhat unusual departure from the norm for qawwalis, the women get up and dance too, but I guess that’s partly a way of taking advantage of Minoo Mumtaz’s dancing abilities.
6. Saba se yeh keh do (Bank Manager, 1959): For those who know Minoo Mumtaz primarily as a dancer, this song may come as a surprise. Not only does she not dance a single step here, she barely even moves as she stands, demure and beautiful, reciting a poem at a mushaira. I was taken aback, and impressed, when I first saw this song, without knowing the context of it: this gentle, genteel shaayara was not the onscreen persona of Minoo Mumtaz I was familiar with. It took a viewing of the film to understand that her character here is actually playing a role, pretending to be someone she isn’t, in love with someone she’s out to ruin.
But oh, what a lovely song. How melodious and elegant. As is Minoo Mumtaz.
7. Saaqiya aaj mujhe neend nahin aayegi (Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam, 1962): Contrast Minoo Mumtaz in this song with her in Saba se yeh keh do and you realize how underrated an actress she was. Here, as the naachnewaali, she is brash, brassy and bold: there is none of the softness and sweetness (even if fake) of the shaayara of Saba se yeh keh do. If anything, here, she is almost predatory as the vamp, bold in her assertiveness of her own beauty and sexuality.
Minoo Mumtaz was one of Guru Dutt’s regulars; she appears in most of his films, even if only in a cameo. In Saaqiya aaj mujhe neend nahin aayegi, everything is uniformly unforgettable. The cinematography so exquisite (the other dancers are almost completely in the shadows), the acting so good, the scene and setting so evocative, and yet Minoo Mumtaz holds her own, stays centrestage.
8. Main tumhi se poochhti hoon (Black Cat, 1959): On the blog post at Richard’s blog, about which I wrote in the introduction to this list, I commented briefly about why I think Minoo Mumtaz appealed to so many people. I think it’s because she’s not precisely perfect when it comes to beauty: her face is perhaps too broad and her jaw too square, her lips too thin for her to be considered one of those classic beauties. She’s very striking, I think, rather than conventionally beautiful, and that somehow makes her less intimidating and more approachable—when she’s acting as the ‘good’ girl. (As you can see in Saaqiya aaj mujhe neend nahin aayegi, when she sets out to act all vampish, she is very good at that!)
Here, in one of her (rare?) roles as a leading lady, Minoo Mumtaz sings a romantic song, singing of her love to her sweetheart. In a very forgettable B-grade thriller by NA Ansari, this song was probably the main highlight.
9. Dil ki kahaani rang laayi hai (Chaudhvin ka Chaand, 1960): Another Guru Dutt film, and another mujra picturized on Minoo Mumtaz. As in Saaqiya aaj mujhe neend nahin aayegi, here too she is the daring dancer and singer. But in Dil ki kahaani rang laayi hai, the lyrics are more about the dilemma the hero (played by Guru Dutt) is facing, and Minoo Mumtaz’s expressions, her general tone, is somehow less predatory than in Saaqiya aaj mujhe neend nahin aayegi: she comes across as somewhat understanding, perhaps even mildly sympathetic, a woman who’s looking on at this man, torn as he is, and trying to hold up a mirror to him—even though this dance and song are a part of her job, nothing else.
10. Gora rang chunariya kaali (Howrah Bridge, 1958): And, given that most people today seem to associate Minoo Mumtaz only with her being Mehmood’s sister, a song that features the two of them. Madhubala’s Edna, looking for a place to shelter, happens to take refuge in a crowded garage, where a new car is being heralded. The two dancers who lead the group are played by Mehmood and Minoo Mumtaz, and they show the Mumtaz Ali genes: their father, after all, was one of the great male dancers of Hindi cinema. A playful, joyous song, and the boisterous Punjabiyat of it is really brought alive by the brother and sister pair, who match each other well in being pretty uninhibited.
RIP, Minoo Mumtaz. Thank you for the cinema.