Today is World Bicycle Day, used to promote the use of bicycles as a cheap, healthy, and eco-friendly means of transport. I have to admit I actually never learnt to cycle (I fell too many times as a kid when learning, and was too much of a coward to persist).
But bicycles happen to be important and very visible means of transportation in old Hindi cinema, so why not a post to celebrate it? The bicycle, as it is even now, is the one vehicle that’s available even to the not-terribly-prosperous. A character who owned a car, just by virtue of that ownership, was automatically identified as moneyed. If you could not afford a car but were not utterly broke either, you had a bicycle. It didn’t need expensive fuel, yet it got you around faster than if you just walked everywhere.
So, without further ado, the songs. As always, these are all from pre-1970s Hindi films that I’ve seen. Each song is ‘sung’ by someone on a bicycle through at least three-fourths of the song.
1. Saanwle-salone aaye din bahaar ke (Ek Hi Raasta, 1956): One of the few songs in Hindi cinema featuring a tandem bicycle. This wonderful little song is a delight, in a class by itself. A small and very happy family, consisting of parents (played by Sunil Dutt and Meena Kumari) and child (Daisy Irani) goes off on a picnic. As they cycle through a verdant countryside, the little boy plays a harmonica while the parents sing in praise of spring, of nature, of the joy and love they feel in being together.
2. Banke panchhi gaaye pyaar ka taraana (Anari, 1959): The cycle, both in cinema as well as real life, was a symbol of a certain amount of liberation for women. The young woman from a family not too well off to afford a car (or even a scooter or moped), but given a bicycle instead, was no longer dependent on public transport (or on a male relative)—to go to college or school, for instance. In Hindi cinema, the young woman’s cycle became also a means for female bonding: for flocks of sahelis to go off by themselves, singing as they cycled along. In Anari, Nutan’s character is by no means poor; but her having a cycle makes it all that much easier for her to go off on a jaunt with a gang of girls too many to have fitted into a car. And, as often happens when Hindi film heroines set out with their sahelis, they sing of the love that might be waiting just around the corner… and literally, because also coming along on a bicycle, blissfully unaware, is the man himself.
3. Main chali main chali (Padosan, 1968): Another song, very similar to Banke panchhi gaaye pyaar ka taraana: another group of sahelis, out on their bicycles, and singing of love. In this case, though, there’s not the universal yearning for a romance. While Saira Banu’s Bindu is definitely looking forward to falling in love, her friends caution her: this isn’t something to be indulged in lightly, it can be dangerous, she can lose a lot… another fun song, and the locale is pretty: a city, of course, but with lots of flowers and trees and lawns lining the road all the way. And the song itself is a good one, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle singing perfectly in tandem and the chorus fitting in very well.
4. Aanchal ko udne do (Picnic, 1966): Yet another gang of girls out on their bicycles. Azra and her onscreen friends do this entire song as they cycle along (at times, pretty fast, and even with her holding a harmonica up to her lips now and then). The countryside is picturesque, with the women going over a bridge, under trees, along a rather scenic highway and through what looks like a forest or a plantation. Very pretty, and the music (by the much underrated S Mohinder) is a delight.
5. Akela hoon main is duniya mein (Baat ek Raat ki, 1962): It’s not just women who go off with a group of friends on bicycles now and then; so do men, like Dev Anand in Baat Ek Raat Ki. Oddly enough, though he’s with this group of people, he insists on singing that he’s alone in this world: an oblique reference to the loneliness of the long distance cyclist? Who knows. It’s a good song, though, and while he does transfer to a boat for the last stanza in the song, the rest of Akela hoon main is picturized on the bicycle.
6. Goriye baliye kahaan leke chali (Tel Maalish Boot Polish, 1961): And then there’s the song which is a romantic duet: where one person is in a car (or, as in the case of the lovely Pukarta chala hoon main, a jeep) while the object of his/her affection is on a bicycle. Pukarta chala hoon main, with Asha Parekh and her onscreen sahelis on bicycles, couldn’t be included in this list, because Asha’s character doesn’t sing even a line of that song, but Goriye baliye kahaan leke chali is a nice inversion of that trope. Here, Kumkum and her friends (who’ve been cycling too, and have loaded their cycles onto the back of her car) are driving along, slowly enough for her admirer (Chandrashekhar) to be able to keep up on his bicycle. It’s a love song, all oblivious of the giggling bystanders, as he woos her and she teasingly tosses his praise away.
7. Chal mere dil lehraake chal (Ishaara, 1964): My main reason for liking this song is its picturization. Delhi is the city where I’ve lived most of my life, and Chal mere dil lehraake chal is a veritable Dilli darshan, so to say: you see a good bit of the city here, from the Red Fort and its environs to Lutyens’s Delhi. A good bit of it is just montage, but there are sections (near Red Fort and the railway bridge, just past the large buildings housing the ministries, and near Connaught Place) where Joy Mukherjee is actually cycling through the place, and it’s interesting to see Delhi as it was almost 60 years ago. Plus, the song’s not a bad one, either.
8. Unse rippi-tippi ho gayi (Agra Road, 1957): As in Goriye baliye kahaan leke chali, here too the song is divided between people on cycles and people in a car. Shakeela and Vijay Anand sit in the car, she driving and singing, he singing now and then and looking mock-huffy. Their friends follow on bicycles, pedaling along leisurely and singing the song. Interestingly, while there are only two playback singers (Mohammad Rafi and Geeta Dutt), the number of people lip-syncing to these two voices is fairly impressive. A fun, infectious song, and I love the beauty of that countryside: the tall palm trees soaring up into the sky is especially lovely.
9. Dil mera ek aas ka panchhi (Aas ka Panchhi, 1961): One of those rare bicycle songs that has nothing to do with romance, existing or hoped-for. Instead, as Rajendra Kumar’s NCC cadet cycles all through what looks like a cantonment and beyond, he sings of his dreams. Where he’s bound for, which skies he’s going to be soaring in, what heights he’ll scale. While Rajendra Kumar looks far too old to be a college student (but then, when did Hindi film actors ever fit that role?), this song’s one of my favourites: there’s something very buoyant and ebullient about both lyrics as well as music, and I think Subir Sen sings it well.
10. Michael hai toh cycle hai (Bewaqoof, 1960): I began this list with a song featuring a tandem cycle. I’ll end this post with another song in which, too, the singers are on a tandem cycle. Kishore Kumar and Mala Sinha play two madcap characters who’ve recently confessed their love to each other and are out on a date, cycling (the couple that exercises together, stays together?) They nearly bump into a much older couple, a man named Michael and his wife, Michael going round singing “Michael hai toh cycle hai” in a shaky sort of voice until he loses control of his cycle and falls off, along with his wife. That’s when our two lovers take up the song and carry it forward, zipping along merrily past gardens and through verdant countryside as they sing lustily.
Which other cycle songs do you like? Please share!