One playback singer sings for two (or, in some cases, more than two) people who lip-sync to the song onscreen. Within the same song, not two different versions of the song.
You’d have thought that wouldn’t be very common, given that a lot of our playback singers have had such distinctive voices that you wouldn’t expect two people in the same setting to be singing with that same voice. But then, reality and Hindi cinema have never been the best of friends; and anyway, there were probably other considerations: one singer is cheaper than two; it’s easier to get recording dates if you don’t have to juggle dates for two people; and all said and done, Hindi cinema is all about the willing suspension of disbelief. If three women (or four, or five) can all ‘sing’ in Shamshad Begum’s voice, so be it.
So here it is: a list of ten songs in which one playback singer has sung for two or more actors. As always, these are all from pre-1970s Hindi films that I’ve seen.
1. Aake seedhi lagi dil pe (Half Ticket, 1962): This was the first song that came to my mind when I began compiling this list, because Aake seedhi lagi dil pe is such a unique song. The story goes that Lata Mangeshkar was supposed to have sung the female part for this duet, but couldn’t (for reasons I haven’t been able to get hold of) come for the recording. Kishore, for whose man-in-drag character Lata was supposed to be singing, then persuaded the music director, Salil Chowdhury, to let him sing playback for himself. In any case, Kishore was going to be singing playback for Pran.
Thus we have this hilarious song. Kishore sings falsetto for himself and sings in his regular voice for Pran. The mayhem and the fun are echoed in the antics onscreen, as Pran pursues the ‘gypsy woman’ Kishore. Utterly nutty, and possibly the only example from old Hindi cinema of someone singing in two different voices in the same song.
2. Holi aayi re Kanhaai (Mother India, 1957): I have a confession to make: I find it impossible to differentiate between the voices of Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle. Several other female playback singers, like Usha Mangeshkar or Suman Kalyanpur, also pretty much fall into the ‘who is this?’ bracket for me. The singers I can identify tend to be the ones with (for me) very distinctive voices: Geeta Dutt, Sharda, Noorjehan, and Shamshad Begum. Shamshad’s somewhat nasal tones are I think unmistakable: not at all a common type of voice. Which is what makes Holi aayi re Kanhaai such an unusual song, since Shamshad sings here for not just one actress, but four of them: Kumkum, Nargis, Chanchal, and Azra.
3. Phir wohi dard hai, phir wohi jigar hai (Apradhi Kaun, 1957): Like Shamshad Begum, Manna Dey is one of those playback singers who I think had a very distinctive voice (actually, I don’t find it difficult to distinguish between most of the major Hindi male playback singers). You wouldn’t have thought Manna Dey the obvious choice for the voices of two people onscreen at the same time; yet here he is, singing playback for both Kumud Tripathi and Dhumal. Two men, both high on whatever they’ve been smoking, start off a song of oh that heartache, oh that heartbreak—a song which quickly changes track, though, sliding into hilarity and then into a light-hearted dreaminess as both men dream of the ladies they’re infatuated with. A fun song, and one Manna Dey does very well indeed.
4. Kya rang-e-mehfil hai dildaaram (Dil Diya Dard Liya, 1966): For me, Dil Diya Dard Liya was a bit of a dud; I had heard a lot about its being inspired by Wuthering Heights, but all said and done, this was not a film that appealed to me. What I did like about the film, though, was its superb music. Naushad was nearing the end of a stellar career, but this one was among his last great scores, each song a superb one. This party song, where one woman sings while another dances (and later joins in the song as well), featured Waheeda Rehman and Shyama, both lip-syncing to the voice of Lata Mangeshkar.
5. Jaise ko taisa nehle pe dehla (Miss India, 1957): Shamshad Begum again, singing for two women, though in this case, one of the women is masquerading as a man. Nargis’s character in Miss India disguises herself as a man in order to teach her wayward husband a lesson; in the process, while out on the streets, she comes across a street performance in progress. Minoo Mumtaz, as the dancer-singer, sings of the vagaries of human nature; and Nargis, unable to just stand by and watch, joins in. A good song, and one particularly suited to Shamshad Begum’s voice, which was always a good fit for both Minoo Mumtaz as well as Nargis.
6. Unse rippi-tippi ho gayi (Agra Road, 1957): This is one of those instances of a bunch of people onscreen, both men and women, many of them singing—but in the same two voices. Shakeela and Vijay Anand play the romantic leads in Agra Road, and in this light-hearted song, they and their friends go out for a ride. The hero and heroine are in their car (driven by the woman, too!) while their friends are on bicycles; but they sing along perfectly well together, lip-syncing to the voices of Mohammad Rafi and Geeta Dutt. What’s interesting here is that not just each stanza, but even occasionally each line is picturized on a different character.
7. Dil ki manzil kuchh aisi hai manzil (Tere Ghar ke Saamne, 1962): Asha Bhonsle this time, and singing for two women. Asha’s sultry voice was very suited to ‘Westernised’ songs, which was probably why she ended up singing a lot of ‘club songs’ (I wonder who sang more of these: Asha Bhonsle or Geeta Dutt?) Here, in a song that sadly butchers what sounds like Spanish or Italian but is otherwise brilliant—the arrangement is inspired, the rendition superb—two actresses lip-sync to Asha’s voice. Helga, who acted in only two films, begins the song; it later shifts to Edwina Lyons, and from then on, the two women lip-sync to parts of the song, sometimes Helga ‘singing’ it and sometimes Edwina. This is one of my favourite club songs, because every aspect of it, from the picturization to the music, is so very good.
(Do read this very interesting little post by Ava, Helga’s daughter, on her recollections of her mother and about this song, on Atul’s blog).
8. Mere saamnewaali khidki mein (Padosan, 1968): Kishore Kumar seems to have been part of some unusual songs. Here is another for which there are few parallels in Hindi cinema. Two actors (one of them Kishore Kumar himself) lip-sync to the same song, but the situation is such, the voice is supposed to be the same. Kishore Kumar is the ‘ustaad’, the mentor and friend and guide of the simpleton Bhola (Sunil Dutt). And when Bhola falls in love with the girl next door, it’s Ustaadji who comes to the rescue, singing a song to woo the lady, and letting Bhola, lip-syncing to the song, pass it off as his own song. Onscreen, therefore, we have Sunil Dutt lip-syncing to Kishore Kumar lip-syncing to his own voice. An iconic song.
9. Chaakuwaala chhuriwaala (Al-Hilaal, 1958): For someone with such a distinctive voice, Shamshad Begum seems to have sung a fair number of songs of this type. Bulo C Rani, who composed some great songs for Shamshad Begum, chose her to sing this delightfully peppy song for two actresses. Of the two women who lip-sync to her voice here, one is Shakila; the other I’m not able to identify. But the vigor and energy of Chaakuwaala chhuriwaala always makes me want to get up and dance! Interestingly, there was a second version of this song too in the film, though that only features Shakila singing it.
10. Mohabbat kar lo ji bhar lo (Aar Paar, 1954): The commonest example of one singer singing for two (or more) actors is in situations where there are several people onscreen singing a song. Sometimes, of course, everybody (or nearly everybody) gets a distinct voice. In other songs, they share voices, as in this case. Mohabbat kar lo ji bhar lo is sung by three singers: Mohammad Rafi, Suman Kalyanpur, and Geeta Dutt. Rafi’s part here is fairly straightforward: he sings for Guru Dutt. Suman Kalyanpur lends her voice to the actress who appears at the 1:28 mark in this video (I don’t know who she is; if you do, please let me know).
It is Geeta Dutt who gets to sing for two faces here. One is the actress (another one I don’t recognize) who plays the woman in a couple out on a date. Another is Meena Fernandes, for whom Geeta sings a couple of verses. (Aside: another song where Meena Fernandes ‘shared’ a voice is Tum jiyo hazaaron saal, from Sujata: Asha Bhonsle sang the song mainly for Meena Fernandes, but Shashikala too gets to do some wordless ‘aaa-ing’ here and there in it).
Which other songs of this type can you suggest? Please share!