Around the World in Ten Songs

This song post has been on my to-do list for a long time. Then, when AK (over at Songs of Yore) did his brilliant twin posts on Bharat Darshan—small-town India, and metropolis India, through songs—I decided it was high time I did get this done. Songs about towns and cities abroad.

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Yasmin (1955)

Fellow blogger and soul sister Anu, at Conversations Over Chai, watched Bahaar for two reasons: one, that it starred Vyjyanthimala; two, that it featured the delightful Saiyyaan dil mein aana re. As it happened (and both Anu and I agreed this was nothing new) she—as I have been, countless times—found herself a victim of the somewhat irrational logic that good music + an actor we like = good film.

But, to get down to this week’s post. A film I watched because, one, it stars Vyjyanthimala; and two, because it has great music. I had steeled myself for something pretty irritating, so perhaps the fact that I began this film with low expectations had much to do with my eventual enjoyment of it. Yasmin isn’t  a masterpiece, but I still liked it, predictability and all.

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Patanga (1949)

Of Mere piya gaye Rangoon fame.

Mere piya gaye Rangoon—and some of the other songs of Patanga—were the main reason I began watching this film. Then, when the credits started to roll and I discovered this film also starred Shyam, I sat up a bit and began watching with a bit more interest. Shyam (1920-51, born Shyam Sundar Chadha) grew up in Rawalpindi and, when he was just 22 years old, debuted in a Punjabi film named Gawandi. He went on to work in several films, including Samadhi, Dillagi, and Shabistan—the last-named was also to be Shyam’s last film: in the course of the shooting, he fell off a horse and died.

I’ve seen precious little of Shyam (Samadhi is the only film of his I remember watching), but he intrigues me in the same way that his older contemporary Chandramohan does: they make me wonder if the honour roll of Hindi cinema would have been somewhat different if these men had lived. Shyam, with that handsome face and that impressive height and build, was definite star material. Plus, he was not a bad actor, either. Had he lived well into the 50s, would his presence have perhaps altered the careers of actors like Dev Anand and Shammi Kapoor?

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Pendekar Bujang Lapok (1959)

This blog reminds me sometimes of a sort of railway platform—the type from the Sunil Dutt-Nalini Jaywant starrer, where a bunch of people end up spending several days in each other’s company, and then go their separate ways. Because, while there are some loyal friends who stick to this blog (and have done so over the years), the majority of people who comment on it are those who stay for a few months, a few weeks, maybe even just a few days, commenting like mad, and then vanish, never to be seen again.

One such person was a Malaysian, of Indian origin but settled in Australia, who haunted my blog several years ago. After some very hectic commenting on just about every post I published (and that included multiple comments, and involved conversations), she asked me for some Agony Aunt-ish advice offline, and having received both that as well as a shoulder to cry on, went off. I haven’t heard from her ever since.

But one thing she did manage to do while she was frequenting this blog: she told me enough about Malaysian cinema of the 50s and 60s to make me want to watch it. Something, I realized soon enough, that wasn’t going to be easy, because there didn’t seem to be too many Malaysian films of that era that were available with English subtitles.

I’ve persevered, though, and sometime back I found time one. Pendekar Bujang Lapok (The Three Bachelor Warriors) is the second in a highly successful series of films made by iconic film-maker and actor P Ramlee. It has been called one of the five best Malaysian films to be shot in Singapore, and considering I’ve just returned from a trip to Singapore, I figured it was time to watch this.

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Daaera (1953)

From one birth centenary to another.

Less than a week after Chitalkar Ramachandra was born in Maharashtra, on January 17, 1918, in the town of Amroha (in north-west Uttar Pradesh) was born, into a wealthy family of landowners, Syed Amir Haider Kamal Naqvi. Syed (or Kamal, as it probably more appropriate to refer to him) began writing Urdu stories at a young age and harboured a dream of making them into films—a dream quickly shot down by a father who did not think cinema a worthwhile profession. Faced with the prospect of having to manage the family’s estates, the 16-year old Kamal sold his sister’s gold bangles to finance his clandestine escape to Lahore. Here, he continued to write stories while studying (at Lahore’s Oriental College) and by managing to have some of these published, was able to finally save up money enough to travel to Bombay.

In 1938, when he was just 21 years old, his story Jailor was adapted to the screen by film-maker Sohrab Modi.

And that was how Kamal Amrohi made an entry into the Hindi film industry. This was the man who would write perhaps the most memorable Urdu dialogues of any film in Hindi film history (Mughal-e-Azam). This was the man who made what is arguably the finest and most memorable Muslim social in Hindi cinema (Pakeezah). This was the man, too, who—even though he directed only five films—made a mark for himself with those films, three of them (Mahal, Pakeezah and Razia Sultan) becoming pretty much cult classics.

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Chitalkar Ramachandra Sings: Ten Songs

Today is the birth centenary of one of my favourite music directors, C Ramachandra: he was born a hundred years ago, on January 12, 1918, in Puntamba (Maharashtra). I won’t go into his biography, since that is something I’ve covered before on this blog, when I compiled a list of my ten favourite songs composed by C Ramachandra.

That said, I couldn’t possibly have let C Ramachandra’s centenary pass by without celebrating it in some way. So, a list of great songs C Ramachandra sang. Like SD Burman, C Ramachandra (billed often as Chitalkar, especially when he sang playback) had a slew of songs to his name as singer. Unlike SD Burman’s instantly recognizable voice, Chitalkar’s was a little more elusive—to the average listener, he can be recognized at times, but more often than not, he sounds like someone else altogether…

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Baradari (1955)

When I did my post on ‘unusual  singers’—actors and actresses who are familiar to movie-watchers, but have very few songs to which they’ve lip-synced—a couple of people suggested Ajit as a possible candidate for the list.  For those who associate Ajit only with the leering villain of films like Yaadon ki Baaraat, the man of classic (not to mention corny) dialogues like “Lily, don’t be silly” and “Ise liquid oxygen mein daal do. Liquid ise jeene nahin dega aur oxygen ise marne nahin dega”—all delivered, of course, in classic Ajit style—the idea of Ajit ‘singing’ was novel enough.

But the Ajit I first knew in cinema was the Ajit of the old black-and-white Hindi films: the hot-headed rival -and-friend of Dilip Kumar’s character in Naya Daur. The embittered cynic in Nastik. The quiet, handsome and very dependable Durjan Singh of Mughal-e-Azam. Meena Shorey’s friend-enemy-accomplice from the hilarious Dholak. Yes, before he slipped into middle age and the villain roles, Ajit acted the hero in plenty of films (and, more to the point when it came to the ‘unusual singers’ post, lip-synced to many songs, including some big hits).

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Ten of my favourite ‘Unusual Singer’ songs

By which I mean:

(a) That it’s the person who’s lip-syncing to the song (and not the playback singer) who’s unusual…

(b) and unusual because the actor in question is a well-known face, but doesn’t usually lip-sync to songs.

The idea for this post arose because of this wonderful post on Ashok Kumar’s songs, over at Ava’s blog. Ava drew attention to the fact that Ashok Kumar—one of the stalwarts of Hindi cinema, and with a pretty long stint as hero, too—rarely lip-synced to songs. In the post, another similar example was pointed out, in the case of Balraj Sahni: also a major actor, also a ‘hero’ in a lot of films, yet a man who didn’t lip-sync to too many songs.

That set me thinking of other people, other actors and actresses, who have rarely ‘sung’ songs onscreen. Not that they’re otherwise unknown; this is not a case of ‘Who’s that lip-syncing?’, but a case of people one generally doesn’t associate with doing too much singing onscreen. The leads of films (barring exceptions like Ashok Kumar or Balraj Sahni) are invariably excluded, because most songs end up being picturized on them. Major comedians, like Johnny Walker, Rajendranath, and Mehmood, also often had a comic side plot and a romance of their own, which allowed them to ‘sing’ often enough in films (have you ever seen a film that featured Johnny Walker and didn’t have him lip-syncing to at least one song?) And the dancers—Helen, Kumkum, Madhumati, Laxmi Chhaya, Bela Bose, et al—may appear in a film for only five minutes, but you could bet those five minutes would be a song.

Which leaves us with the somewhat more unusual people, the actors who played non-comic roles, character actors. Not stars, not dancers, not comedians. The Manmohan Krishnas, the Lalita Pawars, the other not-often-seen-‘singing’ characters. Here, then, are ten songs that are picturized on people not usually seen lip-syncing. As always, these are in no particular order, and they’re all from pre-70s films that I’ve seen.

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