Ten of my favourite English-language songs—not from musicals

Over the years I’ve been blogging, I’ve compiled dozens of song lists, focusing on specific people (actors and actresses, singers, music directors, lyricists), themes, and more. There have been songs from many, many Hindi films, all the way from the 1930s to the first couple of years of the 1970s. One thing there hasn’t been – and quite an omission, too – are songs from Hollywood (or from English language films made outside Hollywood, too). Considering that I watch and review a lot of English language films, including musicals (Oklahoma!, Fiddler on the Roof, South Pacific, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Flower Drum Song and Oliver! among them), I figured it was about time I made a ‘ten favourites’ list of English language songs that I really like.

While–unlike Hindi cinema–Hollywood cannot boast of just about every film it makes being a musical, there has been no dearth of musicals. And that’s where I ran up against an obstacle: where would I stop? There are dozens of songs from films made both in the US and in England which I could listen to (and watch) over and over again. Should I do a theme? Should I choose one actor or actress (Gene Kelly? Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers? Julie Andrews?)

Too much work, I thought. And too much sifting. So I chose this: songs from films which weren’t musicals. Each of the ten songs in this list is from films which were definitely not musicals. Westerns, war films, drama, comedy: but not the sort of film that had one song after another. In most cases, this particular song was the only song in the film. As always, these are all songs from films I’ve seen, all pre-70s, and in no particular order.

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Composers sing for themselves: Ten songs

No, I don’t mean all those many renditions of Mae ri or Naina barse that one comes across, sung by Madan Mohan himself. I mean instances where a composer actually recorded—and it was included in the film in question—a song in his/her own voice.

This idea popped into my head one day when I was watching Baradari and came across a song that Nashad (the composer of the film’s score) sang in his own voice. It made me wonder: were there other composers, too, who had sung songs for their own films (I cannot, offhand, think of any composers—not also major playback singers—who have sung for other composers. SD Burman singing for RD Burman’s music is perhaps one of the exceptions). Of course, some names immediately came to mind: SD Burman, naturally, since I love his voice so much. RD Burman, who was also a good singer. Nashad, since his song had been the one that had sparked off this idea in the first place.

And, quickly, one after the other, more songs, more singers/composers, followed. So here it is, my list of ten songs that were both composed by and sung by the same person. As always, these are all from pre-1970s films that I’ve seen.

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Regional Star, Hindi Also-Ran: Ten Actors, Ten Songs

(With much thanks to blog reader Dr TN Subramaniam, who suggested the theme for this post, and who also supplied the first three examples of the actors that appear on this list).

I did not watch too many regional Indian films until fairly recently. True, Doordarshan did show regional cinema back when I was a child, but I was never tempted to watch (now that I think about it, I’m not even sure those films were subtitled). But in recent years, ever since I began to make a concerted effort to watch more non-Hindi films, I’ve been struck by the gap between regional cinema and Hindi cinema. A gap in many ways. For one, in the types of films made; in the production values; in the standard of acting and directing (note: I do not at all think that Bombay’s Hindi film industry outdid its regional counterparts in these areas. In a lot of cases, it was the opposite: regional cinema turned out a lot of films that were more original and generally of a higher standard than Hindi cinema, enough for Hindi remakes to be churned out).

And then there were the people who acted in these films. On the one hand, there were the many actors who confined themselves to the cinema of the region they belonged to. These were the majority, some of them even very fine, well-respected actors (think Tulsi Chakraborty, for instance) who were never seen in Hindi cinema. On the other hand, there were actors, big stars of regional cinema, who were also fairly successful in Hindi cinema. Bengalis like Suchitra Sen and Utpal Dutt; stars of Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada cinema like Padmini, Vyjyanthimala, and Waheeda Rehman: stars in their own regions, and stars familiar to Hindi filmgoers as well.

But there were some regional stars who, for some reason or the other, never could make it big in Hindi cinema. Perhaps they never felt the need to pursue a career in Hindi cinema (Soumitra Chatterjee, I know, was one of these), and never had the time; perhaps they could not be bothered with the language skills needed (though I can think of several people who did make names for themselves in Hindi cinema without being too good at Hindi). Perhaps they just didn’t have what it took to make them popular with a Hindi-speaking audience. Perhaps they were pure unlucky.

B Saroja Devi
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Ten of my favourite Shashikala songs

RIP, Shashikala.

It came as a shock to me to learn that Shashikala had passed away on the 4th of April, 2021. She was 88 years old, so a ripe old age, yes; but there was something so alive and vibrant about Shashikala even in her old age that I never actually realized how old she was. I would see photos and videos of hers in recent times, her brilliant silver hair stylishly cut, that trademark smile like a 1000-watt bulb. She was not one of those reclusive actresses who go into their shells and disappear after they retire; no. Shashikala always seemed so alive.

In her cinema, too.

Shashikala in Jeevan Jyoti
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Ten Avatars of a Magician: The Genius of Sahir Ludhianvi

I am leery of attaching ‘best’ and ‘most favourite’ appellations to anybody or anything, no matter how much I may be fond of the person/creation/whatever in question. I tend to say that so-and-so song or film, for instance, is among my favourites; the same goes for actors, singers, directors, and so on. There are some whom I especially like, there are some for whom I will watch a film just because they’re in it. There are none whom I idolize and place on a pedestal and see no wrong in.

Sahir Ludhianvi may be one of the exceptions. This is one man whose genius blows me away. If I were to list my favourite Hindi songs from the Golden Period, based purely on the sheer memorability of their lyrics, the one lyricist who would lead the pack would be Sahir Ludhianvi. His versatility; his hard-hitting, often brutal, honesty; his occasional humour and his exquisite expressions of romance: all come forth in many, many songs composed across the three decades or so that he was actively writing songs for Hindi cinema.

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Jai Kisan! Ten of my favourite ‘farmer’ songs

I have been on a bit of a hiatus for the past several weeks. That happened partly because I have been swamped with work (I’m working pretty much simultaneously on two books, juggling between one and the other), and partly because of some trying times my family’s been through. My father had Covid, then there were a couple of other family crises that we went through and from which we’re still recovering. It’s been a very, very stressful time.

I did have a couple of posts, both film reviews, ready to be posted, but I was too stressed to publish them. And now, even though we’re getting back on track and looking forward to Christmas, I couldn’t summon up the energy to watch a film and review it. It was time, I decided, for the sort of blog post that energizes me. A song list.

Given the situation in India right now, with the farmers’ protests front and centre, I was reminded of the many, many Hindi films that are about farmers. Since very early on, Hindi cinema has been enamoured with village life. And where there are villages, there are farmers. True, barring some films (Godaan, Do Bigha Zameen, Aurat and its remake Mother India, among them), rural life as depicted in Hindi cinema is far from the reality. Anybody who’d only seen farms in Hindi cinema would think Indian farmers had nothing better to do than sing and dance and bill-and-coo with glamorous village girls all day long.

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Ten of my favourite wind instrument songs

This is a post that’s been in the works a long time. Several years back, I’d compiled a list of string instrument songs—songs where the person lip-syncing to the lyrics is also shown ‘playing’ a guitar, sitar, ektara, mandolin or other stringed instrument. I also did a post featuring, in a similar vein, percussion instruments of different kinds: castanets, tabla, bongos, and more. Here, then, after a very long gap, is the third post in the series. Wind instrument songs.

Wind instruments, as the name implies, are instruments that create a sound as a result of wind: mostly (not always) the player blows into them—the wind in the player’s lungs produces the sound, which is amplified, made to resonate, and varied by the use of various devices built into the instrument, such as resonators, holes, the length of the air column in the instrument, and so on. Or, in some cases, the player doesn’t use his or her breath but uses his or her hands to work bellows that draw air into the instrument.

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Ten of my favourite ‘This is what I sell’ songs

When, some weeks back, I posted my list of ten of my favourite ‘This is my work’ songs, several people who didn’t read the introduction to that post got a bit confused and assumed that the post was about people selling things as well as services (the post was about people specifically selling services, not things).

So, to rectify that and to let people post links to all their favourite songs about people selling things, this post. It features all those onscreen vendors of everything from flowers to jewellery to cosmetics to—well, whatever they feel called upon to draw attention to.

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Ten of my favourite Hemant songs – as a composer

There is already a ‘Ten of my favourite Hemant songs’ list on this blog, compiled in the very early days of my blogging. Those songs were of Hemant singing; songs like Tum pukaar lo, where the haunting beauty of Hemant’s voice immortalized a song for me.

This list, to differentiate it from that one, is of songs composed by Hemant—since Hemant, besides possessing a beautiful voice, was also a very talented composer. And today being the birth centenary of Hemant, it would be unforgivable for me to not post a tribute to one of my favourites from Hindi film music.

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Ten of my favourite Bharat Bhushan songs

Over the years this blog has been in existence, several people have asked me to compile a list of songs that are beautiful to listen to, but which are terribly picturized—songs which I don’t like to watch, only listen to. Every time I’ve started to compile a list, I’ve given up quickly, because I’ve found myself listing almost all of Bharat Bhushan’s songs.

Bharat Bhushan, while he lip-synced to some truly memorable songs, has never been one of my favourite actors. But one thing is undeniable: this man was at one time hugely successful, working opposite some of Hindi cinema’s leading ladies—from Madhubala to Meena Kumari, Nimmi to Mala Sinha—and commanding among the highest fees of his time. Bharat Bhushan, in his heyday, was not to be scoffed at (it’s a different—and very sad—story that he went from rags to riches, being reduced to acting as an extra, and being spotted by Amitabh Bachchan waiting in line at a bus stop).

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