Yes, this post is four months late: Kaifi Azmi’s birth centenary was on January 14th this year. I will not make excuses about why I missed that date. Let me just say that I didn’t know about it until the 14th itself, and by then, it was too late. I cursed myself for having forgotten that 2019 marked the birth centenary year of one of Hindi cinema’s finest lyricists. But today is the death anniversary of Azmi Sahib, and in any case, all of this year is his birth centenary, so I thought better late than never.
Happy birthday, Dharmendra!
Considering I am so fond of Dharmendra (and I’ve reviewed so many of his films—including his debut film, the forgettable Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere), it seems odd that I’ve never created a list of my favourite Dharmendra songs. Even though he did have a lot of good songs picturised on him. And he acted in some excellent films.
Born on December 8, 1935, in Sahnewal (Punjab), Dharmendra arrived in Bombay after winning the Filmfare New Talent Award. His first films weren’t huge successes: Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere, Shola aur Shabnam, and Boyfriend were all flops, despite (in the case of Boyfriend) having an otherwise very popular lead pair. Within a couple of years, though, by appearing in hits like Anpadh and Bandini (in both of which, though, he didn’t have very major roles), Dharmendra began to be a known face—and was soon, by the mid-60s, one of Hindi cinema’s hottest (literally). He was to go on to become the ‘Garam Dharam’ of the 70s, but to me, the Dharmendra is the 60s hero: the quiet, sensitive poet of Anupama; the idealist of Satyakam; the dashing spy of Aankhen.
If the title of this post stumps you, let me explain.
Anybody who’s seen Hindi films (especially from the 1940s onward, when playback singing became widespread) knows that most actors and actresses onscreen weren’t singing for themselves. Occasionally, as in the case of artistes like Suraiya, KL Saigal, Noorjehan or Kishore Kumar, they did sing for themselves, but more often than not, the recording was done off-screen, and the actor lip-synched to the song onscreen. So we have all our favourite actors, warbling blithely (or not, as the case may be) in the voices of our greatest singers.
And just now and then, while the song may reach the heights of popularity, the person on whom it is filmed may be, to most people, a non-entity. Sidharth Bhatia, author of Cinema Modern: The Navketan Story (as well as a book on Amar Akbar Anthony, which I’m looking forward to reading) pointed this out to me the other day, with a couple of examples in support of his point. Jaan-pehchaan ho, and Tum apna ranj-o-gham. Sidharth made a request: would I compile a list of songs of this type? Famous songs, but lip-synched by not so famous faces?
So here it. And, Sidharth: thank you. This was challenging, and fun.
When I created a list of my favourite car songs, blog reader Ragni requested a list: of songs that feature women playing a piano. I riffled mentally through the film songs of the 50s and 60s, and quickly responded: there would be just too many; how could I choose just ten? Another reader, Chris, came up with a suggestion: songs only from black-and-white films.
When I actually got down to compiling this list, however, I realized how impetuous I’d been. A closer look at most of the piano songs that sprang to mind, and I discovered that even if it’s a woman singing (as in Tu jahaan-jahaan chalega or Mujhe tum mil gaye humdum), it’s a man sitting at the piano. Songs where a woman is the one actually playing the piano are, when I came to think of it, relatively rare. I had to, perforce, expand the scope to colour films too.
This post came about because of my recent review of Rangeen Raatein. Another film-lover, an American, noticed that post and said that she thought it was time she began branching out into watching Hindi cinema too (she’d already seen a good bit of Satyajit Ray’s work). She thought she’d begin with Rangeen Raatein. I was quick to dissuade her, of course—even I, die-hard Shammi Kapoor fan that I am, probably couldn’t stomach a rewatch of that film.
But it made me think: if I had to introduce a newcomer to Hindi cinema (or, more specifically, pre-70s Hindi cinema, since that’s what I love most), which films would I recommend? They would have to be films that are available with English subtitles, of course.
So here it is: my list. I do not claim that these are the best Hindi films of that era; by no means. They just happen to be ten of my favourites. These are in no particular order.
Some months ago, Bawa—to whom I will always be indebted for inspiring me to watch and review films in languages other than English and Hindi—sent me an interesting article. It listed selected scenes that leading film critics pegged as cinema’s most memorable. Bawa’s suggestion: why not do a list like that for Bollywood?
It’s taken time and effort, but this is it: ten scenes from 50’s and 60’s Hindi cinema, which are for me the most memorable—for whatever reason. These are in no particular order, though the scenes that came immediately to my mind (so, I suppose, the most memorable for me) are grouped at the top.
Note: some of these have spoilers.
My maternal grandfather used to work in the Gramophone Company of India. Mummy grew up in a house full of LPs, and a lot of those—including dozens of albums from Hindi films of the 50’s and 60’s—ended up in our house. I grew up listening to music; but for a long time, I couldn’t tell one singer from another. The first singer whose voice I learnt to identify (I must have been about 11 or 12 at the time, I think) was Hemant.
Hemant Kumar Mukherjee was born on June 16, 1920, and went on to become one of Hindi cinema’s great music directors—and a singer with a very distinctive voice, rich and deep and sonorous.
So, as a birthday anniversary tribute: my ten favourite Hemant songs. These are all from the 50’s and 60’s, from films that I’ve seen, and in no particular order. Frankly, each song is a masterpiece in itself.