1919 was a good year for Hindi film music (though, at the time, Hindi cinema—then only six years old, since Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra was released in 1913—did not know it). Because this year saw the birth of several people who went on to define the music of the industry from the 1940s onwards. From singers like Shamshad Begum and Manna Dey, to music directors like Naushad and Sudhir Phadke—and three of Hindi cinema’s finest lyricists: Kaifi Azmi, Rajendra Krishan, and Majrooh Sultanpuri.
When I posted my ‘Khwaab/Sapna’ songs list, Anu commented that, by reading the title of the post, she thought it was about dream sequences. It wasn’t, of course—it was a list of songs which literally contained the word ‘dream’ in the first couple of lines of its lyrics. And while I did write in that post about the different links between songs and dreams in Hindi cinema, I didn’t mention that I had another post lined up to follow the ‘Khwaab/Sapna’ songs list: the dream sequence songs list.
A ‘dream sequence’ is part of a cinematic production that is separated from the rest of the story—by devices such as graphics (think spiraling), fogging, music, etc—to depict an event that does not really happen but which a character may imagine. Dream sequences allow, in Hindi cinema, all sorts of interesting possibilities: grand spectacles, enormously enlarged sets, things that aren’t possible in real (or reel) life. Lovers who are forbidden, relationships that cannot be.
There are dream sequences aplenty all through Hindi cinema, ranging from the very opulent one in Aan, where Nadira’s character sees herself switching places with her rival, played by Nimmi—to the many songs that take the form of a dream sequence.
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.
Not nayan, not naina, not chakshu or any other Hindustani/Hindi/Sanskrit word for eyes, but aankhen.
This post, though the immediate spur for it was Anu’s delightful list of zulfein songs, has been in the pipeline for the past several years, since a fellow writer first asked her friends (of whom I’m one) on Facebook for all the songs we could think of that were about eyes. I came up with so many that it occurred to me then that I could do a post about them. That idea stayed on the backburner for a while, but when Anu’s zulfein songs post appeared, I thought, “I have to do that one on aankhen.”
Because, just as hair are praised, so are eyes. And unlike hair—inanimate, more often than not, and compared perhaps only to the dark velvet of the night, or the spreading black of a storm cloud—eyes have a life of their own. They convey infinitely more than hair ever can, from love to fear to hatred: they cannot disguise the soul, the emotions.
I can blame my not having watched Bahaaron ke Sapne all these years on my father: when I first expressed an interest in the film because it had been directed by Nasir Husain (back then, a teenaged me associated Nasir Husain only with frothy and entertaining films like Dil Deke Dekho, Tumsa Nahin Dekha, and Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon), my father said, ‘It’s a serious film.’
And that was that. Because, back then, I didn’t care to ask how serious. Anything that smacked of reality rather than escapism was not to be touched with a barge pole.
In November last year, friend, fellow blogger and soul sister Anu came to India on work—and actually came all the way to Delhi to meet me (now if that isn’t flattering, I don’t know what is!) We spent two days chatting, comparing notes on everything from books to our families to recipes; wandering around Chandni Chowk; buying jewellery and sarees and whatnot… and, as a gift, Anu bought me this absolutely lovely dupatta from Mrignayani, the Madhya Pradesh State Crafts Emporium on Baba Kharak Singh Marg.