Ten Ganga songs from classic Hindi cinema

My husband and I are avid travelers. Give us a few days’ holiday and some funds, and we’re eager to race off somewhere. This past year, however, has been unbelievably hectic, what with one thing or another, and after an entire 365 days of not travelling anywhere, we were ready to crack. So we eventually took a holiday—to The Glasshouse on the Ganges, an idyllic little place we’ve visited before, just slightly above Rishikesh. Sitting there one evening, with my feet lapped by the cool waves of the Ganga, I was humming Ganga behti ho kyon (yes, I’m not making this up; I actually was doing that!) when it struck me: there are several songs in Hindi cinema about the Ganga. And that’s where the idea for this post originated.

The Ganga flows for a distance of 2,525 km, all the way from the Himalayas (it begins, officially, at the point—in Devprayag—where its two major tributaries, the Bhagirathi and the Alaknanda, join). Most devout Hindus consider Gomukh, at the foot of the Gangotri Glacier, where the Bhagirathi arises, as the birthplace of the Ganga. The fifth most polluted river in the world, this one is one of Earth’s major rivers (it even appears in classical Western art—the imposing ‘Fountain of the Four Rivers’ sculpture at Rome’s Piazza Navona includes the Ganges). Millions of people live alongside it, millions come from far and wide for a dip in the Ganga.

The river.

The river.

And Hindi cinema has embraced it wholeheartedly, all the way from the dozens of filmi children lost at the Kumbh, to Ganga ki Saugandh, Ganga Tera Paani Amrit, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, etc. Plus, the songs. Here are ten songs from pre-70s (mostly, with one minor exception from 1971) Hindi films which mention the Ganga. In different contexts, to different extents. All from films that I’ve seen.

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Ten of my favourite ‘classic poem’ songs

Several weeks back, a two-day festival called Dilli ka Apna Utsav was organised in Delhi. As part of the festivities was a heritage walk led by my sister, Swapna Liddle. This walk took us to buildings and landmarks associated with the poetry spawned in Delhi: famous venues for mushairas (like the Ghaziuddin Madarsa and the Haveli Razi-un-Nissa Begum), or places which were once residences, even if only briefly, of famous poets (Ahaat Kaale Sahib, Zeenat Mahal, Ghalib’s Haveli).

What connection does all of this have to Hindi cinema? Just that it got me thinking of the links between Hindi film songs and classic poets. I can’t think of too many classic poets (except Mirza Ghalib and Meera Bai) who have been made the central characters of Hindi films, but the works of famous poets crop up every now and then in Hindi film songs. Sometimes in their entirety, and very well-known, too (as in most of the songs of the Bharat Bhushan-starrer Mirza Ghalib).

Bharat Bhushan in and as Mirza Ghalib Continue reading

Rafi in Ten Moods

The other day, after a long gap of 16 years, I met someone who used to teach me in college. I never knew back then that he was a Mohammad Rafi aficionado; and now, chatting with him about Dusted Off, I got a request: do a Rafi post.
So, as a sort of gurudakshina, here it is: a Rafi post. And since I cannot even begin to think of trying to narrow down my favourite Rafi songs to just ten (or even a hundred), I’m taking the easy way out. Rafi, in ten moods. Ten songs that showcase the breathtaking versatility of this man and his voice. There will always be dozens of other Rafi songs out there that reflect the same emotions behind these songs, but these are my favourites. And, in keeping with the rules I always set for myself, they’re all from the 50’s and 60’s, from films I’ve seen.

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Baiju Bawra (1952)

At home, our tastes (when it comes to cinema) are very varied. My husband likes science fiction or fantasy, kung fu, conspiracy, superheroes, and (occasionally) comedy. And very little of it pre-90’s. I watch just about anything that’s pre-70’s. So, when we were deciding which DVDs we wanted to order next from our DVD rental service, I was taken aback when my husband said, “Baiju Bawra.”
“That’s black and white,” I said, wondering if the recent bout of long and stressful work hours had taken its toll. “Early 50’s. Hindi.”
“I know,” he said. “Good music.”

And yes, good music is the outstanding feature of this film. It had to be, since it’s about the legendary 16th century singer and musician Baijnath (‘Baiju’) Bawra.

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