Sometime last month, I discovered that one of my favourite music directors would have celebrated his birthday centenary this year. Born Roshanlal Nagrath on July 14, 1917, in Gujranwala (now in Pakistan), Roshan played the esraj for All India Radio, Delhi for about 10 years (during which he also composed music for various programmes) before moving to Bombay to try his luck in the world of cinema. Roshan’s career as a music director took off fairly soon afterwards, with the resounding success of the score of Baawre Nain (1950); he went on to compose music for over 50 films until his death in 1967.
When I was in school, all school functions—even, on special occasions, school assembly—would have one particularly talented child presenting a solo (the first time I heard Ae mere pyaare watan was in school assembly, sung brilliantly by a classmate of mine; her rendition made me want to listen to the original song because I guessed that if she sang it so well, what must the original be like?). For very special occasions, like the annual day, there would be a couple of solo performances. But the norm for school songs (most of which, by the way, were patriotic, with the occasional folk song here and there) was the group song. A choir, picked from those who could more or less hold a tune, had loud voices, and didn’t mind standing and singing Tu zinda hai toh zindagi ki jeet par yakeen kar while the rest of the school trooped slowly out of the assembly ground.
In contrast, ‘group songs’ in Hindi cinema tend to be relatively few and far between. Yes, choirs there are aplenty, singing for dancers, supporting actors, and so on—even, at times (Ajeeb daastaan hai yeh being a very good example) providing a certain magic to the song without which one now cannot imagine the song being complete. But the overwhelming bulk of Hindi film songs tends to consist of solos or duets. With, as I mentioned, a choir joining in now and then.
But how many good songs are there that have three (or more) well-established singers in them? Not ‘Rafi and Lata with chorus’, but ‘Rafi, Lata, Manna Dey, Asha Bhonsle’ (or along similar lines)?
Including some recommendations, and some warnings.
This post was sparked off by a comment, by blog reader and fellow blogger Ava, on my review of the Sunil Dutt-Meena Kumari starrer, Ghazal. Like me, Ava ‘adores’ Muslim socials, and in her comment, suggested that I make a list of ten of my favourite Muslim socials. A great suggestion, I thought. And then thought some more. Were there ten Muslim socials I loved to bits? Were there some which were fabulous when it came to certain aspects, and horrendous on other counts? Were there some, perhaps, that I wouldn’t watch again (except possibly at gunpoint)?
All that thinking, I decided, had to be shared. Also in the hope that it might elicit some responses from those reading this blog post—please do comment, share your thoughts, and feel free to disagree. With the tameez and tehzeeb one would expect in a Muslim social.
When I posted my list of ‘background songs’ (songs that form part of the film, but to which nobody lip-synchs), I made one stipulation: that they wouldn’t include ‘credits songs’, or songs that play while the credits roll. Not all of these, as you’ll see from my list below, are necessarily ‘background songs’ as well: some of them are ‘sung’ by people onscreen. And they run the gamut from songs that introduce the film’s ethos or primary theme, to—well, just another song to add to a list of songs the film already boasts of. And they are all sorts, from romantic to philosophical to patriotic.
A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by Nina Hilger, who works with Dzintars Cers of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Nina said she’d read my list of ten favourite monsoon songs, had been inspired to rent the films in which those songs featured—and wanted to do a radio show on the monsoon in India. Would I be willing to do an interview? Of course, I was very happy to do so—and had an extremely enjoyable hour chatting with Nina and Dzintars, telling them about why I chose those songs, and what the monsoon means to us here in India (both the good and the bad—from hot chai and pakoras, to waterlogging and floods. This was, happily, before disaster struck in Uttarakhand).
It also inspired me to try my hand at another tribute to rain in Hindi cinema. A list of ten rain-related scenes (from pre-70s Hindi films) that I find utterly memorable. These may be memorable for different reasons, both good and bad, but what sets them apart for me is that they’ve stuck in my mind over the years.
Happy birthday, Shyama!
Today is the 78th birthday of one of my favourite actresses, the gorgeous Shyama. Born in Lahore on June 7, 1935, Shyama debuted at the tender age of 9, when she appeared onscreen as one of the chorus in the Zeenat (1945) qawwali , Aahein na bhareen shiqve na kiye. In a career that spanned 40 years and close to 150 films, Shyama played everything—from the shrew to the vamp, the tomboy to the domestic goddess. And she invariably shone, quite literally. Shyama’s sparkling eyes and bright, 1000-watt smile could light up the screen like few other actresses were capable of doing.
Hindi cinema has seesawed wildly when it comes to the depiction of women: on the one hand we’ve had films that glorify womanhood (even if it’s long-suffering, almost-always patient womanhood, as in Mother India); on the other, we’ve had appalling stuff like Suhaagan, which made no bones about telling women exactly where their loyalties lie.
But let’s lay aside the filmi angst and sacrifice for the time being, and celebrate International Women’s Day—with a list of female duets. While bromances have been so very popular with film makers, it seems rather surprising that the number of songs in which two men get together are relatively few. But put two (or, even better, more) women together, and—hey, presto—they burst into song.
I have been meaning to write this post for a long time now—I love qawwalis—but I’ve kept putting it off, because I’ve always thought that it would be impossible to create a list of just ten filmi qawwalis that are my favourites. (Barsaat ki Raat itself features at least three qawwalis that completely bowl me over).
But. I’ve finally decided to take up the challenge, and do it. These are ten fabulous qawwalis from pre-70s films that I’ve seen (though I must confess that I like the qawwalis of some 70s films—especially Rishi Kapoor ones). To make this post a little more challenging, I decided not to include more than one qawwali per film.
For all those who thought I’d deserted classic Hindi cinema to wax eloquent about Robert Mitchum: good news. I’m back. After gushing for a week (well, a little more) about Mitch and his films, I’ve returned to Bollywood—and with a film that’s a must-watch for anyone who likes Muslim socials; who thinks Madhubala is gorgeous; or who loves old Hindi film music—especially qawwalis.
I fall into all three categories, so Barsaat ki Raat was long overdue for a rewatch.
I’m sitting near an open window, breathing in what we always knew as the saundhi khushboo of wet earth (I’ve since discovered the correct English term is petrichor). Outside the window is a balcony, crowded with plants that are suddenly no longer limp and weary with the heat. Beyond the balcony is a field dotted with cows and cattle egrets. Pools of water shimmer silver in the field. The grass and the trees around the edges are bright green against the brooding grey of the clouds beyond. The monsoon is here. Finally, thankfully, here.