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.
In the early 1940s, my mother (then a toddler) and her family lived in Amritsar. My grandfather used to work in Lahore: he was the sound engineer at the HMV recording studios there. Nana would commute everyday between Amritsar and Lahore, and one day, when he got back home in the evening, he told my Nani, “Today I heard a very young man with a wonderful voice. He will go places.”
My grandfather was the one who recorded the first song sung for cinema by that young man. A few years later, Nana could proudly say that he had heard Mohammed Rafi sing that day in the studio, and that he had recorded the song.
Mohammed Rafi. Rafi of the golden voice, Rafi of whom it was said (by many of his contemporaries) that he had a voice given by God himself. While I love the voices of Hemant and Manna Dey and Kishore Kumar and Talat (and many others of that period), and while I cannot imagine anybody but Hemant singing Tum pukaar lo or anybody but Mukesh singing Woh subaah kabhi toh aayegi… Rafi is special for me. If pushed to the wall and made to name one singer who’s my favourite, I would have to concede that it’s Rafi.
This is why I got pretty excited when I saw Sujata Dev’s Mohammed Rafi: Golden Voice of the Silver Screen (ISBN: 9789380070971; Om Books International; Rs 595; 238 pages). A biography of Rafi? It was worth a try.
Happy 70th birthday, Mumtaz!
I have gone through phases when I’ve been very fond of a certain actor, only to later start disliking them. Or vice-versa. Dev Anand, for a while, I could watch in anything (until I discovered his post-Johny Mera Naam films, and began disliking him even in some of his earlier films). Mehmood I was fond of as a child; now, it’s only the rare film where I like him. Balraj Sahni I found boring when I was a kid: for many years now, he’s been an actor I admire immensely.
Mumtaz (born in Bombay, on July 31, 1947) is one of the exceptions. I have adored Mumu ever since I can remember. From that gorgeous smile to that cute little button nose, to those dancing eyes: I have never not loved Mumtaz. Initially, I remember loving her just for the fact that she was so very pretty and vivacious; later, when I saw films like Khilona, I realized just how good an actress she is, too.
It’s often struck me that there are a number of Hindi film songs that could well be interpreted to refer to medical problems. The omnipresent theme of romantic love in itself has enough substance for everything from insomnia to palpitations of the heart, giddiness, and whatnot. Bung in heartbreak (hah! Another medical problem?), and you can also tag on mental illness, in the form of depression. Of course, romance isn’t the only reason for problems concerning one’s health: betrayal, fear, family troubles—everything can be cause for singing about ailments concerning one’s heart, one’s liver, and sundry other body parts.
Sometime back, blog reader Anup remarked that some songs had a major singer not really doing much singing. Duets, he pointed out, where one singer does almost all the singing, while the other one just does a supportive ‘la-la-la-la’, or something along those lines. Anup suggested I compile a song list of duets like that. Of what I call ‘technically duets’: not songs in which both singers play an equal part in making the song what it is, but in which the ratio is somewhat skewed.
Then, only about a week after Anup made this suggestion, yet another blog reader, Bhagwan Thavrani, sent me an e-mail with pretty much the same suggestion. He was rather more precise: songs in which one singer only hummed, while the other did the singing.
Two readers, both requesting songs of the same basic type? I decided I had to take up the challenge. Especially as, offhand, I couldn’t think of many songs that would fit the bill. This would require a good deal of research, and a lot of listening to songs. I decided, however, to make this a little more wide-ranging: not necessarily one singer humming, but definitely one singer dominating the song.
I know that sounds a little paradoxical—cynicism and something favourite? But that’s what this post is all about: songs that are cynical, but songs, too, that I like. Like a lot, in some cases.
A few weeks back, blog reader Kamini Dey made a request: a post on philosophical songs. I had been planning that anyway, so decided I should speed up my research on that post. And midway through compiling my shortlist of philosophical songs, I realized that several of the songs I’d put under that head were actually songs of cynicism (which, I suppose, is a kind of philosophy, after all: a philosophy of not expecting anything good from the world). I remembered then that another blog reader, Vinay Hegde, had long ago suggested a song list of cynical songs.
So here it is (sorry, Kamini: I get sidetracked easily, and these songs really include some of my absolute favourites). Ten songs that speak of the singer’s cynicism, his or her belief that the world is not a nice place. At times the bitterness boils forth in a fierce and/or despairing rejection of the entire world; at other times, it is cloaked with satire or a sort of bitter humour. Perhaps even smiles. But the cynicism is there, if you only pay attention to the lyrics.
Sometime back, I was watching Dil Hi Toh Hai, and for the first time, actually paid attention to the scenario and picturization of the classic Laaga chunari mein daag. Raj Kapoor, in disguise, plays a classical singer who prides himself on singing such complex tunes that no accompanying dancer can match him. That sparked off a memory: the situation in Madhuban mein Radhika naache re is similar—it’s a faceoff between a singer (a man) and a dancer (a woman).
And that led to memories of other songs, all with a similar setting: a man singing, a woman dancing. A good enough theme for a post, I thought—especially as I could think of some superb songs that would fit right in. I only had to set down some rules for myself, and these (besides my usual one of including only songs from pre-70s films that I’ve seen) would be that in each of these songs, the man shouldn’t dance, and the woman shouldn’t sing.
Also, the man must be physically present in the picturization of the song (which is why the popular Tu hai mera prem devtaa doesn’t feature in this list, even though I like it).