Ten Songs from ‘One-Song-Wonder’ Films

I get requests for song lists from readers all the time. Often, it turns out that the person hasn’t been through my list of lists I’ve done. Occasionally, the suggestion is something that’s either so difficult to do (songs about war, one I’ve promised myself I will someday achieve) or so ludicrously easy (songs about broken hearts) that I don’t even want to begin.

Very occasionally, though, a reader writes in with a suggestion that makes my eyes light up. Sometime back, a reader named TN Subramaniam wrote, asking me if I’d like to do a list of songs that were the one major hit song in a film otherwise characterized by forgettable songs. As an example, Dr Subramaniam suggested a song: Tum jo aao toh pyaar aa jaaye from Sakhi Robin, a lovely song, but one which wasn’t merely from an obscure film, but also from a film that had no other songs that readily come to mind.

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Ten of my favourite Khwaab/Sapna songs

Some months back, I was listening to a music programme on the radio, and heard a song I hadn’t heard for ages: the title song from Dreamgirl. Once upon a time, a six- or seven-year old me used to love Kisi shaayar ki ghazal, not just because it sounded good, but because to me, Hema Malini, in all those frilly, frothy dresses was just—oh, gorgeous. This time, I heard the song with a warm sense of nostalgia; and it struck me that dreams have been, for a long time now, an important part of Hindi cinema. And of Hindi film songs.

For one, there are several songs which are set completely in people’s dreams. The heroine (or the hero) goes to sleep and dreams of singing a song along with the beloved. Then, there are songs which fit the very specific cinematic style known as the dream sequence: a dream which does not require anybody to be really asleep (though some of the best dream sequences in cinema history do involve people who are asleep). In a dream world, there can be little semblance to reality: special effects, grand backdrops, feats that people would not achieve in real life—all come to the fore, and are celebrated, in dream sequences. Look at Ghar aaya mera pardesi, for instance.

And then, there are the literal ‘dream songs’, songs which talk about dreams. Dreams in which the beloved features, dreams about a rosy future alongside the love of one’s life. (It’s interesting that dreams, in the context of Hindi film lyrics, almost always seem to refer to happy dreams, never nightmares. Those dreams may be shattered, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t wonderful to start with).

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Ten of my favourite Swimming Pool songs

Summer is around the corner. And summer, for me, means mangoes and watermelon and tall cold glasses of nimbu-paani. The sight of amaltas and gulmohar trees in full bloom.

For my four-year old daughter, the Little One (or LO, as I refer to her on this blog), summer means swimming. Till last spring, we lived in one of those Delhi Development Authority colonies (which meant no decent swimming pool anywhere in the vicinity). Then, in May, we shifted to Noida, and to a housing complex which has its own lovely little swimming pool (including, on the side—much to the LO’s delight—a kiddie pool). My husband decided to start the LO off on swimming lessons immediately, and she took to them like a duck to water.

With summer looming, the LO can’t wait to get back into the water. Tuesday last week, we were given the very welcome news that the pool was going to be opened this past Sunday. Since that was Easter and the LO was pretty much partying all day, swimming was out of the question. But she knows (and she’s made sure we know) how Saturday morning is going to begin.

… which reminded me just how often we see swimming pools in Hindi cinema, especially in the 60s. You couldn’t have a film in a modern, urban setting (I’m not talking of the historicals and the stories in rural settings) without a swimming pool somewhere or the other. It could be a place where a hero and heroine flirted (Waqt); it could be a spot for some unwanted attention (Sharmeelee); it could even be used for some rigorous exercise by an ageing wannabe Casanova (Shagird).

And it could be a setting for songs.

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Around the World in Ten Songs

This song post has been on my to-do list for a long time. Then, when AK (over at Songs of Yore) did his brilliant twin posts on Bharat Darshan—small-town India, and metropolis India, through songs—I decided it was high time I did get this done. Songs about towns and cities abroad.

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Ten of my favourite ‘Unusual Singer’ songs

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.

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Ten of my favourite Roshan songs

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.

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Book Review: Sujata Dev’s ‘Mohammed Rafi: Golden Voice of the Silver Screen’

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.

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Ten of my favourite Mumtaz songs

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.

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Doctor, Doctor: Ten songs about medical problems

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.

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Ten of my favourite ‘not-quite-duet’ songs

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.

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