Ten of my favourite ‘imprisoned singer’ songs

No, this song list isn’t the result of a dear relative landing up in jail or anything of the sort. It just popped into my head one day when I was looking up a song on Youtube and saw Lapak-jhapak in the side panel. It occurred to me: Hindi cinema has its fair share of people who are in prison, at times in really dire straits (not the case with Lapak-jhapak, where David’s character is really quite comfortable), but still being able to summon up the energy to sing. As a character writes in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Why do tired people sing?… Too tired to do anything else. Maybe that’s the case with film characters in prison: lots of time on their hands and too depressed to do anything else.

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Celebrating the Uncelebrated: Ten of my favourite songs by lesser-known composers

This blog hosted a ‘Classic Bollywood Quiz’ a while back. In true film awards style (and we have pacifist to thank for this idea), everybody who submitted answers got a prize. The winner, Anoushka, got a tangible prize, and our runner-up, Anu Warrier, got the ‘dictate-a-list’ prize. For the others, I decided I’d dedicate one post each. This is the first of those posts; it’s dedicated to Karthik, who won the Just for the Heck of it Award (I assume full responsibility for that ghastly name; my creative juices had run dry by the time I got to naming this prize).

So, Karthik: this is for you, because though I’d thought vaguely that I’d do this list sometime, it was your suggestion (that comment on a long-ago post…) that spurred me on to get down to it. Enjoy!

Now, a few words about what this post entails. I’ve noticed that a lot of people, including those who do like old Hindi films and their music, tend to equate good music direction with the ‘greats’: Salil Choudhary, S D Burman, Shankar-Jaikishan, Madan Mohan, Roshan, O P Nayyar, Naushad… and so on. I did, too, till not too long ago. But a spate of watching some rather obscure films over the past decade or so has made me more aware of music directors who may not have made it big, but who certainly did not lack talent. In some cases, a couple of their songs became runaway hits. In some cases, the songs may not have been huge hits but are nevertheless very melodious.

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Changez Khan (1957)

Of the many things that fascinate me about old Hindi cinema, this is one: the making of films set in a time and space wholly alien to India of the mid-1900’s. The 1950’s, especially, seem to favour these sort of films, set in exotic locales and needing costumes, makeup, and sets that were vastly different from what one saw in the more usual Bollywood drama, thriller or even mythological. There was Yahudi (with Dilip Kumar looking far from Roman in a light-haired wig and ankle-length gown); Aurat (based on the story of Samson and Delilah)—and this one, about the Mongol warrior king, Changez (better known to the West as Genghis) Khan.

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