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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Mohabbat Isko Kehte Hain (1965)

A little less than a week ago, on December 4, I received news that a very dear aunt had passed away. My parents, my sister and I made arrangements to travel to Kolkata for the funeral, the next day. Early in the morning, just as I was about to leave for the airport, the newspaper was delivered, and one headline sprang out at me: Shashi Kapoor had passed away, too. On the very same day as my aunt.

I suppose if Shashi Kapoor had passed away on any other day, on a day when I was not quite so swamped in sorrow of my own, I would have posted a tribute to him earlier. Later, I thought. When I am a little less distraught. My father, reading the newspaper, remarked that he and Shashi Kapoor had been born in the same year, just 6 months apart (my father in September 1938, Shashi in March 1938). My mother, looking at a lovely photo of a smiling and very handsome young Shashi, remarked that he looked uncannily like a cousin of mine (which I have to agree with; I have thought so many times). In our own ways, all of us remembered Shashi Kapoor.

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Apna Ghar Apni Kahaani (aka Pyaas, 1968)

I have been wanting to watch this film since 1985.

That was the year, while watching Chitrahaar on Doordarshan, that I first heard (and saw) Chaand bhi koi deewaana hai. My sister and I, who loved old Hindi film songs even back then, used to keep a blank VHS permanently cued to record every time Chitrahaar came on, so we recorded this song—and over the years, I watched it so often that I memorized the entire song without ever having heard it anywhere else. When the Internet became easily accessible, I spent ages looking for the song (and finally found it, audio only, a few years back). Since then, I’ve been looking for the film. VCD, DVD, even a grainy version on Youtube would do.

And finally, after countless tries, I got to see the film. When I sat down to watch Apna Ghar Apni Kahaani, I kept reminding myself: most of the films that I’ve watched just because of one good song (or more) have turned out to be duds. I shouldn’t expect much.

Surprise, surprise. Not only did Apna Ghar Apni Kahaani have some good music and a lovely Mumtaz, it was also quite a good film.

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Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan (1968)

Rajendra Kumar is one of those actors whom I’ve repeatedly mentioned as ‘not being one of my favourites’. Saira Banu, beyond her first few films (notably, Junglee and Shaadi), I find too shrill for my liking. Despite the fact that these two star in Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan, it remains one film I like a good deal—because it has such an unusual story.

A story to which there’s a brief nod in the first scene. Sanjay (Rajendra Kumar) and Priya (Saira Banu) meet in what looks like an obviously ‘indoor set’ representation of a cliff. There’s a little banter, she insisting that he’s irritating her with his wooing, he professing his love for her and asserting that he could do anything for her—even give up his life. Priya eggs him on: yes, please. Go ahead. Show us.

Priya begs Sanjay to jump off Continue reading

Boot Polish (1954)

When I reviewed Les Quatre Cents Coups a couple of weeks back, I was mentally riffling through the list of good films with child protagonists that I’d seen. I couldn’t, sadly, think of many. There were some—The Night of the Hunter, Bhai-Bahen, Bandish, Do Kaliyaan, for instance—in which children played an important part. But these were either not really films about children, or they were films about stylized children: little adults, really, or oversized toddlers.

Then I saw Kaphal – Wild Berries, made by blog reader, fellow blogger and film maker Batul Mukhtiar (aka Banno), and thought: yes, this is what a good film about children should be like. (Here, on my website, is a review of Kaphal). I also remembered, then, that Banno had once recommended a film about children.  The Raj Kapoor production, Boot Polish, which she’d reviewed on her blog, and which I’d never got around to watching. If someone who could make such a lovely film about children could recommend a film, that film would be worth watching.

So here we are. And, thank you, Banno.

Rattan Kumar and Naaz in Boot Polish Continue reading