“Let’s Celebrate!”: Ten festival songs

Every year, come October, a relative of ours says, “The festival season has begun.” She goes on to list every single celebration coming up over the next several months. Dussehra/Durga Puja, Govardhan Puja, Karva Chauth, Diwali, Bhai Dooj, and a gazillion smaller festivities, some which I didn’t even know about a few years ago. All the way up to Holi. “And then there’ll be a lull all through the summer and the monsoon,” we’re told, every year.

I don’t know if there’s a definitive answer for the question “Which country has the most festivals in the world?” but I could lay a safe bet that India would be pretty much among the top of the pack. Part of the reason probably is our immense diversity: we have people from widely differing regional cultures here, and following different faiths. As a result, there’s a merry mix of religious festivals, seasonal festivals related to harvest/sowing/etc, as well as secular festivals and celebrations. Some are celebrated pretty much across the country; some are so confined to a particular region that they’re rarely even known of outside that locale.

And these festivals, naturally, show up in Hindi cinema. With, almost invariably, a bonus: a song attached to the festival. After all, a festival is cause for celebration, and what better way to celebrate than with a song?

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Ten of my favourite male duets

Several years back, to mark International Women’s Day, I’d compiled a list of ten female duets: songs celebrating the friendship between women, women teasing friends, women performers dancing and singing together, women singing a devotional song together… a range of emotions and situations, but all featuring two women singing one song.

Sometime back, blog reader Naghma happened to come upon that post, and suggested I do a list of male duets. A great idea (and one I wondered why I hadn’t thought of). After all, there are plenty of instances of two men singing together: sometimes as friends, more often, it seems, in a competition of sorts. And more. Here, therefore, are ten songs I really like, all from pre-1970s Hindi films that I’ve seen, which feature two men singing: two actors (at least) onscreen, two playback singers contributing their voices to the song. An important caveat: these songs do not include trios, quartets or more singers; they’re only all duets.

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Ten of my favourite ‘Impossible Duets’

Hindi film songs, in the context of being part of films, have always struck me as rather unreal. Of course it’s a miracle that people in cinema (and that’s not just Hindi cinema, but almost any cinema that produces musicals) break into song at the drop of a hat. How do they think up lyrics on the fly? How do they think up a tune as they go along? How can they dance and jump around and not run out of breath while singing?

Let’s say that’s all artistic license, and that we need to accept it (we do). But what happens when there’s no way a song could be possible? A duet, for instance, sung perfectly in tandem—the tune the same, one verse completely responding to the previous one, even the voices sometimes blending together? —when the two people supposedly singing the song are nowhere close to each other? One is one part of town, the other in another. Or even, in some cases, not even in the same town. Impossible, that’s what I call such duets.

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Ten Avatars of a Magician: The Genius of Sahir Ludhianvi

I am leery of attaching ‘best’ and ‘most favourite’ appellations to anybody or anything, no matter how much I may be fond of the person/creation/whatever in question. I tend to say that so-and-so song or film, for instance, is among my favourites; the same goes for actors, singers, directors, and so on. There are some whom I especially like, there are some for whom I will watch a film just because they’re in it. There are none whom I idolize and place on a pedestal and see no wrong in.

Sahir Ludhianvi may be one of the exceptions. This is one man whose genius blows me away. If I were to list my favourite Hindi songs from the Golden Period, based purely on the sheer memorability of their lyrics, the one lyricist who would lead the pack would be Sahir Ludhianvi. His versatility; his hard-hitting, often brutal, honesty; his occasional humour and his exquisite expressions of romance: all come forth in many, many songs composed across the three decades or so that he was actively writing songs for Hindi cinema.

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Ten of my favourite wind instrument songs

This is a post that’s been in the works a long time. Several years back, I’d compiled a list of string instrument songs—songs where the person lip-syncing to the lyrics is also shown ‘playing’ a guitar, sitar, ektara, mandolin or other stringed instrument. I also did a post featuring, in a similar vein, percussion instruments of different kinds: castanets, tabla, bongos, and more. Here, then, after a very long gap, is the third post in the series. Wind instrument songs.

Wind instruments, as the name implies, are instruments that create a sound as a result of wind: mostly (not always) the player blows into them—the wind in the player’s lungs produces the sound, which is amplified, made to resonate, and varied by the use of various devices built into the instrument, such as resonators, holes, the length of the air column in the instrument, and so on. Or, in some cases, the player doesn’t use his or her breath but uses his or her hands to work bellows that draw air into the instrument.

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Ten of my favourite ‘multiple version songs: one voice, two solo versions

After last week’s post of multiple version songs featuring one male voice and one female voice singing the same song, I decided I should do another post of ‘multiple version’ songs. Also solos, and also (as in the previous post), songs which appear within the same film.

Usually, when one singer (invariably singing for one character) ends up singing two versions of the same song, it’s because the story has changed circumstances for the character. It could be—in most cases—that happy days have given way to sad; or ennui has made room for a sense of purpose. In some (relatively rare) cases, the same singer sings two different versions of the same song for two different characters.

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Ten of my favourite ‘multiple version’ songs – male/female solo versions

There are times I’ve watched a film (like Daag, or Pyaar ka Mausam, or Taqdeer) and got the distinct feeling that the music director composed one especially good tune in the film, and that was a fact acknowledged by the film maker too, who decided to use that tune in different versions throughout the film. Therefore we have Ae mere dil kahin aur chal in several versions, and the same with Tum bin jaaoon kahaan or Jab-jab bahaar aayi aur phool muskuraaye. The tune, at least in essence is the same (the tempo may change); the singer(s) may be different, the actors who lip-sync to it may be different, and there may be other differences as well.

‘Multiple version’ songs can be of different types. The most common (from what I can tell; I haven’t researched this) is the differentiation of tone: the happy version/sad version scenario. One version of the song (usually the one that appears earlier in the film) is an upbeat, happy one; the other uses the same tune, but often different lyrics that reflect two different situations.

Then there are songs where different versions may be only sung by different playback singers—which might include (as in the case of Jab-jab bahaar aayi) one version sung as a solo, another as a duet or even by a trio. There are also versions (overlapping with regional language cinema) where the same tune is used in songs in films of different languages, for instance the Bengali song Ei raat tomaar aamaar (from Deep Jwele Jaai) appears as the lovely Yeh nayan dare-dare in the Hindi film Kohraa.

Those are versions for other, later song lists. For this post, I’m going to confine myself to one particular type of ‘multiple version’ song: the solo male singer/female singer song.

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Main Chup Nahin Rahoongi: Ten ‘Outspoken Woman’ Songs

This post had been written up before the violence referred to in my previous post had occurred. Back then, Shaheen Bagh—and similar women-dominated anti-CAA/NRC/NPR protests across India, all inspired by Shaheen Bagh—had been foremost in my mind). Though the violence in Delhi, and now Coronavirus, seem to have pushed Shaheen Bagh to the back burner, it seemed to me a still appropriate post for Women’s Day.

The escalating lawlessness and intolerance has been a matter of grave concern over the past few years. Every act, every statement that questions the establishment, no matter how logically or innocuously, seems to be an invitation to more violence. It takes courage to even speak up now.

This is why the women of Shaheen Bagh (and, by extension, their sisters in other parts of the country) who have been sitting in peaceful protest to push for love and harmony have my vote. These are women who may have been ‘mere housewives’ earlier, but have come out of their homes to speak up against what is wrong. They are an inspiration, a now-potent symbol of how powerful women can be if they speak up. They can draw others to their cause (as the women of Shaheen Bagh have done); they can inspire others; they can frighten bullies.

So, in admiring tribute to the brave women of Shaheen Bagh—and women everywhere, from Greta Thunberg to Rosa Parkes—who dare to go against the establishment: a list of ten songs featuring women showing they won’t sit back and be docile doormats. Women who speak up, who question the status quo, who dare to go where others fear to venture. Eventually, too, filmi females who dare to sign of freedom, who don’t meekly knuckle down and sing bhajans or romantic songs or lullabies (which, I discovered when I got deep into researching this post, seem to be the most obvious choice of songs sung by onscreen females. The men, overwhelmingly, are the ones who spout philosophy or sing cynical songs, or tell the world to go take a walk). Women who assert their individuality.

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Ten of my favourite muhaavara/lokokti songs

I must admit to a great fondness for proverbs: there is something about the earthy wisdom, the often humorous or even irreverent insight into human nature offered through these that is very memorable and hard-hitting. And (though I may be prejudiced here), there’s something about proverbs and idioms in Hindustani (muhaavara and lokokti) that is hard to beat. Many years ago, I remember reading a newspaper advertisement in which ‘Dhobi ka kutta, na ghar ka na ghaat ka’ had been translated into English—and the entire flavour lost in the process, even though there was really nothing wrong with the translation itself. The point being that there are some things that need to be conveyed in the original language (the ad was for a Hindi-language newspaper).

Old Hindi cinema tended to use a lot of proverbs and idioms. Characters often bunged in a muhaavara in dialogue (I have actually come across, in some films from the 40s and 50s, phrases that were immediately identifiable as proverbs, but which I’d never come across before otherwise). And, sometimes, there were proverbs in songs as well.

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Ten of my favourite Songs of Nature

Several years back, poet, friend and fellow Sahir Ludhianvi fan Karthika Nair and I were discussing Sahir’s poetry. After a while, we arrived at the conclusion that, while everybody acknowledges the brilliance of Sahir’s more revolutionary poetry—of the Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye or Chini-o-Arab hamaara—and some of his more angsty and emotional lyrics (Chalo ek baar phir se, anyone?), many people tend to overlook the fact that Sahir was also one of those poets who could describe nature brilliantly.

When I mentioned having studied Pighla hai sona in school (it was in our school textbook), Karthika remarked that, in that song, “nature became an active agent, not a landscape.” That reminded me of a theme I’d been toying with for a long time, for a song post. Songs that celebrate nature, songs that appreciate the beauty of nature. Nature or an aspect of nature should be an important part of the song; it should not merely be an incidental pretty backdrop for romance (or any backdrop for any other emotion).

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