Ten of my favourite devotional songs

I made my first song list pretty soon after I started blogging. And once my blog began drawing some readers, I also began getting requests for themes for song lists. One theme (along with lullabies) that several people have requested over the years but which I’ve not yet been able to compile—till now, that is—has been that of the devotional song. The bhajan.

Mostly, I steered away from handling this theme because the most common and most popular bhajans just didn’t float my boat: I invariably found them too screechy and shrill. But as time has passed and I’ve been exposed to more devotional songs from the films of the 50s and 60s (in particular), I’ve realized that there are many bhajans that I do like. So, finally, a post. A list of ten devotional songs that I especially like. As always, these are from pre-1970s Hindi films that I’ve watched.

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Around India’s Towns in Ten Songs

Towns and cities. Not countryside, not rural hinterland.

As a family, we’re very fond of travelling. At least once a year, we make sure we go on a road trip (usually) that would take us through several towns, spending a couple of days here, a couple there. Exploring places beyond what we’re familiar with.

Of course, with the pandemic, that’s on hold for the time being. Though my husband and I are vaccinated, the LO (the ‘Little One’, our seven year old daughter) isn’t, and we don’t want to run any risks. So, we’re stuck at home, and I confine myself (and occasionally the LO, who is also fond of old Hindi film songs) to watching videos that take us places. Songs that are filmed in places far and wide, songs that go beyond the usual tourist attractions. Songs which make you feel you were, for those brief few minutes, in another town.

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Ten of my favourite Minoo Mumtaz Songs

The vivacious Minoo Mumtaz is gone. She passed away, at the age of 80, on October 23.

Minoo Mumtaz, who invariably got slotted in supporting actress roles, sometimes as the heroine’s friend (Akeli Mat Jaiyo), often as the vamp (Bank Manager, Mai Baap), but who was just as often to be seen only in a cameo as a dancer (Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam, Naya Daur, Jahanara). And who, to her credit, also appeared in leading roles (Black Cat is the one that comes most readily to mind, in which she was paired with no less than Balraj Sahni). It’s a pity that the news article I read started off (even in its headline) by referring to her as Mehmood’s sister; while Mehmood may be more well-known to the general populace, Minoo Mumtaz was not to be sneezed at—but you can read more about that at this wonderful little tribute  Richard posted over at his blog.

I will, instead, restrict myself to what the title of this blog post indicates: a list of ten songs that feature Minoo Mumtaz. Some are dances, some are not. Some have only her lip-syncing to the song, some have other people too joining in. But all feature, in ways that make me remember her, Minoo Mumtaz.

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“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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