Ten of my favourite ‘two songs in one’

Some years ago, while watching Adalat, I was struck by the interesting way in which the song Jaa jaa re jaa saajna was composed (by Madan Mohan). It begins as a plaintive, melancholic song, the singer (Nargis, lip-syncing to Lata Mangeshkar’s voice) filling her song with the emotion she feels at being betrayed. Then, just as one had settled into thinking that this was a particular type of song, the tone of the song changed. The tempo increased, and though the lyrics still conveyed the same emotion, the singer (Asha Bhonsle) made them so teasing and flirtatious that their import changed. Two songs, one slow and anguished, one fast and vibrant, but woven together into one song. 

What an impressive performance, I thought: and it occurred to me that there were other songs, too, of this type, where a composer and a lyricist create two songs but weave them together. Note that I’m not talking of the back-to-back songs, like Kya se kya ho gaya/Mose chhal kiye jaaye. I mean songs where the two styles of the song alternate. Also note that I regard two tempos of the same tune as two different styles.

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The ‘Not-Naachnewaali’ Gaanewaali: Ten Songs

I have been watching Hindi cinema for most of my life. And for most of my life, too, I have been happily swallowing all the many outlandish tropes and elements that are part of this realm. Not the least the many obscurities and questions that surround songs: how do people think up a tune and words at the drop of a hat, with no rehearsals whatsoever? How do two people who are not even within earshot of each other, manage to sing—perfectly—a duet? Where does the music come from? And how do people who are dancing about energetically manage to sing at the same time?

The naachne-gaanewaali so derided by the ‘shareef’ of Hindi cinema is, in essence, an unlikely character. The Vyjyanthimala of Sadhana, who dances with so much energy, or even the Meena Kumari of Pakeezah, her dance often more sedate, but a dance nevertheless… or the many, many other onscreen naachne-gaanewaalis, from Minoo Mumtaz in Saaqiya aaj mujhe neend nahin aayegi to Kumkum in Dekh idhar o jaadugar: they must be having Olympic athlete-standard fitness levels to be able to dance so vigorously and sing so well at the same time.

But there is the occasional naachne-gaanewaali who doesn’t dance. She only sits, or, at the most, stands up a bit and languidly moves about. No proper dancing. Not, I think, because she realizes that it’s well-nigh impossible to do both at the same time or that she’s conserving her energy, but perhaps because that’s the filmmaker’s way of showing that she is relatively pure. This invariably happens in cases where the heroine is the naachnewaali, sitting in a kotha or other similar house of ill-repute and forced to use her beautiful voice to earn her living. Only her voice, mind you. No more.

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Ten of my favourite Shankar-Jaikishan songs

When it comes to Hindi film composer duos, for me there’s none greater than Shankar-Jaikishan. By no means the first (Husnlal Bhagatram, for one, predated them) and definitely not the last (there have been many others, from Laxmikant Pyarelal and Kalyanji Anandji to more recent duos like Anand-Milind), Shankar Jaikishan were unparalleled in the sheer quality of their work. They composed some of Hindi cinema’s best-loved tunes, all the way from Westernized club songs to ghazals, from dreamy love songs to peppy folk numbers. Versatility, finesse, and that ability to appeal to the common janta, to have ordinary folk humming their tunes: these were some traits which set Shankar-Jaikishan apart.

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One Voice, Two Faces: Ten of my favourite ‘one-singer-duets’

One playback singer sings for two (or, in some cases, more than two) people who lip-sync to the song onscreen. Within the same song, not two different versions of the song.

You’d have thought that wouldn’t be very common, given that a lot of our playback singers have had such distinctive voices that you wouldn’t expect two people in the same setting to be singing with that same voice. But then, reality and Hindi cinema have never been the best of friends; and anyway, there were probably other considerations: one singer is cheaper than two; it’s easier to get recording dates if you don’t have to juggle dates for two people; and all said and done, Hindi cinema is all about the willing suspension of disbelief. If three women (or four, or five) can all ‘sing’ in Shamshad Begum’s voice, so be it.

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Ten of my favourite Sheila Vaz songs

RIP, Sheila Vaz.

This post is a little late in coming—Sheila Vaz passed away on June 29—but by the time I learnt of her passing, I was just about to post the first of my Nainital-Corbett travelogues, and knew that it would anyway take me at least a couple of days to compile a suitable tribute to one of Hindi cinema’s best dancers. So I decided to go ahead with that, and come back to this.

Sheila Vaz, without my knowing it, was probably one of the very first Hindi film dancers I ever saw onscreen: the first Hindi film I remember watching was CID, which I was taken to see when I was about nine. And there, lip-syncing to Leke pehla-pehla pyaar was this unabashedly effervescent woman, her eyes sparkling and her movements graceful. I won’t say that image stayed with me; I have no recollection of the song from back then. But Sheila Vaz became, years later when I grew much more devoted to Hindi cinema, one of my favourites. Besides the fact that she was so graceful and so emotive, I loved one thing that struck a chord with me: she was, like me, somewhat plus size. I’ve always been overweight, and have faced a lot of derision, hurtful ‘ribbing’ and more, for it: and here was Sheila Vaz, by no means a size zero, but undeniably beautiful and successful—I loved her the more for that.

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Ten of my favourite bicycle songs

Today is World Bicycle Day, used to promote the use of bicycles as a cheap, healthy, and eco-friendly means of transport. I have to admit I actually never learnt to cycle (I fell too many times as a kid when learning, and was too much of a coward to persist).

But bicycles happen to be important and very visible means of transportation in old Hindi cinema, so why not a post to celebrate it?  The bicycle, as it is even now, is the one vehicle that’s available even to the not-terribly-prosperous. A character who owned a car, just by virtue of that ownership, was automatically identified as moneyed. If you could not afford a car but were not utterly broke either, you had a bicycle. It didn’t need expensive fuel, yet it got you around faster than if you just walked everywhere.

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Ten of my favourite ‘secondary romantic couple’ songs

Think of ‘Hindi film song’ and chances are, you will think of a romantic song. A hero and a heroine, in a garden or under a moonlit sky, singing of their love for each other: the quintessential Hindi film song. But besides the heroes and heroines, there were often, too, the secondary couple. The man was often the hero’s sidekick, the best friend who helped him defeat the villain, overcome the objections of the disapproving father, and so on. The comic best pal’s love interest, too, was often of a similar bent of mind: good-hearted, nutty, comic in her own way. Also (oh so stereotypically) often an Anglo-Indian or a Goan, a girl who had few inhibitions about dancing and singing with her man.

The secondary romantic pair served several purposes. They provided, if not comic relief, at least some moments of light-heartedness (think Johnny Walker’s and Kumkum’s characters in the otherwise so grim Pyaasa). They brought a ray of hope, a refreshing change from the melodrama and seriousness that might plague the hero and heroine; they often helped in very concrete, practical ways. And, thankfully for us, they invariably had at least one romantic song to lip-sync to, and it was often just as good as the ‘main’ romantic songs. Some of these, in fact, are iconic songs in their own right.

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Ten of my favourite Hasrat Jaipuri Songs

Today is the birth centenary of one of Hindi cinema’s greatest lyricists, the very prolific and versatile Hasrat Jaipuri. Born in Jaipur on April 15, 1922, ‘Hasrat’ was named Iqbal Hussain, and took to writing poetry fairly early in life. In 1940, not even 20 years old, Hasrat moved to Bombay, where, though he attended mushairas and wrote (and recited) a good deal of verse, he was also obliged to take up a job as bus conductor. This job helped him make ends meet for the next 8 years, when Hasrat had the good fortune to be noticed by none other than Prithviraj Kapoor at a mushaira. Kapoor was so impressed by the young poet, he recommended Hasrat to his son Raj, who was then in the midst of planning Barsaat (1949). Hasrat was taken on to write songs for the film, and that was the start of a very long association with RK Films—Hasrat wrote lyrics for all of Raj Kapoor’s films for the next two decades and more, invariably alongside fellow lyricist Shailendra.

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Lata Mangeshkar: Ten Solos, Ten Composers – Part 3

When I posted a Lata Mangeshkar tribute to mark the passing of the singer, I had thought I’d just focus on ten songs with ten different composers; but that, as it turned out, wasn’t enough. There were too many composers, too many good songs, that fell by the wayside in compiling that first post. So I ended up compiling a second, follow-up post, with ten other composers. In the process, I wound up with more songs, more composers than could fit in that second post.

Here, then, is a third list of solos sung by Lata Mangeshkar: ten songs, ten different composers. Of course, none of these composers feature in my two earlier lists. Also, these songs do not overlap with the ones on my very first ‘Lata in Ten Moods’ song list. As always, these songs are all from pre-1970s Hindi films that I’ve watched.

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Book Review: Manek Premchand’s ‘Majrooh Sultanpuri: The Poet for All Reasons’

Three years ago, celebrating lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri’s birth centenary on my blog, I wrote that it was a tough ask to select just ten songs from the more than two thousand that he wrote in the course of a film career that spanned a whopping five decades.

For a blog post, restricted (admittedly by its writer) to just ten songs, that can be a challenge; but it is also a challenge for a full-length book to do justice to a colossus of the size and stature of Majrooh. It’s not even as if, when discussing Majrooh, one could get away with just talking about the songs he wrote for Hindi cinema: to be able to portray, with any veracity, not just the poetry of Majrooh but also his personality, the man he was, the work he did, how he thought—all of this requires a lot of research, a lot of organization and careful planning.

Manek Premchand’s Majrooh Sultanpuri: The Poet for All Reasons (Blue Pencil Publishers, 2021) is an ambitious project, an attempt to capture, within the pages of a book, the life and career of one of Hindi cinema music’s greatest personalities.  

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