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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Lata Mangeshkar: Ten Solos, Ten Composers – Part 2

When Lata Mangeshkar passed away earlier this month, I wrote a tribute post in which I listed ten songs, all solos, that Lata had sung for ten different composers. Naturally—given Lata’s record number of songs—there were many, many songs and many composers that didn’t get covered in the list. Blog readers helpfully suggested other great songs that could have been part of the list, or which they especially liked; some wondered why I had not listed this song or that. Or why so-and-so composer had not been included.

Even when I had been compiling that post, I’d been thinking, there really ought to be a sequel to this. A post, at least, to include some of the other great music directors for whom Lata sang some exceptional songs. As well as the music directors who may not have been very famous, but who were nevertheless very talented.

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In Memoriam: Lata Mangeshkar – My Favourite Solos with Ten Composers

The ‘Nightingale of India’ is no more. Lata Mangeshkar, aged 92, passed away on February 6.

What can be said about Lata that has not already been said? That she was a singer par excellence, that there was never quite anyone else like her? That the sheer volume of her work, in so many languages, across so many years, coupled with the quality of her work, sets her apart from not just her contemporaries, but also those that have followed? That there is unlikely to ever be any other singer (at least female singer) who will be able to match Lata Mangeshkar?

I will not repeat what others, including bloggers like Anu and AK have already so beautifully expressed by way of tribute; let it suffice that for me, too, Lata’s voice was an intrinsic part of growing up, of life itself.

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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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