Ten of my favourite romantic serenades

This blog has been in existence ten years, and I suppose you can tell how important (or not) Valentine’s Day is over here by the fact that in all these years, I’ve dedicated a post to this day only twice—once, with a list of love songs in ten different moods, and (more recently) with a list of romantic duets.

So here we are, jumping on to the bandwagon yet again. This time, it’s a list of romantic serenades, of people singing in praise of the person they’re in love with (or, as in the case of a couple of fraudulent characters in this list, pretending to be in love with). There are serenades to others (Hindi cinema is full of serenades): to mothers and their near-divine maternalism; to the motherland and to the bond between siblings. None of these, I think, are as ubiquitous and as common as the serenade to a loved one. The praise in honour of his/her beauty, charm, sweetness, simplicity, virtues: going by the way Hindi songs serenade a love interest, you’d think the realm of Hindi cinema was crammed with utter paragons.

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Songs in the Snow: Ten of my favourites

Some weeks back, a friend who follows my (occasional) travel writing approached me with a question: where was the place closest to Delhi where one could see snow? Over a weekend? I thought fleetingly of Shimla, of Kasauli, and of Lansdowne—though I’m not certain Lansdowne receives much snow—and eventually had to tell her, regretfully, that it may not be easy to take a weekend trip from Delhi to enjoy the snow.

That brief discussion made me a little nostalgic for the snow. When I was 9 years old, my father (who was in the IPS, and then on deputation to the ITBP) was transferred to Srinagar. We stayed there for the next three years, and in that time, we experienced a lot of snow. Not just during our travels across Ladakh (and through mountain passes like Zoji la, Chang la, and Khardung la, all of them surrounded by snow even in summer), but even while living in Srinagar.

And, one thing I realized was that while snow may look very pretty (when it’s fresh, that is: old snow, with soot piling up on it, or snow that’s melted, got churned into underlying mud and then refrozen, is not pretty at all), it’s tough to live with. It piles up. On driveways and paths, choking them. On roofs, where it slowly slides down until it hangs, in great piles, along the eaves until it suddenly slides down and falls in one great solid slab that can be potentially fatal, if you happen to be standing under it. It collects on electricity and telephone wires, turning them into fat white cables (and sometimes snapping them, which means you end up without electricity or a telephone line—though I suppose things must be easier now that everybody has cell phones).

Back then, in the early 1980s, we had yet another problem: when it snowed a lot, there was also the added danger of water freezing in the water pipes—and because ice expands, that could make the pipes burst; so the local water department of the Srinagar municipality would shut down the water supply. On more than one occasion, we ended up scooping snow from our lawn and boiling it to obtain water (not a pleasant experience—a lot of snow yields comparatively little water, and it takes ages to melt, especially when the ambient temperature is below 0).

Ah, well. This is a song list, so let’s get down to the songs. Ten songs, from pre-1970s Hindi cinema, which features snow. Very few songs, as far as I could tell, are shot completely in the snow, so I’ve given myself some leeway: the song should feature some amount of snow; it need not necessarily be all against a backdrop of snow. And the snow, even if it’s not real (I recall an interview with Manoj Kumar where he talked of drifting soap flakes getting in his mouth while filming a ‘snow scene’ in Hariyali aur Raasta), should at least not look patently fake.

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Ten of my favourite Bharat Vyas songs

When it comes to Hindi film music, most people—even the committed aficionados—tend to focus on the music directors and the singers. Lyricists are often relegated to the back seat. People can recognize a singer’s voice; they can often remember who composed the song: but who, really, pays a lot of attention to who wrote the song in the first place? Who created the words which make the song what it is?

It has been a while since I did a post on a lyricist (I’ve done song lists for Sahir Ludhianvi and Shailendra on this blog), so before this year ends, one post to honour a lyricist. Bharat Vyas, often credited as Pandit Bharat Vyas, who was born in Churu, Rajasthan, sometime in 1918. Conflicting reports about his birth date appear online: several versions point to December 18th, others cite January 6th. Since I discovered only last month (thanks to fellow blogger Anup, who found out from old Hindi cinema’s walking encyclopedia, Arun Kumar Deshmukh) that the correct date is actually January 6th, this tribute is belated by almost a year. But I figured that at least I got the year right, so while today may not be the birth centenary of Bharat Vyas, 2018 is the year of his birth.

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Songs ‘sung’ by people with disabilities: my favourites

Today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Since 1992, this day has been promoted by the United Nations in an effort to promote the rights and well-being of people with disabilities, and to increase awareness ‘of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life’.

I must confess that as a child, while I didn’t ever laugh at anybody who was disabled, I rarely felt anything other than pity for them. I wanted to help, but always felt awkward. I wondered what disabled people would do if they didn’t have family members to help them out. I used to think that to be disabled meant that you basically sat about and waited for people to do most things for you.

Thankfully, I’ve grown up and now know better.  I acknowledge that there are different types of disabilities, from the completely crippling to the type that can, at first glance, go unnoticed. I acknowledge that a physical disability can have absolutely nothing to do with the mental or other abilities of a person (think Stephen Hawking). I deeply and truly appreciate Indian corporates like Lemon Tree Hotels, Pantaloons and Costa Coffee, at all of whose stores or properties I have been served by people with disabilities. I wish for a world that is more accepting of the abilities of those with disabilities.

That said, how about a post on Hindi film songs lip-synced by characters with disabilities? Blog reader John suggested this idea way back in February this year, and I was immediately drawn to it. Partly because I did want to observe this particular day on my blog, and partly because Hindi cinema has some superb songs ‘sung’ by people with disabilities. Hindi cinema, especially back in the 50s and 60s, may have used disability—especially blindness—in a convenient way to complicate the lives of already-suffering characters (and restoring their sight/other ability even more conveniently), but at least nearly all of them got a chance to sing. Mournful songs at times, philosophical ones at others, but songs, all right.

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Ten of my favourite songs from films I haven’t watched

… and which I am not likely to get around to watching, at least not in the foreseeable future.

Because today is the tenth birthday of my blog, and this is my way of wishing my blog a happy birthday.

Ten years ago, when I launched Dustedoff (with this post), I had imagined it to mostly be a collection of reviews—Hindi and Hollywood films—and some song lists. Dustedoff evolved down the line. A cousin who commented on one of my earliest posts asked if I would review foreign language films, and when blog reader Bawa, visiting Delhi, she gifted me a DVD of a Spanish film, which became the first non-Hindi, non-English film I reviewed on this blog. Still later, a friend suggested I combine my website (which was all about my fiction writing—my books, articles, and short stories) with my blog, so that happened, expanding the scope of Dustedoff. What you see today is still primarily a blog about old cinema (the period of cinema I focus on is one thing that’s remained consistent), but it’s now also about travel and food and history and other things that interest me.

Of all that I write about on this blog, the most popular posts—by a very, very great margin—are the ones that feature song lists. When I compiled my first song list, one restriction I imposed on myself (and how controversial that has turned out to be!) was that I would feature songs only from pre-70s films I’d already watched. People asked me why this was so; some urged me to rethink that decision; some thought I was dumb to limit myself so. But I took that decision (partly because there are some songs, I realize, that need to be understood in context, partly because it helps make compiling lists more challenging for me, and partly because it encourages me to watch more cinema, including obscure stuff). And that is a decision I’ve stayed with.

But. Today is Dustedoff’s 10th birthday. A celebration is in order, I think. And my way of celebrating is to let my hair down a bit—with ten songs I really like but which I’m unlikely to ever get to post, because it’s equally unlikely that I’ll ever get to watch these films. In most cases, the films seem to have completely disappeared off the radar; I have spent years looking for them, both in DVD/VCD format, and on the Internet, but they seem to have vanished. Rare films, or lost films. Perhaps some of these will emerge someday and I’ll be able to watch them, but for now, that seems like a remote possibility. (Note: These are not songs that were originally part of a film but were later deleted—so CID’s Jaata kahaan hai deewaane, or Shikast’s Chaand madham hai don’t qualify, since I have seen the film in question; it was just that the song was missing).

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Ten of my favourite Khwaab/Sapna songs

Some months back, I was listening to a music programme on the radio, and heard a song I hadn’t heard for ages: the title song from Dreamgirl. Once upon a time, a six- or seven-year old me used to love Kisi shaayar ki ghazal, not just because it sounded good, but because to me, Hema Malini, in all those frilly, frothy dresses was just—oh, gorgeous. This time, I heard the song with a warm sense of nostalgia; and it struck me that dreams have been, for a long time now, an important part of Hindi cinema. And of Hindi film songs.

For one, there are several songs which are set completely in people’s dreams. The heroine (or the hero) goes to sleep and dreams of singing a song along with the beloved. Then, there are songs which fit the very specific cinematic style known as the dream sequence: a dream which does not require anybody to be really asleep (though some of the best dream sequences in cinema history do involve people who are asleep). In a dream world, there can be little semblance to reality: special effects, grand backdrops, feats that people would not achieve in real life—all come to the fore, and are celebrated, in dream sequences. Look at Ghar aaya mera pardesi, for instance.

And then, there are the literal ‘dream songs’, songs which talk about dreams. Dreams in which the beloved features, dreams about a rosy future alongside the love of one’s life. (It’s interesting that dreams, in the context of Hindi film lyrics, almost always seem to refer to happy dreams, never nightmares. Those dreams may be shattered, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t wonderful to start with).

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Ten of my favourite Swimming Pool songs

Summer is around the corner. And summer, for me, means mangoes and watermelon and tall cold glasses of nimbu-paani. The sight of amaltas and gulmohar trees in full bloom.

For my four-year old daughter, the Little One (or LO, as I refer to her on this blog), summer means swimming. Till last spring, we lived in one of those Delhi Development Authority colonies (which meant no decent swimming pool anywhere in the vicinity). Then, in May, we shifted to Noida, and to a housing complex which has its own lovely little swimming pool (including, on the side—much to the LO’s delight—a kiddie pool). My husband decided to start the LO off on swimming lessons immediately, and she took to them like a duck to water.

With summer looming, the LO can’t wait to get back into the water. Tuesday last week, we were given the very welcome news that the pool was going to be opened this past Sunday. Since that was Easter and the LO was pretty much partying all day, swimming was out of the question. But she knows (and she’s made sure we know) how Saturday morning is going to begin.

… which reminded me just how often we see swimming pools in Hindi cinema, especially in the 60s. You couldn’t have a film in a modern, urban setting (I’m not talking of the historicals and the stories in rural settings) without a swimming pool somewhere or the other. It could be a place where a hero and heroine flirted (Waqt); it could be a spot for some unwanted attention (Sharmeelee); it could even be used for some rigorous exercise by an ageing wannabe Casanova (Shagird).

And it could be a setting for songs.

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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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Ten of my favourite Mumtaz songs

Happy 70th birthday, Mumtaz!

I have gone through phases when I’ve been very fond of a certain actor, only to later start disliking them. Or vice-versa. Dev Anand, for a while, I could watch in anything (until I discovered his post-Johny Mera Naam films, and began disliking him even in some of his earlier films). Mehmood I was fond of as a child; now, it’s only the rare film where I like him. Balraj Sahni I found boring when I was a kid: for many years now, he’s been an actor I admire immensely.

Mumtaz (born in Bombay, on July 31, 1947) is one of the exceptions. I have adored Mumu ever since I can remember. From that gorgeous smile to that cute little button nose, to those dancing eyes: I have never not loved Mumtaz. Initially, I remember loving her just for the fact that she was so very pretty and vivacious; later, when I saw films like Khilona, I realized just how good an actress she is, too.

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Ten of my favourite ‘not-quite-duet’ songs

Sometime back, blog reader Anup remarked that some songs had a major singer not really doing much singing. Duets, he pointed out, where one singer does almost all the singing, while the other one just does a supportive ‘la-la-la-la’, or something along those lines. Anup suggested I compile a song list of duets like that. Of what I call ‘technically duets’: not songs in which both singers play an equal part in making the song what it is, but in which the ratio is somewhat skewed.

Then, only about a week after Anup made this suggestion, yet another blog reader, Bhagwan Thavrani, sent me an e-mail with pretty much the same suggestion. He was rather more precise: songs in which one singer only hummed, while the other did the singing.

Two readers, both requesting songs of the same basic type? I decided I had to take up the challenge. Especially as, offhand, I couldn’t think of many songs that would fit the bill. This would require a good deal of research, and a lot of listening to songs. I decided, however, to make this a little more wide-ranging: not necessarily one singer humming, but definitely one singer dominating the song.

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