1919 was a good year for Hindi film music (though, at the time, Hindi cinema—then only six years old, since Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra was released in 1913—did not know it). Because this year saw the birth of several people who went on to define the music of the industry from the 1940s onwards. From singers like Shamshad Begum and Manna Dey, to music directors like Naushad and Sudhir Phadke—and three of Hindi cinema’s finest lyricists: Kaifi Azmi, Rajendra Krishan, and Majrooh Sultanpuri.
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.
If the title of this post stumps you, let me explain.
Anybody who’s seen Hindi films (especially from the 1940s onward, when playback singing became widespread) knows that most actors and actresses onscreen weren’t singing for themselves. Occasionally, as in the case of artistes like Suraiya, KL Saigal, Noorjehan or Kishore Kumar, they did sing for themselves, but more often than not, the recording was done off-screen, and the actor lip-synched to the song onscreen. So we have all our favourite actors, warbling blithely (or not, as the case may be) in the voices of our greatest singers.
And just now and then, while the song may reach the heights of popularity, the person on whom it is filmed may be, to most people, a non-entity. Sidharth Bhatia, author of Cinema Modern: The Navketan Story (as well as a book on Amar Akbar Anthony, which I’m looking forward to reading) pointed this out to me the other day, with a couple of examples in support of his point. Jaan-pehchaan ho, and Tum apna ranj-o-gham. Sidharth made a request: would I compile a list of songs of this type? Famous songs, but lip-synched by not so famous faces?
So here it. And, Sidharth: thank you. This was challenging, and fun.