Yes, this post is four months late: Kaifi Azmi’s birth centenary was on January 14th this year. I will not make excuses about why I missed that date. Let me just say that I didn’t know about it until the 14th itself, and by then, it was too late. I cursed myself for having forgotten that 2019 marked the birth centenary year of one of Hindi cinema’s finest lyricists. But today is the death anniversary of Azmi Sahib, and in any case, all of this year is his birth centenary, so I thought better late than never.
I know that sounds a little paradoxical—cynicism and something favourite? But that’s what this post is all about: songs that are cynical, but songs, too, that I like. Like a lot, in some cases.
A few weeks back, blog reader Kamini Dey made a request: a post on philosophical songs. I had been planning that anyway, so decided I should speed up my research on that post. And midway through compiling my shortlist of philosophical songs, I realized that several of the songs I’d put under that head were actually songs of cynicism (which, I suppose, is a kind of philosophy, after all: a philosophy of not expecting anything good from the world). I remembered then that another blog reader, Vinay Hegde, had long ago suggested a song list of cynical songs.
So here it is (sorry, Kamini: I get sidetracked easily, and these songs really include some of my absolute favourites). Ten songs that speak of the singer’s cynicism, his or her belief that the world is not a nice place. At times the bitterness boils forth in a fierce and/or despairing rejection of the entire world; at other times, it is cloaked with satire or a sort of bitter humour. Perhaps even smiles. But the cynicism is there, if you only pay attention to the lyrics.
I love it when readers comment on my blog posts. I love it when they add songs to lists, introduce me to new songs, remind me of songs I’d forgotten about. I love it even more when they write in and suggest themes for song lists.
Here, therefore, is a song list that arose out of a suggestion. Ashish—who has been reading my blog and commenting on it regularly—sent me a request: how about a post on ‘background songs’? Songs that are relevant to the storyline, but which nobody lip-synchs to? That was a thought that had come to my mind earlier as well, but Ashish’s mail spurred me on to actually compile that list. So here it is: ten songs that appear in films and are relevant to the story, but which nobody is shown actually singing. One important restriction that I placed on myself was that the song should not be a ‘credits song’—it should not play out during the credits. (That, because a credits song list could be a pretty good post in itself).
Looking back at the six years this blog has been in existence, I find myself surprised that I’ve never done a post on Geeta Dutt. Geeta Dutt, née Geeta Ghosh Roy Chaudhury, the woman with that beautifully melodious, faintly nasal voice, who was known for singing bhajans and other songs with a classical or folk lilt to them—until SD Burman chose her to sing Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana de, and opened up to millions of listeners across the years the astounding versatility of this glorious voice. Geeta Dutt, who could sing with equal finesse everything from club songs to wandering minstrel ones. Geeta, who sang some of the most achingly beautiful songs in Hindi cinema.
The other day, with a storm in full force, I could hear the crash and rumble of thunder, the pitter-patter of raindrops (and, as it grew more stormy, huge splashes of water against the windows)—and the wind, gusting and whooshing all around. It struck me then that nature, even when it’s not living nature—not birds and animals, but water and wind and clouds—makes its own music.
Wind, in my opinion, wins when it comes to ‘natural music’. From the soft swoosh of the breeze blowing through the leaves of a tree, to the howling, gooseflesh-inducing gusts that can be well mistaken for a banshee: the wind has a life all its own. Appropriate, then, that at least two types of musical instruments—wind chimes and Aeolian harps—are played by the wind.
And the wind, of course, has long been an important motif in Hindi film songs. There have been songs addressed to the wind, songs about the wind. Here are ten of my favourites, in no particular order. The only restrictions I’ve imposed on myself are:
(a) As always, the song should be from a film I’ve seen, from before the 1970s
And (b) the song should have a word synonymous with wind (hawa, saba, pawan, etc) in the first line of the song.
A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by Nina Hilger, who works with Dzintars Cers of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Nina said she’d read my list of ten favourite monsoon songs, had been inspired to rent the films in which those songs featured—and wanted to do a radio show on the monsoon in India. Would I be willing to do an interview? Of course, I was very happy to do so—and had an extremely enjoyable hour chatting with Nina and Dzintars, telling them about why I chose those songs, and what the monsoon means to us here in India (both the good and the bad—from hot chai and pakoras, to waterlogging and floods. This was, happily, before disaster struck in Uttarakhand).
It also inspired me to try my hand at another tribute to rain in Hindi cinema. A list of ten rain-related scenes (from pre-70s Hindi films) that I find utterly memorable. These may be memorable for different reasons, both good and bad, but what sets them apart for me is that they’ve stuck in my mind over the years.
The other day, after a long gap of 16 years, I met someone who used to teach me in college. I never knew back then that he was a Mohammad Rafi aficionado; and now, chatting with him about Dusted Off, I got a request: do a Rafi post.
So, as a sort of gurudakshina, here it is: a Rafi post. And since I cannot even begin to think of trying to narrow down my favourite Rafi songs to just ten (or even a hundred), I’m taking the easy way out. Rafi, in ten moods. Ten songs that showcase the breathtaking versatility of this man and his voice. There will always be dozens of other Rafi songs out there that reflect the same emotions behind these songs, but these are my favourites. And, in keeping with the rules I always set for myself, they’re all from the 50’s and 60’s, from films I’ve seen.
Sachin Dev Burman was born on October 1, 1906, a scion of the royal family of Tripura—and a king in the world of Hindi film music. From his first major hit—Mera sundar sapna beet gaya (Do Bhai, 1947)—on, Burman made a name for himself with songs that ran the gamut from folk to Western, from hauntingly poignant to unbeatably seductive (remember Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam? Remember Kya ho phir jo din?) To celebrate Burman Da’s music, therefore, this post.
To narrow down my list of S D Burman favourites to a mere ten, I’ve had to resort to a few self-imposed restrictions. All of these songs are, as always, from the 50’s and 60’s, and from films that I’ve seen. In addition, they’re songs that don’t just sound good, but are wonderful in other ways too: songs that I value not just for the music, but also for the lyrics, the picturisation, the feel of the song. Enjoy!