Ten Ganga songs from classic Hindi cinema

My husband and I are avid travelers. Give us a few days’ holiday and some funds, and we’re eager to race off somewhere. This past year, however, has been unbelievably hectic, what with one thing or another, and after an entire 365 days of not travelling anywhere, we were ready to crack. So we eventually took a holiday—to The Glasshouse on the Ganges, an idyllic little place we’ve visited before, just slightly above Rishikesh. Sitting there one evening, with my feet lapped by the cool waves of the Ganga, I was humming Ganga behti ho kyon (yes, I’m not making this up; I actually was doing that!) when it struck me: there are several songs in Hindi cinema about the Ganga. And that’s where the idea for this post originated.

The Ganga flows for a distance of 2,525 km, all the way from the Himalayas (it begins, officially, at the point—in Devprayag—where its two major tributaries, the Bhagirathi and the Alaknanda, join). Most devout Hindus consider Gomukh, at the foot of the Gangotri Glacier, where the Bhagirathi arises, as the birthplace of the Ganga. The fifth most polluted river in the world, this one is one of Earth’s major rivers (it even appears in classical Western art—the imposing ‘Fountain of the Four Rivers’ sculpture at Rome’s Piazza Navona includes the Ganges). Millions of people live alongside it, millions come from far and wide for a dip in the Ganga.

The river.

The river.

And Hindi cinema has embraced it wholeheartedly, all the way from the dozens of filmi children lost at the Kumbh, to Ganga ki Saugandh, Ganga Tera Paani Amrit, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, etc. Plus, the songs. Here are ten songs from pre-70s (mostly, with one minor exception from 1971) Hindi films which mention the Ganga. In different contexts, to different extents. All from films that I’ve seen.

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Ten of my favourite ‘Who’s that lip-synching?’ songs

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.

O re maajhi, from Bandini Continue reading

Classic Bollywood: Ten Unforgettable Scenes

Some months ago, Bawa—to whom I will always be indebted for inspiring me to watch and review films in languages other than English and Hindi—sent me an interesting article. It listed selected scenes that leading film critics pegged as cinema’s most memorable. Bawa’s suggestion: why not do a list like that for Bollywood?
It’s taken time and effort, but this is it: ten scenes from 50’s and 60’s Hindi cinema, which are for me the most memorable—for whatever reason. These are in no particular order, though the scenes that came immediately to my mind (so, I suppose, the most memorable for me) are grouped at the top.
Note: some of these have spoilers.

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Ten of my favourite patriotic filmi songs

I am very proud to be Indian, but I guess in a way that wouldn’t make me terribly popular with some people. I do not agree, for instance, that everything about India is top class, or that everything about the countries we have political, social, economic or other differences with is necessarily evil through and through. I love India, but I do not feel that means I must hate other countries.
But one thing I will concede: nobody does “I love India” songs as well as Bollywood. Of course. We have so many different forms of patriotism onscreen: the soldierly bravery of Haqeeqat; the dignified, subdued yet exceptionally poignant love for country of a native far from home in Kabuliwaala; the militant, do-or-die fervour of Bhagat Singh in Shaheed; the urge to take the country forward into a new age of progress, in Hum Hindustani...

So here are my ten favourite patriotic songs, all from 50’s and 60’s (occasionally 40’s) films that I’ve seen. Happy Independence Day!

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Ten of my favourite Manna Dey songs

Prabodh Chandra Dey—better known as Manna Dey—turns 90 years old on May 1, 2009. A long innings, and though with too little recognition (in fact, far less than a talent like his deserves), a superb one. In my opinion, Manna Dey’s was one of the most beautiful male voices to have ever sung playback for Hindi cinema: warm, sensuous, and with a glorious smoothness, throaty and full of feeling, that’s unparalleled. Listen to him sing a qawwali, a raag, a rock-and-roll number—all with equal ease, panache and conviction, and it’s easy to become a fan. Happy birthday, Mr Dey; may you and your songs live long!

Prabodh Chandra Dey, aka Manna Dey

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Kabuliwala (1961)

There are some films I see because of the people who act in them (Shammi Kapoor, Asha Parekh, Mumtaz, Dharmendra, etc). Some I see because of the people who direct them (Guru Dutt, Vijay Anand, Raj Khosla). Some—relatively few—I see simply because of the music (Parasmani, Aah, Saranga—pretty awful otherwise, but great music).
And then there are some I see because they’re a bit of it all. Like Kabuliwala. The story’s by Rabindranath Tagore, it’s produced by Bimal Roy (directed by Hemen Gupta), it stars Balraj Sahni, and it has one of the loveliest patriotic songs I’ve ever heard: Ae mere pyaare watan.

Balraj Sahni in Kabuliwala

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