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.
Sometime last month, I discovered that one of my favourite music directors would have celebrated his birthday centenary this year. Born Roshanlal Nagrath on July 14, 1917, in Gujranwala (now in Pakistan), Roshan played the esraj for All India Radio, Delhi for about 10 years (during which he also composed music for various programmes) before moving to Bombay to try his luck in the world of cinema. Roshan’s career as a music director took off fairly soon afterwards, with the resounding success of the score of Baawre Nain (1950); he went on to compose music for over 50 films until his death in 1967.
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).
While watching Pakeezah some months back (and reading Meghnad Desai’s book about the film), I was struck by how fond old Hindi cinema used to be of the motif of the ‘chaste tawaif’. A paradox, seemingly, because how could a woman be a tawaif – a prostitute, to put it bluntly – and be chaste? But films like Pakeezah and Adalat did just that: they portrayed women who lived in kothas, sang (in Adalat) and danced (in Pakeezah) but were ‘good’ women, chaste and pure, women who may have been lusted after by bad men, but who – thanks to fate, good friends and relatives, kind strangers (both human and animal) – were always able to avoid the fate worse than death: of yielding their chastity to a man they were not married to, or weren’t going to eventually marry, even if only in secret.
This is another of my ‘prize posts’, dedicated to one of the people who participated in the Classic Bollywood Quiz I hosted on this blog last year. One of the quiz questions was a toughie that no-one was able to answer: Which was Sahir Ludhianvi’s first ghazal to be recorded in Hindi cinema? I did provide one clue: the operative word is ‘ghazal’.
This post therefore is dedicated to Ravi Kumar, the only person who guessed which song I was referring to, though since his guess came in the wake of his submission, it didn’t count. The song was Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana le, from Baazi (1951) – a song which is, in my opinion, a good example of what a ghazal is and isn’t. No, it’s not defined by its music – so, it needn’t be slow and soulful; it can be fast-paced and peppy. What does define a ghazal are its lyrics: rather, its structure and its rhyme scheme.
When I did the Rafi in Ten Moods post a few months back, Stuartnz suggested I also do a Lata Mangeshkar post sometime. It’s taken a good deal of thought, since—like Rafi—Lata also has such a huge corpus of work, it’s impossible for me to pick my ten favourite songs. This, therefore, is the easy way out. It’s a list of ten songs in ten different moods. Not Lata’s ten best songs, but ten songs that showcase her voice, in every emotion from joy and playfulness to heartbreak and deep sorrow. These are all from pre-70’s films that I’ve seen (Pakeezah is the exception, but I never count that as a 70’s film—for me that’s very 60’s).