Hindi film songs, in the context of being part of films, have always struck me as rather unreal. Of course it’s a miracle that people in cinema (and that’s not just Hindi cinema, but almost any cinema that produces musicals) break into song at the drop of a hat. How do they think up lyrics on the fly? How do they think up a tune as they go along? How can they dance and jump around and not run out of breath while singing?
Let’s say that’s all artistic license, and that we need to accept it (we do). But what happens when there’s no way a song could be possible? A duet, for instance, sung perfectly in tandem—the tune the same, one verse completely responding to the previous one, even the voices sometimes blending together? —when the two people supposedly singing the song are nowhere close to each other? One is one part of town, the other in another. Or even, in some cases, not even in the same town. Impossible, that’s what I call such duets.
Over the years this blog has been in existence, several people have asked me to compile a list of songs that are beautiful to listen to, but which are terribly picturized—songs which I don’t like to watch, only listen to. Every time I’ve started to compile a list, I’ve given up quickly, because I’ve found myself listing almost all of Bharat Bhushan’s songs.
Bharat Bhushan, while he lip-synced to some truly memorable songs, has never been one of my favourite actors. But one thing is undeniable: this man was at one time hugely successful, working opposite some of Hindi cinema’s leading ladies—from Madhubala to Meena Kumari, Nimmi to Mala Sinha—and commanding among the highest fees of his time. Bharat Bhushan, in his heyday, was not to be scoffed at (it’s a different—and very sad—story that he went from rags to riches, being reduced to acting as an extra, and being spotted by Amitabh Bachchan waiting in line at a bus stop).
What a horrid year this has turned out to be (and we’re barely past the first quarter, even). First we had all that communal violence, and then—just as we were wondering how much worse it could get—we were side-swiped by … Continue reading →
While ‘food songs’ are not utterly unknown in old Hindi cinema, it’s rather more difficult to track down memorable scenes featuring food. Talk about new cinema, and it’s easier—and when I talk of ‘new’ cinema, I don’t just mean very recent films like Stanley ka Dabba, The Lunchbox, Cheeni Kum, or Chef: I even mean films from the 70s and 80s.
There was Bawarchi, where Rajesh Khanna’s eponymous bawarchi promised Harindranath Chattopadhyay’s character shukto and some three hundred or so types of chutney (he also made kababs out of elephant yams). There was Amitabh Bachchan, surreptitiously stuffing himself on a thali full of puris and other goodies in Do aur Do Paanch, only to be stuffed all over again by a stream of little kids, all instigated by a wily rival (Shashi Kapoor). In Sau Din Saas Ke, Lalita Pawar played an evil mother-in-law, so vicious that she tried to poison her bahu with kheer simmered with gecko.
Pre-70s cinema is a little less easily remembered for its food scenes.
Several weeks back, a two-day festival called Dilli ka Apna Utsav was organised in Delhi. As part of the festivities was a heritage walk led by my sister, Swapna Liddle. This walk took us to buildings and landmarks associated with the poetry spawned in Delhi: famous venues for mushairas (like the Ghaziuddin Madarsa and the Haveli Razi-un-Nissa Begum), or places which were once residences, even if only briefly, of famous poets (Ahaat Kaale Sahib, Zeenat Mahal, Ghalib’s Haveli).
What connection does all of this have to Hindi cinema? Just that it got me thinking of the links between Hindi film songs and classic poets. I can’t think of too many classic poets (except Mirza Ghalib and Meera Bai) who have been made the central characters of Hindi films, but the works of famous poets crop up every now and then in Hindi film songs. Sometimes in their entirety, and very well-known, too (as in most of the songs of the Bharat Bhushan-starrer Mirza Ghalib).
The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), in tandem with the Kri Foundation, organised a two-day long event called Dilli ka Apna Utsav on March 22 and 23. This was a combination of different events—performances, walks, and … Continue reading →
The other day, listening to old Hindi film songs while I went about my housework, I realised something: a lot of my favourite songs are songs the character onscreen sings to himself/herself. Not quietly hummed to oneself, not songs merely sung when no-one else is around: but songs whose lyrics are specifically addressed to the self.
To an aching heart, for instance, either offering it comfort or encouragement—or telling it to resign itself to the sorrow that looms. Or (and these are fewer), songs of joy, doubling one’s own happiness by exulting over it in the company of oneself.
It just so happened that the last film I reviewed on this blog was Sone ki Chidiya, which starred Talat Mahmood—better known as a singer, a man with one of those heartrendingly beautiful voices that can turn even a so-so tune into something sublime.
Today is the birth anniversary of Talat Mahmood: he was born on February 24th, 1924. Had he been alive, today would have been his 86th birthday. And so, to celebrate: a listing of ten of my favourite tunes sung by the Sultan of the Soulful Song (my appellation for Mr Mahmood). All from the 1950’s and 60’s, and all from films I’ve seen. These are in no particular order, though my absolute favourites are towards the top of the list.
Okaaay. I’m finally back from a whirlwind book tour. I gave endless interviews (I can now answer questions in my sleep); was wined and dined—great ilish in Kolkata and awesome Chettinad food in Chennai—and even ended up on youtube. I met some likeable and interesting people, including crime writer Zac O’Yeah (in conversation with me at the Bangalore do) and blogger-cum-bestselling writer Amit Varma, author of the delightful My Friend Sancho—he was in conversation with me in Mumbai and had some nice things to say about my book. And yes (I can’t resist the temptation to blow my own trumpet!), others have said good things about The Englishman’s Cameo, too: Pradeep Sebastian, writing in BusinessWorld, for instance; and Vivek Tejuja on http://www.goodreads.com.
So, having done my bit of shameless self-promotion—and wound up at exactly the place I wanted this post to go—I’ll begin with this review. Like me, the Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib was a Dilliwala. Like me, he too was a writer (and before I have Ghalib fans leaping at my throat for daring to lump the two of us together: no, I do not compare myself to the man. He was pure genius. Not so with me). And like me, Ghalib loved to hear his writing being praised.