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.
When I was in school, all school functions—even, on special occasions, school assembly—would have one particularly talented child presenting a solo (the first time I heard Ae mere pyaare watan was in school assembly, sung brilliantly by a classmate of mine; her rendition made me want to listen to the original song because I guessed that if she sang it so well, what must the original be like?). For very special occasions, like the annual day, there would be a couple of solo performances. But the norm for school songs (most of which, by the way, were patriotic, with the occasional folk song here and there) was the group song. A choir, picked from those who could more or less hold a tune, had loud voices, and didn’t mind standing and singing Tu zinda hai toh zindagi ki jeet par yakeen kar while the rest of the school trooped slowly out of the assembly ground.
In contrast, ‘group songs’ in Hindi cinema tend to be relatively few and far between. Yes, choirs there are aplenty, singing for dancers, supporting actors, and so on—even, at times (Ajeeb daastaan hai yeh being a very good example) providing a certain magic to the song without which one now cannot imagine the song being complete. But the overwhelming bulk of Hindi film songs tends to consist of solos or duets. With, as I mentioned, a choir joining in now and then.
But how many good songs are there that have three (or more) well-established singers in them? Not ‘Rafi and Lata with chorus’, but ‘Rafi, Lata, Manna Dey, Asha Bhonsle’ (or along similar lines)?
I have been meaning to write this post for a long time now—I love qawwalis—but I’ve kept putting it off, because I’ve always thought that it would be impossible to create a list of just ten filmi qawwalis that are my favourites. (Barsaat ki Raat itself features at least three qawwalis that completely bowl me over).
But. I’ve finally decided to take up the challenge, and do it. These are ten fabulous qawwalis from pre-70s films that I’ve seen (though I must confess that I like the qawwalis of some 70s films—especially Rishi Kapoor ones). To make this post a little more challenging, I decided not to include more than one qawwali per film.