Ten of my favourite ‘Unusual Singer’ songs

By which I mean:

(a) That it’s the person who’s lip-syncing to the song (and not the playback singer) who’s unusual…

(b) and unusual because the actor in question is a well-known face, but doesn’t usually lip-sync to songs.

The idea for this post arose because of this wonderful post on Ashok Kumar’s songs, over at Ava’s blog. Ava drew attention to the fact that Ashok Kumar—one of the stalwarts of Hindi cinema, and with a pretty long stint as hero, too—rarely lip-synced to songs. In the post, another similar example was pointed out, in the case of Balraj Sahni: also a major actor, also a ‘hero’ in a lot of films, yet a man who didn’t lip-sync to too many songs.

That set me thinking of other people, other actors and actresses, who have rarely ‘sung’ songs onscreen. Not that they’re otherwise unknown; this is not a case of ‘Who’s that lip-syncing?’, but a case of people one generally doesn’t associate with doing too much singing onscreen. The leads of films (barring exceptions like Ashok Kumar or Balraj Sahni) are invariably excluded, because most songs end up being picturized on them. Major comedians, like Johnny Walker, Rajendranath, and Mehmood, also often had a comic side plot and a romance of their own, which allowed them to ‘sing’ often enough in films (have you ever seen a film that featured Johnny Walker and didn’t have him lip-syncing to at least one song?) And the dancers—Helen, Kumkum, Madhumati, Laxmi Chhaya, Bela Bose, et al—may appear in a film for only five minutes, but you could bet those five minutes would be a song.

Which leaves us with the somewhat more unusual people, the actors who played non-comic roles, character actors. Not stars, not dancers, not comedians. The Manmohan Krishnas, the Lalita Pawars, the other not-often-seen-‘singing’ characters. Here, then, are ten songs that are picturized on people not usually seen lip-syncing. As always, these are in no particular order, and they’re all from pre-70s films that I’ve seen.

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Homes and Houses: Ten songs

Some context, first, for this post.

I had recently been on a hiatus for a while because I shifted home. I’ve lived in Delhi for 32 years now, and for various reasons, my husband and I realized it would make more sense to move to Noida.

Shifting house is something I simply hate doing. I should’ve gotten used to it over the years: my father, after all, was in the IPS, and frequent transfers (once every year, when times were good) meant that we moved around a lot. Even after I grew up and got married, we’ve had to shift several times: because a relative offered us their flat at a nominal rent; because—one year down the line—they decided they wanted to sell it; because a landlady wanted to renovate a house; and so on. I have some idea of what to expect now when we hire packers and movers.

But there are always glitches, always another bunch of thoroughly unprofessional professionals. This time was no different. On top of that, I fell ill—first with a viral infection, and then with an infection of the eyes. Till a few days back, I was going around with two red eyes, a hacking cough, and a runny nose (I looked like something out of a Ramsay Brothers flick).

The silver lining, though, is that this made me think of just how important homes are to us. Not mere buildings, but places that we call our own. Places that shelter not just ourselves and our families, but which represent, too, our aspirations, our emotions, ourselves. Hindi cinema has done ample justice to the concept of ‘home’ and ‘house’, from songs like Ek bangla bane nyaara to films like Dastak, Biwi aur MakaanHamaara Ghar, Gharaunda and Tere Ghar ke Saamne.

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Naukri (1954)

I have a confession to make: I am not especially fond of Kishore Kumar as an actor. He’s a brilliant singer, and he can be pretty funny in films like Chalti ka Naam Gaadi or Pyaar Kiye Jaa or Padosan—but that, as far as I am concerned, is about it. Asha, Rangoli, Naughty Boy, Half Ticket, Jhumroo, Ek Raaz, Naya Andaaz, Bandi, Manmauji: I have lost count of the number of films I’ve seen because of good songs, or a cast that appeals to me, but have ended up regretting because Kishore Kumar’s antics were so very over the top as to be unfunny.

But then there are films like New Delhi and Naukri, where there isn’t a concerted effort to make Kishore’s a comic character. Films about young men who are like most other young men: trying to go from being boys to men, facing trials and tribulations, trying to laugh through them when they can, caving in occasionally. Not heroes, not comedians, just normal men.

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Noor – Mrs. Johnny Walker

We’ve mourned the passing of a favourite star, but now—in the yin and yang way of zindagi and maut that Anand would possibly have appreciated—it’s time to celebrate a birthday. Today, July 21st, is the 77th birthday of a very lovely lady who began a career in cinema, appeared in some landmark films, and then bagged her biggest offscreen role: as the wife of possibly India’s best-loved comedian ever. This is Noor, the beautiful Mrs Johnny Walker.

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