Somewhat Cross-dressed Women ‘Romancing’ Women in Performances: Ten Songs

The title of this post will probably require some explanation before I launch into the list itself.

Several years back, I did a post on female duets. Commenting on that, fellow blogger and blog reader Carla wondered about the rationale or thought behind songs like Reshmi salwar kurta jaali ka, where a dance performance featuring two women dancers has one woman dressed as a man, supposedly romancing the other (who’s dressed as a woman). I had no explanation to offer, and over the years, while I’ve mulled over this plenty of times, I’ve still not figured out why this became popular.

You know the type of song: there’s a fairly conventional love song, often teasing and playful, being sung—and the two people onscreen, while both women, are dressed as man and woman. The woman dressed as a man isn’t (unlike Geeta Bali in Rangeen Raatein), however, actually pretending to be a man: it’s very obvious that she is a woman, and that she’s supposed to be a woman (even the playback singer is a woman).

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Ten of my favourite non-romantic male-female duets

Whew. That’s a long title for a song list.

But at least it covers the basics for what this list is all about.

I listen to a lot of old Hindi film music. Even when I’m not listening to one old song or another, one of them is running through my head. And the other day, remembering some old song, I realized just how uncommon it is to find a good song that’s a duet (male and female) that doesn’t have some shade of romance to it. When the song’s a solo, there seems to be no problem doing themes other than romance: the singer could philosophize, could sing of life or past childhood, of—well, just about everything. When the song’s a duet between two females or two males, it could run the gamut from friendship to rivalry on the dance floor, to devotion to a deity, to a general celebration of life.

But bring a man and a woman together, and it seems as if everything begins and ends at romantic love. They may be playful about denying their love; they may bemoan the faithlessness of a lover; they may try to wheedle and cajole a huffy beloved—but some element of romantic love always seems to creep in. Even when there’s no semblance of a romantic relationship between the two characters in question (for instance, in a performance on stage, or—in my favourite example of a very deceptive song, Manzil wohi hai pyaar ki)—they end up singing of romantic love.

So I set myself a challenge: to find ten good songs which are male-female duets, and which do not mention romantic love in any form, not even as part of a bhajan (the Radha-Krishna trope is one that comes to mind). Furthermore, I added one more rule for myself: that the actors should both be adults (because there are far too many songs which have a female playback singer singing for a child onscreen).

Hariyaala saawan dhol bajaata aaya, from Do Bigha Zameen

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Ten of my favourite female duets

Hindi cinema has seesawed wildly when it comes to the depiction of women: on the one hand we’ve had films that glorify womanhood (even if it’s long-suffering, almost-always patient womanhood, as in Mother India); on the other, we’ve had appalling stuff like Suhaagan, which made no bones about telling women exactly where their loyalties lie.

But let’s lay aside the filmi angst and sacrifice for the time being, and celebrate International Women’s Day—with a list of female duets. While bromances have been so very popular with film makers, it seems rather surprising that the number of songs in which two men get together are relatively few. But put two (or, even better, more) women together, and—hey, presto—they burst into song.

Sai and Subbluaxmi in Aplam chaplam chaplai re

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Ten of my favourite ghoda-gaadi songs

This post is dedicated not just to music directors like O P Nayyar and Naushad (who made ‘tonga beats’ an important musical style), but also to friend and blog reader pacifist, who came up with the idea. Writing to me some weeks back, pacifist made a request: that I do a list of horse-drawn vehicle songs.

So: here’s the list, pacifist. Ten of my favourite ghoda-gaadi songs, from pre-70s films that I’ve seen. Other than that, my requisites for the selected songs were:
1. That the person singing (on screen, that is) remains in the ghoda-gaadi through at least 80% of the song (which is why Ae dil hai mushkil doesn’t feature in this list).
2. Horse-drawn vehicles of all types qualify: tongas, Victorias, phaetons, even chariots. Horseback is out.
3. And, no two songs from the same film are allowed.

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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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Rafi in Ten Moods

The other day, after a long gap of 16 years, I met someone who used to teach me in college. I never knew back then that he was a Mohammad Rafi aficionado; and now, chatting with him about Dusted Off, I got a request: do a Rafi post.
So, as a sort of gurudakshina, here it is: a Rafi post. And since I cannot even begin to think of trying to narrow down my favourite Rafi songs to just ten (or even a hundred), I’m taking the easy way out. Rafi, in ten moods. Ten songs that showcase the breathtaking versatility of this man and his voice. There will always be dozens of other Rafi songs out there that reflect the same emotions behind these songs, but these are my favourites. And, in keeping with the rules I always set for myself, they’re all from the 50’s and 60’s, from films I’ve seen.

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Ten of my favourite O P Nayyar songs

My sister gave me Ganesh Anantharaman’s Bollywood Melodies: A History of the Hindi Film Song for Christmas. Yes, I know, my sister’s a gem: I adore her. I also adore a lot of the people Anantharaman writes about in his book. He admits he’s biased towards classical music, but then he does go on to acknowledge the worth of people like O P Nayyar, who’s a classic example of unclassical.
Omkar Prasad Nayyar was born on January 16, 1926 (now you know why this post today, of all days). He grew up in Lahore, and was composing music for All India Radio Lahore by the time he was fifteen (makes me feel utterly worthless. All these child prodigies do). When India was partitioned in 1947, Nayyar left Lahore and came to Bombay. Thank heavens. The rest, clichéd though it may sound, is history.

O P Nayyar

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