Today is the birth centenary of one of Hindi cinema’s greatest lyricists, the very prolific and versatile Hasrat Jaipuri. Born in Jaipur on April 15, 1922, ‘Hasrat’ was named Iqbal Hussain, and took to writing poetry fairly early in life. In 1940, not even 20 years old, Hasrat moved to Bombay, where, though he attended mushairas and wrote (and recited) a good deal of verse, he was also obliged to take up a job as bus conductor. This job helped him make ends meet for the next 8 years, when Hasrat had the good fortune to be noticed by none other than Prithviraj Kapoor at a mushaira. Kapoor was so impressed by the young poet, he recommended Hasrat to his son Raj, who was then in the midst of planning Barsaat (1949). Hasrat was taken on to write songs for the film, and that was the start of a very long association with RK Films—Hasrat wrote lyrics for all of Raj Kapoor’s films for the next two decades and more, invariably alongside fellow lyricist Shailendra.
When Sadhana passed away at Christmas and I finally got down to thinking what tribute I’d post, the first thing that came to my mind was: a list of Sadhana songs. My favourite ten songs. Then, I realized that I had too much other work to get through (besides being none too well), and that a short piece requiring more heart and less research might be more doable. So that was what I did.
Or, to put that better: Hindi film songs that begin with the word “Aaja”.
Let me give the background for this. My daughter, ever since she was a baby, has always had an ear for music. All you had to do was turn on the music (or start singing) and she’d start wiggling her shoulders. When she began walking, the dancing became rather more vigorous—and the first song she totally fell in love with was Aaja aaja main hoon pyaar tera. The very first time she heard it (and she hadn’t even started talking coherently yet), she joined in at the end: “Aaja, aaja!” After that, every time she’d do a little wriggle and say “Aaja, aaja!” we knew she wanted to listen to some dance music.
So, Aaja. Literally, ‘Come!’ Though I’ve always puzzled over why aaja—which combines aa and jaa, and should create a paradox—and not simply aa? Does the imperativeness, the urgency (which is invariably a part of Hindi love songs that use aaja in the lyrics) come through more when the word is aaja and not aa?
The other day, looking at the stats page for this blog, I saw that somebody had arrived at Dustedoff as a result of searching for spring songs. I don’t know which post they ended up at, but it reminded me: spring is here in Delhi, and I’ve never yet done a post on songs about spring.
Today, April 18th, is World Heritage Day. A day to thank God, our ancestors, civilisation—for the richness that surrounds us. Whether it’s in the form of a unique ecosystem, or a beautiful old building. Or a language, a cuisine, a medicinal system. It’s all heritage, and it’s all precious. All remarkably, frighteningly fragile.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has, as one of its wings, the World Heritage Centre. This is responsible for selecting (based on very strict criteria), preserving and promoting the UNESCO World Heritage Sites: natural and cultural heritage believed to be of ‘outstanding value to humanity’. India has a total of 28 World Heritage Sites, with a further 32 nominated and therefore on the ‘Tentative List’.
So: to celebrate. Ten songs, from Hindi films of the 50s and 60s (the only exception being Johny Mera Naam, 1970), which are picturised, either in part or totally, against a backdrop of a UNESCO World Heritage Site—or at least a tentative one. These are all from films I’ve seen. Enjoy!
My sister keeps a stack of CDs in her car. Often, when she gives me a lift, she puts a CD into the stereo and we listen as she drives along. The CDs are a mixed lot: Harry Belafonte, Simon and Garfunkel, 3 Idiots, Wake up, Sid!, The Best of S D Burman… and The Best of Shammi Kapoor. The others are in reasonably good condition; the Shammi Kapoor CD is battered and scratched and sadly in need of replacement.
I can understand why.
Shammi Kapoor is, for me (and I think I can speak for my sister too), one actor on whom some of the most fabulous songs in classic Hindi cinema were filmed. Funny songs, sad songs, romantic songs, madcap songs, rock-and-roll songs: he did them all, and memorably. And – somewhat unusually for an actor – he took a great interest in the music of his films. (There is an oft-repeated story of how Shammi Kapoor was so biased in favour of Shankar-Jaikishan’s music that he at first refused to let R D Burman compose the music for Teesri Manzil. But RDB, by insisting on playing a couple of the tunes he’d already composed, won Shammi over).
It seems a bit of a paradox that Tumsa Nahin Dekha was both good and bad for Shammi Kapoor. Good, because it turned him from a wannabe to a big star. Bad, because it created a certain persona – the fun-loving, completely madcap yet good at heart rebel.
Bad? Was that ‘bad’?
I think so. In film after film, Shammi Kapoor ended up doing pretty similar roles. (Even the films had similar names: Junglee, Jaanwar, Budtameez, Bluffmaster…). You wouldn’t expect a Raj Kapoor, a Dilip Kumar or a Rajendra Kumar to debase themselves by making faces and leaping about like Shammi Kapoor was willing – even eager – to do. The result? Shammi Kapoor got typecast. ‘India’s Elvis Presley’, ‘the rebellious star’, the man who could dance and sing and do comic scenes and romances. But if emotion was needed, directors turned to other stars.
So, when I decided I wanted to do a list of my ten favourite Shammi roles, I began to pick out films in which one can see glimpses of what a fine actor this man actually was. Roles that allowed Shammi Kapoor, even if he was prancing about and singing in places, to show off his skill as a thespian.
My blog has featured Shammi Kapoor now and then – with reviews of some of his films, in my list of classic Hindi cinema’s handsomest men (which he topped, by a very long margin), and in various lists of songs.
Yesterday morning, when I woke up and logged on to the Internet, the first news headline I saw was that Shammi Kapoor had passed away. I have never been so affected by the passing away of one of the many stars of the past who have died in the recent past… but the news of Shammi Kapoor’s death brought tears to my eyes. I have a lump in my throat even as I type this.
I had not really intended to write this review now. I am in the midst of a blog project in which each post links to the previous and the next posts in some way or the other. But I could not ignore the passing of my favourite actor. I would never forgive myself for that. So, while this post does have a connection to the last (Humayun was a ‘raja-rani’ – ‘king-and-queen’ – film; so is Rajkumar), it is, first and foremost, a tribute to the brightest, most joyous and most entertaining star of the 60s. A sun that will never set.