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.
This is a post that’s been in the works a long time. Several years back, I’d compiled a list of string instrument songs—songs where the person lip-syncing to the lyrics is also shown ‘playing’ a guitar, sitar, ektara, mandolin or other stringed instrument. I also did a post featuring, in a similar vein, percussion instruments of different kinds: castanets, tabla, bongos, and more. Here, then, after a very long gap, is the third post in the series. Wind instrument songs.
Wind instruments, as the name implies, are instruments that create a sound as a result of wind: mostly (not always) the player blows into them—the wind in the player’s lungs produces the sound, which is amplified, made to resonate, and varied by the use of various devices built into the instrument, such as resonators, holes, the length of the air column in the instrument, and so on. Or, in some cases, the player doesn’t use his or her breath but uses his or her hands to work bellows that draw air into the instrument.
I began this blog in November 2008, and in the eleven years since, I’ve never done a post for Teachers’ Day. That is mostly because I did not have great memories of teachers from my school days. A handful were good, a handful left an impact on me; but the majority were people I did not look back on with fondness or gratitude or any other such emotion. More often than not, if you were to ask whom I would thank for moulding me in my childhood, I’d say it was my parents. They were my first teachers, and even till fairly late, they continued to be the people who influenced me the most.
These days, however, I am feeling a love for teachers. My six-year old daughter, the Little One (the ‘LO’) is attending online classes, and when I see the patience, the calm, the classroom manner (that’s the best term I can think of for what would be bedside manner in a doctor) I cannot help but admire these teachers. They maintain their composure through connectivity issues, bossy and demanding parents, excessively chatty children, and sometimes just sheer lack of tech-savviness. Through it all, they’ve continued teaching our children their lessons.
So, in appreciation, a list of songs for teachers and students. To commemorate the classroom, the bond between taught and teacher, and education itself. As always, these songs are from pre-1970s films that I’ve seen.
This blog has been in existence for nearly ten years now, and every now and then, someone suggests a theme for a song list. Some theme requests keep cropping up repeatedly (lullabies and bhajans being popular ones), because these are topics people know would have a large number of songs to choose from.
One topic which has cropped up perhaps only once or twice is that of food songs. Not even songs in praise of food, but which just mention food, in some context or the other. I remember friend and erstwhile fellow blogger Harvey remarking that while there are several songs that do mention food, the food mentioned is rarely the type that makes you salivate at the very thought of it (that’s probably changed somewhat in more recent films—chicken fry appeals to me, as do potato-filled samosas, though the songs in which they feature are appalling).
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).
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)?
Continuing with an on-and-off series of song lists featuring—in the picturisation—various types of musical instruments. This began with my post on women pianists, followed much later by a post on male pianists, and then a post on songs that featured string instruments. It’s time, I decided, to try and compile a list of good songs that feature another important category of musical instruments: percussion instruments.
Invariably, I find that when I’m discussing old Hindi film songs with like-minded friends, we end up praising a song for its music. Often, equally, we admire the singer(s). Then comes the picturisation, the actors and actresses who appear onscreen, even the scenario itself.
Rarely do we talk first and foremost about the lyrics. I’ve been guilty of that, too; more often than not, I pay attention to the words of a song only if the music has already got me hooked.
So, to make amends, a post on one of Hindi cinema’s greatest lyricists, Shailendra, who was born on this day, August 30, in 1923. Janamdin mubarak, Shailendraji!
Prabodh Chandra Dey—better known as Manna Dey—turns 90 years old on May 1, 2009. A long innings, and though with too little recognition (in fact, far less than a talent like his deserves), a superb one. In my opinion, Manna Dey’s was one of the most beautiful male voices to have ever sung playback for Hindi cinema: warm, sensuous, and with a glorious smoothness, throaty and full of feeling, that’s unparalleled. Listen to him sing a qawwali, a raag, a rock-and-roll number—all with equal ease, panache and conviction, and it’s easy to become a fan. Happy birthday, Mr Dey; may you and your songs live long!