Ten of my favourite ‘not-quite-duet’ songs

Sometime back, blog reader Anup remarked that some songs had a major singer not really doing much singing. Duets, he pointed out, where one singer does almost all the singing, while the other one just does a supportive ‘la-la-la-la’, or something along those lines. Anup suggested I compile a song list of duets like that. Of what I call ‘technically duets’: not songs in which both singers play an equal part in making the song what it is, but in which the ratio is somewhat skewed.

Then, only about a week after Anup made this suggestion, yet another blog reader, Bhagwan Thavrani, sent me an e-mail with pretty much the same suggestion. He was rather more precise: songs in which one singer only hummed, while the other did the singing.

Two readers, both requesting songs of the same basic type? I decided I had to take up the challenge. Especially as, offhand, I couldn’t think of many songs that would fit the bill. This would require a good deal of research, and a lot of listening to songs. I decided, however, to make this a little more wide-ranging: not necessarily one singer humming, but definitely one singer dominating the song.

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Asha in Ten Moods

A couple of months back, blog reader Shalini alerted me to the fact that this year was Asha Bhonsle’s 80th birthday. Would I be doing a special post to mark the occasion? I hadn’t known that it was such a landmark birthday for Asha, but I couldn’t miss this opportunity, because—at the risk of being labeled an iconoclast and inviting censure (and possible debates?)—I have to admit that I tend to prefer Asha to her sister Lata.

Unfortunately, most people tend to associate Asha Bhonsle only with the sultry, ‘cabaret’ songs that she sang for umpteen songs picturised on vamps, all the way from Helen to Parveen Babi. Few remember that Asha’s was also the voice of the hauntingly beautiful Yehi woh jagah hai, or the bhajan Tora man darpan kehlaaye.

To compile a list of my ten favourite Asha Bhonsle songs would be impossible; there are far too many Asha songs that are simply out of this world as far as I’m concerned. So I decided to celebrate Asha’s birthday with this list: ten Asha solos, from pre-70s films, all in different moods. Not merely seductive, not merely cheerful or come-hither, but songs that are proof of Asha’s superb versatility. As always, these are from films I’ve seen.

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Ten of my favourite Sahir Ludhianvi songs

Among the most popular posts on this blog are my top ten lists of songs. They’re also among my favourites; old Hindi film music is one big, big reason for my watching these films in the first place. Which is why I’ve ended up doing so many lists of songs—for music directors (S D Burman, O P Nayyar), singers (Rafi, Mukesh, Hemant, Manna Dey, Talat, Lata, Mahendra Kapoor), even for actors (Madhubala, Asha Parekh, Johnny Walker). But lyricists tend to get left out. A song wouldn’t exist without someone to write the words, would it? So, a post honouring one of my favourite lyricists: Sahir Ludhianvi, on his birth anniversary.

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Ten of my favourite Talat Mahmood songs

It just so happened that the last film I reviewed on this blog was Sone ki Chidiya, which starred Talat Mahmood—better known as a singer, a man with one of those heartrendingly beautiful voices that can turn even a so-so tune into something sublime.
Today is the birth anniversary of Talat Mahmood: he was born on February 24th, 1924. Had he been alive, today would have been his 86th birthday. And so, to celebrate: a listing of ten of my favourite tunes sung by the Sultan of the Soulful Song (my appellation for Mr Mahmood). All from the 1950’s and 60’s, and all from films I’ve seen. These are in no particular order, though my absolute favourites are towards the top of the list.

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Sone ki Chidiya (1958)

In Sone ki Chidiya, a poet tells a film actress why poor people go to the cinema: “For five annas’ worth of false dreams. And the glow of your beauty.”
On the surface, this may seem as cynical a comment on the Hindi film industry as Kaagaz ke Phool, but it isn’t, really. It’s a much more mainstream commercial film, with all the trappings of melodrama, dewy-eyed romance and oppressed heroine. I saw it because it stars one of my favourite actresses—Nutan—and one actor whom I’m very fond of: Balraj Sahni. And (this came as a surprise to me) the cast also includes someone whom I count among my favourite singers: Talat Mahmood.

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