1919 was a good year for Hindi film music (though, at the time, Hindi cinema—then only six years old, since Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra was released in 1913—did not know it). Because this year saw the birth of several people who went on to define the music of the industry from the 1940s onwards. From singers like Shamshad Begum and Manna Dey, to music directors like Naushad and Sudhir Phadke—and three of Hindi cinema’s finest lyricists: Kaifi Azmi, Rajendra Krishan, and Majrooh Sultanpuri.
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.
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.
Looking back at the six years this blog has been in existence, I find myself surprised that I’ve never done a post on Geeta Dutt. Geeta Dutt, née Geeta Ghosh Roy Chaudhury, the woman with that beautifully melodious, faintly nasal voice, who was known for singing bhajans and other songs with a classical or folk lilt to them—until SD Burman chose her to sing Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana de, and opened up to millions of listeners across the years the astounding versatility of this glorious voice. Geeta Dutt, who could sing with equal finesse everything from club songs to wandering minstrel ones. Geeta, who sang some of the most achingly beautiful songs in Hindi cinema.
A couple of months back, amidst a discussion on one of my posts, fellow writer (and fellow Sahir Ludhianvi fan) Karthika Nair and I got involved—as we are apt to do—in talking about Sunil Dutt (who, coincidentally, has appeared in a number of songs written by Sahir). I realized then that I’d never compiled a list of my favourite Sunil Dutt songs. This, despite the fact that he is one of my favourite actors.
When I created a list of my favourite car songs, blog reader Ragni requested a list: of songs that feature women playing a piano. I riffled mentally through the film songs of the 50s and 60s, and quickly responded: there would be just too many; how could I choose just ten? Another reader, Chris, came up with a suggestion: songs only from black-and-white films.
When I actually got down to compiling this list, however, I realized how impetuous I’d been. A closer look at most of the piano songs that sprang to mind, and I discovered that even if it’s a woman singing (as in Tu jahaan-jahaan chalega or Mujhe tum mil gaye humdum), it’s a man sitting at the piano. Songs where a woman is the one actually playing the piano are, when I came to think of it, relatively rare. I had to, perforce, expand the scope to colour films too.
(And a very brief tribute to Dev Anand, 1923-2011).
This is the second of my ‘prize posts’ for the Classic Bollywood Quiz. The first of these posts was dedicated to Karthik, who’d once suggested I do a list of lesser-known composers. This post is dedicated to Anoushka Dave, our overall winner. Anoushka, whose prize included a signed copy of my latest book, also got the chance to tell me which post she’d like me to do: which film to review, or which list to come up with. Anoushka suggested this one: ten saheli characters, or ten saheli songs.
This was, for me, a very unusual (and interesting) challenge, because I’d never really thought of it. Some pondering, and I realised that while Hindi cinema makes a huge deal about a bromance, the female equivalent of it has been largely pushed into the background. Offhand, I could think of only one film (the forgettable Saheli, starring Kalpana and Vijaya Choudhary) that focused on girl friends. But songs? Yes, with some effort (a lot of it, actually), I could draw up a list of ten songs that featured sahelis, at work, at play, at general saheli-ness.
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.
I’m sitting near an open window, breathing in what we always knew as the saundhi khushboo of wet earth (I’ve since discovered the correct English term is petrichor). Outside the window is a balcony, crowded with plants that are suddenly no longer limp and weary with the heat. Beyond the balcony is a field dotted with cows and cattle egrets. Pools of water shimmer silver in the field. The grass and the trees around the edges are bright green against the brooding grey of the clouds beyond. The monsoon is here. Finally, thankfully, here.
Another film from one of my favourite directors, and with two of my favourite stars as well. Like many of Bimal Roy’s other productions—Parakh, Usne Kaha Tha, Bandini, Kabuliwala, Do Bigha Zameen—Sujata is about people like you and me, not outright villains (I like to think I’m not one!!), but not saints either (yes, well, I have to admit I’m not one of those, either). People who’re shades of grey, not black and white. And, like most of Bimal Roy’s other films, this one too focuses on the underdog: in this case, an ‘untouchable’ girl.