Lockdown Lyrics: Songs for Covid-19 Times

What a horrid year this has turned out to be (and we’re barely past the first quarter, even). First we had all that communal violence, and then—just as we were wondering how much worse it could get—we were side-swiped by … Continue reading

Main Chup Nahin Rahoongi: Ten ‘Outspoken Woman’ Songs

This post had been written up before the violence referred to in my previous post had occurred. Back then, Shaheen Bagh—and similar women-dominated anti-CAA/NRC/NPR protests across India, all inspired by Shaheen Bagh—had been foremost in my mind). Though the violence in Delhi, and now Coronavirus, seem to have pushed Shaheen Bagh to the back burner, it seemed to me a still appropriate post for Women’s Day.

The escalating lawlessness and intolerance has been a matter of grave concern over the past few years. Every act, every statement that questions the establishment, no matter how logically or innocuously, seems to be an invitation to more violence. It takes courage to even speak up now.

This is why the women of Shaheen Bagh (and, by extension, their sisters in other parts of the country) who have been sitting in peaceful protest to push for love and harmony have my vote. These are women who may have been ‘mere housewives’ earlier, but have come out of their homes to speak up against what is wrong. They are an inspiration, a now-potent symbol of how powerful women can be if they speak up. They can draw others to their cause (as the women of Shaheen Bagh have done); they can inspire others; they can frighten bullies.

So, in admiring tribute to the brave women of Shaheen Bagh—and women everywhere, from Greta Thunberg to Rosa Parkes—who dare to go against the establishment: a list of ten songs featuring women showing they won’t sit back and be docile doormats. Women who speak up, who question the status quo, who dare to go where others fear to venture. Eventually, too, filmi females who dare to sign of freedom, who don’t meekly knuckle down and sing bhajans or romantic songs or lullabies (which, I discovered when I got deep into researching this post, seem to be the most obvious choice of songs sung by onscreen females. The men, overwhelmingly, are the ones who spout philosophy or sing cynical songs, or tell the world to go take a walk). Women who assert their individuality.

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Songs for Our Times

I have been watching with increasing despair and sorrow these past few months as India has teetered on the brink of disharmony and violence, hoping against hope that it was just a passing phase. There were moments when I felt things were looking up, for instance, when people of other faiths—not just Muslims—came together at Shaheen Bagh and elsewhere to oppose CAA and NRC. There were times I told myself it was getting better, that India was essentially secular, and that divisive forces would eventually be defeated.

Then the Delhi carnage happened. Many were killed, even more injured. Property was destroyed, people were forced to flee their homes. Curfew was clamped. We mourned. Not just for the dead, but for the way the hydra-headed monster of hatred, bigotry and violence had again reared its head.

I have lived in Delhi for most of my life, and to see the city burning like that—if only virtually, since I now live in Noida and don’t need to go to Delhi often—was heartbreaking. My Twitter and Facebook feeds were flooded with horrifying photos and articles, and I despaired, wondering where humanity had gone.

And then the heartwarming bits of news began trickling in: the gurudwaras which announced that their doors were open to victims of the violence, irrespective of faith; the Hindus who staunchly protected Muslim neighbours; the Muslims who formed a chain around a temple, the Sikh who risked his own life to ferry Muslim neighbours to safety, again and again and again… each piece brought with it new hope. Yes, humanity will triumph, I thought. This too shall pass.

This week’s blog post, I thought, merited a list. A list of songs that call for peace and communal harmony. Songs that remind us that hatred and violence go nowhere, and that religion is supposed to make you a better person, not an evil, angry one.

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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 Roshan songs

Sometime last month, I discovered that one of my favourite music directors would have celebrated his birthday centenary this year. Born Roshanlal Nagrath on July 14, 1917, in Gujranwala (now in Pakistan), Roshan played the esraj for All India Radio, Delhi for about 10 years (during which he also composed music for various programmes) before moving to Bombay to try his luck in the world of cinema. Roshan’s career as a music director took off fairly soon afterwards, with the resounding success of the score of Baawre Nain (1950); he went on to compose music for over 50 films until his death in 1967.

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Trios, Quartets, and More: Ten of my favourite songs

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)?

Trios and quartets: 'Group songs' from Hindi cinema

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Ten of my favourite ‘nazar’ songs

My blog posts come about in odd ways. Some are suggestions or recommendations from blog readers, or from friends. Some strike me as I go through life. Some are serendipitous—a video appearing on the sidebar in Youtube while I’m watching something else. And some are like this: an idea which strikes two people at almost the same time. Anu and I don’t always see eye to eye (pun intended), but more often than not, we look at things in exactly the same way.

Therefore, it came as no surprise that Anu’s ‘zulfein’ songs post gave me the idea for an ‘aankhen’ songs post (and, even less surprising, that Anu had already thought of an ‘aankhen’ songs post too). Or that, as I was publishing my post, I thought, “I should do a post on either nigaah or nazar next.” Or, that Anu should send me an e-mail later the same day, in which she wrote: “Perhaps I should do ‘Nigahein’ as a complementary post.”

Anyway, to cut a long story short: Anu and I decided we’d do twin (but not quite; look-alike, as in Hum Dono or Mujrim, might be a more appropriate description) posts. And then Anu suggested we ask our third soul sister, Bollyviewer, if she’d like to join the party as well: with a post about nayan/naina songs. Bollyviewer, good sport that she is, agreed. So here we are, with a trio of song lists. Head over to Anu’s blog to read her post on nigaahein songs, to Bollyviewer’s for her post on nayan/naina songs—and read on for my list of ‘nazar’ songs.

Aapki nazron ne samjhaa - nazar songs

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Songs of romantic love – in ten moods

Ah, well, the Valentine’s Day bandwagon and all that.

Seriously, I’ve blogged through five Valentine’s Days, and steered clear of the temptation to post something even vaguely romantic (largely because my idea of what constitutes ‘romantic’ is more often than not at odds with what old Hindi cinema, or even a lot of Hollywood, thought of as romantic). This year, however, I’ve decided to throw in the towel. Romance is in the air. And Hindi cinema, as any Hindi film buff will know, has always loved romance (especially in the 50s and 60s, when any self-respecting film had at least one romance in it, if not more).

Happy Valentine's Day!
But, since I’m a bit of a non-conformist, I’m doing this with a twist: not necessarily a serenade to a loved one, and not necessarily two lovers billing and cooing to each other. Instead, romantic love in its different forms and shapes and tones and hues. All of these songs are about romantic love (not maternal/fraternal/patriotic/devotional or other forms of the sentiment), and they’re all from pre-70s films that I’ve seen. And they’re each in a distinct mood that shows some aspect of romantic love. Enjoy!

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The stones that make the Taj

Show anyone a photo of the Taj Mahal complex, and chances are, they’ll immediately recognise it—and even be able to say that while the mausoleum (the ‘rauza’) is made of white marble, most of the subsidiary buildings are made of sandstone. The Jilau Khaana, for example, where visitors would dismount before entering through the Darwaaza-e-Rauza. Or the mosque and its mirror building, the Mehmaan Khaana.

A view of the mosque at the Taj Mahal

A view of the mosque at the Taj Mahal

Wrong on both counts. The rauza is not made of white marble, and the other buildings are not of sandstone. In fact, all the buildings in the complex are made of brick; the marble (‘sang-e-marmar’) and the sandstone (‘sang-e-Gwaliari’ is the name for grey or yellow; ‘sang-e-surkh’ is the name for the red) are only the cladding, which forms the attractive outer face of the buildings.
And that’s not all. Approximately forty different types of semi-precious and precious stones were used in the decoration of the buildings.

Accounts of the construction of the Taj Mahal complex refer to the sources from where material was procured. The most abundant—the white marble and the sandstone—came from close at hand: the red sandstone from Fatehpur Sikri and the white marble from Makrana (in Rajasthan).

The rauza at the Taj Mahal

The rauza at the Taj Mahal

The more rare stones were brought from some very far-flung areas: malachite from Russia, jade from Kashgar in China, turquoise from Tibet. From as far west as the Nile Valley came cat’s eyes (also known as ‘lahsunia’); from the east, in Burma, came yellow amber. Lapis-lazuli were brought from Afghanistan, rubies from Sri Lanka. Other stones—orange-red cornelian, jasper, grass-green chrysolite, and deep blue (or green) heliotrope—were also procured.

[Note: You can click the illustration below to see a larger version].

Sources of some stones for the Taj

Sources of some stones for the Taj

These stones were used in the pietra dura inlay (known in Hindustani as ‘parchinkari’) that decorates many of the buildings, most notably the mausoleum itself. To create a panel of parchinkari, a master artist would begin by drawing the pattern, in henna, on the surface of the marble. This pattern would then be carefully gouged out by the parchinkar, and the empty spaces thus created filled with very finely cut slices of the coloured stones. Variations in colour and pattern within the stone were used to create stunning effects of light and shade.

Parchinkari detail at the rauza, Taj Mahal

Parchinkari detail at the rauza, Taj Mahal

Engraved in Stone contains more fascinating information about how this parchinkari was done, so if you haven’t bought your copy yet, do so—there are some mouthwatering deals on at Flipkart, BookAdda, Landmark, etc! If you live outside India, you can order the Muzaffar Jang series on Amazon, Abebooks, and Infibeam, among others.

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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