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.
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)?
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.
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).
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!
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.
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 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].
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.
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.
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.
I have been meaning to write this post for a long time now—I love qawwalis—but I’ve kept putting it off, because I’ve always thought that it would be impossible to create a list of just ten filmi qawwalis that are my favourites. (Barsaat ki Raat itself features at least three qawwalis that completely bowl me over).
But. I’ve finally decided to take up the challenge, and do it. These are ten fabulous qawwalis from pre-70s films that I’ve seen (though I must confess that I like the qawwalis of some 70s films—especially Rishi Kapoor ones). To make this post a little more challenging, I decided not to include more than one qawwali per film.
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!
I ended up re-watching this film in a roundabout sort of way, which is a story in itself. A few months back, my sister (a historian, whose PhD was on 19th century Delhi) remarked, “I’d like to watch Lal Qila. I’ve never been able to find it in stores.” So, good little sister that I am (and a shameless opportunist), I figured out at least one of the things I’d gift my sister for Christmas.
Before gift-wrapping the VCD, I decided to watch Lal Qila, and write up a review right after. The latter didn’t happen – because Lal Qila is so badly written, so badly directed, and such a crashing bore, I couldn’t make head or tail of it most of the time. Only Rafi’s superb renditions of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s poetry – especially Na kisi ki aankh ka noor hoon – are a saving grace.
I was so peeved and disappointed after Lal Qila, that I needed this to buoy myself up. In any case, I told myself: logically, the two films are related (other than the fact that both feature Helen): the Lal Qila and the Taj Mahal were both built by Shahjahan.
Here we go, then. One of Hindi cinema’s better historicals, with a stellar cast and very good music.
When I did the Rafi in Ten Moods post a few months back, Stuartnz suggested I also do a Lata Mangeshkar post sometime. It’s taken a good deal of thought, since—like Rafi—Lata also has such a huge corpus of work, it’s impossible for me to pick my ten favourite songs. This, therefore, is the easy way out. It’s a list of ten songs in ten different moods. Not Lata’s ten best songs, but ten songs that showcase her voice, in every emotion from joy and playfulness to heartbreak and deep sorrow. These are all from pre-70’s films that I’ve seen (Pakeezah is the exception, but I never count that as a 70’s film—for me that’s very 60’s).