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.
Or, to put that better: Hindi film songs that begin with the word “Aaja”.
Let me give the background for this. My daughter, ever since she was a baby, has always had an ear for music. All you had to do was turn on the music (or start singing) and she’d start wiggling her shoulders. When she began walking, the dancing became rather more vigorous—and the first song she totally fell in love with was Aaja aaja main hoon pyaar tera. The very first time she heard it (and she hadn’t even started talking coherently yet), she joined in at the end: “Aaja, aaja!” After that, every time she’d do a little wriggle and say “Aaja, aaja!” we knew she wanted to listen to some dance music.
So, Aaja. Literally, ‘Come!’ Though I’ve always puzzled over why aaja—which combines aa and jaa, and should create a paradox—and not simply aa? Does the imperativeness, the urgency (which is invariably a part of Hindi love songs that use aaja in the lyrics) come through more when the word is aaja and not aa?
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!
A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by Nina Hilger, who works with Dzintars Cers of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Nina said she’d read my list of ten favourite monsoon songs, had been inspired to rent the films in which those songs featured—and wanted to do a radio show on the monsoon in India. Would I be willing to do an interview? Of course, I was very happy to do so—and had an extremely enjoyable hour chatting with Nina and Dzintars, telling them about why I chose those songs, and what the monsoon means to us here in India (both the good and the bad—from hot chai and pakoras, to waterlogging and floods. This was, happily, before disaster struck in Uttarakhand).
It also inspired me to try my hand at another tribute to rain in Hindi cinema. A list of ten rain-related scenes (from pre-70s Hindi films) that I find utterly memorable. These may be memorable for different reasons, both good and bad, but what sets them apart for me is that they’ve stuck in my mind over the years.
If you don’t know what manaana means, be patient. I’m getting around to that.
First, though, an introductory note on this post. This list of hard-found songs (believe me! I’ve spent months coming up with these) is dedicated to extremely supportive and loyal blog reader pacifist. Pacifist won the Innovative Ideas Award in the Classic Bollywood Quiz I hosted a few months back – because she came up with the innovative idea of having prizes for everyone who participated, film awards style! This one’s for you, pacifist, because you were the one who suggested this list in the first place. And because it caught my fancy immediately.
Caution: Long post!
It’s been a while now, but last year this blog hosted a Classic Bollywood Quiz. The prize for the runner-up was the chance to dictate a post: a theme for a list, for example.
Our runner-up, Anu Warrier, like me, likes both Shammi Kapoor and Dev Anand a lot. So, when we were discussing how both Dev Anand and Shammi Kapoor had acted in some similar films, Anu submitted her request for her prize post. Ten similar situations in which these two heroes find themselves in their films, and one song, respectively, that they sing in that situation. Easy? No, it wasn’t, as you can see from the fact that it’s taken me a long time to compile this list. But fun? Oh, yes!
So, Anu: here you go. Two of our favourite leading men in ten similar situations, and twenty songs that arise out of those situations. Enjoy! All of these are from 50s and 60s films that I’ve seen. And, no two songs from the same film.
My sister keeps a stack of CDs in her car. Often, when she gives me a lift, she puts a CD into the stereo and we listen as she drives along. The CDs are a mixed lot: Harry Belafonte, Simon and Garfunkel, 3 Idiots, Wake up, Sid!, The Best of S D Burman… and The Best of Shammi Kapoor. The others are in reasonably good condition; the Shammi Kapoor CD is battered and scratched and sadly in need of replacement.
I can understand why.
Shammi Kapoor is, for me (and I think I can speak for my sister too), one actor on whom some of the most fabulous songs in classic Hindi cinema were filmed. Funny songs, sad songs, romantic songs, madcap songs, rock-and-roll songs: he did them all, and memorably. And – somewhat unusually for an actor – he took a great interest in the music of his films. (There is an oft-repeated story of how Shammi Kapoor was so biased in favour of Shankar-Jaikishan’s music that he at first refused to let R D Burman compose the music for Teesri Manzil. But RDB, by insisting on playing a couple of the tunes he’d already composed, won Shammi over).
It seems a bit of a paradox that Tumsa Nahin Dekha was both good and bad for Shammi Kapoor. Good, because it turned him from a wannabe to a big star. Bad, because it created a certain persona – the fun-loving, completely madcap yet good at heart rebel.
Bad? Was that ‘bad’?
I think so. In film after film, Shammi Kapoor ended up doing pretty similar roles. (Even the films had similar names: Junglee, Jaanwar, Budtameez, Bluffmaster…). You wouldn’t expect a Raj Kapoor, a Dilip Kumar or a Rajendra Kumar to debase themselves by making faces and leaping about like Shammi Kapoor was willing – even eager – to do. The result? Shammi Kapoor got typecast. ‘India’s Elvis Presley’, ‘the rebellious star’, the man who could dance and sing and do comic scenes and romances. But if emotion was needed, directors turned to other stars.
So, when I decided I wanted to do a list of my ten favourite Shammi roles, I began to pick out films in which one can see glimpses of what a fine actor this man actually was. Roles that allowed Shammi Kapoor, even if he was prancing about and singing in places, to show off his skill as a thespian.
Today is the 68th birthday of one of my favourite actresses: Asha Parekh, beautiful, expressive, a fine actress and an excellent dancer.
Although she had worked in a handful of films as a child actress, Asha’s first onscreen appearance as an adult was an uncredited role in the Vyjyantimala-Kishore Kumar starrer Asha (1957). A year later, in 1958, she was billed in Dil Deke Dekho as ‘a Filmistan discovery’. And what a discovery! All through the 60’s, and into the first couple of years in the 70’s, Asha Parekh appeared in many of Bollywood’s biggest, most colourful, most entertaining films: Dil Deke Dekho, Jab Pyaar Kisi Se Hota Hai, Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon, Love in Tokyo, Mere Sanam, Teesri Manzil…
So, in commemoration: a list of ten of my favourite Asha Parekh songs, all from films that I’ve seen. And, to prevent myself listing all the songs of films like Love in Tokyo, I’m restricting myself to only one song per film.
Happy birthday, Ashaji!