Ten of my favourite Madhubala songs

The Hallmark Group recently introduced a limited edition of gold-plated silver ingots representing 25 historic stamps of India. Issued under the authority of India Post, it’s called the Pride of India Collection. The stamps replicated run the gamut of concepts, events and people dear to India: Rabindranath Tagore, kathakali, the Taj Mahal, cricket—and more. And with Bollywood so close to the hearts of so many millions of Indians, there had to be a film star featured: and they couldn’t have chosen better.

Pride of India Collection - Madhubala ingot

[Personally, I think the stamp (released in March 2008) does Madhubala justice; the ingot doesn’t. She looks as if, as P G Wodehouse would put it, she’d been bingeing on starchy foods. The eyes are puffy; the smile is off; and she has a double chin. No, I wouldn’t pay Rs 6,000 for this.]

But back to business: today, February 14, is the date of Madhubala’s birth. So (instead of doing a clichéd `ten favourite romantic songs’ for Valentine’s Day), I decided to try listing my favourite Madhubala songs. Frankly, just about any song featuring Madhubala has my vote: she looks so absolutely dazzling, one can forgive shoddy lyrics, monotonous tunes and even less-than-perfect heroes. Anyway, here goes with my top ten, all from films I’ve seen, and all songs that sound lovely too. Beginning at the bottom of the list:

10. Sach kehta hoon bahut haseen ho (Jaali Note, 1960, with Dev Anand). Quintessential O P Nayyar `tonga song’. Dev Anand is a cop masquerading as a prince, who’s romancing Madhubala, a reporter posing as a girl looking for a job. It’s a sweet song, sung in a Victoria, a fitting serenade to Madhubala’s beauty. I love the way she crinkles up her nose and her eyes go half-shut: adorable! And yes, even though the lip-syncing is all haywire in one of the verses, I’ll forgive that.

Sach kehta hoon bahut haseen ho from Jaali Note

9. Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi woh barsaat ki raat (Barsaat ki Raat, 1960, with Bharat Bhushan). I am not a Bharat Bhushan fan, but this film had some of the best music (especially the qawwalis) I’ve ever heard. This song, though not a qawwali, is melodious enough and has the added advantage of focussing primarily on Madhubala. The camera does an interesting job of framing her face: through the criss-cross ropes of a charpai, and then between hanging dupattas. Also noticed how stunning Madhubala can look even when she’s sad?

Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi from Barsaat ki Raat

8. Bhola-bhola mann mera kahin re sajan (Jhumroo, 1961, with Kishore Kumar). Madhubala’s films with Kishore Kumar tend to have some lively songs, and this one’s one of them. They’re going down a narrow stream on a flower-bedecked raft, and Madhubala, though a city girl, is dressed rural style, all lehenga and prettily painted face (most actresses look silly with those tiny white dots painted along their eyebrows: Madhubala manages to look lovely even with them). Cute song.

Bhola bhola mann mera from Jhumroo

7. Chaand raat tum ho saath (Half Ticket, 1962, with Kishore Kumar). A film that goes totally berserk in its madness, but it’s very funny too. This is one of the saner songs, but Kishore clowns around anyway. Madhubala is (as always) gorgeous: watch out for that bit when she peeks out from behind the fronds of palm—a beach version of lifting the ghunghat? Whatever: she’s flawless.

Chaand raat tum ho saath from Half Ticket

6. Jab pyaar kiya toh darna kya (Mughal-e-Azam, 1960, with Dilip Kumar, Prithviraj Kapoor, and others). Yes, well: obviously. This is probably (even to those who aren’t particularly keen on old films) the most famous Madhubala song. Everything’s opulent here: the mirrors in which her whirling figure is reflected; the glittering thrones on which her princely lover and his fuming father sit; even her costume, all shimmer and gems. Anarkali’s defiance is there in not just Madhubala’s expression, but in her body language: watch for the part when she lowers the dagger at the feet of Prithviraj Kapoor.

Jab pyaar kiya toh darna kya from Mughal-e-Azam

5. Thandi hawa kaali ghata aa hi gayi jhoomke (Mr & Mrs 55, 1955, with chorus). A long, long way from the doomed Anarkali: this is a carefree heiress celebrating the joy of living. Madhubala looks very cute in a dress, and with those looped-up plaits tied in ribbons. A happy, lovely song in a film that stood out for its splendid music (an admission: I had a hard time picking this song; the extremely romantic Udhar tum haseen ho, with Guru Dutt, was a close contender).

Thandi hawa kaali ghata aa hi gayi from Mr & Mrs 55

4. Paanch rupaiyya baarah anna (Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, 1958, with Kishore Kumar). Part of the reason I love this song is that Kishore’s at his madcap best—and Madhubala’s with him all the way. She’s a fairytale princess with a sense of humour, prancing around with that handbag tucked under one arm, trying to entice poor Mannu, who’s pleading for his paanch rupaiyya baarah anna. A song to drive away the blues: it’s a grin-inducer.

Paanch rupaiyya baarah anna from Chalti ka naam gaadi

3. Mohe panghat pe Nandlal chhed gayo re (Mughal-e-Azam, 1960, with Dilip Kumar, Prithviraj Kapoor, Durga Khote and others). I like this song more than Jab pyaar kiya toh darna kya, mainly because I think Madhubala looks much more delicate, more exquisitely luminous, here. The opening shot is unforgettable: she sits with her ghagra spread around her, and then lifts her ghungat to reveal a face that makes everyone—emperor, empress, and besotted prince—sit up. And I can’t think of too many group dances in Bollywood that are so genteel: there’s grace in every step.
P.S. In my opinion, the original black and white version is much easier on the eye than the colourised one.

Mohe panghat pe from Mughal-e-Azam

2. Achcha ji main haari chalo maan jaao na (Kaala Paani, 1958, with Dev Anand). Eye candy all the way! A lovely Madhubala, a very handsome Dev Anand, and some great chemistry between the two as she cajoles while he acts miffed. The music’s superb, and the song’s very well picturised: even the scurrying feet and the bemused blinking of Agha, Mukri and Jankidas are synchronised with the music. Taking a screen cap of this song was frustrating, by the way: every frame’s a great one.

Achha ji main haari from Kaala Paani

1. Aaiye meherbaan baithiye jaan-e-jaan (Howrah Bridge, 1958, with Ashok Kumar, K N Singh and others). The best Madhubala song, simply because it’s her song all the way. Sure, she shares screen space with Ashok Kumar, K N Singh and various extras, but Madhubala, sultry, seductive and oh-so-absolutely beautiful, is the focus: you can’t wait for the camera to get back to her. My favourite moment? When she stretches out a hand, inviting Ashok Kumar to dance with her: the triumph and the gratitude in his expression are the greatest tribute there is to Madhubala.

Aaiye meherbaan baithiye jaan-e-jaan from Howrah Bridge

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24 thoughts on “Ten of my favourite Madhubala songs

  1. oh, I would be spoilt for choice too. I love the way she looks in maine shayad tumhe pehle bhi kabhi dekha hai -Barsaat Ki Raat.

    I just watched PASSPORT through Rajshri films broadband, and altho’ the film is a bit wayward-but not bad- you can watch it absolutely gaping at Madhubala and her outfits (who else could look gorgeous in a salwar-kameez with large horizontal stripes????

    I would also recommend this song from AMAR with Dilip K

    And another all-time favourite from Mr & Mrs 55 (she is gorgeous here):

  2. Thank you for those links! And yes, Udhar tum haseen ho was on the list – I had a hard time choosing between it and Thandi hawa kaali ghata. And I love Saaz-e-dil chhed: Madhubala’s so beautiful, I can even forgive Pradeep Kumar for being there (I’m not a fan!)

  3. The ingot reminds me of a lecture on Celtic coins I heard recently. Those coins were also considered absurd imitation of Roman coins until one smart researcher decided to hold them at an angle for viewing (instead of looking at them like we look at 2-d picture – straight down on a flat surface) and they suddenly looked 3-d and perfectly sculpted! Dont know if Madhubala will look better at an angle (in real-life I think she was made of awesome in all dimensions) but you can try it if you have one of those ingots.

    You are so right about Madhubala brightening up anything. I need to get hold of Barsaat Ki Raat and watch it inspite of Bharat Bhushan (he apparently had a big crush on her which she didnt reciprocate) and inspite of Nimmi. I love all the songs on your list and would add Jaanu jaanu ri (Insaan Jaag Utha), Sab kuch luta ke (Ek Saal), Do ghadi woh jo (Gateway Of India), and…. well, the list is endless!

  4. My sister-in-law has ordered the entire set of ingots, so when she receives the Madhubala one (one ingot comes every month), I’m going to try that out – not that I have much hope!

    Was Nimmi in Barsaat ki Raat? I saw it a long, long time back, but as far as I remember the only other somewhat well-known actress was Shyama, who was also pretty gorgeous. Not in the Madhubala league, of course, but still… and the songs are superb. I’ve got Insaan Jaag Utha, Ek Saal and Gateway of India on my to-see list too (wasn’t Bharat Bhushan in Gateway of India too?) What a pity – why on earth didn’t she do more films with people like Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor or Guru Dutt! ;-)

  5. You’re right, it is Shyama not Nimmi. For some reason I remember Nimmi in the song Mujhe mil gaya bahaana and hence the confusion!

    And you have Insaan Jaag Utha? Wow! I looked for it on my last trip to India and couldnt find it. :-(

  6. The DVD of Insaan Jaag Utha is available on Nehaflix, in case you’re interested :-)

    And I suppose I should make a clarification: it’s on my wishlist – hopefully my local DVD rental agency, seventymm, should deliver it sometime. They have it in stock, but there’s no knowing when I’ll get it.

  7. I am not a Pradeep Kumar or Bharat Bhushan fan either, esp the former!
    But I still managed to watch PASSPORT, not a bad film noir, and Madhubala’s first outfit, and the one she goes to the police station are just so “IN”! :))

  8. Yes, I read about that – and felt more angry than sad, at being so utterly helpless. If there was a chance of stopping it, if one knew that by drumming up enough public opinion, one could put a halt to it – that would have helped. But to come to know about it after it was done: that was terrible.

  9. Though difficult to restrict my self to the no 10, here are Ten of my favourite madhubala songs…
    Mohe panghat pe..-SHE LOOKS HER BEST
    Unse pyaar ho gaya, dil mera kho gaya..JUST OUT OF TEENS, PURE INNOCENCE & BEAUTY
    Nain mile nain hue baware….EXTREMELY PERKY, SLIM, AND INNOCENT
    Aiye meherban..SENSUOUS, NAUGHTY, INVITING
    Ek ladki bheegi bhagi si..SENSUOUS AND BEAUTIFUL
    Thandi hawa kali ghati.. CAREFREE, HEP FOR THAT AGE
    Do ghadi woh jo paas aa jaye..CUTE
    Janu Janu ri kahe khanke hai tora kangna…- RUSTIC BEAUTY
    Achha lo main hari…LOVELY SONG, LOVELY PAIR, LOVELY EXPRESSIONS OF EVERY ONE IN THAT SONG
    Paanch rupaiya bara ana…HER BEING IN THE SONG COULD TURN A SILLY SONG ALSO INTO A HIT SONG, PROOF OF HER LARGER THAN LIFE PERSONA
    Then there are other lovely songs from Barsat ki raat, Mahal, Tarana, Amar, Rajhat, Phagun, Police, Badal etc. she was the best

    • I love all the songs you’ve listed – thank you for reminding me of Do ghadi woh jo paas aa baithe and Jaanu jaanu ri, especially – both are particularly good Madhubala songs!

  10. Great choice of Madhubala songs – especially the No. 2 and No. 1. I don’t think Madhubala has ever looked so luminous as in “Achcha ji main haari …”. Absolutely radiant, with a range of expressions to match her loveliness. And Dev Anand complements her perfectly. “Aaiye meherbaan…” of course is Madhubala’s signature song in a movie which is chock full of great songs. I also like the less well known “Dekh ke teri nazar …” from Howrah Bridge, in which Madhubala again looks gorgeous and dances beautifully. Its an Asha Bhonsle song, but the twist is when, towards the end, a fat bystander (a fan of Madhubala, obviously) suddenly breaks out singing in Mohammad Rafi’s voice.

  11. While we are on Madhubala, she looks even more beautiful in “Yeh kya kar dala tune …” from the same movie. The play of light and shadow on her half-sleepy face in the opening shots of the song is amazing. One unfortunate aspect of Howrah Bridge is that Ashok Kumar and Madhubala are totally ill-matched. Great actor that he is, Ashok Kumar appears to be tongue-tied in Madhubala’s presence, just smoking and grinning sheepishly most of the time.

    • just smoking and grinning sheepishly most of the time.

      Hehe. I can imagine why. Shammi Kapoor, in an interview, had recalled that when he was acting in Rail ka Dibba opposite Madhubala, her beauty left him so goggle-eyed, he’d keep forgetting his dialogues and he had to gently nudge him on. He did say that she was very sweet about it! (he must have become more confident with his own growing success, because by the time Boyfriend came around, he’s definitely far more at ease with her than in Rail ka Dibba).

  12. In my view ‘shniri farhad’ song ‘khuda hafij tumhara ‘ song should also be part of this favorit list

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