Some time back, I received a request from a blog reader and long-ago professor of mine: would I do a post on songs sung at pianos? Hindi cinema, back in the good old days, invariably had a song at a piano per film, often more. I had to inform my ex-prof: I had already compiled, some time back, a post on piano songs: specifically, women pianists. But this gave me an idea: how about a post on male pianists? After all, there has been no shortage of songs picturised on men sitting at pianos.
I have never—in all the years this blog has been in existence—compiled a list of my favourite Madan Mohan songs. An oversight, and one for which I have no explanation to offer: just reparation.
Born Madan Mohan Kohli in Erbil (Iraqi Kurdistan) on June 25, 1924, the young Madan Mohan returned with his family to their home town of Chakwal (in Punjab) when he was 8 years old. His parents went on to Bombay, where his father, Rai Bahadur Chunilal, entered the cinema industry: as a partner at Bombay Talkies Studio, and then at Filmistan Studio. Madan Mohan too moved to Bombay, where he finished school and eventually joined the army—only to finally leave soldiering to become a music director. The first film for which he provided the score, at the age of 26, was Aankhen (1950).
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.
Several weeks back, a two-day festival called Dilli ka Apna Utsav was organised in Delhi. As part of the festivities was a heritage walk led by my sister, Swapna Liddle. This walk took us to buildings and landmarks associated with the poetry spawned in Delhi: famous venues for mushairas (like the Ghaziuddin Madarsa and the Haveli Razi-un-Nissa Begum), or places which were once residences, even if only briefly, of famous poets (Ahaat Kaale Sahib, Zeenat Mahal, Ghalib’s Haveli).
What connection does all of this have to Hindi cinema? Just that it got me thinking of the links between Hindi film songs and classic poets. I can’t think of too many classic poets (except Mirza Ghalib and Meera Bai) who have been made the central characters of Hindi films, but the works of famous poets crop up every now and then in Hindi film songs. Sometimes in their entirety, and very well-known, too (as in most of the songs of the Bharat Bhushan-starrer Mirza Ghalib).
This wasn’t the post I’d planned for this week on Dusted Off. I’d been thinking, instead, of reviewing a Hollywood film—one which I happened to be watching when I received the news that Nanda had passed away on the morning of March 25. I changed my mind about writing a review; instead, I had to do a tribute to Nanda. Not just because I share my birthday with her, but because I think of her as an actress who deserves to be more highly regarded than she usually is.
The other day, with a storm in full force, I could hear the crash and rumble of thunder, the pitter-patter of raindrops (and, as it grew more stormy, huge splashes of water against the windows)—and the wind, gusting and whooshing all around. It struck me then that nature, even when it’s not living nature—not birds and animals, but water and wind and clouds—makes its own music.
Wind, in my opinion, wins when it comes to ‘natural music’. From the soft swoosh of the breeze blowing through the leaves of a tree, to the howling, gooseflesh-inducing gusts that can be well mistaken for a banshee: the wind has a life all its own. Appropriate, then, that at least two types of musical instruments—wind chimes and Aeolian harps—are played by the wind.
And the wind, of course, has long been an important motif in Hindi film songs. There have been songs addressed to the wind, songs about the wind. Here are ten of my favourites, in no particular order. The only restrictions I’ve imposed on myself are:
(a) As always, the song should be from a film I’ve seen, from before the 1970s
And (b) the song should have a word synonymous with wind (hawa, saba, pawan, etc) in the first line of the song.
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!
It’s wedding season in Delhi (has been, in fact, for the past couple of months). Almost every night, there’s a large shamiana at our local municipal park. There are traffic jams because of huge baaraats, all the women laden with jewellery and tinsel. We see white mares (or, in some cases, a pair of mares pulling a flower-bedecked ‘chariot’) trotting along on roads. We hear a lot of music—or what passes for music.
In fact, every time I hear the sort of music that’s played at many Delhi weddings, I’m tempted to go up to whoever’s acting the DJ, and ask them to play some good shaadi songs.
Since I can’t actually do that, I decided to create my own list: ten Hindi film songs that are directly related to weddings. (Which is why Ab ke baras bhej bhaiyya ko baabul or Laali-laali doliya mein laali re dulhaniya don’t qualify; the words relate to a wedding, but the context is completely different).
Ten wedding songs, therefore, from pre-70s films that I’ve seen. Enjoy!
If the title of this post stumps you, let me explain.
Anybody who’s seen Hindi films (especially from the 1940s onward, when playback singing became widespread) knows that most actors and actresses onscreen weren’t singing for themselves. Occasionally, as in the case of artistes like Suraiya, KL Saigal, Noorjehan or Kishore Kumar, they did sing for themselves, but more often than not, the recording was done off-screen, and the actor lip-synched to the song onscreen. So we have all our favourite actors, warbling blithely (or not, as the case may be) in the voices of our greatest singers.
And just now and then, while the song may reach the heights of popularity, the person on whom it is filmed may be, to most people, a non-entity. Sidharth Bhatia, author of Cinema Modern: The Navketan Story (as well as a book on Amar Akbar Anthony, which I’m looking forward to reading) pointed this out to me the other day, with a couple of examples in support of his point. Jaan-pehchaan ho, and Tum apna ranj-o-gham. Sidharth made a request: would I compile a list of songs of this type? Famous songs, but lip-synched by not so famous faces?
So here it. And, Sidharth: thank you. This was challenging, and fun.
Some of you may know that I’ve recently returned from an exhilarating time at the Bangalore Literature Festival—one of the highlights (at least for a cinema fanatic like me!) of which was that I got to meet Nasreen Munni Kabir. (And was introduced to Farhan Akhtar, and met Sidharth Bhatia, and got to get photographed within the same frame as Gulzar… but that’s a different matter). Nasreen Munni Kabir and I actually shared a cab for the two-hour trip from the airport to the hotel, and spent most of it chatting about all things cinema. I told her about this blog, of course, and happened to mention that among the most popular posts seem to be song lists.
Which reminded me: it’s time for another list. And because this popped into my head while I was travelling, I decided to do another ‘sung in transit’ list. But because I’ve already done car songs (not to mention ghoda-gaadi songs and train songs), I’m going the water way this time: with boat songs. The criteria here (besides my usual ones, of the films being all pre-70s ones that I’ve seen) are:
(a) The singer(s) should be on the boat for at least three-fourths of the song’s duration
(b) All types of boats are allowed—shikaras, rafts, motorboats, ships, anything. Moving or not.