Late last year, an editor from ForbesLife India wrote to me, telling me they’d be doing special ‘100 years of Indian cinema’ editions this year. Would I be interested in contributing an article? That was a no-brainer (or so it seemed), but when I got over my initial excitement and began to think, I realised that:
(a) I know virtually nothing about Indian cinema in general. Hindi cinema, yes; other Indian cinema, almost negligible.
(b) It was too vast a canvas. What would I write?
Much thought later, I offered to write about something I know something about: Hindi film music. What follows is a version of the article that appeared in the April-June 2013 issue of ForbesLife India. Do buy yourself a copy to read the final article—and to read some more interesting writing on a century of Indian cinema.
When I created a list of my favourite car songs, blog reader Ragni requested a list: of songs that feature women playing a piano. I riffled mentally through the film songs of the 50s and 60s, and quickly responded: there would be just too many; how could I choose just ten? Another reader, Chris, came up with a suggestion: songs only from black-and-white films.
When I actually got down to compiling this list, however, I realized how impetuous I’d been. A closer look at most of the piano songs that sprang to mind, and I discovered that even if it’s a woman singing (as in Tu jahaan-jahaan chalega or Mujhe tum mil gaye humdum), it’s a man sitting at the piano. Songs where a woman is the one actually playing the piano are, when I came to think of it, relatively rare. I had to, perforce, expand the scope to colour films too.
This post came about because of my recent review of Rangeen Raatein. Another film-lover, an American, noticed that post and said that she thought it was time she began branching out into watching Hindi cinema too (she’d already seen a good bit of Satyajit Ray’s work). She thought she’d begin with Rangeen Raatein. I was quick to dissuade her, of course—even I, die-hard Shammi Kapoor fan that I am, probably couldn’t stomach a rewatch of that film.
But it made me think: if I had to introduce a newcomer to Hindi cinema (or, more specifically, pre-70s Hindi cinema, since that’s what I love most), which films would I recommend? They would have to be films that are available with English subtitles, of course.
So here it is: my list. I do not claim that these are the best Hindi films of that era; by no means. They just happen to be ten of my favourites. These are in no particular order.
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 tenfilmiqawwalis 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.
By some strange oversight, despite the fact that Waqt is one of my favourite masala films, I’ve never reviewed it on this blog. And I’m wishing I didn’t have to end up writing about it on such a sad occasion—because Achla Sachdev, the actress who played the self-sacrificing, long-suffering mother and wife in this film, passed away on April 30, 2012.
This was not what I’d planned as my next post. But I learnt this morning that Ravi – the man who composed some wonderful tunes from the 50s and 60s – is no more. He passed away yesterday, the 7th of March, just four days after his 86th birthday. Ravi (born Ravi Shankar Sharma) also had a teeny-weeny link with my family. Like my uncle, he too sang part of the chorus for Vande Mataram!
More importantly, though, Ravi made a name for himself as a composer of songs that ranged from dreamily romantic to peppy, madcap to devotional (Ravi himself learnt how to sing by listening to his father sing bhajans when Ravi was a child).
Among the most popular posts on this blog are my top ten lists of songs. They’re also among my favourites; old Hindi film music is one big, big reason for my watching these films in the first place. Which is why I’ve ended up doing so many lists of songs—for music directors (S D Burman, O P Nayyar), singers (Rafi, Mukesh, Hemant, Manna Dey, Talat, Lata, Mahendra Kapoor), even for actors (Madhubala, Asha Parekh, Johnny Walker). But lyricists tend to get left out. A song wouldn’t exist without someone to write the words, would it? So, a post honouring one of my favourite lyricists: Sahir Ludhianvi, on his birth anniversary.
Prabodh Chandra Dey—better known as Manna Dey—turns 90 years old on May 1, 2009. A long innings, and though with too little recognition (in fact, far less than a talent like his deserves), a superb one. In my opinion, Manna Dey’s was one of the most beautiful male voices to have ever sung playback for Hindi cinema: warm, sensuous, and with a glorious smoothness, throaty and full of feeling, that’s unparalleled. Listen to him sing a qawwali, a raag, a rock-and-roll number—all with equal ease, panache and conviction, and it’s easy to become a fan. Happy birthday, Mr Dey; may you and your songs live long!