The Best of Shailendra

Shailendra is regarded as one of the best lyricists Hindi films have produced. While many of his peers were regarded as poets who also wrote lyrics for Hindi film songs, Shailendra set himself apart with his commitment to the medium. His ability to connect with film audiences with simple but impactful words was unparalleled. Considering that he started off as a dedicated member of the leftist Progressive Writers’ Association who looked down on the commercial world of cinema, his transformation from an idealistic poet to the consummate lyricist was remarkable.

Shailendra died an untimely death almost half a century ago on December 14, 1966 but his songs are timeless. To commemorate his death anniversary, I pick 10 films that showcase his brilliance. Given the large number of films he did with Shankar – Jaikishan, I’ve normalized the list to accommodate his work with other music directors.

Barsaat (1949)

Shailendra first met Raj Kapoor at a kavi sammelan. Raj Kapoor asked him to write a song for “Aag” (1948) but not wanting to sell his poetry, Shailendra declined. Later when Shailendra’s wife developed a medical complication, he approached Raj Kapoor for financial assistance and got Rs. 500 from him. When Shailendra went to Raj Kapoor to return the loan, he refused the money and asked him to give him two songs instead. It was in these circumstances that Shailendra started working for Hindi films. The resounding success of Barsaat coupled with the fantastic chemistry of the team consisting of Raj Kapoor, Shankar – Jaikishan, Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri established a winning formula that ruled Bollywood for several years. My pick from the film – “Barsaat Mein Humse Mile Tum Sajan”.

Awara (1951)

There are a few stories recounting how easily his songs’ words came to Shailendra. My favorite story is the genesis of the title song of “Awara”. In a script narration session by K.A. Abbas, Shailendra was in attendance along with Raj Kapoor. K.A. Abbas ignored the relative newcomer, Shailendra, for the two-plus hours of narration. After the narration was over, Raj Kapoor asked Shailendra, “Kuch samajh mein aaya, kaviraj?”. Pat came Shailendra’s reply “Gardish mein tha par aasmaan ka taara tha. Awara tha.”. His response left Raj Kapoor and K.A. Abbas awe-struck and formed the essence of not just film’s title song but Raj Kapoor’s onscreen persona of the good-hearted tramp. Such was the song’s appeal in Russia that it found a mention in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “Cancer Ward”.

Shree 420 (1955)

Raj Kapoor may have modeled his on-screen characters on Charlie Chaplin’s tramp but Shailendra’s songs were those characters’ soul. Shailendra’s unpretentious words for “Mera Joota Hai Japani” told Raj’s philosophy of life in a manner that rang true with audiences and had them humming the song long after they left the theatres. Over the years, the song took on a deeper meaning – of harmony despite differences and of staying true to our roots. With the growth of the Indian diaspora and due to its popularity in other countries, the song’s stature has grown over the years. Even the cesspool that is YouTube’s comments section, takes a refreshingly positive turn with people from all over world waxing eloquent about the song.

Madhumati (1958)

Other than Shankar – Jaikishan, the other music director with whom Shailendra had a successful relationship was Salil Chowdhury. Their partnership started with Salil Chowdhury’s debut fillm “Do Bigha Zamin” (1953). Salilda was widely respected but commercial success eluded him through films like “Naukri” (1954), “Jagte Raho” (1956) and “Musafir” (1957) but their partnership survived. Salilda persisted with Shailendra for “Madhumati” (1958) and this time he got his due. This magnum opus of an album is filled with delightful songs and considered as one of the best Hindi film albums ever. To get a sense of the level at which Shailendra was operating in 1958, consider the fact that despite his excellent work for “Madhumati” and even though “Madhumati” won Salilda and Lata Mangeshkar Filmfare awards that year, Shailendra received two nominations for a different film that year – “Yahudi”. He won the Filmfare Award for Best Lyricist for “Yeh Mera Deewanapan Hai”. My pick from “Madhumati” is the iconic “Suhana Safar Aur Yeh Mausam Hasin”. This is another Shailendra song that transcended the literal and became a metaphor for the journey of life.

Anari (1959)

“Anari” may not have been an RK Film production but with Raj Kapoor in another role of a likeable, ordinary man, it had all the sensibilities of one. With the film winning Filmfare awards for Shankar – Jaikishan, Mukesh and Shailendra, Raj Kapoor’s music team demonstrated once again why they were such a potent force in the industry. My Shailendra pick from the film, however, isn’t the award-winning “Sab Kucch Seekha Humne” – the film’s “character song”, but the “philosophy of life song” – “Kisi Ke Muskurahaton Pe Ho Nisar”. Like many Shankar – Jaikishan songs, this superb melody woven around accordions, strings, mandolin and whistles was conceived in the background score on an earlier RK Film, “Shree 420”.

Chhote Nawab (1961)

My pick of “Chhote Nawab” in this list is perhaps an anomaly and a reflection of my bias for R.D. Burman’s music. In my defence, this Pancham album is worth surfacing for its severely underrated gems and some uncharacteristic Pancham tunes. Shailendra excelled in the use of dialects that went very well in classical as well as folk-based songs. My pick from “Chhote Nawab” is one such song – “Ghar Aaja Ghir Aaye”. This was Pancham’s first song for Hindi films – he had composed it for an earlier film, “Raaz”, which got shelved. Pancham’s Raag Malgunji based melody is beautifully complemented by Shailendra’s musical lyrics. Ordinary phrases like “dhak dhak”, “tap tip” and “kas mas” have never sounded this pretty. Lata, of course, sings the song like only Lata can. It is said that it was this song that started the process of reconciliation between S.D. Burman and Lata Mangeshkar, who had stopped working with each other for some time.

Bandini (1963)

S.D. Burman and Shailendra partnered a number of times starting with “Buzdil” (1951) but somehow each album, with the possible exception of “Kala Bazar” (1960), was lesser than the sum of their greatness.  That changed in 1963 with two stellar albums – “Bandini” and “Meri Surat Teri Aankhen”. Unfortunately, while “Bandini” saw Lata Mangeshkar walking back into S.D. Burman’s recording studio after six years, it also resulted in a brief tiff between Dada Burman and Shailendra. There was a silver lining though. The selfless human being that he was, Shailendra, on his way out of the film after writing six songs for it, helped Gulzar get a chance to write a song for “Bandini” and thus began the career of another great lyricist. My pick from “Bandini” is the poignant climactic song sung by S.D. Burman, “Mere Saajan Hain Us Paar”.

Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein (1964)

Among the wide variety of themes Shailendra wrote lyrics to, the theme that stands out for me are his songs about life and the spirit of those songs – determined, positive, hopeful. This spirit is at its brightest in Kishore Kumar’s title song of “Door Gangan Ki Chhaon Mein”. Kishore’s lullaby-like music, Hemant Kumar’s soothing voice and Shailendra’s warm lyrics are beacons of hope for lost souls.

Guide (1965)

After a break of two years, S.D. Burman and Shailendra came together again for “Guide”. It was a quirk of fate that made this happen. The Anand brothers had engaged Hasrat Jaipuri for the film but turned to Shailendra when they were disappointed by the lyrics of the opening lines he offered for “Din Dhal Jaye”. Miffed at being the second choice, Shailendra quoted a fee that was very high for the time. The Anand brothers acquiesced and had the lyrics for the mukhda of “Gaata Rahe Mera Dil” by the end of the meeting. For the first time, S.D. Burman and Shailendra created a film album that truly reflected their combined greatness. Many consider “Guide” as the most iconic Hindi film soundtrack. My pick from the film is the song that Hasrat started (the first line is his) and Shailendra completed. Rafi’s voice is a lovely as it has ever sounded in a film song.

Teesri Kasam (1966)

Shailendra turned producer with “Teesri Kasam”. Fascinated by Phanishwar Nath Renu’s short story “Maare Gaye Gulfam”, Shailendra decided to make a film based on it and brought on board as director the man who had introduced him to the story, Basu Bhattacharya. The film won him the National Film Award for Best Feature Film and went on to be considered a classic. Sadly, Shailendra did not live to enjoy his accomplishments. The challenges he faced during the film’s making and it’s poor reception broke his spirit and he passed away soon after the film’s release. For his own production, Shailendra took help from his long-time associate Hasrat Jaipuri, who wrote three of the ten songs in the film. In his songs for the film, Shailendra brought in the texture of Hindi dialects with songs like “Chalat Musafir” and “Sajanwa Bairi”. My pick is the more accessible “Sajan Re Jhooth Mat Bolo” – another superb, philosophical take on life by Shailendra.

It’s impossible to distill greatness in ten songs so I’ll end this post with a much deeper list of Shailendra’s best songs.

Bonus: “Chali Kaun Se Desh” (“Boot Polish”, 1953) has one of Shailendra’s few onscreen appearances. He plays the character singing this song.

[This post originally appeared here.]

The Charming Voice Of Sudha Malhotra

Sudha Malhotra was one of the female singers who showed a lot of promise in the 1950s and 1960s but couldn’t quite take their careers to the next level. Like some of her peers, she was unable to get the leading music directors of the time to look beyond the Mangeshkar sisters. Between 1949 and 1982, she recorded only about 250 songs. Among the highlights of her career were songs written for her by Sahir Ludhianvi. The number of songs she sang for him and the words Sahir used in those songs led to speculations of romantic links between the two. Sudha Malhotra got married in 1960 and it is probable that the speculations are just that. She recorded very few Hindi film songs after 1960 but had a moderately successful career recording bhajan and ghazal albums and performing concerts.

To mark her birthday on November 30, I pick five songs by this under-rated singer with a lovely voice.

Darshan Do Ghanshyam (Narsi Bhagat 1957)

“Darshan Do Ghanshyam” is a soulful bhajan based on Raag Kedar. With three singers at their prime – Hemant Kumar, Sudha Malhotra and Manna Dey – the song features some excellent singing. Composed by Ravi and written by Gopal Singh Nepali, this song featured in Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) and ctsed a bit of a controversy. Music director Ravi sued the film-makers for using the song without permission. Additionally, Anil Kapoor’s quiz master character adjudged Surdas as the right answer to the question on the song’s writer. Gopal Singh Nepali was not even an option.

Tum Mujhe Bhool Bhi Jao (Didi, 1959)

“Tum Mujhe Bhool Bhi Jao” is easily Sudha Malhotra’s most popular song. What made the song extra special is that she actually composed it. Called in to compose a song when the film’s music director N. Dutta was indisposed, Sudha Malhotra put together one of the most mellifluous ghazals recorded for Hindi films. This was the only song she ever composed for Hindi films. Sahir’s moving lyrics for the song seemed to reflect is own angst. While Sudha Malhotra is the star of the song for me, Mukesh also chips in effectively and makes this duet a delight to listen to.

Aaj Mujhe Kuchh Kehna Hai (Girl Friend, 1960)

The only Sudha Malhotra duet with Kishore Kumar is among the least heard of Bollywood’s most romantic songs. “Girl Friend” is the only film in which Sahir Ludhianvi wrote for Hemant Kumar. Both these towering artists kept things simple for this song – Sahir using words we speak everyday and Hemant Kumar choosing melody over arrangement. This short but extremely sweet song leaves us wanting for more.

Salaam-E-Hasrat Qubool Kar Lo (Babar, 1960)

“Salaam-E-Hasrat Qubool Karl Lo” was considered by many as Sahir’s open declaration of love for Sudha Malhotra. If this really was the case, it was devilishly clever – and romantic – of Sahir to get the object of his affection to voice his thoughts! Writer Akshay Manwani’s interview with Sudha Malhotra for his book “Sahir Ludhianvi – The People’s Poet” (highly recommended read) suggests that the love may have been one-sided. Here’s an excerpt of what Sudha Malhotra said in the interview:

He must have liked my voice… I don’t know what it was, but he was definitely very enamoured. He kept giving me good songs to sing, which was my achievement…..

….All I know was that attention was being showered on me and I was lapping it up. As a young girl, if somebody, such an important person, is giving you so much attention, you enjoy it.

Whatever the back-story may have been, the song is a musical gem. It’s easy to see why Sahir fell in love with Sudha Malhotra’s voice.

Na Main Dhan Chahoon (Kala Bazar, 1960)

In “Na Main Dhan Chahoon”, S.D. Burman brought together Geeta Dutt and Sudha Malhotra. The chemistry between the two singers is striking and at times it’s difficult to tell the difference between their voices. (Sudha Malhotra sang for Nanda’s character and Geeta Dutt for Leela Chitnis’.) Sudha Malhotra’s penchant for light classical songs and bhajans in particular come through in this song and became the basis of her independent career after she got married.


This half an hour interview provides interesting insights into the career of the charming singer:

[This post originally appeared here.]

The Best Of Geeta Dutt In 10 Songs

Geeta Dutt is among the few Bollywood artists we love to root for. She stood her own against formidable competition, lived through a turbulent marriage, drowned her sorrows in alcohol and passed away when she was only 42, leaving behind songs that continue to enthrall people to this day. To commemorate her birth anniversary on November 23, I pick 10 songs sung by her. It is not a coincidence that 6 of these songs are by two composers – S.D. Burman and O.P. Nayyar. These two composers showered Geeta Dutt with some of their best tunes and she reciprocated by singing her heart out for them.

Mera Sundar Sapna Beet Gaya (Do Bhai, 1947)

Although Geeta Roy received no training, she was a natural singer. A chance debut in 1946 – when she was only 16 years old – got her noticed by S.D. Burman who was so smitten by her voice that he had her sing six of the nine songs in “Do Bhai”. Her matured singing in “Mera Sundar Sapna Beet Gaya” belied her tender age and her ability to emote with her voice set her apart from her peers.

Tadbeer Se Bigdi Hui (Baazi, 1951)

With few big hits and starved of attention due to the enormous success of Lata Mangeshkar, post “Mahal” (1949), the next few years were unremarkable for Geeta Roy. That changed with “Baazi”. S.D. Burman’s faith in Geeta Roy was visible again. She sang six of the eight songs in the film – all solos. The song from the film that transformed her career was “Tadbeer Se Bigdi Hui”. Much to Sahir’s horror, S.D. Burman took a contemplative ghazal and transformed it into a foot-tapping cabaret. Geeta Roy sang with oomph, her voice giving expression to Geeta Bali’s come-hither looks. The song was a roaring success and Geeta Roy had arrived. “Baazi” was also a turning point in her personal life. It was during the making of this film that she fell in love with the film’s director, Guru Dutt. They got married in 1953 and Geeta Roy became Geeta Dutt.

Ja Ja Ja Ja Bewafa (Aar Paar, 1954)

While it is true that Geeta Dutt sang some of her best songs for O.P. Nayyar, many don’t realize that Geeta Dutt’s role in O.P. Nayyar’s success was even bigger. After debuting in 1952, O.P. Nayyar couldn’t really make a mark with his music and was about to leave the Hindi film industry. It was Geeta Dutt, who encouraged him and got Guru Dutt to engage him for “Aar Paar”. “Aar Paar” was a spectacular success and it kick-started O.P. Nayyar’s journey to music superstardom. Most of Geeta Dutt’s songs in the film rode on her vocal trademarks but “Ja Ja Ja Ja Bewafa” revealed her underutilized range and power of expression.

Thandi Hawa Kaali Ghata (Mr. & Mrs. 55, 1955)

Geeta Dutt and O.P. Nayyar ruled the music charts for the next few years. With an increasingly self-assured Guru Dutt at the helm, the two artists made some of the period’s most popular music. In an album replete with excellent songs, “Thandi Hawa Kaali Ghata” was the icing on the cake. It is a testament to Guru Dutt’s and O.P. Nayyar’s modern sensibilities that this half a century old song shows no signs of aging either visually or aurally. Aided by legendary cinematographer V.K. Murthy, Guru Dutt’s song shooting capabilities came to the fore in this film. A fetching Madhubala in pigtails, pretty women prancing with umbrellas and choreographed divers in a swimming pool make “Thandi Hawa Kaali Ghata” a visual delight.

Jaata Kahan Hai Deewane (C.I.D., 1956)

Geeta Dutt’s career was closely aligned with her personal life. With “C.I.D”, the two were inextricably tied. Guru Dutt introduced Telugu film actress Waheeda Rehman in the character of a vamp in the film and, in the process, fell hopelessly in love with her. Geeta Dutt sang the songs of “C.I.D.” with gay abandon, with no inkling of the storm that was about to sweep her marriage. The enormous appeal of “Jaata Kahan Hai Deewane” comes into sharp focus when one considers the fact that the song was censored out of the film. Various accounts of the reason behind the censor board’s decision and numerous covers over the years – including one recently, in Anurag Kashyap’s “Bombay Velvet” (2015) – have kept the song alive in public imagination.

Jaane Kya Tune Kahi (Pyaasa, 1957)

“Pyaasa” was a classic that brought out the best in every artist involved in the film. Working with artists like S.D. Burman and Sahir Ludhianvi at their prime, Geeta Dutt recorded some memorable songs for “Pyaasa”. The irony of Geeta Dutt singing “Jaane Kya Tune Kahi” while Waheeda Rehman’s character seduces Guru Dutt’s character on screen is bittersweet.

Mujh Ko Tum Jo Mile (Detective, 1958)

Geeta Dutt’s songs for S.D. Burman and O.P. Nayyar are of such high quality that they overwhelm her work with other music directors. There are many lovely gems in her body of work that do not get attention because of her exemplary work with these two composers. “Mujh Ko Tum Jo Mile”, composed by her brother Mukul Roy, is one such song. Geeta Dutt’s chemistry with another great singer, Hemant Kumar, makes this romantic duet with a hint of waltz a balm for weary souls.

Nanhi Kali Sone Chali (Sujata, 1959)

In 1957, S.D. Burman and Lata Mangeshkar stopped working for a few years due to a misunderstanding. During this period, songs he would have otherwise given to her, went either to Geeta Dutt or to Asha Bhosle. To their credit, both of them grew as singers and made those songs their own. For example, in “Nanhi Koli Sone Chali”, Geeta Dutt imparted playfulness to a simple lori (lullaby) in a style no other singer could have matched.

Na Jao Saiyan Chhuda Ke Baiyan (Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, 1962)

The failure of “Kaagaz Ke Phool” (1959) had already taken a huge toll on the mercurial Guru Dutt and sent him in throes of depression. This had put additional strain on a marriage already in turmoil. Amidst reports of Guru Dutt placing restrictions on films she could sing for, Geeta Dutt’s discography shrunk considerably year over year and she found solace in alcohol. From about a hundred songs a year in the late 1950s, she was down to less than 20 songs in 1962. In her husband’s last film with Waheeda Rehman, Geeta Dutt sang only for Meena Kumari’s character. Her angst in “Na Jao Saiyan Chhuda Ke Baiyan”, singing for Meena Kumari’s inebriated character, blurred the line between fiction and reality.

Meri Jaan Mujhe Jaan Na Kaho (Anubhav, 1971)

After “Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam”, Waheeda Rehman decided to move on from Guru Dutt’s films. Already a broken man, his continued depression eventually ended in his death in 1964, allegedly by suicide. Geeta Dutt never really recovered from her husband’s death and died of liver cirrhosis in 1972. In her last film, “Anubhav”, she glowed brightly once again and sang three lovely melodies composed by her brother, Kanu Roy, two of which were written by Gulzar, including the ethereal “Meri Jaan Mujhe Jaan Na Kaho”. She may have left us too soon but Geeta Dutt left us with plenty to remember her by.

[This post originally appeared here.]

Remembering Chitragupta

Chitragupta Shrivastava may have been lesser known than some of his contemporaries but produced some memorable tunes over his long career in Hindi films. It might surprise some that Chitragupt’s career lasted more than forty years – from 1946 to 1988 – during which he composed for 144 films. One of things that set him apart in the film fraternity was how well read he was – he had a double Master of Arts in Economics and Journalism. A native of Bihar, when the first ever Bhojpuri film was about to be made, he was called upon to compose music for it. His music for the film – “Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo” (1962) – was a huge success and an important milestone in his career. Chitragupt passed away in 1991. His sons, Anand – Milind, went on to become successful music directors and furthered his legacy.

To commemorate his birth anniversary on November 16, I pick ten of Chitragupt’s most memorable songs.

Chal Ud Ja Re Panchhi (Bhabhi, 1957)

After being lost Bollywood wilderness for many years, Chitragupt’s first moderate success was the song “Ada Se Jhoomte Hue” for the film “Sindbad The Sailor” (1952). He truly arrived – more than a decade after his debut – with his music for “Bhabhi” (1957). My pick from the film, its best known song “Chal Ud Ja Re Panchhi”, had superb lyrics by Rajendra Krishan and was sung with a lot of soul by Mohammed Rafi. HMV also released a nicely done version recording sung by Talat Mahmood.

Ek Raat Mein Do Do Chand Khile (Barkha, 1959)

The success of “Bhabhi” helped Chitragupt bag a number of AVM films over the next few years. Although lesser known than their other films, “Barkha” had some excellent music. My pick from the film is one of the few Mukesh-Lata duets Chitragupt composed. “Dekho Mausam Kya Bahar Hai” is perhaps his most popular Mukesh-Lata duet, but given that it is based on Jim Reeves’ “Bimbo”, “Ek Raat Mein…” is more worthy of a spot in this list.

Laagi Chhoote Na Ab To Sanam (Kali Topi Lal Rumal, 1959)

Relegated to 2nd tier films, Chitragupt’s music was often the best thing about the films they featured in. It is a testament to Chitragupt’s song making ability that some of his most remembered songs are from obscure, forgotten films. “Kali Topi Lal Rumal” had some delectable tunes but is otherwise unremarkable. My pick from the film is the romantic Lata-Rafi duet, “Laagi Chhoote Na Ab To Sanam”. One of my favourite things about the song is the harmonica interlude. Chitragupt developed the interlude into a full-fledged song two years later – “Teri Duniya Se Door Chale Hoke Majboor” (“Zabak”, 1961).

Teri Duniya Se Door Chale Hoke Majboor (Zabak, 1961) 

“Teri Duniya Se Door” was another Chitragupt song that outshone the film that featured it. “Zabak” was a flop but the famous Lata-Rafi duet continues to be a favorite to this date.

Chand Jane Kahan Kho Gaya (Main Chup Rahungi, 1962)

“Main Chup Rahungi” was the Hindi remake of the award-winning AVM film in Tamil “Kalathur Kannamma”, in which Kamal Haasan debuted as a child artist. This was one of the films in which Chitragupt’s music was not weighed down by other aspects of the film. “Main Chup Rahungi” was one of the three films for which Meena Kumari received Filmfare Award nominations for Best Actress that year. My pick from the film is – again – a Lata-Rafi duet, “Chand Jane Kahan Kho Gaya”.

Chhedo Na Meri Zulfen (Ganga Ki Lahren, 1964)

Although Chitragupt did not use Kishore Kumar’s voice very often, he did compose some memorable songs for him. Probably the most loved among them is Kishore’s duet with Lata Mangeshkar, “Chhedo Na Meri Zulfen”. Some hammy acting aside, Kishore Kumar and Kumkum made an endearing couple on screen. It is no wonder that they were paired together in more than a dozen films.

Jaag Dil E Diwana (Oonche Log, 1965)

“Oonche Log” was based on K. Balachander’s play “Major Chandrakant”. Bolstered by some good writing and fine performances, ”Oonche Log” was critically acclaimed and got Feroz Khan noticed in one of his early roles. For me, the standout song from the film was “Jaag Dil E Diwana”. In a time when music was getting louder and the arrangement more elaborate, there were a few songs in which Chitragupt turned the volume down to devastating effect. In “Jaag Dil E Diwana”, he restrains Rafi’s singing to almost a whisper and keeps the arrangement simple and tasteful. Majrooh Sultanpuri’s lyrics and the counterpoints of a flute, saxophone and accordion make this an achingly beautiful song. This is one song that proves that sometimes less is more.

Yeh Parbaton Ke Daayre (Vaasna, 1968)

Chitragupt did two films with Sahir Ludhianvi – “Vaasna” and “Sansaar” (1971). “Vaasna”, with songs like “Itni Nazuk Na Bano” and “Yeh Parbaton Ke Dayre”, was easily the better album. Among Chitragupt’s specialties was melodies set to a waltz. Although not prominently so, “Yeh Parbaton Ke Dayre” is one such song.

Kabhi Doop Kabhi Chhaon (Kabhi Doop Kabhi Chhaon, 1971)

This isn’t perhaps the best song in this list musically but I find it remarkable enough to include because it’s one of the few songs that Kavi Pradeep not only wrote, but also sang. Chitragupt’s tune is competent enough, but Pradeep’s earthy, haunting voice and lyrics that resonate with the common man, elevate the song to a classic.

Aake Mil Ja (Intezar, 1973) 

Chitragupt’s career had lost steam by the early 1970s following a heart attack. He continued to compose for films till a few years before he died but he seemed to have lost his old touch. At a time like this, a song like “Aake Mil Ja”, reminded how good his melodies could be.

It’s quite possible that you may have heard the songs in this list but not associated them with Chitragupt. Due to his inability to break into A grade films with stars and the fact that his music rose above the films they featured in, Chitragupt’s songs became more recognizable than the music director himself. A look into some of Chitragupt’s most popular songs brings this discrepancy into focus.


A short clip of Chitragupt’s title song, sung by Lata Mangeshkar, for the first Bhojpuri film ever released, “Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo”:

[This post originally appeared here.]

The Best of S.D. Burman – Part 2

[This post originally appeared here.]

In the post last week, I starting listing my top 20 picks of S.D. Burman film albums. 10 S.D. Burman films appeared in last week’s post. This is the second part of the tribute to S.D. Burman.

Bandini (1963)

“Bandini” was a significant film in many ways. The film was Bimal Roy’s last offering as director and significant for its strong, woman lead played by Nutan. The film was critically acclaimed and won several awards including those for best film, best director and best actress. The film was the debut of a lyricist who went be counted as one of the greatest ever – Gulzar. Finally, the film saw S.D. Burman and Lata Mangeshkar resolving their differences and coming together after a period of about six years. The film had several great songs by Shailendra, including “Mere Saajan Hain Us Paar” sung by S.D. Burman himself. Although a Shailendra song might be more representative of “Bandini”, my pick from the film is Gulzar’s debut song and Lata Mangeshkar’s first with S.D. Burman after six years – “Mora Gora Ang Laile”.

Tere Ghar Ke Samne (1963)

“Tere Ghar Ke Samne” was one of the the only two films S.D. Burman did with lyricist Hasrat Jaipuri. “Tere Ghar Ke Samne” is an example of how symbiotic the relationship of S.D. Burman and Navketan was. S.D. Burman’s music was as important to Navketan Films as the studio’s film-making sensibilities were to Burman’s music. Nurtured by one of Indian films’ best song directors – Vijay Anand – and a star who oozed charm – Dev Anand, S.D. Burman’s songs blossomed on screen. In my pick from the film, “Dil Ka Bhanwar Kare Pukar”, Vijay Anand turns the tight spaces inside the Qutab Minar into a place of surreal beauty. Hasrat’s fluid lyrics and Rafi’s effortless singing make this song an easy listen. As a tribute to S.D. Burman, Amit Trivedi used the theka used in the mukhda of this song in the lovely “Sawar Loon” (“Lootera”, 2013).

Guide (1965)

“Guide” was Navketan’s most ambitious project and the grandeur of S.D. Burman’s music fulfilled the Anands’ vision for it. S.D. Burman outdid himself in “Guide”, if such a feat was possible. His score for “Guide” was rich, vivid and varied. Filled with as many as 10 songs, each a classic in its own right, “Guide” represents the best Hindi film music has to offer. The success of “Guide” must have been extra sweet for Dada Burman given that he had just recovered from a prolonged health issue. After his lackluster debut for “Chhote Nawab” (1961), R.D. Burman had stuck to assisting his father and, perhaps for the first time, we can see him beginning to emerge from his father’s rather imposing shadow in the arrangement of Guide’s music. Vijay Anand wove the songs into the film so artistically that the songs are as much a joy to see as they are to listen to. It’s worthwhile reading Vijay Anand’s interview with Nasreen Munni Kabir in which he shares fascinating insights on how he approached songs and choreography in his films. My pick from “Guide” – “Piya Tose Naina Laage Re”.

Teen Devian (1965)

While the film did have two superb Rafi songs, “Teen Devian” saw the return of Kishore Kumar as Dev Anand’s voice. The film had a light, mellow score and saw S.D. Burman making significant use of Western instruments and arrangements, perhaps a result of Pancham’s increasing influence in the recording studio. This may have been the film that set the stage for him to make a solo comeback with “Teesri Manzil” (1966) – a film that changed the course of his career. It is noteworthy that Pancham’s rise coincided with a lean period in S.D. Burman’s career – he did only two films in 1965 and none in 1966. My pick from “Teen Devian” is “Khwab Ho Tum Ya Koi Haqeeqat” with its lovely arrangement that included Pancham’s harmonica in one of the interludes and a fantastic chorus.

Jewel Thief (1967)

After a brief hiatus, S.D. Burman came back with a bang with “Jewel Thief”. Navketan wanted to repeat the team of “Guide” for the film but Shailendra, heart-broken after the failure of his film “Teesri Kasam” (1966), excused himself after penning the heart-rending “Rula Ke Gaya Sapna Mera” and Majrooh Sultanpuri wrote the remaining songs. My pick from the film is the effervescent “Yeh Dil Na Hota Bechara” for which S.D. Burman was inspired by Colonel Bogey March theme from David Lean’s war classic “The Bridge On The River Kwai” (1957).

Aradhana (1969)

As S.D. Burman’s health deteriorated, R.D. Burman’s involvement in recording his songs increased. He also became far less prolific than he had been in the past. The film music landscape had changed with the influx of a new generation of composers like Laxmikant – Pyarelalal and R.D. Burman. The last few years of Dada Burman’s career were all about overcoming these challenges to retain his position as a premiere music director. With songs like “Roop Tera Mastana” and “Mere Sapnon Ki Rani”, S.D. Burman showed that he was capable of giving what the new generation of filmgoers wanted. My pick from “Aradhana” is the song that gave the film its title – “Saphal Hogi Teri Aradhana”. Despite being one of Hindi films’ best composers ever, the first National Film Award S.D. Burman won was for this song for playback singing. He was given another National Film Award for music direction for “Zindagi Zindagi” (1972) but that was probably the NFA committee making amends for not giving him his due in the past.

Talash (1969)

This was possibly my most iffy pick in this list. The fact that I couldn’t include albums like “Mili” (1975), “Baazi” (1951), “Gambler” (1971) in the top 20 gives an indication of how deep S.D. Burman’s discography was. “Talash” is an underrated album that, in my opinion, scores very high on variety. My two favorites from the film are quintessential S.D. Burman – the delightful “Palkon Ke Peechhe Se” with its khopdi tarang motif and Manna Dey’s semi-cassical beauty “Tere Naina Talash Karen”. It was S.D. Burman who gave Manna Dey one of the finest raag-based songs in Hindi films – “Poochho Na Kaise Maine Rain Bitayi” (“Meri Surat Teri Ankhen”, 1963). “Tere Naina Talash Karen” – a Raag Chayanat beauty – is another winner from them.

Prem Pujari (1970)

“Prem Pujari” was S.D. Burman’s first outing with the poet-lyricist Neeraj. What set Neeraj apart from his contemporaries was the use of chaste Hindi in his songs. His lyrics added a dimension to S.D. Burman’s songs that had not been revealed before. My personal favourite from “Prem Pujari”, “Phoolon Ke Rang Se”, had lines like”itna madir itna madhur” and ”sapnon ki geetanjali tu” that were as musical as S.D. Burman’s tune. The original Bengali song, Borne Gandhe, is also worth a listen.

Sharmilee (1971)

The score of “Sharmilee” underscored a remarkable facet of S.D. Burman’s music – his ability to evolve while retaining the core strength of his music – melody. It is remarkable that at age 65, S.D. Burman composed a song as sexually explicit as “Reshmi Ujala Hai”. My pick from “Sharmilee”, the Rabindra sangeet inspired “Megha Chhaye Aadhi Raat”, is an example of how wonderfully S.D. Burman married the old and the new around a melodic core. The song’s introduction and interludes are Western influenced and use an electric guitar, an accordion and a bongo. The song’s transition into the antaras is breath-taking as it becomes a semi-classical ditty arranged using a sitar, flute, violin/sarangi and tabla. These transitions and how they fit in the film give us a sense of how S.D. Burman had mastered the medium – his music was not just an embellishment, it was an integral part of the film. “Sharmilee” saw Anil Mohile and Arun Paudwal (Anuradha Paudwal’s husband) coming in to help S.D. Burman along with his regular assistants Basu-Manohari-Maruti. With R.D. Burman’s career picking up, the Basu-Manohari-Maruti trio found themselves stretched between father and son. Eventually, S.D. Burman decided to let go of Basu-Manohari-Maruti, and started working with Anil – Arun.

Abhimaan (1973)

With a stellar score for “Abhimaan”, S.D. Burman signalled that he had no plans of hanging up his boots anytime soon. Each song from the film has stood the test of time and continues to be enjoyed to this date. S.D. Burman continued delivering when his contemporaries had either retired or were past their prime. His closest competitors for the 1973 Filmfare Award were R.D. Burman – his son – and Laxmikant – Pyarelal – thirty years his junior. He ended up winning the award that year for “Abhimaan”. My pick from the film is the “Tere Mere Milan Ki Yeh Raina” – one of the greatest duets ever in Hindi films. The fact that the song is the film’s climax is evidence of how much film-makers leaned on S.D. Burman’s songs. Perhaps Hrishikesh Mukherjee was emulating another great – his mentor Bimal Roy – who had used S.D. Burman’s “Tere Saajan Hain Us Paar” in a similarly stunning climax for “Bandini” (1963).

S.D. Burman passed away in 1976 during the making of “Mili”. Pancham ended up recording his compositions for “Mili” and continued the Burman legacy with his own music.

To explore S.D. Burman’s music further, look up his discography and a larger list of his most popular songs.

The Best of S.D. Burman – Part 1

[This post originally appeared here.]

S.D. Burman was one of the few Hindi film composers who straddled multiple musical worlds across time and genre effortlessly. His open and inclusive approach to music, drawing from a range of influences, won him admirers across the spectrum, ranging from music aficionados to the masses. Dada Burman’s biggest strength was his beautiful melodies and how consistently he produced them. For a song-picking feature like this, artists like S.D. Burman pose a problem of plenty. So, to mark his death anniversary on October 31, I will list not his top 10, but top 20 film albums over two posts. This is the first part.

House No. 44 (1955)

After his first big break with Baazi (1955), S.D. Burman and Sahir Ludhianvi reigned supreme and churned out one hit after another. Many of them happened to be for the Anand brothers’ Navketan Films. “House No. 44” was one of them. My pick from the film is Hemant Kumar’s hauntingly beautiful “Tere Duniya Mein Jeene Se”.

Pyaasa (1957)

“Pyaasa” had S.D. Burman and Sahir Ludhianvi at the top of their game. Depending on the song or the listener’s point of view – one artist may have shone brighter than the other – but there was no denying that both played an important role in the success of “Pyaasa”. If the highlight of “Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaye” was its lyrics, “Jaane Woh Kaise Log The Jinke Pyar Ko Pyar Mila” was all melody. Relying heavily on Hemant Kumar’s silky baritone, S.D. Burman used just a piano and a flute as embellishments to produce this Rabindra sangeet influenced heartbreak of a song. S.D. Burman and Sahir Ludhianv’s music vs. lyrics debate following “Pyaasa” was unfortunate and broke up one of the most talented partnerships in Hindi films.

Nau Do Gyarah (1957)

Navketan Films was committed to S.D. Burman and when he vowed not to work with Sahir again, for them it was simply a matter of pairing him with a different lyricist. The end of the S.D. Burman – Sahir run was the beginning of the S.D. Burman – Majrooh Sultanpuri run. “Nau Do Gyarah” was the first of their many hits that followed. I have many favorites in the film but I do have a soft corner for the breezy “Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke” with its whistles and a variety of wind instruments. I like to refer to it as the best song from “Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin” (1991) – the film had a wonderful sequence using this song.

Paying Guest (1957)

It was S.D. Burman who helped Kishore Kumar find his voice in Hindi films. If he had not moulded Kishore Kumar as Dev Anand’s voice, the singer may have remained ignored by major composers and relegated to singing in films he had an acting role in. After Kishore’s fantastic work for “Funtoosh” (1956) – an album I was unable to accommodate in the list – S.D. Burman repeated him in “Paying Guest” with as many as four songs. My pick from the film is “O Nigahen Mastana”. One of my favourite bits in the song is when Kishore lowers his voice singing “Basti ke diyon ko bujh jane de…” and the musical arrangement reduced before the song’s regular arrangement resumes. This is one of the many elements of S.D. Burman’s legacy that can be heard in R.D. Burman’s songs – “Saagar Jaisi Aankhon Wali” for example – years later. The other thing I like about this song is how lovely Asha Bhosle sounds although she has not a single word in it.

Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958)

In later years, Kishore Kumar would compose music for films he produced but with his first venture, “Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi”, he turned to the composer who helped him find his footing as a singer. At age 52, S.D. Burman delivered music befitting the madcap comedy that was “Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi”. My pick is the Kishore, Asha duet “Haal Kaisa Hai Janab Ka”. Majrooh’s flirtatious, conversational lyrics, Kishore Kumar’s yodeling and Kishore and Asha’s chemistry behind the microphone matching the onscreen chemistry of the real life couple make this song an evergreen classic.

Kala Pani (1958)

Although Dev Anand considered Kishore Kumar as his singing voice, Dada Burman liked to mix things up and chose Rafi for “Kala Pani”. Rafi’s choice as Dev Anand’s voice started a trend that would last a few years. My most favorite song from the film is “Hum Bekhudi Mein Tumko Pukare Chale Gaye”, a tune S.D. Burman is said to have divined when he heard his assistant, Jaidev, humming a muezzin’s call. Before using the tune in “Kala Pani”, S.D. Burman recorded the song in Bengali in his voice. In fact, S.D. Burman did this with quite a few of Hindi film songs. Although I haven’t seen it documented anywhere, I believe this was a manifestation of a trait S.D. Burman was known for – his astute sense for the business of music. I believe this was S.D. Burman beta testing his tunes in a smaller market – Bengali private albums – before using them in his key market – Hindi films. This was another practice R.D. Burman inherited from his father. Many of his Hindi film hits were originally tested and proven in Bengali Pujo albums.

Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959)

After the success of “Pyaasa”, when Guru Dutt decided to make his next movie, he called upon S.D. Burman again. Since S.D. Burman would not work with Sahir, Kaifi Azmi – another poet among lyricists like Sahir – was chosen. Like “Pyaasa”, “Kaagaz Ke Phool” was dark and brooding and dealt with similar themes – forbidden love and the struggles of an artist. This time, however, the film was closer home as his relationship with Waheeda Rehman and its effect on his marriage and career in real life played itself out on the silver screen. The film may enjoy the status of a classic today but when it bombed when it was released. In a case of commerce trumping art, Guru Dutt never directed a film again and S.D. Burman never worked in a Guru Dutt production again. Like the film, its music is now acknowledged as a classic. My pick from the film is superbly melancholic “Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Hasin Sitam”. As lovely as the song is, the irony of Geeta Dutt’s dulcet voice in the background in a magical sequence with Guru Dutt and Waheed Rehman is equally delicious.

Sujata (1959)

S.D. Burman was a genius, no doubt, but thankfully for music lovers, he was open to influences. The best song for me in “Sujata” – “Jalte Hain Jiske Liye” – is an example of this Burman trait. Although a wholly original composition in my view, one can hear shades of Rabindranath Tagore’s “Ekoda Tumi Priye” in the song. There was another influence at play in this song. S.D. Burman wanted Mohd. Rafi to sing the song but eventually recorded it Talat Mahmood’s voice on Bimal Roy’s insistence. “Jalte Hain Jiske Liye” is testament to the fact that S.D. Burman’s willingness to adapt made him better composer. Burman’s fabulous composition and Talat Mahmood’s quivering rendition makes “Jalte Hain…” one of the best “telephone songs” in Hindi films.

Kala Bazar (1960)

S.D. Burman had worked with Shailendra before but “Kala Bazar” was the first time they came together in a Navketan film. The Navketan magic worked and they produced their best work together till then. S.D. Burman continued with Rafi for Dev Anand and Rafi delivered brilliantly. Interestingly, the film’s best known song “Khoya Khoya Chand” was written by Shailendra while he was on a midnight drive with R.D. Burman. The “chand” and “taare” described in the song are ones they saw over Marine Drive! The song captured the public’s imagination again many years later when it was covered by Mikey McCleary and used in a thrilling sequence in the “Shaitan” (2011).

Baat Ek Raat Ki (1962)

During the recording of “Miss India” (1957), a misunderstanding developed between Lata Mangeshkar and S.D. Burman and for the next few years the senior Burman decided to make do without his favourite “Lota”. To a large extent, Asha Bhosle and Geeta Dutt filled the void left by Lata during this period. In “Baat Ek Raat Ki” he chose Suman Kalyanpur for a song that would have most certainly been Lata’s if they had not parted ways. Suman Kalyapur rose to the occasion and delivered “Na Tum Hamen Jaano” with a brilliance that made her a voice to be reckoned even though there was another beautiful version by Hemant Kumar. Her brief aalaap-harmony sections in Hemant Kumar’s version are very pleasing as well.

Bonus: S.D. Burman’s Bengali precursor to “Hum Bekhudi Mein” – “Ghum Bhulechhi Nijhum”. The sarod in the song’s opening was played by R.D. Burman.

Next week will feature Part 2 with another 10 S.D. Burman picks.

Sahir Ludhianvi – Hindi Film’s Poet Lyricist

[This post originally appeared here.]

Sahir Ludhianvi was a poet among Hindi film lyricists. Recognizing his genius, the Hindi film industry gave him the leeway not many lyricists enjoyed. Filmmakers found ways to make his lyrics work in their films instead of imposing their ideas on him. One example of his uncompromising outlook is the only song in “Dhund” (1973) he did not write. Asked by B.R. Chopra to pen raunchy lyrics, Sahir refused and music director Ravi had to step in to pen “Jubna Se Chunariya Khisak Gayi Re”. Such was his stature in the industry that when he demanded a share of royalties from his songs, the labels had to agree. He was the first Hindi film lyricist to earn royalties from his work.

Sahir Ludhianvi’s relationship with music directors was key to his work. His work thrived on his relationships and at times it suffered when his relationships soured. Almost half his films were with just three composers – Ravi (19 films), S.D. Burman (18 films) and – surprise, surprise – N. Dutta (17 films).

To commemorate this great poet/lyricist on his death anniversary on October 25, I pick his 10 best albums for 10 different composers. As we go through the list, it is interesting to see how Sahir’s poetry changed over time – from the youthful zeal to change the world to the trials and tribulations of love and ending with reflection on the life gone by.

(Disclaimer: Consider my picks keeping in mind the fact that I lack the skill/knowledge to fully appreciate Sahir’s work and that, as a listener, my focus tends to be on music more than lyrics.)

O.P. Nayyar – Naya Daur (1957)

Sahir moved from his hometown, Ludhiana, to Lahore in the 1940s. When India was partitioned, he started to feel oppressed in Pakistan’s increasingly authoritarian government. In 1948, when his writings resulted in an arrest warrant for him, he fled Pakistan. Sahir was a member of the Communist Party backed Progressive Writers’ Association and his ideology found its way in his poetry in the 1940s and 1950s. One example of this is my pick from “Naya Daur”, the rousing anthem, “Saathi Haath Badhaana”. Lyricists write songs to suit the film’s context but when their words are backed by personal conviction, the song becomes special. After a series of popular hits, O.P. Nayyar, powered by Sahir’s words, demonstrated that he could do ‘serious’ music and was rewarded with his first Filmfare Award.

S.D. Burman – Pyaasa (1957)

After a decade of lackluster films, S.D. Burman finally produced a successful score for “Baazi” (1951). It was perhaps not incidental that it was also the first time he collaborated with Sahir Ludhianvi, who recovered brilliantly after an unremarkable debut for “Azadi Ki Raah Par” (1948). Over the next six years the two artists produced some of the most memorable songs in the history of Hindi films. Some of their most successful films during this period were “Naujawan” (1951), “Jaal” (1952), “Taxi Driver” (1954), “Devdas” (1955), “House No. 44” (1955), “Munimji” (1955) and “Funtoosh” (1956). Guru Dutt’s “Pyaasa” arguably represented the best of their work together. It was a travesty then, that the two artists who helped each other scale great heights in their careers, parted ways over a clash of egos in the aftermath of the film’s success. My pick from “Pyaasa” is the cry of despair – “Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaye To Kya Hai”. S.D. Burman – very wisely – put the focus on Sahir’s poetry by using a simple melody and, barring a few flourishes, little instrumentation. Rafi exercised admirable restraint, highlighting Sahir’s words and not overpowering them. The result was a song that remains, to date, the most devastating expression of existential crisis in the annals of Hindi films.

N. Dutta – Dhool Ka Phool (1959)

Dattaram Naik, commonly credited as N. Dutta was one of the several Goan musicians who were regulars inn Bombay’s recording studios in the 1950s and 1960s. He started his career assisting S.D. Burman before going solo. His string of collaborations with Sahir Ludhianvi was perhaps a result of Dada Burman’s influence on him. Sahir’s most memorable work with N. Dutta was probably Yash Chopra’s directorial debut, “Dhool Ka Phool”. My pick from the film is Sahir’s message of placing humanity over religion – “Tu Hindu Banega Na Musalman Banega”.

Roshan – Barsaat Ki Raat (1960)

Roshan and Sahir’s collaborations are so consistently good that I found this the most challenging pick. I picked “Barsaat Ki Raat” because of the film’s significance in both their careers. It was the turning point for Roshan who finally enjoyed success that had eluded him thus far. In Roshan, Sahir found a partner worthy enough to fill the void left by his falling out with S.D. Burman. My pick from the film is “Na To Karvan Ki Talash Hai”. Although inspired by the qawwali on which this song was based, (“Na To Butkade Ki Talab Mujhe”) Sahir’s poetry elevated the stature of the filmi qawwali and helped Roshan open the floodgate for qawaalis in films. In a free-flowing song of about 12 minutes, Sahir put together a uniquely Indian qawwali with equal doses of philosophy and romance. It is another song in which Sahir, with out of context but seamless references to religions and Gods, exhorts India’s pluralism.

Jaidev – Hum Dono (1961)

Sahir may have been a good luck charm for talented composers who were struggling for a break. After S.D. Burman and Roshan, it was Jaidev’s turn to finally score a hit in collaboration with Sahir. For Sahir, who hadn’t worked in a Navketan film after he fell out with their resident music director S.D. Burman, it was a homecoming of sorts. It is interesting how a quirk of fate – S.D. Burman’s temporary indisposition – led to one of the best film scores in Hindi films. Lyrically, “Main Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhata Chala Gaya” and “Kabhi Khud Pe Kabhi Haalat Pe” represent the best from “Hum Dono”. My pick is “Main Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhaata Chala Gaya” for the simple beauty with which Sahir presents a life motto all of us can relate with.

Madan Mohan – Gazal (1964)

The music of “Gazal” had a number of things going for it. The film lived up to its name with a score was replete with ghazals –  a genre Madan Mohan was particularly skilled in and a lyrical form in which Sahir was second to none. In one of the songs, “Meri Mehboob Kahin Aur Mila Kar Mujhse”, Sahir repurposed lines he had written many years ago for the poem ‘Taj Mahal’, which had won him equal measures of praise and criticism. The other high point of the film’s score was the trilogy of “Kise Pesh Karoon” songs, with varying presentation and lyrics. My pick from this trilogy is the popular, “Rang Aur Noor Ki Baarat Kise Pesh Karoon”, which rises above the rest because of Rafi’s fantastic rendition.

Ravi – Waqt (1965)

“Waqt” was a path-breaking movie for Yash Chopra. It was his first big hit and the film in which he crystallized his recipe for the multi-starrer, romantic, musical drama – something he reused successfully throughout his career. The film’s success ensured that Sahir became a steady partner of composer Ravi as well as of B.R. Films and later, Yash Raj Films. I’ve already picked Asha Bhosle’s  “Aage Bhi Jaane Na Tu” in an earlier post, so for this post, my pick is the best song on mature love Hindi films have ever produced – “Ae Meri Zohra Jabeen”. For Manna Dey, who used to lose out on songs because of his ‘mature’ voice, “Ae Meri..” was perfect and one of his most memorable songs. The song, along with many others in the 1960s, showcased Sahir’s lighter, romantic side.

Laxmikant – Pyarelal – Daag (1973)

The 1970s saw Sahir in insipid form. As Sahir himself believed, it was perhaps the declining quality of Hindi film music in the 1970s that did not bring the best out of him. “Daag” was a huge musical success but far from Sahir’s best work. After a few films with Laxmikant – Pyarelal in the 1970s, Sahir preferred not working with them and in fact, actively lobbied for Khayyam when Yash Chopra was trying to work through L-Ps busy schedule for “Kabhi Kabhie” (1976). My pick from “Daag” is evergreen Kishore solo “Mere Dil Mein Aaj Kya Hai”.

R.D. Burman – Aa Gale Lag Jaa (1973)

R.D. Burman did only four films with Sahir but their limited collaboration produced some excellent music. “Aa Gale Lag Jaa” was their first film together and for me, their best. For me, the film’s best song is “Wada Karo”, with some superb singing by Kishore and Lata and beautiful arrangement by Pancham – the electric guitar and the sax being the highlights. One thing I love about the song is Kishore and Lata’s awe-inspiring sense of rhythm in the mukhda – specially Lata’s exquisite spacing of “Chhuo Nahin Dekho Zara Peeche Rakho Haath”. In the music vs. lyrics debate – a recurring theme in Sahir’s career – this song, I daresay, was one instance of music winning over lyrics.

Khayyam – Kabhi Kabhie (1976)

Sahir valued erudition in his composers – specifically, their knowledge of Urdu. Many years ago, he had recommended the down-on-luck Khayyam to director Ramesh Saigal for “Phir Subha Hogi” (1958), citing, among other reasons, the fact that Khayyam had read “Crime and Punishment”, the book on which the film was based. Khayyam had taken a sabbatical from Hindi films from 1967 to 1973 and was struggling to make an impact on his return to the industry. It was in this context, that Sahir made the case for Khayyam over Laxmikant – Pyarelal for “Kabhi Kabhie”. Backed by a powerful star cast, Sahir’s poetry and his own track record, Yash Chopra finally decided that he could make the film work with a composer who didn’t have LP’s commercial bankability. “Kabhi Kabhie” went on to become a critical and commercial success winning three Filmfare Awards for its score – Khayyam for music, Sahir for lyrics and Mukesh for the title song. Powered by the impetus of “Kabhi Kabhie”, Khayyam’s second run in Hindi films was far more successful than his first. Sahir, rejuvenated by a partner he believed in, wrote some of his best lyrics in a long time. His contribution to the film went beyond his lyrics though. The film’s title was based on a poem Sahir had written a long time ago and was part of his first published work “Talkhiyan”. Sahir had originally adapted the poem for a song in a Chetan Anand film that was later abandoned. He resurrected that song for “Kabhi Kabhie” after seeking Chetan Anand’s permission. Another Sahir contribution appears to be the theory – refuted by Yash Chopra – that Amitabh Bachchan’s poet in the film was modeled on Sahir’s life and work. My pick from the film is “Main Pal Do Pal Ka Shaayar Hoon”, simply because I can’t help but wonder if the song’s lyrics were Sahir’s self-deprecatory reflection on his own legacy and place in history.


Sahir Ludhianvi reciting the original Kabhi Kabhie from Talkhiyan:

Recommended for further exploration:

  1. Akshay Manwani’s book – “Sahir Ludhianvi – The People’s Poet”
  2. Sahir Ludhianvi’s film discography
  3. A bigger list of Sahir Ludhianvi’s best songs

R.C. Boral – The Father of Indian Film Music

[This post originally appeared here.]

Rai Chand Boral, along with Pankaj Mullick, was one of the pioneers of Hindi film music. The duo started their careers together, directing live music for the Bengali silent film “Chorekanta” (1931). Their first talkie together was “Dena Paona” (1931). They were the first music director duo of the film industry, preceding the likes of Husnlal – Bhagatram and Shankar – Jaikishan. While they started their career together, they soon struck out on their own and established themselves individually as the preeminent music directors of the first decade of recorded film music.

In his rich and exemplary career, R.C. Boral is credited with introducing playback singing in Hindi films and for introducing the golden voice of Kundan Lal Saigal. Kanan Devi was another singer who shone under Boral’s baton.

After an outstanding run in the 1930s, R.C. Boral’s career lost steam in the 1940s. The shift of the Hindi film industry from Calcutta to Bombay, punctuated by K.L. Saigal’s move from New Theaters to Ranjit Movietone in 1941, slowed down his Hindi film career considerably. He retired in the mid-1950s.

Reverentially called the father of Indian film music, R.C. Boral was bestowed the Dadasaheb Phalke award in 1978. He passed away in 1981.

To commemorate his birth anniversary on October 19, I list 10 of R.C. Boral’s most memorable songs in this post.

Bhajoon Main To Bhaav Se Sri Giridhari (Pooran Bhagat, 1933)

While R.C. Boral made is career debut in Bengali films, Saigal recorded a hugely successful non-film song “Jhulana Jhulao Ri”. In 1932, both of them began their Hindi film career with three films together – “Mohabbat Ke Aansoo”, “Subah Ka Sitara” and “Zinda Lash”. The three films failed to make an impact but they struck gold the next year with “Pooran Bhagat”. Saigal did not have an acting role in the film but his songs became very popular. My pick from the film is the mellifluous bhajan “Bhajoon Main To Bhaav Se Sri Giridhari” by Saigal.

Prem Nagar Mein Banaoongi Ghar Main (Chandidas, 1934)

With “Chandidas”, R.C. Boral is credited with introducing full-fledged orchestra in films. In an era in which sound and film recording was not yet separated, the orchestra had to be played on the set and director Nitin Bose had to ensure that the instrumentalists stayed hidden or out of the frame. The impact was discernible – the film was a success and its music was appreciated. In fact, “Chandidas” was the first Saigal starrer that became successful. The Saigal – Uma Shashi duet, “Prem Nagar Mein…”, in particular, became a big hit.

Teri Gathri Mein Laaga Chor (Dhoop Chhaon, 1935)

R.C. Boral continued his association with cinematic firsts in “Dhoop Chhaon”. A medley of songs in the film, “Main Khush Hona Chahoon” and “Aaj Mero Ghar Mohan Aayo”, deployed the technique of playback singing for the first time in Indian film history. The unsighted K.C. Dey (Manna Dey’s uncle) sang for his own character as well as for the character of actor Ahi Sanyal, who lip-synced. I was not able to find this song on YouTube so I ended up choosing another interesting K.C. Dey song, “Teri Gathri Mein Laaga Chor”. Music lovers may remember this song from Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle’s “Paanch Rupaiya Barah Aana”. Kishore parodies three songs in “Paanch Rupaiya…”, the third being “Teri Gathri Mein Laaga Chor”.

Ek Bangla Bane Nyara (President, 1937)

Nitin Bose’s “President” exemplified the new generation film that had moved on from period/mythological dramas to depicting real life. With a strong female lead – Kamlesh Kumari playing a mill owner – the film was perhaps ahead of its time. However, what really captured filmgoers’ imagination was the song “Ek Bangla Bane Nyara”. Boral’s rich arrangement, Kidar Sharma’s grounded lyrics and Saigal’s earnest singing expressed the dreams and aspirations of the common man like no song before it had.

Ambua Ki Daali Daali (Vidyapati, 1937)

Primarily known as an actor in Bengali films till 1937, Kana Devi’s move to New Theatres, starting with her role in “Vidyapati”, established her as a singing star in Hindi films. It was R.C. Boral’s mentorship that helped Kanan Devi’s singing career reach its full potential. Bolstered by Kanan Devi’s performance and R.C. Boral’s music, the biopic of Maithili poet Vidyapati became a big success. My pick from the film is the catchy duet, “Ambua Ki Daali Daali”, sung by Kanan Devi and Dhumi Khan. The place of “Vidyapati” in Indian film history is such that Guru Dutt referenced it in “Kaagaz Ke Phool” (1959). Early on in the film, Guru Dutt’s character is seen leaning over the balcony in a theater playing “Vidyapati”.

Babul Mora Naihar Chhooto Hi Jaye (Street Singer, 1938)

“Street Singer” was the pinnacle of R.C. Boral’s career, perhaps even K.L. Saigal’s and Kanan Devi’s. The finest point of the film was Saigal’s brilliant rendition of the Raag Bhairavi based thumri, “Babul Mora Naihar Chhooto Hi Jaye”.  To fully appreciate K.L. Saigal’s singing prowess consider this – he was an untrained singer, singing the song live, walking while being filmed. It’s musical excellence aside, “Babul Mora” plays a pivotal role in the film’s plot. It was the song Saigal’s character teaches Kanan Devi’s character, who then goes on to become a more successful singer than him. Later, when Kanan Devi sings the song in a tune different from Saigal’s original, he is infuriated and breaks up with her.

Mast Pawan Shaakhen Lahrayen (Haar Jeet, 1939)

Not much is known about this film but I find the song duet “Mast Pawan…” by Kanan Devi and Pahari Sanyal very intriguing. The song highlights what seems to be an R.C. Boral signature – long instrumental openings. In this song, this signature stands out more than usual because the instrumental opening extends to half the length of the 3 minute song. The other interesting thing about the song is a very melodic violin solo, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the one in O.P. Nayyar’s “Ankhon Hi Ankhon Mein Ishara Ho Gaya” (“C.I.D.”, 1956).

Kaahe Ko Raad Machai (Lagan, 1941)

“Lagan” was K.L. Saigal’s last film for New Theaters. The film was fairly successful, in large part because of its music. An interesting feature of my pick, “Kaahe Ko Raad Machai”, was how Boral alternated between Western and Indian idioms through the song. The song’s opening and interludes used a primarily Western arrangement, a piano and clarinet prominent among the instruments, and the vocal sections had a primarily Indian arrangement.

Raja Beti Kekrala (Saugandh, 1942)

I must confess that I haven’t explored much the songs from post-Saigal New Theatres films. Of the ones I’ve heard, “Raja Beti..”, a light and cheerful duet by Asit Baran and an unknown female singer (internet forums seem to be inclined to believe it’s Bharati Devi), stands out.

Na To Din Hi Din Woh Rahe Mere (Dard-E-Dil, 1953)

A glaring limitation of R.C. Boral’s discography was that he had only a handful of songs by Lata Mangeshkar. Although Lata had proved herself with “Aayega Aanewala” (“Mahal”) in 1949, it wasn’t till 1953, in the twilight of his career, that R.C. Boral turned to her. Her stunning solo, “Na To Din Hi Din…” from “Dard-E-Dil” (1953) gives us an inkling of what might have been.

Here’s a longer list of R.C. Boral’s most popular songs.


The Best Kishore Kumar Songs for Amitabh Bachchan

[This post originally appeared here.]

In the early 1970s, two Hindi film artists came to the fore – Kishore Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan – and ruled Bollywood for the next two decades. They were a mismatched pair. While Amitabh Bachchan was rookie, Kishore had been around for more than two decades. Both were struggling with their careers. As luck would have it, they came to work together a lot and in the years to come and became as identifiable as pair as Mohammed Rafi and Shammi Kapoor were in the 1960s. By the end of the 1970s, they had completely transformed their careers. In the span of a decade, Kishore Kumar recorded more than double the number of songs he had recorded in the previous two decades and Amitabh Bachchan became a superstar.

To mark Amitabh Bachchan’s 73rd birthday on October 11 and Kishore Kumar’s 28th death anniversary on October 13, I pick their ten most memorable collaborations.

Bombay To Goa (1972)

This was amongst Amitabh’s earliest films in a lead role. While the film was moderately successful, it is said to have helped Amitabh bag his career-making role in “Zanjeer” the next year. My favourite song from the film is the melodious Kishore-Lata duet “Tum Meri Zindagi Mein”. Unfortunately, the song was not filmed and given the theme of this post, a better pick would be the boisterous “Dekha Na Haye Re”. Amitabh Bachchan was known to be a reluctant dancer and it was Mehmood’s counsel that extracted an energetic performance from him. Kishore Kumar, who also had a cameo in the film, belted out the song in a manner that made this song a staple for travelling groups. Incidentally, the phrase “dole dole dole dole” was a last minute inclusion and was inspired by Amit Kumar’s presence in the studio. “Dole” was Mehmood’s nickname for Amit Kumar.

Abhimaan (1973)

Long before celebrity couple names were in vogue, Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bhaduri formed a production company named Amiya Pictures. Abhimaan was the only movie produced under this banner. Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s thoughtful direction, S.D. Burman’s award-winning score and Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bhaduri’s excellent portrayal of a couple weathering a troubled marriage makes “Abhimaan” an evergreen classic. S.D. Burman’s genius can be seen not just in the music he made for the film but also the singers he picked for Amitabh Bachchan’s character. He used Kishore Kumar for just two songs. The first, “Meet Na Mila Re Man Ka” was at the beginning of the film, when Amitabh Bachchan’s character is at the peak of his singing career. The second, a duet with Lata Mangeshkar, “Tere Mere Milan Ki Yeh Raina”, appears in the film’s stunning climax in which the singer gets over his insecurity and reconciles with his wife. The songs in between use other singers to portray a conflicted, insecure husband. My pick from “Abhimaan” is “Meet Na Mila Re Man Ka”.

Mili (1975)

“Mili” was S.D. Burman’s last film. He passed away during the film’s making and it was R.D. Burman who recorded the songs for “Mili”. Perhaps because of Dada Burman’s demise, the film’s soundtrack had just three songs. What the album did not have in numbers, it more than made up for in quality. The two Kishore solos are beautiful and achingly poignant. My pick is “Badi Sooni Sooni Hai”.

Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978)

“Muqaddar Ka Sikandar” may not be a classic film album but in my estimate, as a child of the 1970s/1980s, it has an important place in the Indian pop culture. Amitabh Bachchan had established himself as the industry’s alpha male and his entry in films had become a thing. In “Muqaddar Ka Sikandar”, his entry was with the song “Rote Hue Aate Hain Sab”. The song, with the stylishly dressed Amitabh Bachchan riding a Bullet on the streets of Bombay, carefree and with wind in his hair, had the theatre crowds in raptures. “Muqaddar Ka Sikandar” was a roaring success at the box office.

Don (1978)

“Don” was another hugely successful film and album for Amitabh Bachchan, Kalyanji – Anandji, Kishore Kumar and Anjaan. While the film has several popular songs, it’s biggest hit, “Khaike Paan Banara Wala”, was ironically added as an afterthought. After the filming was complete, Manoj Kumar, who was director Chandra Barot’s mentor, suggested that the film was too tightly paced and needed a song in the second half to ease the proceedings. It was only then that “Khaike Paan Banaras Wala” was recorded and filmed. Who else could play the gamcha-wearing, paan chomping, bhaang guzzling village bumpkin better than Amitabh Bachchan? Kishore Kumar was as spetacular behind the mic as Amitabh was on screen, going to the extent of actually eating paan while recording the song.

Manzil (1979)

“Manzil” is another example of a small sized package delivering a mean punch. Just three songs from the film – “Tum Ho Mere Dil Ki Dhadkan”, inspired by Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”, sung by Kishore and two solos of “Rimjhim Gire Saawan” by Lata and Kishore – elevate the album as an all-time favorite. “Rimjhim Gire Sawan” has to be one of the top three rain songs in any Indian music lover’s list. Lata Mangeshkar’s version, wondefully shot in a rain swept Bombay, has been a hot favorite on TV for decades. However, when it comes to the song itself, I prefer Kishore’s version.

Silsila (1981)

“Silsila” is one of the several Yash Raj films that deal with love triangles and marital conflicts. What makes this film stand out is the parallels between the real lives of the film’s stars, Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan and Rekha, and the characters they played in the film. The film’s album was a musical treat despite, or perhaps because of, debutant music directors and lyricists. Music directors, Shiv – Hari, comprising of ace santoor player Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and the legendary flautist, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, and lyricist Javed Akhtar introduced a fresh perspective and new sounds that were sorely needed in Hindi film music at the time. My Kishore Kumar favorite from the movie, is his romantic duet with Lata, “Dekha Ek Khwab”, filmed in the spectacular tulip fields of Keukenhof.

Yaarana (1981)

After “Abhimaan” and “Manzil”, “Yaarana” was another film that featured Amitabh Bachchan as a singer. Amitabh Bachchan’s dance, dressed in a light bulb studded suit, for “Saara Zamana Haseenon Ka Deewana” may have stolen the show in the film but my favorite is Rajesh Roshan’s tasteful adaptation from Rabindra Sangeet, “Chhoo Kar Mere Man Ko”. Interestingly, the original “Tomar Holo Shuru” was the first ever Rabindra Sangeet song recorded by Lata Mangeshkar.

Bemisal (1982)

Director Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Amitabh Bachchan shared a special bond. Over the years they formed a very successful partnership with films like “Anand” (1970), “Abhimaan” (1973), “Namak Haram” (1973), “Chupke Chupke” (1975), “Mili” (1975), “Alaap” (1977) and “Jurmaana” (1979). “Bemisal” was their last offering together. At a time when Amitabh’s on screen persona was one of the angry young man pitted against evil villains, his restrained intensity and a female antagonist made “Bemisal” very interesting. “Bemisal” is perhaps an offbeat pick in this list but for me, it deserves a place for two lovely Kishore solos with memorable lyrics Anand Bakshi. My pick – “Ek Roz Main Tadap Kar”.

Sharaabi (1984)

There are two Bachchan films in which Bappi Lahiri knocked the ball out of the park – “Namak Halaal” (1982) and “Sharaabi”. Amitabh’s versatility was in full display as he played a brooding alcoholic in one and a hilarious village boor in another. Kishore Kumar won Filmfare Awards for both films and if I could, I would include both films in the list. For me, what breaks the tie between the two films is a Kishore solo in what is essentially an Asha Bhosle song – “Mujhe Naulakha Pehna De Re”. Kishore makes a grand entry 5 minutes into a rather ordinary song and completely transforms it. My pick from “Sharaabi” – the superb “Manzilen Apne Jagah Hain”, which won Kishore Kumar the Filmfare award.

As with the rest of this series, this list is meant to serve as the beginning of a musical exploration. These lists are not definitive in any sense. If you’re disappointed that your favorite Kishore – Amitabh film or song is not listed in this post, please head here.


Jidhar Dekhoon Teri Tasveer” (“Mahaan”, 1983) is perhaps the only film song that came in versions sung by Kishore Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan. This may be musical blasphemy, but I think Amitabh Bachchan’s version is better than Kishore Kumar’s!


The Best Duets of Lata Mangeshkar

[This post originally appeared here.]

From 1945 to now, Lata Mangeshkar‘s career has clocked more than 70 years and more than 5000 songs. Such is her impact in the Hindi film industry and so deep is her discography that it’s very likely that almost every post in this series has one or more songs by her. Given that there are so many facets to Lata Mangeshkar’s songs, this post will cover just one – her duets with male singers. Here are my favorite duets of Lata Mangeshkar with 10 different male playback singers:

Chitalkar – Shola Jo Bhadke Dil Mera Dhadke (Albela, 1951)

Before R.D. Burman, it was C. Ramchandra who experimented with various non-Indian genres of music, drawing influences from jazz and rock n’ roll. In “Shola Jo Bhadke”, he really strayed from the mainstream and went Hawaiian! The thing that really stands out in the song isn’t the melody or even Chitalkar and Lata Mangeshka’s singing, although they’re perfectly respectable. It is the foot-tapping beats. Geeta Bali looks comely performing Hula-like moves and Bhagwan does his own thing with moves that became Amitabh Bachchan’s trademark three decades later.

Talat Mahmood – Seene Mein Sulagte Hain Armaan (Tarana, 1951)

There’s probably more ethereal beauty packed in this song than any other on this list. Anil Biswas’ haunting melody, Talat Mahmood’s whispery voice and Lata’s restrained singing enunciate some lovely lyrics by Prem Dhawan.

Manna Dey – Pyar Hua Iqrar Hua (Shree 420, 1955)

The depiction of a couple sharing an umbrella in a heavy downpour in “Pyar Hua…” is one of the most everlasting images of Hindi films. The chemistry in Manna Dey and Lata Mangeshkar’s singing is as potent as Raj Kapoor and Nargis’ onscreen chemistry. This was not accidental. Raj Kapoor and Nargis actually enacted the song in the recording room for the singers to get a sense of the song’s mood. In a time when Mukesh had established himself as Raj Kapoor’s voice, Manna Dey bagging a chance to sing for the actor was a stroke of luck for the struggling singer. Mukesh had to walk out of “Shree 420” after recording just two songs because of a contract he had signed for another film, which barred him from other singing assignments till it was released.

Mukesh – Dil Tadap Tadap Ke Kah Raha Hai (Madhumati, 1958)

Bimal Roy signed Salil Chowdhury for “Madhumati” against the recommendation of the film’s star, Dilip Kumar, and the film’s distributors – they did not consider the genius composer to be commercially viable. The high quality of music Salil Chowdhury delivered for the film despite the tremendous pressure on him is awe-inspiring. “Dil Tadap Tadap..”, one of the many gems from the superlative album, was a very clever adaptation of a popular Polish folk song “Szla Dzieweczka” but still a Salil da original and an evergreen classic.

Rafi – Tasveer Teri Dil Mein (Maya, 1961)

The success of Madhumati brought Salil Chowdhury the attention he deserved and offers rained down on him. He composed some of his finest music in the wake of Madhumati. “Maya” was among his best scores from this period. “Tasveer Teri Dil Mein” is an example of how challenging Salil Chowdhury’s compositions could be for singers. In this song at least, Rafi seems measure up to the challenge a little better than Lata. It was around this period that Rafi and Lata had a big disagreement and did not work with each other for a few years. Thankfully for music lover, they resolved their differences and started working together again in 1967.

Hemant – Chhupa Lo Yun Dil Mein Pyar Mera (Mamta, 1966)

Based on Raag Yaman, simply arranged using a cymbal (manjeera), a sarangi (or violin?) and a flute and with lyrics evoking themes like devotion, submission, the temple lamp, sin, offering of flowers, ash (raakh as a substitute for vibhuti?), “Chhupa Lo..” is a deeply spiritual song posing as a romantic ditty. Majrooh Sultanpuri’s lyrics are so powerful that one almost forgets to pay attention to how soulful Roshan’s tune is and how well Hemant da and Lata Mangeshkar have sung it. This 3 minute song is packed with so much goodness that one has to listen to it several times to take in everything it has to offer.

Bhupinder – Beeti Na Bitaye Raina (Parichay, 1972)

“Parichay” was a significant film. It was the first time R.D. Burman and Gulzar worked together. They hit it off both as professionals and friends and a parade of successful collaborations followed. R.D. Burman had earned the reputation as a composer who worked with modern sounds but periodically, with songs like “Beeti Na Bitai Raina”, he proved that he was equally adept at compositions based on classical music. This lovely duet showed how good a singer Bhupinder was. To be able to sing with the country’s premier singer and hold his own was no mean feat. Lata Mangeshkar may have deservedly won the National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer for the song, but it is Bhupinder and his smooth as silk transition into the song in the middle of the first antara that takes my breath away every time I hear it.

Kishore –  Tere Bina Zindagi Se Koi (Aandhi, 1975)

While Lata Mangeshkar treated Mukesh Bhaiya with respect, Kishore Kumar was like the naughty younger brother. Kishore Kumar, on his part, was in awe of Lata Mangeshkar. The story of how he asked R.D. Burman to first record Lata’s version of “Mere Naina Sawan Bhadon” so he could learn from it and then sing his version, is the stuff of legends. This is the most challenging pick for me because Kishore Kumar happens to be my most favourite singer and boy has he sung some beauties with Lata Mangeshkar! Just one film, “Aandhi” (1975), has as many as three lovely Kishore-Lata duets. Thankfully, the personal meaning “Tere Bina Zindagi Se Koi” has for me, eases the choice a little.

Yesudas – Aapki Mehki Hui (Trishul, 1978)

With languages and several years separating their singing careers, Lata Mangeshkar sang only a handful of duets with Yesudas. There’s not much to choose from but Khayyam and Sahir Ludhianvi’s “Aapki Mehki Hui” is nice and leaves us wanting for more.

A.R. Rahman – Lukka Chhuppi (Rang De Basanti, 2006)

In my opinion, Lata Mangeshkar’s voice sounded the best in the 1950s. That said, she was the Hindi film industry’s best female singer through the 1980s. She continued to record memorable songs beyond the 1980s but they were few and far between. One of my most favourite Lata Mangeshkar duets from this period is “Lukka Chhupi” with A.R. Rahman. What makes this song really work is that the Lata Mangeshkar gave voice to the grieving, elderly mother played by Waheeda Rehman. We are fortunate to have witnessed two fantastic musicians representing the old and new come together like this.

Here’s a longer list of Lata Mangeshkar’s all-time great songs.