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The Pick Of Composer Nashad’s Songs

Shaukat Hussain Dehelvi, known commonly as Nashad, was a music director who composed music for 29 Hindi films from 1947 to 1963. He moved to Pakistan in 1964 and continued to make music for Pakistani films till the 1970s. He passed away in 1981. For his work in India, Nashad is best remembered for his music for the film “Baradari” (1955) which included hits like “Tasveer Banata Hoon”, “Bhula Nahin Dena Ji” and “Mohabbat Ki Bas Itni Daastan Hai”. Here are five of my picks by this forgotten music director.

Jadugar Baalma (Naghma, 1953)

“Naghma” was the first film in which Shaukat Hussain Dehlvi was credited as Nashad. He wasn’t actually the first choice of the film’s producer/director, Nakshab Jarchavi. It was only when the in-demand Naushad declined to compose for the film that Shaukat landed the film and the Nashad moniker. Nakshab Jarchavi was apparently getting back at Naushad by giving Shaukat a name similar to his. The film’s music was reasonably successful and the name Nashad stuck. My pick from the film is the Shamshad Begum solo “Jadugar Baalma”.

Ek Dil Do Hain Talabgar (Darwaza, 1954)

Talat Mahmood was one of Nashad’s favorite singers. Talat’s low-key singing style went well with Nashad’s understated compositions. “Ek Dil Do Hain…” is a fine Talat Mahmood-Suman Kalyanpur duet. A slide guitar and a saxophone, atypical instruments for the time and genre, featured prominently in the song.

Tasveer Banata Hoon (Baradari, 1955)

“Baradari” was Nashad’s most accomplished work and the album that he is best remembered for. At one end of the spectrum was “Bhula Nahi Dena Ji”, a playful, foot-tapping duet by Rafi and Lata filmed on a strapping Ajit, who was still playing lead roles, and one of the leading actresses of the time, Geeta Bali. At the other end was my “Tasveer Banaata Hoon”, a melodious ghazal in Talat Mahmood’s silken vibrato. One of the things that stood out for me in the score for “Baradari” in general and “Tasveer Banaata Hoon” was the more elaborate arrangement used by Nashad, giving the music a fuller and richer sound. While Nashad’s assumed name may have helped him get more attention, it also led to people attributing his popular songs to his more famous peer. Sadly, even Saregama wrongly attributes “Baradari” to Naushad and not Nashad.

Aaj Gham Kal Khushi (Jawab, 1955)

“Jawab” was another film in which Nashad and Khumar Barabankvi got together. Khumar’s lyrics for “Aaj Gham Kal Khushi” are simple but effective. In a song that does not require him to do much, Rafi emotes with his voice like only he can.

Rafta Rafta Woh Meri (Zeenat, 1975)

Nashad continued to compose for Hindi films but couldn’t quite strike a chord with the audience. He migrated to Pakistan in 1964 and continued to make music for films across the border with limited success. Memories of Nashad in India were fading when things turned around and his song “Rafta Rafta Woh Meri Hasti Ka Saaman Ho Gaye” sung by Mehdi Hassan for the Pakistani film “Zeenat” became immensely popular. The ghazal, written by Tasleem Fazli, became a staple in Khan Sahab’s concerts and sustained its popularity over the years. The song’s success unearthed the fact that Tasleem Fazli had actually based his lyrics on a song written by Qamar Jalalabadi for the Hindi film “Hum Kahan Ja Rahe Hain” (1966). The original version sung by Asha Bhosle and Mahendra Kapoor perhaps had better lyrics (or at least more original!) but Nashad’s music won more hearts that Basant Prakash’s original. Interest in the song was resurrected in 1995 when Anu Malik adapted the music of “Rafta Rafta…” for “Dheere Dheere Aap Mere” in the Aamir Khan starrer, “Baazi” (1995). Nashad’s song continues to spawn covers and his music stays alive.

[This post originally appeared here.]

C. Ramchandra’s 10 Most Memorable Songs

Ramchandra was one of the most talented composers to make music for Hindi films, equally comfortable with raag-based songs and the Western music idiom. While O.P. Nayyar is commonly known as the Rhythm King, C. Ramchandra was instrumental in giving rhythm an important role in Hindi film music. The composer is best remembered for his songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar.

In this post, I pick 10 of C. Ramchandra’s most memorable film songs.

Shehnai (1947)

After being introduced by actor, director Bhagwan in “Sukhi Jeevan” (1942), C. Ramchandra composed music for more than 20 films before getting his first hit song for “Shehnai”. But what a hit that was! “Sunday Ke Sunday” was probably the first use of swing music in Hindi films. C. Ramchandra, credited as Chitalkar, himself sang the swing portions of the song filmed on Mehmood’s father, Mumtaz Ali. The new-fangled music and whacky lyrics worked its magic on audiences and the song became a big success. The song apparently earned him a reprimand from Anil Biswas, but this was just the first of the many genre-bending Hindi film songs he would go on to compose.

Patanga (1949)

To C. Ramchandra’s credit is what’s probably the first “telephone song” in Hindi films, “Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon”. Chitalkar and Shamshad Begum’s playful banter, penned by Rajendra Krishan, on the travails of a long distance relationship is delightfully quirky. Sample this – “Aji lungi baandh ke karen guzaara bhool gaye patloon”. While critics panned the lowbrow lyrics, filmgoers lapped up the song.

Sargam (1950)

The quality of the Lata – C. Ramchandra collaboration had grown steadily over the years and showed signs of maturing in 1950. “Sargam” was perhaps the best example of what this duo was capable of. There are some beautiful melodies in the film, although I have an issue with how classical songs and artists are lampooned in some of them. Unfortunately, this was fairly common in the films of the time. My pick from the film is the Raag Jaunpuri based “Jab Dil Ko Sataave Gham”. One of the things I love about this song is the jugalbandi between a young Lata Mangeshkar and the more accomplished Saraswati Rane, who would go on to break new ground in Hindustani classical music singing jugalbandis with her elder sister Hirabai Barodekar in the 1960s. The other delightful thing about the song is its instrumentation, specially the use of the solo violin. One wonders why the instrument didn’t gain popularity in Hindustani music as it did in Carnatic.

Albela (1951)

When we talk about classic film albums, “Albela” tends to get overlooked by all but the die-hard film music buffs. One of C. Ramchandra’s key contributions was bringing in modern Western influences into Hindi film music – jazz, swing, rock n’ roll and in “Albela” even Hawaiian and African sounds. In this post however, I pick a a fairly conventional song but one which reveals a different facet of C. Ramchandra – his ability to compose songs very quickly. The story behind “Dheere Se Aaja Ri Ankhiyan Mein Nindiya” is that C. Ramchandra received Rajendra Krishan’s lyrics just two hours before the song was to be recorded. He is said to have finalized the tune in the car on his way to the studio! There are two version of this song – a Lata solo and a Lata – Chitalkar. My pick is the duet.

Parchhain (1952)

This is one of C. Ramchandra’s lesser known albums but worth picking for a genre he wasn’t usually associated with – ghazal. “Parchhain” was C. Ramchandra’s best offering of ghazals till that point – the Talat solo “Mohabbat Hi Na Jo Samjhe” and the Lata solo “Katate Hain Dukh Mein Yeh Din”. My pick is the Talat song.

Anarkali (1953)

“Anarkali” was the C. Ramchandra’s career-defining album and widely regarded as one of the finest albums in the annals of Hindi films. Fending off producer Sashadhar Mukherjee’s insistence to use Geeta Dutt, C. Ramchandra recorded as many as nine songs in Lata Mangeskar’s voice. The only Geeta Dutt song in the film (yes there was one!) was composed by another music director, Basant Prakash. My pick from the film is the evergreen Lata solo “Yeh Zindagi Usi Ki Hai”. This is probably the most flawless Lata Mangeshkar has ever sounded. The song has a happy and a sad version. My favorite is the happy one with sitar by Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan.

Nastik (1954)

The songs of “Nastik” were as much about Kavi Pradeep’s biting lyrics as they were about C. Ramchandra’s folksy tunes. The film’s most popular song, “Kitna Badal Gaya Insaan” sung by Pradeep himself, is a seething critique of religious hypocrisy and does a great job of encapsulating the theme of this critically acclaimed film. Such was the impact of this song, that the very next year Sahir Ludhianvi wrote a song riffing its lyrics “Kitna Badal Gaya Bhagwan” (“Railway Platform”, 1955). The film itself recovered from an initial ban and went on to become a golden jubilee.

Azad (1955)

Ramchandra wasn’t the producer’s first choice for “Azad”, a remake of the hit Tamil film “Malai Kallan” (1954). They turned to him when Naushad said he couldn’t record the songs for the film in the time specified by the producers. C. Ramchandra, of course, had no such qualms and had nine songs wrapped up in two months. My pick from the film is the Raag Bageshri based Lata solo “Na Bole Na Bole Na Bole Re”.

Navrang (1959)

Towards the late 1950s C. Ramchandra’s relationship with Lata Mangeshkar got strained and he had to shift to Asha Bhosle for female vocals in his songs. Asha made the most of the opportunity and sang her heart out for “Navrang”. Her duet with Mahendra Kapoor, “Aadha Hai Chandrama Raat Aadhi” became very popular. Mahendra Kapoor had C. Ramchandra to thank for giving him his first hit song after his debut in 1953. The song of the album for me, however, is Asha’s solo “Aa Dil Se Dil Mila Le”. For some reason, Asha sounds quite different in this film, in general and this song in particular. There is a kind of exaggerated playfulness in her voice that is a little distracting but works well overall. Also notable in the song are the interludes that make lovely use of sitar and sarangi.

Bahurani (1963)

Ramchandra’s breakup with Lata took its toll on him. It was as if he had lost his muse. Although he did record a few more songs with Lata, “Bahurani” was his last significant music release. The film was also his only collaboration with Sahir Ludhianvi. My pick from the film is the effervescent Lata, Hemant Kumar duet, “Umr Hui Tumse Mile”.

Bonus: After several behind-the-scenes twists and turns Lata Mangeshkar, performed “Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon” live for the first time on January 27, 1963. The song, written by Kavi Pradeep, gained iconic status over the years and came to be known as the song brought tears to Nehru’s eyes. What many don’t know is that the song was composed by C. Ramchandra.

[This post originally appeared here.]

The Best Of The Naushad – Rafi Partnership

This post commemorates the birth anniversaries of two stalwarts – Mohammed Rafi (December 24) and Naushad (December 25) – each a great artist in his own right while being an important part of the other’s career. Mohammed Rafi dominated the music charts in the 1950s and 1960s, singing for all the leading music directors and actors of the time and making the careers of the new ones. It was Naushad who have him his first big break in “Mela” (1948) and shaped and nurtured his voice to it full potential. Naushad is counted as one of the most influential music directors in Hindi films who defined the sound of Hindi film music in the 1950s. He is credited with drawing classical music into Hindi films. It was using Rafi’s voice in “Baiju Bawra” (1952), that Naushad brought classical music into the mainstream.

Here are my top 10 picks of this legendary duo.

Yeh Zindagi Ke Mele – Mela (1948)

After debuting in a Punjabi film “Gul Baloch” (1944), Rafi got his first break in Hindi films for music director Shyam Sunder’s “Gaon Ki Gori”. However, “Gaon Ki Gori” was released only in 1945. His first Hindi film release was for Naushad’s “Pehle Aap” (1944). A few collaborations including a Rafi cameo in a Saigal song followed before Rafi got his first hit – the title song of “Mela” (1948). Rafi’s voice was unlike any other and he had the conviction to stay true to it. Unlike his peers, Mukesh and Kishore Kumar, Rafi refused to adopt K.L. Saigal’s singing style despite being a big fan.

Suhaani Raat Dhal Chuki – Dulari (1949)

Despite the success of “Yeh Zindagi Ke Mele”, Naushad continued to be tentative about Rafi, using him sparingly. With each song, Rafi got better at his art and his stature as a singer grew. If there was one song that signaled Rafi’s transformation from raw talent to leading playback singer, it was “Suhaani Raat Dhal Chuki” from “Dulari”. Even today, this Raag Pahadi song retains its appeal and sounds as fresh as it must have in 1949.

Taara Ri Yaara Ri  – Dastan (1950)

Naushad himself was experimenting with his music and was yet to find the sound that came to define him. It is from this period that one can find songs that sound nothing like what we have come to expect a Naushad song to sound like. One of my favorites of such songs is “Taara Ri Yaara Ri” from “Dastan” (1949). This waltzy Rafi-Suraiya duet is utterly charming and Raj Kapoor and Suraiya cavorting onscreen is a sight for sore eyes.

Man Tarpat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj – Baiju Bawra (1952)

In “Baiju Bawra”, Naushad found the perfect subject for using a base of classical music for his songs. Ustad Amir Khan became the voice of Tansen and Rafi, the voice of Bharat Bhushan’s Baiju Bawra, except for “Aaj Gawat Man Mero” where the two face-off. Another esteemed classical singer D.V. Paluskar was brought in to make the loss of Ustad Amir Khan’s Tansen palatable, even credible!. In the six songs Rafi sang, he demonstrated impressive range across scales and genres. My favorite Rafi song from the film is the lovely Raag Maulkauns based bhajan “Man Tarpat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj”. The spectacular success of the film and its music proved skeptics wrong and ushered in a wave of films seeped in classical music.

Maan Mera Ehsaan Arey Naadan – Aan (1952)

With several successes under his belt, Rafi became the most sought playback singer of the Hindi film industry. All the stars of the time wanted him to be their voice. This adulation never went to his head and he remained a genial and humble being. It did make him a more self-assured singer. Even in a relatively mellow song like “Maan Mera Ehsaan Arey Naadan”, the vitality of his voice is discernible.

Madhuban Mein Radhika Naache Re – Kohinoor (1960)

One might wonder why seven years separate this pick from the previous one. The answer lies in the rate at which Naushad signed films. He was considerably less profilic than his peers. In these seven years, Naushad worked in just five films – less than a film per year. He was very picky about the films he worked on and when he did work, he took his time recording songs. Which brings us to “Kohinoor” (1960) and my pick from it – “Madhuban Mein Radhika Naache Re”. For this brilliant Raag Hameer based song, Rafi does a fantastic job that includes a well-executed tarana. The icing in the cake is Ustad Amir Khan’s rapid-fire taan (unfortunately portrayed on Mukri’s onscreen antics) and an energetic sitar solo by Ustad Halim Jaffer Khan wrapping up the song. If we could determine the greatness per note of Hindi films songs and rank them, “Madhuban Mein Radhika” would appear very near the top.

Mere Mehboob Tujhe Meri Mohabbat Ki Kasam – Mere Mehboob (1963)

With new music directors gaining foothold and changing trends in film music, the 1960s saw a decline in Naushad’s career. His music tended to be heard in films in which one of his close associates was involved – Dilip Kumar and Mehboob Khan. Additionally, a new partnership with the rising star, Rajendra “Jubilee” Kumar, emerged. Unfortunately for Naushad, even huge hits like “Mere Mehboob” didn’t do much for his career. This was a travesty because its musical score was evidence of how much more Naushad had to offer. Keeping with the film’s “Muslim social” theme, the film was replete with ghazals and qawwalis. With three superb solos, Rafi demonstrated the towering form he was in. My pick from the film is “Mere Meboob Tujhe Meri Mohabbat Ki Kasam” with Pandit Shivkumar Sharma on the santoor.

Tere Husn Ki Kya Tareef Karoon – Leader (1964)

While Rafi’s songs for other music directors grew louder and, to put it mildly, more exuberant, he always had sweet melodies to sing for Naushad. “Leader” might have had Naushad working with Sahir Ludhianvi for the first time but an ego clash of the two veterans resulted in Sahir’s exit and the entry of Naushad’s staple lyricist, Shakeel Badayuni. My pick, “Tere Husn Ki Kya Tareef Karoon”, is a melodious song enhanced by an elegant Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala onscreen.

Koi Sagar Dil Ko Bahlata Nahin – Dil Diya Dard Liya (1966)

The 1960s also saw a decline in Dilip Kumar’s career. Film after film made little impact on the box-office. “Dil Diya Dard Liya” was another such film. That the film had some very good music did nothing to salvage Naushad’s declining reputation as a saleable music director.

Kaisi Haseen Aaj Baharon Ki Raat Hai – Aadmi (1968)

By the late 1960s, the writing was on the wall for both Dilip Kumar – despite a comeback of sorts with “Ram Aur Shyam” (1967) – and Naushad. They continued to work in a limited capacity but their releases in 1968, “Sunghursh” and “Aadmi” were there last together. Even Rafi had started sounding a little laboured, as in the most popular song of “Aadmi”, “Aaj Purani Raahon Se”. His position as Bollywood’s leading male playback singer was about to be usurped by Kishore Kumar with the release of “Aradhana” the next year. He recorded a handful of songs with Naushad in the 1970s before his untimely death in 1980. My pick from “Aadmi” is the lesser heard Rafi duet with Mahendra Kapoor “Kaisi Haseen Aaj Baharon Ki Raat Hai”. The original recording of the song had Rafi singing with Talat Mahmood. Talat’s replacement with Mahendra Kapoor was an indication of the changing times.

A longer list of the Naushad and Rafi’s best collaborations can be found here.

[This post originally appeared here.]

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3buW-o0ylo

[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