The film is Yaadon Ki Baaraat. The venue, Park Hotel. The ‘rock-n-roll’ styled musician character Monto takes centre stage in the space where patrons come to dine. Just before he begins with his performance for the evening, Monto renders a 15-year-old song (‘pandrah saal puraana gaana’), with the intention that it will reach his long-lost brothers, who once used to sing it along with him. Monto begins singing the title track of Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973). To Monto’s utter delight, he is joined midway through the song by his second brother, Vijay. And unknown to both Monto and Vijay, their eldest brother, Shankar, also present in the hotel, sheds tears over this serendipitous discovery of his bichdey huey bhai since circumstances don’t permit him to publicly acknowledge his ties with them. So, while Shankar, played by actor Dharmendra, weeps copiously behind a pillar, Monto and Vijay reunite in full view and applause of the attending patrons. The song, ‘Yaadon ki baaraat nikli hai aaj dil ke dwaare’, has since become an unofficial anthem of sorts for happy Bollywood reunions.
Interestingly, it is the evergreen nature of the film’s songs that has kept Vijay and Monto alive, to whatever extent, in public memory. Vijay’s character was enacted by Vijay Arora, a graduate from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), who hardly made an impact in Hindi cinema outside Yaadon Ki Baaraat. The other song that features Arora even more prominently in the film is the wonderful ballad, ‘Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko’. Monto, played by Tariq Khan, was introduced in Yaadon Ki Baaraat by his filmmaker uncle, writer-producer-director Nasir Husain. He went on to act in Husain’s next big film—Hum Kisise Kum Naheen (1977)—as well. In that film, Tariq had some fine songs such as ‘Chand mera dil’, ‘Kya hua tera waada’ and ‘Tum kya jaano’ picturised on him. But his stardom was short-lived. And like Vijay Arora, we are now reminded of Tariq through these songs alone.
Hindi cinema is replete with innumerable such instances. Songs in Hindi films have been the invisible stars, with the power to do much more than entertain. Not only have they boosted the fate of lacklustre films, they have made fortunes for filmmakers and actors alike. In many cases, for decades after the film itself has been forgotten, its music has remained fresh and as much loved as it was when the film was released.
RD Burman, SD’s son, did the same. Be it Caravan (1971), Jawani Diwani (1972) or Love Story (1981), it was Burman junior’s music that often catapulted a film’s fortunes from good to great. If Amitabh Bachchan’s ‘Angry Young Man’ persona, shaped by the scriptwriting duo of Salim-Javed in this period, relegated music to the sidelines, then RD’s compositions for filmmakers like Nasir Husain, Gulzar and Shakti Samanta during this time never let good music go out of fashion. Even in Ramesh Sippy’s Shaan (1980), a film that promised much, but failed to work its magic at the box office, it’s RD’s numbers—‘Yamma yamma’, ‘Pyaar karney waaley’ and ‘Jaanu meri jaan’—that have lived on in public memory. The same is the case with Nasir Husain’s Zamaane Ko Dikhana Hai (1981), the filmmaker’s first big flop since he turned director, but whose songs—‘Hoga tumse pyara kaun’, ‘Dil lena khel hai dildaar ka’ and ‘Poocho na yaar kya hua’—composed by RD, were all chartbusters.
Hindi cinema has done much to acknowledge the music composer’s importance. A cursory look at film credit sequences over several decades shows the composer’s name generally appearing just before the director’s, thus highlighting his eminence as the second-most important technician in the Hindi film universe. Even today, music maestro AR Rahman’s presence in a forthcoming release is enough to create a buzz about the film. To this extent, a film’s musical score is not just an avenue to create excitement or to advertise the film, but also an opportunity for film producers to sell music rights and recover costs.
This isn’t to suggest that lyricists have contributed in any small measure to songs as the intangible star in a Hindi film. What is Pyaasa (1957) without the poet-songwriter Sahir Ludhianvi’s ‘Jinhe naaz hai Hind par woh kahaan hain?’ or ‘Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye toh kya hai’? While the film’s publicity before its release had pictures of Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman featured prominently on its posters, Ludhianvi’s lyrics were quite the rage after the film’s release. One advertisement even propped up Pyaasa as ‘A Lyrical New High In Film Music’. Or consider that it is in lyricist Shailendra’s songs, ‘Awaara hoon’ (Awara, 1951) or ‘Mera joota hai Japani’ (Shree 420, 1955) or ‘Sach hai duniya waalon’ (Anari, 1959), that Raj Kapoor’s tramp-like persona is most articulately expressed. Purists may cringe at Javed Akhtar’s ‘Ek do teen’ for Tezaab (1988) or Anand Bakshi’s ‘Choli ke peeche kya hai’ (Khalnayak, 1993), but the lyrics of these songs did a lot to pique the public’s interest in these films even before they were released.
Even when we look back and reminisce or determine the legacy of our past screen legends, it is through the prism of songs they appeared in. So, any retrospective on Dev Anand will have ‘Mana janaab ne pukara nahin’ from Paying Guest (1957), ‘Main zindagi ka saath’ from Hum Dono (1961) and ‘Gaata rahe mera dil’ from Guide (1965). Kaka, or Rajesh Khanna, is similarly fondly remembered through the following combination of songs: ‘Mere sapnon ki rani’ (Aradhana, 1969), ‘Zindagi, ik safar hai suhana’ (Andaz, 1971) and ‘Zindagi ke safar mein guzar jaatey hain’ (Aap Ki Kasam, 1974). Has the filmmaker Guru Dutt’s legacy ever been reflected upon without a reference to ‘Jaaney woh kaise log thay’ from Pyaasa (1957) and ‘Dekhi zamaane ki yaari’ (Kaagaz Ke Phool, 1959)?
Actor Shammi Kapoor is perhaps one of those greats in the Hindi film industry who is known and loved entirely through his songs. The ‘rock-n-roll’, bon vivant image that the actor enjoyed was shaped by innumerable memorable hit numbers, including ‘Yahoo, chahe koi mujhe junglee kahe’ (Junglee, 1961), ‘Baar baar dekho’ (China Town, 1962) and ‘Aasmaan se aaya farishta’ (An Evening In Paris, 1967). It is not a mere coincidence that Kapoor played a musician’s character in at least three of his films: Dil Deke Dekho (1959), China Town (1962) and Teesri Manzil (1966). Complementing Kapoor in a lot of his songs was actress Helen, whose entire career was about what she did in these songs. Right through the 1960s and 1970s, distributors and producers clamoured for a ‘Helen song’ as a sure-fire way of adding zing to a film. It could be argued that because of the way Helen shimmied and sashayed on screen in songs such as ‘Mera naam Chin Chin Choo’ (Howrah Bridge, 1958) or ‘Baithe hain kya uske paas’ (Jewel Thief, 1967) or ‘Piya tu’ (Caravan, 1971) or ‘Yeh mera dil’ (Don, 1978), several producers cast her as the leading heroine in B- and C-grade films in this period.