Songs and their enduring appeal

Songs often achieve what movies and actors can seldom strive to—immortality

Published: Dec 22, 2015 06:22:51 AM IST
Updated: Dec 18, 2015 06:07:04 PM IST
Songs and their enduring appeal
Image: Kamat Foto Flash
Teesri Manzil (1966) had chartbusters like ‘Oh haseena zulfon waali’. Its music by RD Burman was a massive hit

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.

Image: Express Archive Photo
RD Burman’s music and the songs from Shaan (1980) have lived on in public memory

Melodies have saved many a film, many an actor from being relegated entirely to obscurity. Kumar Gaurav, actor Rajendra Kumar’s son, made quite a splash with his first film Love Story (1981), but didn’t have much of a career thereafter. Yet, Love Story’s songs—‘Dekho maine dekha hai ek sapna’ or ‘Teri yaad aa rahi hai’—have endured. Something similar can be said of the Rahul Roy, Anu Aggarwal-starrer Aashiqui (1990). The film’s songs were integral to its success and even spawned Aashiqui’s sequel, Aashiqui 2 (2013). And so, be it Gaurav, Roy or Aggarwal, we now remember these actors through the songs from their films.  

Songs have been essential to Hindi cinema since the introduction of sound on celluloid. Following the success of Khazanchi (1941), the film’s composer Ghulam Haider became something of an overnight celebrity for composing a soundtrack that merged Punjabi folk with classical raagas. Since then, composers like C Ramchandra, Naushad, SD Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and AR Rahman have determined the fortunes of many a film. Shankar-Jaikishan were very much the dominant composer duo of the 1950s and 1960s, and it is hard, in particular, to look at Raj Kapoor’s legacy without their compositions for his films.

The same could be said of SD Burman’s music for (Dev and Chetan Anand’s) Navketan’s productions.

Songs and their enduring appeal
Image: Kamat Foto Flash
RD Burman’s music and the songs from Shaan (1980) have lived on in public memory

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. 

Bharat Bhushan was a big star of his time but, today, he is mostly remembered when his songs from films like Baiju Bawra (1952) are played

The great filmmakers in Hindi cinema had a clear understanding of the impact a song can have on a production. Names like Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, Vijay Anand, Nasir Husain, Yash Chopra and Shakti Samanta always placed a certain emphasis on their film compositions. This can be gauged from the general edge to the music in their films across their respective oeuvres. Some filmmakers, such as Gulzar, placed greater importance on lyrics, while others, such as Subhash Ghai, accorded priority to tracks that would gain popularity. But the emphasis was very much on putting out an album that resonated with the intended audience. Among the contemporary crop of filmmakers, Vishal Bhardwaj, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Shaad Ali, Imtiaz Ali, Karan Johar and Ayan Mukerji can be seen putting a similar special emphasis on songs.
The Hindi film song is also an avenue of gauging the pulse of a generation. When RD Burman’s fifth film Teesri Manzil released in 1966, songs like ‘Oh haseena zulfon waali’ and ‘Aaja aaja’ had never been heard before. The novel nature of the musical arrangement in these songs caught on with moviegoers. The film’s soundtrack gained iconic appeal in no time. Likewise, when Rahman first appeared on the Hindi film landscape with Roja (1992), film audiences had suffered an entire decade of the 1980s, with banal, often plagiarised songs ruling the roost. Roja came as a breath of fresh air and Rahman’s overnight ascent into stardom forced a shift away from the musical style of the 1980s. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s Dil Chahta Hai (2001) score, perfectly epitomised by ‘Hum hain naye, andaaz kyun ho puraana’, too had a similar impact as it resonated with the urban Indian youth of the 21st century.   

Songs and their enduring appeal
Image: Kamat Foto Flash
Songs like ‘Mera joota hai Japani’ (Shree 420, 1955) struck a chord with cinema lovers and were instrumental in making Raj Kapoor a popular name across the globe

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.

Image: Express Archive Photo
Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s music for Dil Chahta Hai (2001) came like a breath of fresh air

And it is not just the bigger actors who are remembered because of the memorable songs they are associated with. Several lesser-known actors too live on in our memory because of popular musical tracks. Bharat Bhushan was a big star of his time, featuring in hits like Baiju Bawra (1952), Phagun (1958) and Barsaat Ki Raat (1960). But few remember the man today, except when his songs ‘Mann tarpat hari darsan ko aaj’ or ‘Yeh ishq ishq hai’ play on some nostalgic radio programme. Actors Joy Mukerji and Biswajit, who rode waves of popularity in the 1960s but who hardly elicit any familiarity among today’s cinegoers, immediately come to the fore each time ‘Banda parwar’ (Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon, 1963) or ‘Pukarta chala hoon main’ (Mere Sanam, 1965) play on television. Something similar could be said of actress Mumtaz, who emerged as a leading star for a brief period in the early 1970s, but is known mostly because of her chartbusters ‘Aaj kal tere mere pyaar ke charche har zabaan par’ (Brahmachari, 1968), ‘Bindiya chamkegi’ (Do Raaste, 1969) and ‘Jai jai Shiv Shankar’ (Aap Ki Kasam, 1974).

And so ever since Wazir Mohammed Khan first sang ‘De de khuda ke naam pe pyaare’ for Alam Ara in 1931, the Hindi film song has served several purposes. From being the only good thing about nondescript films like Shagoon (1964) to giving actors their only moment of fame (remember Vijay in ‘Chaltey chaltey mere yeh geet’ or Kunal Goswami in ‘Neeley neeley ambar pe’) to enunciating trends and serving as the biggest sampler of a forthcoming film, the Hindi film song has a rich legacy.  May its stardom never diminish.

Akshay Manwani is the author of Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet (HarperCollins India 2013). He is currently working on a book on the cinema of writer-director-producer, Nasir Husain. He tweets at @AkshayManwani

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(This story appears in the 25 December, 2015 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from To visit our Archives, click here.)

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