Bollywood, as I pointed out in my last post, is the pan-Indian film industry; and there is no denying its power and reach. It is the most popular entertainment in India – a large part of which derives from its glamour and spectacle, as also its music. It is difficult to imagine Hindi films without music, i.e. without their songs – a popular tradition that dates back right to the time of the talkies.

“Bollywood music” is now almost synonymous with “Item numbers”, which are all the rage at the moment. We would all, at the drop of a hat, gyrate to ‘Sheila ki jawani’, ‘Yeh halkat jawani’, etc. etc. It is too long a list to pen down in a small article and too familiar to be written about. This is of course a pretty recent phenomenon – fuelled by the DJ culture of the last decade. Till then, it was the “romantic songs” of “Hindi films” that held sway over the imagination of Indians. And that was true even much after the heydays of Lata, Asha, Mukesh, Rafi and Kishore. Of all the themes that Hindi films are famous for, it is love that has generated the greatest amount of musical creativity in the industry. Beautiful lyrics have poured forth over decades, entertaining generations of listeners. We all have our own favourite love songs – with heroines (they were termed ‘actors’ much later) pining for love; or acknowledging its discovery with intrepid hearts; the lead pair expressing mutual love in tones of gratefulness; or else crying out the pangs of separation (‘judaai’).

I, myself, am however also attracted to a different category of songs – that of males solos. They are some of the most iconic songs in the history of Hindi films – where the young hero, coming of age, sets off to meet life. It promises to be a beautiful journey, full of possibilities, where even the uncertainties are fraught with excitement. Hence, this young man sets out on the road, full of a sense of adventure, in fields and valleys, open roads and mountain paths, and even the mean streets of the city.

Male-bonding/‘dosti’ has had its great songs – “Yeh dosti, hum nahin torenge” (Sholay); “Yaari hain iman mera, yaar meri zindagi” (Zanjeer); “Diye jalte hain” (Namak Haraam); “Dil chahta hain” (title-song). But these other male songs – solos – have a beauty of their own. I have six favourites among them, spanning three decades of film music – “Awaara hoon” (the tramp Raj Kapoor in Awaara, 1951); “Suhana safar aur yeh mausam haseen” (the quiet and intense Dilip Kumar in Madhumati, 1958); “Mein Zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya” (the debonair Dev Anand in Hum Dono, 1961); “Zindagi, kaisi hain paheli” (the charismatic Rajesh Khanna in Anand, 1971); “Musafir hoon yaaron” (young, restrained Jeetendra in Parichay, 1972); “Zindagi, aa raha hoon mein” (boyish, energetic Anil Kapoor in Mashaal, 1984).

1) “Awara Hoon” /Raj Kapoor (1951)

This is the ultimate hymn of carefree, nonchalant, poverty-stricken youth. Awara was Raj Kapoor’s third film as actor/director under his own banner (RK Films) and explored the role of environment in shaping the moral fibre of a person. By the end of the film, the directorial finger will be pointed squarely on a class-ridden society for producing such “awara”, irresponsible citizens, but at this point, we are only supposed to enjoy the antics of the tramp. He pilfers a chain, gets caught, runs away with the cycle of a stranger, boards a truck, is thrown out by the women, takes to the highway and then returns to his basti (full of starved children). It is only then that the full force of what he has just sung strikes you. He has neither home nor family, and nobody loves him. And despite being filled with bruises, he has never stopped laughing or singing happy songs. It is plain to the viewer that the slum that he enters can only harbour such deprived lives; also that, the only way that a person can survive amidst such squalor is by defying that deprivation and destitution – as the tramp does. He would soon find love, though, and that would make him sing many more songs of a different hue. 

With a few notable exceptions, Mukesh had been RK’s “voice” throughout his career; and for most of it, he also preferred having the duo Shankar-Jaikishan as music director and Shailendra as lyricist. “Awara Hoon” is one of the best songs of this magical trio, an infectious tune that was lapped up not only by the Indian audience of the day, but also by people from other countries – so much so that when RK and Nargis visited the Soviet Union as part of a film delegation, his fans hummed it along with him!

RK was always actively involved in the creation of all his films’ music, and understandably so. He had a natural ear for music, could play many instruments with ease, and had been trained for a short while by R.C. Boral of New Theatres (Calcutta) in the 1930s. The effortlessness with which he acted out his songs bears testimony to his inborn musical talent.

2) “Suhana safar aur yeh mausam haseen” /Dilip Kumar (1958)

It is a very picturesque song, with the hero in the midst of nature. The latter is true (in big or small measure) of all the songs that I have listed here – but what is unique about “Suhana Safar” is the pristine quality of the Nature depicted in it, undiluted either by memory or human habitation. The forest with its wild flowers and trees, its gushing stream, the sky that meets the earth are all celebrated in the song. It starts with the hero walking away from his shadow and ends with him hoping that perhaps, it is here, that he will find his new world and his dream. Madhumati, like all Bimal Roy films, has enchanting music by Salil Choudhury. The USP of this particular Mukesh number for me, though, is that it is lip-sung by a smiling Dilip Kumar!

3) “Mein Zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya” /Dev Anand (1961)

The song is picturized on a soldier in a forest, who, in the course of the song, dresses up in uniform and drives away in a jeep. He is not alone – his man Friday is helping him dress and there is the imaginary face of his beloved (played by Sadhana) reflected in the water. Clearly he has not forgotten her, though he claims otherwise in the song.

His philosophy of life is worth following; and if followed, would make a veritable Buddha of any common man! In three neat stanzas penned by Sahir Ludhianvi, the soldier sings: He keeps life company; dismisses all his worries; and celebrates even destruction, as mourning it amounts to a worthless exercise. What he has got, he accepts as destiny; what he has lost, he would rather forget. And he has trained his heart to reach that height where one cannot distinguish between happiness and sorrow.

One of the flaws that the picturization of Hindi film songs have is that, in them, actors often literally act out the words, which sometimes reduces the merit of a song and makes the whole act shallow. To some extent, it is unavoidable (how much abstract expressions can you have in a 3-5 minute song?), but a talented director would know how to circumvent it. In this song, this drawback is actually turned into a virtue. When Dev Anand sings, “Har phikra ko dhuwe mein ura ta chala gaya” (I dismissed my worries in a puff of smoke), he actually blows out the smoke of his cigarette. It is perfectly timed and is an image that sticks in the viewer’s mind. It is certainly the image that is conjured up in my mind whenever I hear this song.

4) “Zindagi, kaisi hain paheli” /Rajesh Khanna (1971)

This is a musing on life by a terminally ill patient – who, ironically, has a great zest for life and imparts a bit of that to all that he comes into contact with in his final months. The entire song is shot on a sea-beach, where the protagonist is just part of a crowd, the ‘mela’ of life. His doctor friend and the latter’s fiancé sit close by, but they, and all relationships are incidental in this song. What matters is the vastness of life, made anonymous by the even vaster sea.   

Anand is once taken aback by the sheer urgency of the waves surging forward, and lingers on the balloons that he has released in the boundless sky. The sea and sky fill up the song. And for most of it, Anand walks away from the camera, towards the other end of the beach, a diminishing figure gradually reduced to just a speck. One of the few times that his face is in close-up, he sings of the dreamer getting ahead of his dreams, a subtle reminder of his impending doom. The irony of the song – a celebration of life by a dying man – is made deeper by the fact that while the song celebrates life, its picturization demonstrates an implicit acknowledgement of the insignificance of human beings in the greater scheme of things. It is this inner tension that makes the song one of the most poignant in Hindi films.  

The central thought of the song – that Life is a strange puzzle that makes you laugh and cry by turns, and in which happiness and sorrow keep each other company – is as old as the hills. But it is the melody of Salil Choudhury’s composition and the soulfulness of Manna Dey’s rendition that makes it so memorable. Incidentally, this is not the music composer-singer duo that ‘kaka’ is most associated with. It was R.D. (Burman) and Kishore (Kumar) who gave Khanna his greatest hits, but this film by Hrishikesh Mukherjee was one of the 15 consecutive hits in two years (1969-1971) that made Rajesh Khanna the first superstar of Bollywood. While watching the song, we can understand why – for even in his neatly combed hair, buttoned-up Punjabi, and the most common pair of white pyjamas, Rajesh Khanna’s charisma is undeniable.

5) “Musafir hoon yaaron” /Jeetendra (1972)

This thoughtful, thin-moustached Jeetendra is an exception. It would later give way to a very different avatar – that of a jumping jack wooing southern heroines – which is what he would eventually became popular for. In the hands of director Gulzar, however, he is a subdued actor with quieter roles (in Parichay, Kinara, Khusboo). In this song from Parichay (a Hindi take on Sound of Music), he is a wanderer with no home to call his own. He is inexorably drawn to the road and seems to create his own path, equally comfortable travelling at all hours of the day and night. At the beginning of the song, he sets out on a mountain road in a tonga; and during its course, he journeys down from the hills to the plains. A very unique fate awaits him there, to which this song gives absolutely no clue. This is, in fact, one of the beauties of the song – that it is self-contained and can be enjoyed in itself, without reference to the story of the film, without knowing what goes before or comes after. This is one of R.D-Kishore’s most popular numbers, the imitation of the rhythm of the carriage adding a lively quality to what is essentially an introspective song.

6) “Zindagi aa raha hoon mein” /Anil Kapoor (1984)

Anil Kapoor exudes a boyish charm in this song – there is no mistaking that he is fresh out of college. He has in fact finished his education and intends to join his mentor, Dilip Kumar, who runs a daily with courage and idealism. Compared to the anonymous sylvan surroundings of some of the songs described above, this song has a very distinct urban landscape as its background – and a recognizable one at that. While crooning, Anil Kapoor walks through the beautiful garden city of Bangalore, with stately structures and well-maintained gardens/parks, past a football field, up onto a highway, where he boards a bus almost filled to capacity. He is full of the confidence of youth – certain that he has the power to break all chains and can, if need be, even change destiny. This song is a call to life! But his life is a tale about to be told, and he seems impatient to tell it.

 

Awara, Hum Dono, Madhumati, Anand, Parichay, Mashal – are not only among some of the greatest hits of all times, but also represent landmarks in their lead actor/director’s careers. In Awara, Raj Kapoor was riding the crest of an incredible popularity as actor/director that would last unabated for more than a decade. Hum Dono took the theme of mistaken identities to new heights, in which Dev Anand gave a stellar double-role performance. Madhumati was an influential re-incarnation film by Bimal Roy, who had earlier pioneered social realism in Hindi films; and the hit Dilip Kumar-Vyajintimala pair struck gold once again in this classic. Anand not only consolidated Rajesh Khanna’s superstar status, but also marked a turning point in the career of Amitabh Bachchan. Parichay reinforced the arrival of a sensitive director (Gulzar), who had formerly only penned beautiful lyrics and assisted renowned filmmakers. Mashaal saw Anil Kapoor transform from ‘tapori’ to a responsible and committed journalist, and was an important film in Dilip Kumar’s second innings in the industry, following a hiatus of five years. It comes as no surprise that all these films won numerous Filmfare and National awards in various categories. The real test of a film’s success is however not how many awards it has won, but how long it is remembered by film audiences – and in that test, all of them succeed. The songs enumerated here are a part of their enduring appeal.