Happy Fourth of July from Mr. and Mrs. 55! To honor this occasion, we would like to discuss that well-recognized, unsettling phenomena of classic Bollywood: Hindi film songs with unnecessary English. Yes, I know you just cringed. But recognition is the first step towards healing. Like those t-shirts your aunties used to bring back from the motherland with random English words sprawled across the front, these songs are the ones you tend to hide from your friends. Despite their heroic attempts at glamorous cross-over appeal, these adulterated lyrics explode messily in the face of linguistic purism.
If you thought this was a strictly modern phenomena, prepare to blow your mind. Indian lyricists have been playing this dangerous game since the 1950s! Why, God, why? You may ask. There are many reasons. In some instances, the use of English was directly pertinent to the plot, such as in Laxmi’s portrayal of an Anglo-Indian girl in Julie (1975) or even Shammi Kapoor’s Elvis-esque embodiment of a happening nightclub singer in Chinatown (1962). Yet other times, the English words were gratuitous with no contextual relevance, such as Joy Mukherjee’s boyish declaration of “Japan, love in Tokyo!” (1966). All of them represent a fashionable trend toward westernization, even exoticism to some extent, in Hindi music that evolved over the 50s through 70s. The lyrics reflected back on the changing Indian society and the growing popularity of interspersed English in spoken Hindustani.
I always find it ironic that as I cling to the idealization of the Indian culture glorified by films of the 50s and 60s, when I visit my cousins in India, they find it tiresome to sit through a Rajesh Khanna film (many hardly know who he is!), or insist on speaking English, while I desperately want to practice my Hindi. Ah, the joys of being an American Desi. These songs that straddle two worlds appall me just as much as they identify a crisis I know so well.
So let us celebrate India’s love of English today with our list of fusion lyrics from classic films! Each song on our list gets a verdict: a cheer or a cry. Should you feel proud busting out these melodies in the shower, or should you try to hide your shame in the dark recesses of your filmi sub-conscious? Find out below! But be forewarned: this exercise was never meant to be done in public. Go home to the safety of a private room, shut all the windows and lock the doors. Some of the lines you are about to hear require a true devotion to classic Bollywood to survive!
15 Classic Hindi Film Songs with Unnecessary English:
1. All Line Clear (Chori Chori 1956)
It’s not for blind enthusiasm that this song is lacking. Johnny Walker parades his family through the metropolis, rolling the ‘r’ like a Spaniard of what sounds way more like “killier” than “clear.” It’s meant to be comic, but it might reduce you to tears.
2. C-A-T, Cat…Cat Maane Billi (Dilli Ka Thug 1958)
The title says it all. Don’t expect Shakespearean poetry from this song, you might do well on your next spelling bee thanks to Kishore Kumar.
3. Bolo Bolo, Kuch To Bolo (Dil Deke Dekho 1958)
Questionable line: “Pyaar ho to keh do ‘Yes!’ Pyaar nahii.N to keh do ‘No!'” It’s subtle, right? Just enough English to keep the audience on their toes, but not enough to overwhelm anyone. And the song is so catchy, it’s hard to hate.
4. April Fool Banaya (April Fool 1964)
OMG, Saira, stop it. When she screeches “Yooooooooooou eeediot!” I think we all ask ourselves if we were not better off dead. His awkward reply of “Very good!” is as out of place as the hideous shirt on his back.
5. Baar Baar Dekho (China Town 1965)
Verdict: Cheer…and then cry
See, this song walks the line. It’s so catchy and Shammi looks so fly, that you could go through the entire song and not realize any words of English were actually spoken. Oh, but they were. The refrain he struts around to is actually the English fox-hunting cry “Tally ho!” I don’t understand.
6. Japan, Love in Tokyo (Love in Tokyo 1966)
Just warning you, this song WILL get stuck in your head and won’t be released until you sing the refrain out loud in a public forum. The English here is purely gratuitous. First of all, why does he suddenly scream “Japaaaaaaaaan!”? Could there possibly be any confusion in the viewer’s mind about their location? And second, why must he declare there has been “love in Tokyo!” in English of all languages at this point? Who is his real target audience here?
7. An Evening in Paris (An Evening in Paris 1967)
They were really experimenting in this film. From Asha’s interesting interpretation of the French “Zou Bisou Bisou” to Mohammed Rafi’s inexplicable commemoration of his Parisien adventure in English, “An Evening in Paris” wins by sheer virtue of its kitsch factor. Can it get more exotic than this??
8. Baar Baar Din Yeh Aaye (Farz 1967)
This song is quintessential and needs no introduction. Of course, we all wish Bollywood had more to offer in terms of great birthday songs (and ones which were not specifically dedicated to women named Sunita), but we’ll take it. Rafi’s cuckoo-like “oh ho!” after each lilting “Happy Birthday to you!” is just one of many reasons why this song should never get played in front of your non-Indian friends.
9. The She I Love (Mohammed Rafi 1969, non-filmi)
I debated a long time whether or not to put this song on this list. It wasn’t because the song is non-filmi, but rather, because my undying love for Mohammed Rafi held me back from sharing this little dark secret of his with the world. But it had to be done. We must learn from history’s mistakes. Sung vaguely to the tune of “Hum Kale Hain to Kya Hua,” this song is sure to kill the mood of any party.
10. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (Purab Paschim 1970)
This song just wins hands-down. Saira Banu, as the blonde-wig sporting Londoner, takes on dhoti-clad Manoj Kumar in an East-meets-West sing-off of epic proportions. I love how he twists her straight-laced rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” into a completely Panjabi “Twinkle Twinkle Little Sitar” that is actually far more exciting than the original! The total irony, of course, is that when Asha Bhonsle sings the English lines as if she’s a blue-blooded English girl, her Indian accent is so thick, the effect is totally lost (but still kind of loveable).
11. Piya Tu Ab To Aaja (Caravan 1971)
Helen can literally get away with anything. I have zero problem with the pyscho in a toreador costume crying “Monica! O my darling!” from inside a jumbo birdcage.
12. Meri Soni Meri Tamanna (Yaadon Ki Baraat 1973)
Verdict: Cheer…but it’s borderline
This is song so good, it practically kills me that they threw in an English line just for giggles. It makes the whole thing awkward. Why can’t you just say “tumse pyaar hai” instead of “I low you”? Nope, I didn’t misspell. Listen to the line. I sure didn’t hear the ‘v’ in that sentence either.
13. My Heart is Beating (Julie 1975)
I know, I know. Bear with me here. I too stuck my head under a pillow and cried about the cruel and unusual punishment I was being served when I first heard this song. Part of it is her thick accent, part of it is the ridiculous caricatures of the members of the Anglo-Saxon family they portray. 100% of the lyrics are sung in English, which is a rare thing in classic Bollywood. Julie took fusion lyrics where no lyricist had dared go before. And I’ll be the first to say…it grew on me. It’s actually very melodious! Sure, Preeti Sagar is no Karen Carpenter, but this song did earn her the Filmfare Award for Best Female Playback Singer in 1975!
14. My Name is Anthony Gonzalves (Amar Akbar Anthony 1977)
This song theoretically makes some sense in the context of the film. Yes, Anthony Gonzalves was a real guy, and Amitabh Bachhan is supposed to be just another God-fearing Christian at an Easter party. When he starts spewing strings of random English words together, it’s clear he knows he’s just a buffoon trying to look smart and sophisticated to impress the ladies!
15. Humko Tumse Ho Gaya Hai (Amar Akbar Anthony 1977)
It’s not that I hate this song, in fact, I love it. But I would have never known in a million years that Amitabh Bachhan is supposed to be saying “God promise, ham sach bolaa hai.” Excuse me, ‘God promise’? Who even SAYS that?? I know you’re supposed to be Christian and all that, but seriously, what is happening here.
We know this is a divisive issue in the obscure world of classic cinema and as constant mourners of the loss of Urdu in Hindi films, we want to hear YOUR thoughts! Do you love you a good Hinglish patois or do you cringe and die every time? Have we forgotten any potential gems that deserve a place on our list? Let us know in the comments!
– Mrs. 55