Hindi Film Songs with Unnecessary English: Fusion Lyrics in Old Bollywood

Saira Banu looks on in disgust as Manoj Kumar ruins classic English songs with Panjabi dhamaka in Purab Aur Paschim (1970).

Saira Banu is disgusted as Manoj Kumar ruins classic English songs with Panjabi dhamaka in Purab Aur Paschim (1970).

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.

One big happy Anglo-Indian family sings "My Heart is Beating" in Julie (1975).

Just another average evening at home for the big happy Anglo-Indian family singing “My Heart is Beating” together in Julie (1975).

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)

Verdict: Cry

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)

Verdict: Cry

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)

Verdict: Cheer

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)

Verdict: Cry

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)

Verdict: Cry

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)

Verdict: Cheer

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)

Verdict: Cheer

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)

Verdict: Cry

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)

Verdict: Cheer

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)

Verdict: Cheer

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)

Verdict: Cheer

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)

Verdict: Cheer

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)

Verdict: Cry

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

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23 thoughts on “Hindi Film Songs with Unnecessary English: Fusion Lyrics in Old Bollywood

  1. Another great post!! I will just say I prefer my lyrics to be in Hindi and skip all the English. They always sound ridiculous to me, it has never worked in a good way to modernize a song just ruin it. Just an opinion!

  2. I am in love, you are in love, he is ….etc. etc. Rajesh Khanna and Zeenat in ‘Aashiq hoon baharon ka’ (1976)! It’s a CRY for sure.

    • Wow, an exemplary example of a CRY indeed! Thank you for sharing this Suhan! I’m not sure which is a greater shock to the soul–the lyrics or Rajesh Khanna’s girlish hair-do!

  3. This post just needed to be written to be written!! I feel somewhat consoled as I live thru the painful attempts of rap and remix making a right mess of songs good on their own… Great read as always! =)

    • Hahahaha! The way he turns the “I don’t know what you say” into a dance among the ducks in priceless! Thanks for sharing this prize-worthy CRY from Ek Duje Ke Liye (1981)!

  4. Pingback: Bollywood releases - Box-Office Verdicts Of Major Bollywood Releases

  5. Great post, as always! But you have just scratched the surface…some other examples:
    hello mr how do you do from mera naam chin chin (Howrah Bridge, 1958, which appeared to be a great year for this kind of fusion for some strange reason)

    Also, why just English- lets talk about more recent globalization efforts with the now classic amore mio, il tempo vola from Do lafzon ki hai (Great Gambler) and one that you have commented on in your blog a while ago!

    Finally, there is another Mohd. Rafi attempt that is even more egregious than “She I love”. it goes like this, believe it or not, sung to the tune of bahaaron maang barsao!
    What was he thinking???

    Listen to it in his voice (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLaol19qaig) and cringe away happily in some dark corner!

    Although we hail from different lands,
    we shone earth and sky and sun,
    remember friends, the world is one..

    We want all enmity to seize,
    for we want peace, we all want peace,
    we want no hate, we want no strife,
    since we were born for love and life,
    come let us chant while joining hands,
    we shall not rest till wars are done,
    remember friends, the world is one..

    Although we hail from different lands,
    we shone earth and sky and sun,
    remember friends, the world is one..

    we have matured to dream and build,
    we want our dreams to be fulfilled,
    we have come here to dream and plan,
    a world of joy and hope for man,
    a world is dignity demesne,
    a world that we shall see begun,
    remember friends, the world is one..

    Although we hail from different lands,
    we shone earth and sky and sun,
    remember friends, the world is one..

    • Oh man. This one rivals “The She I Love” for winner of worst song ever recorded by a sane human being. Although I’ll fight anyone to the death that Mohammed Rafi was a god who could do no wrong…it’s really, really hard to defend this number. At least his peace-seeking intentions are honorable?

      As for Geeta Dutt’s rocking “Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu”, that’s a CHEER no matter how you slice it!! Thanks for the insightful comments as always!

      • Thoroughly enjoyed the post! I have to admit, being a big Rafi fan, I cringed the most when I first heard “The she I love”. With “Although we hail from different lands”—its like being on an accident scene. Don’t want to look but can’t keep eyes away. The fact that the tune is that of such a pretty melody–Baharon Phool Barsao—actually makes it worse!

        However, I should note one English experiment in a Rafi song which sort of worked: Nazar na lag jaye kisi ki rahon mein. The “Oh my love” sounds ok, although if I ever sing it in public I will substitute my own (Hindi/Urdu) words for this phrase.

  6. Ha! Ha! Great post. Really enjoyed it.
    BTW, growing up in Bombay in the 70’s we all said ‘God promise’ and tugged at our adam’s apple as we said it. It was sort of like saying….’I swear..’ usually with the utmost sincerity that a 10 year old could muster. It was like grown ups were obligated to believe you if you added ‘God promise’. Hilarious–now that I think of it.
    Thanks for the jolt back memory lane.

    • Haha that’s a great bit of trivia! I never knew what “God promise” meant or that it was actually a popular saying in the 70s. I’m glad you cleared up the mystery and thanks for reading!

  7. Sorry I am late to this post but…add couple more to this collection.
    The Burning Train (title song) and Aruna Irani’s cheesy Cha cha number ( I forget the movie but it was American collaboration with Rex Harrison, Dharmendra, etc. circa 1978?)

  8. Very interesting article! Infact i used to hide from my friends and listen to april fool banaya and Cat mane billi songs. I knew that the unnecessary english is ridiculuous in these, but still i liked them very much! Glad to know i am not the only one in this world to do this!

    Well here are 2 others – Hey You how do you do (Satte Pe Satta) – well this is a cheer!
    And Sikandar ne porus se (Anpadh 1962) – The words in it ‘jo P-U-T put hai, aur B-U-T but hai’. But its acceptable as they are telling illogicalities of english here.

  9. “The She I Love” is far better than that atrocity about world peace on the flip side! The lyrics for “The She I Love” were written by the poet laureate Harindranath Chattopadhay (brother of Sarojini Naidu) and it is Chattopadhyay himself doing the laughing and spoken lines at the beginning and end of the song. Chattopadhyay also wrote the lyrics for “My Heart Is Beating” from Julie.

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