Everything I Need to Know About Life, I Learned From Amar, Akbar, Anthony (1977)

Everything I need to know about life I learned from Amar, Akbar, Anthony (1977).

We at Mr. and Mrs. 55 – Classic Bollywood Revisited! are getting tired of some of the recent unhinged political rhetoric being thrown around. Sometimes we have to take a moment to realize that not everyone was lucky enough to learn important life lessons as we were from classic Bollywood films.

Amar Akbar, Anthony (1977) is one of India’s most beloved masala films, telling the story of three brothers who are separated in childhood and eventually united after one is raised a Hindu, one a Muslim, and one a Christian. Let’s take a moment to reflect on what Vinod Khanna, Rishi Kapoor, and Amitabh Bachhan’s title characters would have to say about recent events.

3 Life Lessons From Amar, Akbar, Anthony (1977):

1. We CAN all live in harmony.

Amar akbar anthony

Plurality makes us better. Families, communities, and countries are enriched because we embrace and learn from our differences.

2. A family that sings and dances together, stays together.

anthony gonsalves egg

On a related note, always, always have a giant Easter egg handy. Just trust me.

3. Karma is a b****.

Pran Amar Akbar Anthony

A really huge b****. If you insult a man when he’s down, you’re going to be that man soon. And everyone, even your kids, will hate you. Until, of course, you repent and join them in a group chorus (see rule #2).

Pass this along to friends, shady pharmaceutical executives, and bombastic political wannabes who don’t quite get it. And if your childhood was completely empty, you can now watch Amar, Akbar, Anthony online and subtitled here!

Your welcome.

– Mrs. 55

The Top 30 Greatest Classic Bollywood Films of All Time

The top 30 greatest classic Bollywood films have been selected. Which films made the list of Bollywood’s best?

Greatest Bollywood Films of All Time Guru Dutt Waheeda Rehman

Introduction

Mr. and Mrs. 55 – Classic Bollywood Revisited! at last present our definitive list of the Bollywood classics you absolutely must see before you die. Hundreds of films were scored and ranked across multiple dimensions of Bollywood cinema including: story, direction, performances, musical composition, as well as cultural impact and legacy. We included Hindi-language films made between the period of 1949-1979 on our list of the best classic Bollywood films ever made. Some on the list are beloved favorites of the industry, while others may surprise you.

Among the winners are directors Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy and Raj Kapoor–names synonymous with masterpiece Indian cinema–each with multiple films among Bollywood’s all-time greatest. Always wondered why a couple of young Harvard students like us love old Indian films so passionately? No matter what you think you know about Bollywood, the movies on this list will change your understanding of Indian films like never before. From village epics that grapple with our national identity to the nostalgic poetry of sudden disillusionment, classic Bollywood films transport us from the enchanting glamour of Bombay nightlife to the majestic gardens of Kashmir. They carry our souls through hardship and loss and revive our spirits with redemption.

This is cinema the way it was meant to be. This is classic Bollywood.

The top 30 Films from 30 years of classic Hindi cinema (1949-1979):

1. Pyaasa

Pyaasa Guru Dutt

Guru Dutt, 1957

Pyaasa, or “thirst,”is the story of one man’s search for compassion in the cold cynicism of post-independence Indian society. Vijay is an unpublished poet, dismissed by his own family and scorned by socialites and his colleagues. After befriending a prostitute who shelters him, Vijay is believed dead and his poetry “posthumously” lionized. He becomes an overnight sensation, mourned by fans across the country, and the true Vijay is labeled an imposter. India entered its golden age of filmmaking in the 1950s when its long-awaited freedom from England and the hopes of a new government created a social tinderbox of great expectations and disillusionment. Pioneering the technique of utilizing song lyrics as direct extensions of the film’s dialogue, Guru Dutt as the writer-producer-director-star paints a stirring portrait of the commodification of humanity.

2. Mughal-e-Azam

Mughal-e Azam K. Asif

Karimuddin Asif, 1961

At the turn of the 17th century, Prince Salim falls in love with the court dancer Anarkali and wages war against his own father, Emperor Akbar, in order to marry her. Director K. Asif’s enormous cast, opulent sets, intricately designed costumes and extravagantly staged battle scenes made the film the most expensive ever produced in India at the time. But despite of all the grandeur, the film has a warm heart, and the dangers of the romance between Salim and Anarkali are infused into each glance they share. Although the love story is the backbone of the film, it is Emperor Akbar, from whom the film derives its name (“the Great Mughal”), who takes center stage as he is torn between love for his only son and the unforgiving demands of the Mughal Empire. Every line of dialogue is written with the ornamentation of poetry, casting an elegance to Mughal-e Azam‘s thunderous power.

3. Pakeezah

Pakeezah Kamal Amrohi

Kamal Amrohi, 1971

In the grandeur of Muslim Lucknow at the turn of the century, Pakeezah is a courtesan and dancer who dreams of leaving her life behind when a stranger falls in love with her in a train compartment, not knowing her true profession. With swirling romanticism and languid, dream-like cinematography, Pakeezah instantly became one of the most extraordinary musicals ever made. Perfectionist director Kamal Amrohi, who also wrote the script and some of the lyrics, effectively transports the viewer into a wistful age of bygone formality and luxury. Each of Pakeezah‘s popular semi-classical songs illustrates the duality of a courtesan’s poetry, at once glamorizing the elaborate rituals of love and destroying the institutions that upheld them.

4. Mother India

Mother India Mehboob Khan

Mehboob Khan, 1957

With tragedy strikes her family, newlywed village belle Radha is determined to weather a crucible of social and personal adversities without compromising her honor. In doing so, she reinvents herself as a heavy-handed symbol of India’s own pride as an ancient culture and a new democracy. A defining film in the history of Bollywood, director Mehboob Khan’s iconic Mother India set the pattern for the more than 60 years of Bollywood film that followed it. A mythologization of traditional values and an homage to the beauty of Indian heritage, Mother India‘s unabashedly epic glorification of self-sacrifice and female empowerment was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1958.

5. Guide

Guide Vijay Anand

Vijay Anand, 1965

A corrupt businessman is transformed into a spiritual guide after a misunderstanding that leads to his idolization by a village besieged by drought. Based on the R.K. Narayan novel of the same name and bolstered by a stunning soundtrack, Guide explores a fundamental Vedic transformation from materialism to a release from worldly attachments in an extremely unlikely hero. A scandalous love story settles into the background as director Vijay Anand boldly deconstructs social taboos, from adultery and non-traditional gender roles to religious fraud, in a film that stirringly evolves into a philosophical awakening greater than the circumstances it portrays–a brilliant reflection of the double entendre intended by its title.

6. Kaaghaz Ke Phool

Kaagaz Ke Phool Guru Dutt

Guru Dutt, 1959

In the 1950s at the height of India’s golden age of film-making, a celebrated movie director feels uninspired by the tinsel-lined glitz of studio era Bollywood. When he discovers a new actress, innocent to the corruption of the industry, he believes he has found a muse to ease his restlessness. A elegiac behind-the-scenes film about film-making, Kaaghaz Ke Phool became a cult classic following the eerie semi-autobiographical death of its director Guru Dutt. Trapped in a world of pretense, Guru Dutt illustrates a kind of yearning that softly and slowly erodes the soul–a desperate hunt for a human connection. The real triumph is in the film’s stunning camerawork, gracefully gliding through the empty studio sets like a beautiful spectre of Dutt’s own shattered desires.

7. Awaara

Awaara Raj Kapoor

Raj Kapoor, 1951

A female lawyer is determined to prove her lover’s innocence in a murder attempt on the life of a respected judge. Structured in medias res, the film’s flashback reveals the injustice of her lover’s past when the very judge who condemns him proves to be his own father: a man who threw his wife onto the streets when he believed a criminal had raped her. Echoing the dark lessons of the ancient Ramayana, Awaara shatters the nature versus nurture debate with a showman’s flair and surrealist fantasy, including the film’s legendary dream sequence evoking a descent into Hell. Awaara launched Raj Kapoor’s famous Chaplin-esque hero for the first time, who resonated immensely across the Soviet Union and Communist China as the voice of a new generation.

8. Sahib, Bibi, Aur Ghulam

Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam Guru Dutt

Guru Dutt/Abrar Alvi, 1962

Desperate to save her marriage, the younger daughter-in-law of a wealthy family sacrifices her moral boundaries to win over her alcoholic husband. A nostalgic glimpse into the decaying Bengali feudal system, Sahib, Bibi, Aur Ghulam unravels a dazzling murder mystery at the heart of its progressive view of societal redemption. Seen from the perspective of a young factory worker lured into a stately mansion as an ally of its young mistress, Sahib, Bibi, Aur Ghulam hauntingly opens the doors to the hollowness of exterior splendor. Spiraling against her will with the collapse of Calcutta’s landed aristocracy, Meena Kumari’s portrayal of the tormented wife is forever considered among the most magnificent on-screen performances of Bollywood history.

9. Aradhana

Aradhana Shakti Samanta

Shakti Samanta, 1971

When her lover dies at war, an unwed mother gives up her son up for adoption, vowing to watch over him in secrecy as he grows up in the house of another. Her poignant worship, or aradhana, of her dead fiancé and their son became immortalized in the Indian cinematic psyche as an audacious struggle of traditional society confronted by changing modern values. Boasting one of the all-time greatest soundtracks of Indian cinema, Aradhana epitomizes the versatility and creativity of the era’s leading music directors. From the youthful romance of “Kora Kaagaz Tha” to the grim Bardic undertones of “Safal Hogi Teri Aradhana” to the notoriously seductive “Roop Tera Mastana,” the film is as much remembered for its luminous performances as for exemplifying the golden age of Bollywood music.

10. Do Bigha Zameen

Do Bigha Zameen Bimal Roy

Bimal Roy, 1953

A farming family fights to save their ancestral land from a cunning mill owner. Do Bigha Zameen follows the father and son’s trip to Calcutta from their idyllic village to earn enough money to pay their debts–only to discover the miseries of urban poverty instead. Inspired by the work of Italian neorealism, Do Bigha Zameen pioneered early parallel cinema with a deliberate attention to the “everyday,” and the feeling of an invisible, unhurried camera whose shots and mis-en-scene are both carefully constructed and effortlessly fluid. Directed by Bengali auteur Bimal Roy, the film’s nationalistic electricity hit a broader audience, becoming the first Indian film to win the Prix Internationale at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival.

11. Bandini

bandini bimal roy

During the British Raj of the 1930s, a prison doctor falls in love with a convict who reveals the story of her tumultuous connection to a freedom fighter.

12. Madhumati

Madhumati Bimal roy

Bimal Roy, 1958

On a rainy night, a man enters an abandoned mansion where he is confronted by unfulfilled visions of his past life.

13. Shree 420

Shree 420 Raj Kapoor

Raj Kapoor, 1955

A country boy travels to Bombay to make his fortune where he is lured from the path of virtue into a thrilling life of deceit.

14. Sholay

sholay ramesh sippy

Ramesh Sippy, 1975

After his family is murdered by a notorious bandit, a former police officer enlists the help of two outlaws to capture him.

15. Ankur

shyam benegal Ankur

Shyam Benegal, 1974

The social hierarchies of rural India are disrupted when a landowner begins an affair with a poor farmer’s wife.

16. Hum Dono

Hum Dono vijay anand

Amarjeet, Vijay Anand (1961)

After returning from war, a soldier begins to lead a double-life when his doppelgänger’s family welcomes him home.

17. Barsaat (1949)

Barsaat raj kapoor

Raj Kapoor, 1949

Two men with different ideals of love search for answers with the coming of the monsoons.

18. Amar Akbar Anthony

Amar Akbar Anthony manmohan desai

Manmohan Desai, 1977

Three brothers are separated in childhood and eventually unite after one is brought up a Christian, one a Hindu, and one a Muslim.

19. Anand

Anand hrishikesh mukherjee

Hrishikesh Mukherjee, 1971

A doctor recounts the story of a terminally ill man who wishes to his live life to the fullest and spread happiness to those around him.

20. Haqeeqat

Haqeeqat chetan anand

Chetan Anand, 1964

A platoon of Indian soldiers leave their homes and loved ones to encounter the harsh realities of battle in the Indo-China War of 1962.

21. Don

Don 1978 chandra barot

Chandra Barot, 1978

A simpleton is trained to infiltrate the underworld by impersonating a criminal leader who has been killed in a police chase.

22. Mahal

Mahal kamal amrohi

Kamal Amrohi, 1949

A young lawyer is haunted by a ghostly woman in his new house, where the builder and his fiancée died shortly after it was built.

23. Sangam

Sangam raj kapoor

Raj Kapoor, 1964

An Indian Air Force Officer leaves for the Kashmiri front, entrusting his wife to the care of his best friend who has secretly always loved her.

24. Dosti

Dosti satyen bose

Satyen Bose, 1964

A penniless orphan makes the unexpected friendship of a blind boy who teaches him survival on the streets of Bombay.

25. Waqt

Waqt yash chopra

Yash Chopra, 1965

Natural disaster separates the members of a close-knit family who re-connect in a series of dramatic entanglements years later.

26. Deewar

Deewar yash chopra

Yash Chopra, 1975

A mother attempts to reunite her two estranged sons: one, a leading criminal of the underworld, and the other, an uprighteous policeman.

27. Kati Patang

Kati Patang shakti samanta

Shakti Samanta, 1970

As a promise to raise the child of her dying friend, a young woman risks starting a new life under a false identity.

28. Aandhi

Aandhi gulzar

Gulzar, 1975

A powerful politician struggles to reconcile her position with secrets from her past.

29. Purab Aur Paschim

Purab Aur Paschim major kumar

Manoj Kumar, 1970

East clashes with West when a traditional Indian student encounters swinging London society for the first time.

30. Bombai Ka Babu

Bombai Ka Babu Raj Khosla

Raj Khosla, 1960

A small-time thief is forced into a deadly web of deception when he gains the trust of his victim’s family.

Read more about these and other classic Bollywood films on our film pages! Which films do you consider among classic Bollywood’s all-time best and why? Leave us a comment and let us know!

– Mrs. 55

Who Is Anthony Gonsalves?

anthonygonsalves amitabh
Amitabh Bachhan looks a befitting popinjay in top hat and monocle for the cult classic number “My Name Is Anthony Gonsalves.”

Who is Anthony Gonsalves? Even if you have but a fleeting knowledge of classic Bollywood, you’ll have come across the name before. Anthony Gonsalves is an enigma, a hero, and a forgotten figure in history. He is both legend and fact–a swashbuckling joker and a serious man of the world. But the truth is, few people appreciate the history while adoring the myth. His entrance into mainstream culture is unforgettable, one of the most famous scenes of the masala classic Amar Akbar Anthony (1977): It’s Easter Day and Parveen Babi has arrived at a friendly dance party with her bulging bodyguard. A mysterious over-sized egg is wheeled into the crowded room. Just when you think the spectacle is over, out bursts Amitabh Bachhan dressed as an Edwardian fop, complete with the astounding vocabulary of a deranged member of the House of Lords.

Anthony Gonsalves is a sacred tune in my house–our whole family loves the song, a particular favorite of my younger brother growing up. Everyone knows when to chime in with the sheepish “Excuse me, please!” or the womenfolk’s “Really?! WOW!” (pronounced, of course, “VOW!”) woven into the melody. But what many don’t realize is that Anthony Gonsalves nor his famously inane words are not entirely fiction.

anthony gonsalves egg
Amitabh Bachhan emerges from the life-sized party egg as a dapper Anthony Gonsalves in Amar, Akbar, Anthony (1977).

Yes, folks, Anthony Gonsalves was real. Born in 1927 in the small Goan fishing village of Majorda, Anthony Prabhu Gonsalves was a genuine and highly influential figure in the Hindi film music industry of the 1950s. He worked as a violinist in the early 1940s with none other than great musical composer Naushad, and later taught violin to eager pupils R.D. Burman and Pyarelal Ramprasad Sharma (of Laxmikant-Pyarelal fame!) in his apartment in Bandra. It is in dedication to him, his old violin teacher, that Pyarelal composed this number and thereby immortalized one of the great unsung heros of the Bollywood music industry. Originally, Amitabh’s character was named “Anthony Fernandez” and Pyarelal personally requested director Manmohan Desai change the name to the now notorious “Anthony Gonsalves” to honor his teacher. The original Anthony Gonsalves orchestrated music for epics like Mahal (1949), Pyaasa (1957), and even founded the Indian Symphony Orchestra following his love for raaga-based music with a Western flair.

Tragically, Gonsalves passed away last year in 2012 after having left a legacy of Goan-Hindustani fusion jazz across the Indian continent. When Amar Akbar Anthony was released, the reclusive artist had already disappeared from the world of filmdom on a traveling grant from Syracuse University in NY. He remained in the states where he joined the American Society of Composers, Publishers, and Authors until a quiet return to Goa later in later years, his musical days long behind him. In 2010 a documentary entitled “Anthony Gonsalves: The Music Legend” based on his life and works won the Special Jury Award at the International Film Festival of India.

The real Anthony Gonsalves, musician
The real Anthony Gonsalves (1927-2012).

Still, most of us with forever associate the name “Anthony Gonsalves” with the blustering, idiotic, and highly endearing character played by Amitabh Bachhan in Amar, Akbar, Anthony (1977). It’s impossible to brush by a song as outrageously absurd (and enjoyable!) as this one. Filled with trick photography and silly antics, the song does its best to grab the audience by the coattails and give them a good spin. You’ll probably wonder about the onslaught of random English words exploding out of Amitabh’s mouth between each stanzas. While most are indeed arbitrary 3-4 syllable English words intended to sound too fancy to bother comprehending (with disastrous and embarrassing results), the opening line shines above the others:

“Wait, wait wait! You see the whole country of the system is juxtapositioned by the hemoglobin the atmosphere because you are a sophisticated rhetorician intoxicated by the exuberance of your own verbosity!”

True, that doesn’t mean anything in relation to this song or the film (and frankly the first part of that sentence doesn’t even mean anything to anyone who knows English), but let’s take a closer gander at that last bit. In 1878 British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli gave a speech in reference to his liberal rival and famous orator William Ewart Gladstone in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. In the speech he spoke viciously of Gladstone as a “sophisticated rhetorician inebriated by the exuberance of his own verbosity”! Hmm..coincidence? I think not!

Parveen Babi My Name is Anthony gonsalves
Parveen Babi is totally buying all the crazy sauce Anthony Gonsalves has to sell at the Easter celebration in Amar, Akbar, Anthony (1977).

So say what you want about the other lines (oh, that gosh darned country of the system), at least one was clearly influenced by something that at one point in time had been a logical thought. Perhaps we have Anand Bakshi to thank for that. Interestingly, a 2008 box office failure was released called “My Name is Anthony Gonsalves” based on the song, but its awfulness might attest to the fact that you can only get away with something as bizarre as this once. Check out the full video of the original to see what I mean here!

At last another Bollywood mystery solved–this one requested by loyal fan Neil! You may now sleep restfully at night once more! Until next time…

-Mrs. 55

The Bollywood Bromance: Songs of Manly Love

There are few things cuter than a wholesome die-hard Indian bromance. In the past decade, the term “bromance” has become popularized by the American media and by high-grossing summer flicks that explore its comedic aspects—but its roots can be traced back to Hollywood first academy award for best picture Wings (1927). This silent heart-wrenching World War I love-fest between two men inspired dozens of commercial hits down the road from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) to Top Gun (1986). Say what you want about those films, however, Bollywood was unarguably where this concept blossomed to its colorful fullest.

Perhaps it’s cultural—I can remember visiting Simla when I was younger and seeing teenage boys holding hands as they walked down the street. It was just considered a normal expression of friendship. Things have changed plenty since my childhood, but regardless, the marketability of the bromance genre may also likely stem from what had (and has) been for a long time a male-dominated industry–from directors to screenwriters all the way down to the lowly production assistants. In fact, in the early pre-talkie years of Indian cinema, women were not even allowed to act in films, much less attend viewings. Y-chromosome melodrama sells, and sells big. The bonds of manly love have been a glorified subject of Bollywood expression since time immemorial and has inspired some of the best movies you’ll ever watch.

In this post, we’ll explore our top 5 “bromantic” songs of yesteryear films long before the days of Dostana (2008) and even Qurbani (1980). From declaring eternal devotion to sobbing over betrayal, each one has a special place in our hearts and cinematic history.

Amitabh Bachhan and Dharmendra sing out their love in Sholay (1975)

Yeh Dosti (Sholay 1975):

This song is the crowning jewel of Bollywood bromance. Set at the beginning of an all-time megahit, this song showcases two men (Amitabh Bachhan and Dharmendra) riding a single motorcycle and singing their love for each other. Chest-hair is just blowing in the wind as their friendship is put to the test at the film’s climax. Overdone slightly, but a timeless tear-jerker!

Raj Kapoor pours his heart into his sad song of betrayed trust in Sangam (1964)

Dost Dost Na Raha (Sangam 1964):

Talk about tragedy. Raj Kapoor flies to war and saves his country, only to return and discover that his wife Vijayantimala is really in love with his own best friend Rajendra Kumar. This song of betrayal and lost friendship played morosely on the living room piano makes everyone in the room awkward. Please note that low-cut v-neck top. No, I’m not referring to Vijayantimala.

Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachhan being adorable in Namak Haraam (1978)

Diye Jalte Hai.N (Namak Haraam 1973):

A Rajesh Khanna classic. Although best friends, Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachhan come from two very different socio-economic statuses, ultimately leading to a huge public morally-charged battle of principles. Rajesh Khanna plays the good guy as usual, and his on-screen chemistry with Bachhan evokes the joy audiences loved in Anand! Did I mention the obligatory and visible fluffy chest hair?

Facing starvation and homelessness, two boys find friendship in Dosti (1964)

Chahoonga Mai.N Tujhe (Dosti 1964):

This film was unique in that it is entirely about two teenage boys (neither of whom were big stars then) and the sacrifices they make for each other. Did I mention the hero is blind and homeless? It makes it more endearing. This beautiful Mohammed Rafi song of tragedy is when the hero realizes his best friend is better off without him, and decides to get out of his way forever. These are kids, guys. It’s really, really cute.

Pran works to get a smile out of Amitabh Bachhan in Zanjeer (1973). This is a must-see–Pran is just such a beast in this movie.

Yaari Hai Imaan Mera (Zanjeer 1973):

Oh, Pran, you are a legend. This famous song celebrates the friendship between an Indian (Amitabh Bacchan) and an Afghani patthan (the inimitable Pran). He embodies this character so skillfully—look at how he twirls and gives that sly shake of the head, you’d think he had grown up in a mountainous outskirt of Kabul. See, Bollywood knows how to cross political boundaries too!

An extremely honorable mention goes to “Anhoni Ko Honi” from Amar Akbar Anthony (1979). Does it really count as a bromance if they’re actually supposed to be brothers?

Amitabh Bacchan, Vinod Khanna, and Rishi Kapoor are three brothers on a mission in Amar Akbar Anthony (1979)

Share with us your thoughts and additions to our list!

-Mrs. 55

Rishi Kapoor Amar Akbar Anthony Bollywood Qawwali

The Best Qawwalis of Bollywood Films

Rishi Kapoor Amar Akbar Anthony Bollywood Qawwali
Rishi Kapoor charms his audience singing the famous qawwali “Pardah Hai Pardah” from Amar Akbar Anthony (1979).

The qawwali from films has a hallowed place in the history of the Hindi music industry. A mystic tradition more than 700 hundred years old, the qawwali gained prominence in Bollywood initially through 1950s Muslim social dramas and grew so much in popularity that its influences became mainstream–even continuing to live on today. We present our list below of the best qawwalis of Bollywood films.

But let us first define what precisely is a qawwali? The great Indian poet Amir Khusrau (d. 1326) is considered the founding father of the qawwali genre, having composed songs for the first time in this style to celebrate the death of his spiritual guide Nizamuddin Aulia. The qawwali is the authentic Sufi spiritual song that transports the mystic toward union with God. For centuries, Sufi communities in the Indian subcontinent have sustained this musical tradition in the mahfil-e-sama, or assembly for listening. The qawwali was a religious experience for both listener and performer: as the listener hopes for a spiritual experience of intensity and immediacy to transcend his or her conscious striving, the trained performer seeks to present in song a vast treasure of poetry that articulate and evoke a mystical experience for the audience.

Madhubala impresses the Mughal prince in the classic qawwali “Teri Mehfil Mei.N Qismat” from Mughal-e-Azam (1960)

The qawwali performance usually begins after the evening and may last all night until the morning prayers. The word qawwali means “words” worthy of remembrance, and as such the qawwali traditionally has a devotional aspect in praise of God. Even most “secular” qawwalis found in popular Bollywood movement can be read in this way, although superficially the lyrics have another literal meaning. The harmonium has replaced what was traditionally a sitar as musical accompaniment, but equally important are the tabla and the signature qawwali cyclic hand clapping that increase in speed during the performance. The tarz or tune of the qawwali is normally identified by the first line of the text, which is often a part of the refrain couplet. Although the qawwal was traditionally male, both men and women have enjoyed and excelled at performing the modern qawwali.

Rishi Kapoor dazzles his audience as a popular qawwal in the 1979 blockbuster Amar Akbar Anthony.

Unlike in Hindustani classical music, while taal and raagaa usage is the same, the qawwali places a greater emphasis on the poetic text and the delivery of its message than on musical ornamentation. In many of its vast incarnations within Bollywood, the qawwali became synonymous with a musical debate, a verbal battle (often between the sexes) to outwit the other side on topics that usually boil down to love or the pain of love. That kind of screen chemistry, as you can imagine, is prime Bollywood flirting territory just waiting to be sung.

Let’s take a look at how this genre evolved in mainstream Bollywood into one of the most beloved musical genres of the industry. Here are some highlights:

Humen To Loot LiyaAl Hilal (1958):

One of the first qawwalis to hit the silver screen, no list is complete without this retro low-budget gem. The music is really quite simple, but extremely catchy.

Yeh Ishq Ishq HaiBarsaat Ki Raat (1960):

This qawwali is an Urdu-lover’s paradise. Filled with complex words and allusions you’ll never use in real life, “Yeh Ishq Ishq Hai” set the stage for classy performance duels between men and women that is still considered the greatest Bollywood qawwali for its poetry (see our post for a full English translation!)

Sharma Ke Yeh Kyo.NChaudhvin Ka Chand (1960):

A fun twist on the traditional qawwali, two women sing (Asha Bhonsle and Shamshad Begum) with the latter taking the masculine side and the former taking the feminine.

Teri Mehfil Mei.N QismatMughal-e-Azam (1960):

Oh, does it get any better than this? Every moment of Mughal-e-Azam is a poetic dream and this briliant qawwali is no less. Shamshad Begum battles Lata Mangeshkar for the Prince’s approval of their take on love, each lyric outwitting the last. See our translation with glossary for more!

Nigahe.N Milane KoDil Hi To Hai (1963):

Asha Bhonsle’s greatest contribution to this genre, this qawwali has some beautiful Urdu and probably the most thrilling sargams you’ll find in any of her songs. See our translation with glossary here!

Tumhe Husn Dekhe – Jab Se Tumhe Dekha Hai (1963):

OK, so sure, this qawwali is not particularly memorable for its musical ingenuity (you may or may not cringe the entire way), but how often are you going to behold Shammi and Shashi Kapoor on screen at the same time?! This fascinating qawwali is worth a watch if only for its star value! Kudos to Geeta Bali for holding her own!

Mehengai Maar GayiRoti Kapada Aur Makaan (1974):

This qawwali has a unique flavor–taken from one of Manoj Kumar’s popular Indian propoganda films, the lyrics carry an interesting social message outside the realms of romantic love.

Pardah Hai PardahAmar Akbar Anthony (1979):

A Mohammed Rafi gem, this qawwali ranks among the best of the best. After watching Rishi Kapoor’s enthusiastic performance, you’d believe he was born to be a qawwal. The song is a must-see for anyone interested in the genre.

And just to throw in the contemporary, here’s a picture of me performing the qawwali at last year’s Harvard Ghungroo!

At a Harvard Ghungroo performance of Asha Bhonsle’s “Nigaahe.N Milane Ko.”

-Mrs. 55