The Top 30 Best Classic Bollywood Soundtracks of All Time

The best music albums from classic Bollywood have been chosen. Which songs made the list of Bollywood’s top 30 greatest?

Raj Kapoor Nargis Iconic BarsaatIntroduction

Welcome to the greatest music of classic Bollywood! We at Mr. and Mrs. 55 – Classic Bollywood Revisited! have compiled our ultimate list of the top 30 best classic Bollywood film soundtracks of all-time. Music is the very soul of classic Bollywood, a legacy of beauty and style that once lit the world. These soundtracks showcase the best music of Bollywood and are as diverse and transformative as the films to which they lent their magic. Long after the cinema lights fade, this music remains in the air, haunting us with desire, sustaining us through tragedy, and enchanting our daily experiences in the world.

Soundtracks of all Hindi films released between the years of 1945 to 1985 were considered and ranked based on the merit of lyrics, musical composition and complexity, historical and cultural value, vocal performance, and accomplishments of the soundtrack elements as an ensemble. Topping our list are composers Sachin Dev Burman, Rahul Dev Burman, Naushad, and the duo Shankarsingh Raghuwanshi and Jaikishan Dayabhai Panchal (often credited as Shankar-Jaikishen) whose works both defined and reinvented Bollywood. Like our enormously popular list of the Top 30 Greatest Classic Bollywood Films of All Time, these soundtracks embrace the unexpected.

The advent of music in Bollywood binds the stormy history of a shackled India emerging from depression and war with the golden age of Hollywood musical film. Many believe that films with de rigeur musical numbers is a unique hallmark of Hindi cinema. However, the early “talkie” pictures of India such as Alam Ara (1931) were heavily influenced by the popular western films like The Jazz Singer (1927) and Showboat (1929) in which the new sound technology instantly propelled musical film as the most profitable genre. Hollywood directors like Busby Berkeley whose signature spectacle was the mass ornament and nimble-footed singer-dancers like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers helped contribute to the hundreds and hundreds of musical films cherished by the western world during the 1930s-1950s.

In India, the then universal convention of five to seven musical numbers peppering a film was easily embraced and adapted by Hindi movie directors who introduced Hindustani musical traditions to their work. Playback singers such as Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, and Asha Bhonsle were as celebrated as the actors for whom they lent their voices. Often before a film was released, a Bollywood movie’s soundtrack was played repeatedly on the radio, reaching the hearts of millions across the country who may not have afforded the luxury to see the actual film in theatres.

While Hollywood eventually diverged from the musical film genre by the late 1960s, India was awakening to its own golden era of film in which music dominated the sensory milieu. Perhaps it was the escapism of music with its perfect harmonies and piercing poetry that touched the newly freed country still finding its identity. From solemn hymns of the countryside to feverish cabarets of city nightlife, from extravagant orchestras to solitary sitar solos, and from singers whose voices seem to descend from heaven, these soundtracks unleashed new eras of possibility and romance. The music of classic Bollywood will change you forever. For a few fleeting minutes, the ideals you dreamed of are made real.

Take this journey with us through the best music albums of yesteryear Hindi cinema. This music the way is was meant to be. This is classic Bollywood.

The Top 30 Best Classic Bollywood Soundtracks of All Time:

1. Pakeezah

Pakeezah Meena Kumari Chalte Chalte

Ghulam Mohammed and Naushad, 1971

2. Guide

Guide

S.D. Burman, 1965

3. Mughal-e-Azam

Mughal-e-Azam

Naushad, 1960

4. Nagin

Nagin

Hemant Kumar, 1954

5. Aradhana

Aradhana

S.D. Burman, 1969

6. Teesri Manzil

Teesri Manzil

R.D. Burman, 1966

  • Aaja Aaja – Asha Bhonsle and Mohammed Rafi
  • Deewana Mujhsa Nahin – Mohammed Rafi
  • O Haseena Zulfonwali – Asha Bhonsle and Mohammed Rafi
  • O Mere Sona Re – Asha Bhonsle and Mohammed Rafi
  • Tumne Mujhe Dekha – Mohammed Rafi

7. Barsaat

Barsaat

Shankarsingh Raghuwanshi and Jaikishan Dayabhai Panchal, 1949

  • Hawa Mein Udta Jaye – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Chhod Gaye Balam – Lata Mangeshkar and Mukesh
  • Jiya Beqarar Hai – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Mujhe Kisise Pyar – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Patli Kamar Hai – Lata Mangeshkar and Mukesh

8. Anarkali

Anarkali

C. Ramachandra, 1953

  • Yeh Zindagi Usiki Hai – Lata Mangeshkar
  • O Zindagi Ke Denewale – Hemant Kumar
  • O Aasmanwale – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Jaag Dard-e-Ishq – Lata Mangeshkar and Hemant Kumar
  • Mohabbat Aisi Dhadhkan Hai – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Mujhse Mat Pooch – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Aaja Ab To Aaja – Lata Mangeshkar

9. Kati Patang

Kati Patang

R.D. Burman, 1970

  • Jis Gali Mein – Mukesh
  • Yeh Jo Mohabbat Hai – Kishore Kumar
  • Na Koi Umang Hai – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Yeh Shaam Mastani – Kishore Kumar
  • Pyaar Diwanaa Hota Hai – Kishore Kumar
  • Aaj Na Chhodenge – Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar

10. Chori Chori

Chori Chori

Shankarsingh Raghuwanshi and Jaikishan Dayabhai Panchal, 1956

  • Panchi Banoon Udti – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Aaja Sanam – Lata Mangeshkar and Manna Dey
  • Jahan Main Jaati Hoon – Lata Mangeshkar and Manna Dey
  • Yeh Raat Bheegi Bheegi – Lata Mangeshkar and Manna Dey
  • Rasik Balma – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Man Bhavan Ke Ghar – Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle

11. Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

Roshan, 1963

12. Hum Dono

Hum Dono Abhi Na Jao Dev Anand Sadhana

Jaidev, 1961

13. Jewel Thief

Jewel Thief

S.D. Burman, 1967

  • Honton Pe Aisi Baat – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Aasman Ke Neeche – Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar
  • Dil Pukare – Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi
  • Rulake Gaya Sapna – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Yeh Dil Na Hota – Kishore Kumar
  • Title Music

14. Caravan

Caravan

R.D. Burman, 1971

  • Piya Tu Ab To – Asha Bhonsle
  • Chadti Jawani – Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi
  • Kitna Pyara Wada – Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi
  • Goriya Kahan – Asha Bhonsle and Mohammed Rafi
  • Ab Jo Mile Hai – Asha Bhonsle

15. Bobby

Bobby Main Shayar To Nahin

Laxmikant Shantaram Kudalkar and Pyarelal Ramprasad Sharma, 1973

  • Main Shayar To Nahin – Shailendra Singh
  • Bahar Se Koi Andhar – Lata Mangeshkar and Shailendra Singh
  • Jhoot Bole Kauwa Kate – Lata Mangeshkar and Shailendra Singh
  • Mujhe Kuch Kehna Hai – Lata Mangeshkar and Shailendra Singh
  • Na Mangoon Sona Chandi – Manna Dey and Shailendra Singh

16. Pyaasa

Pyaasa

S.D. Burman, 1957

  • Jaane Woh Kaise – Hemant Kumar
  • Aaj Sajan Mohe – Geeta Dutt
  • Hum Aap Ki Ankhon Mein – Geeta Dutt and Mohammed Rafi
  • Jane Kya Tune Kahi – Asha Bhonsle
  • Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaaye – Mohammed Rafi

17. Abhiman

Abhiman

S.D. Burman, 1973

18. Anand

Anand

Salil Choudhury, 1971

19. Kabhi Kabhi

Kabhi Kabhi

Mohammed Zayur Khayyam, 1976

20. Baiju Bawra

Baiju bawra

Naushad, 1952

  • O Duniya Ke Rakhwale – Mohammed Rafi
  • Man Tarpat Hari Dar – Mohammed Rafi
  • Mohe Bhool Gaye Sanwariya – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Jhoole Mein Pawan Ke – Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi
  • Tu Ganga Ki Mauj – Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi

21. Mother India

Mother India

Naushad, 1957

22. Madhumati

Madhumati

Salil Choudhury, 1958

  • Aaja Re Pardesi – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Dil Tadap Tadap – Lata Mangeshkar and Mukesh
  • Suhana Safar – Mukesh
  • Ghadi Ghadi Mora Dil – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Chadh Gayo Papi Bichua – Lata Mangeshkar and Manna Dey

23. Basant Bahar

Basant Bahar

Shankarsingh Raghuwanshi and Jaikishan Dayabhai Panchal, 1956

  • Duniya Na Bhaye Mohammed Rafi
  • Bhaye Bhanjana – Manna Dey
  • Ja Ja Re Ja – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Main Piya Teri – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Nain Mile Chain Kahan – Lata Mangeshkar and Manna Dey

24. Aar Paar

Aar Paar

O.P. Nayyar, 1954

  • Babuji Dheere Chalna – Geeta Dutt
  • Sun Sun Sun Zalima – Geeta Dutt and Mohammed Rafi
  • Kabhi Aar Kabhi Par – Shamshad Begum
  • Yeh Lo Main Haari Piya – Geeta Dutt
  • Hoon Abhi Main Jawan – Geeta Dutt

25. Kashmir Ki Kali

Kashmir Ki Kali

O.P. Nayyar, 1964

26. Bandini

Bandini

S.D. Burman, 1963

  • Ab Ke Baras Bhej – Asha Bhonsle
  • O Re Mahji – S.D. Burman
  • Mora Gora Ang Laile – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Jogi Jab Se Tu Aaya – Lata Mangeshkar
  • O Janewale Ho Sake – Mukesh

27. Sangam

Sangam

Shankarsingh Raghuwanshi and Jaikishan Dayabhai Panchal, 1964

28. Yaadon Ki Baraat

Yaadon Ki Baraat

R.D. Burman, 1973

  • Chura Liya Hai – Asha Bhonsle and Mohammed Rafi
  • Aapke Kamre Mein – Asha Bhonsle and Kishore Kumar
  • Lekar Hum Deewana Dil – Asha Bhonsle and Kishore Kumar
  • Meri Soni Meri Tamana – Asha Bhonsle and Kishore Kumar
  • Yaadon Ki Baraat – Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar

29. Amar Prem

Rajesh Khanna Amar Prem

R.D. Burman, 1972

  • Chingari Koi Bhadke – Kishore Kumar
  • Raina Beeti Jaaye – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Kuch To Log Kahenge – Kishore Kumar
  • Yeh Kya Hua – Kishore Kumar
  • Bada Natkhat Hai Yeh – Lata Mangeshkar

30. Umrao Jaan

Rekha2_UmraoJaan

Mohammed Zayur Khayyam, 1981

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

– Mrs. 55

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Thandi Hawa Kali Ghata Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

Madhubala in Mr. and Mrs. 55 (1955)
The epitome of modernity, feisty Madhubala croons poolside in Mr. and Mrs. ’55 (1955).

Today we present the lyrics and English translation of “Thandi Hawa Kali Gata” from our very own namesake Mr. and Mrs. ’55 (1955). The film follows an unlikely young couple, Madhubala and Guru Dutt, who are forced together by circumstance and end up challenging their own social mores, maturing, and finding love to essentially become an ideal match—a figurative “couple of the year.”

People tend to have strong feelings one way or another for this film. The music is hands-down fantastic, but the plot tends to be divisive, depending on how you view Guru Dutt’s stance on female emancipation in the 1950s. I tend to argue that the film is empowering—his narrative is social criticism of the flaws in patriarchal society, as well as an exploration of non-traditional female roles. While Madhubala’s character does indeed discover many virtues of a conventional Indian housewife, her realization that she would prefer marriage to divorce comes with a refreshing sense of maturity and self-discovery that in no way shackles her independence. Unlike many great heroines of the era, in Mr. and Mrs. ’55, Madhubala is feisty and does exactly what she wants, when she wants! I like that about a woman.

Madhubala in Mr. and Mrs. 55 Thandi Hawa
In the coming-of-age classic “Thandi Hawa Kali Ghata,” Madhubala blushes in Mr. and Mrs. 55.

Now let’s take this moment to talk about the ridiculous ribbons and pigtails flying around the set in this song. Don’t be shy, you know precisely what I’m talking about. Mr. and Mrs. 55‘ was not the first film (and certainly not the last) to idealize fully-grown women who did their hair like 5-year old girls. Every actress of Bollywood’s yesteryear from class-act Meena Kumari to joke-a-minute Asha Parekh has played the romantic lead with a hairdo that awkwardly imitates the elementary school kids. Yes, chew on that for a moment. There’s an entire slightly uncomfortable social theory behind the craze. Contrast this lunchbox look to Madhubala’s long flowing locks in the sweet duet “Udhar Tum Haseen Ho” toward the end of the film as she begins to accept her marriage to Guru Dutt. Symbolic, no?

But enough about my beef with pigtails. Sung by Guru Dutt’s own wife Geeta Dutt, there’s plenty to love in this uplifting jingle! Follow along with the video here and enjoy our English translation and lyrics to “Thandi Hawa Kali Ghata” below!

Thandi Hawa Kali Ghata Lyrics and Translation:

ThanDii hawaa, kaalii ghaTaa, aa hii gayii jhoom ke
A cold wind and black clouds have come with ebullience
Pyaar liiye, Dole, ha.Nsii, naache jiiyaa ghoom ke
Carrying love, laughter swayed, and my heart danced in swirls

baiThii thii chhup-chhaap yuu.N hii, dil kii kalii chhum ke mai.N
I was sitting quietly, caressing the flower of my heart
dil ne yeh kyaa baat kahii, rah na sakii sun ke mai.N
What my heart said, I could not stay there to listen
mai.N jo chalii dil ne kahaa aur zaraa jhoom ke
As I left, my heart spoke with even more exuberance
Pyaar liiye, Dole, ha.Nsii, naache jiiyaa ghoom ke
Carrying love, laughter swayed, and my heart danced in swirls

Aaj to mai.N apnii chhabii dekh ke sharam aa gayii
Today I became shy upon seeing my own reflection
Jaane yeh kyaa soch rahii thii ki ha.Nsii aa gayii
I do not know what I was thinking, but I suddenly laughed
LauT gayii zulf mere honTh meraa chhuum ke
My hair flew back and touched my lips
Pyaar liiye, Dole ha.Nsii, naache jiiyaa ghoom ke
Carrying love, laughter swayed, and my heart danced in swirls

dil kaa haar iktaar hilaa, chhiDne lagii raginii
The necklace of my heart struck a chord on the iktaar, and it began teasing out a melody
kajraa bhare nain liye, ban ke chaluu.N kaaminii
With kajra-lined eyes, I became a beautiful woman and set out
Keh do koii aaj ghaTaa barse zaraa dhoom se
Someone tell the clouds to rain thunderously today
Pyaar liiye, Dole, ha.Nsii, naache jiiyaa ghoom ke
Carrying love, laughter swayed, and my heart danced in swirls

ThanDii hawaa, kaalii ghaTaa, aa hii gayii jhoom ke
A cold wind and black clouds have come with ebullience
Pyaar liiye, Dole, ha.Nsii, naache jiiyaa ghoom ke
Carrying love, laughter swayed, and my heart danced in swirls

Glossary:

ThanDii: cold, hawaa: wind; kaalii: dark; ghaTaa: cloud; jhoom: ebullience, exuberance; Dolna: to sway; ha.Nsii: laughter; naachnaa: to dance; jiiyaa: soul, heart; laughter; ghoomnaa: to swirl; chhup-chhaap: absolutely quietly; chhabii: reflection, image; sharam aanaa: to become embarrassed, to become shy; zulf: hair; honTh: lips; haar: necklace; iktaar: a traditional Hindustani one-stringed instrument, raginii: a small song, kajraa: traditional Indian  eyeliner; nain; eyes; kaaminii: a beautiful, desirable woman; koii: someone; barasnaa: to rain; dhoom se: with noise

Madhubala and friends in Mr. and Mrs. 55 (1955).
Madhubala and her girlfriends join hands in a chorus of pigtails and parasols in Mr. and Mrs. ’55 (1955).

Don’t you love how this film is just bursting with the tension of modernization? Like many typical “coming-of-age” songs, lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri employs nature-based allegories to describe a girl’s maturation to womanhood and the development of romantic inclinations. However, the song is unexpectedly filmed at the uber urban hangout of Mahatma Gandhi swimming pool in Bombay’s Shivaji Park! Gotta love those modern girls. Producer-director Nasreen Munni Kabir describes Guru Dutt’s cinematographic decision-making process while filming this song in her must-see documentary “In Search of Guru Dutt“!

This brilliant Geeta Dutt hit was requested by loyal fan Sonia! We know we’ve been taking longer than usual to get around to requests, but with Mr. 55 getting swamped in medical school and me getting down to the wire for wedding planning, we’re doing our best! Stay tuned–we love hearing from our fans!

– Mrs. 55

 

Diwali Songs from Classic Bollywood

Happy Diwali! For all our readers and fans observing the occasion, what could be better than a list of 10 classic Bollywood Diwali songs to enjoy over the celebrations today? For a country of over 1 billion Hindus and an industry that absolutely loves to celebrate any kind of occasion with song and dance, Bollywood has a surprisingly low number of Diwali songs in its films. I mean, think about it–Diwali is the country’s largest national holiday, lends itself brilliantly to poetry (festival of lights imagery, the story of the Ramayan, etc.), and is practically bound to succeed by virtue of having very little with which to compete. People are aching for these songs, yet they hardly exist–much less ones worth hearing over and over.

Dharmendra Jugnu Diwali
Dharmendra celebrates Diwali with fireworks and song in Jugnu (1973).

To be sure, plenty of great Diwali bhajans exist outside the realm of Bollywood (look no further than Tulsidas classic “Shri Ram Chandra”), many of which have excellent covers by our favorite playback singers. But within the films? The pickings are slim. I’ve got a theory as to why this might be the case. Let us consider the example of Christmas as we know it in America. When we think of great Christmas jingles, the songs we name predominantly come from hit singers or church traditions–with only a few actually having made it to popular culture from films, despite Hollywood having had a long and successful musical film movement (Judy Garland’s gorgeous “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” comes to mind).

So perhaps Bollywood is no different. Because singing a song about Diwali actually requires Diwali to be a major part of the plot, the happy coincidence rarely occurred–much less with the good fortune of also having been a brilliant composition. Furthermore, celebrations like Holi, for which we can name at least a handful of terrific Bollywood songs, actually lend themselves much better to an upbeat and colorful party on-screen–so musical composition could be a bit more relaxed. With Diwali, you’re treading on sacred ground–and why mess with something that non-filmi bhajans do way better anyway?

Still, a few intrepid pioneers prevailed, and while some are more memorable than others, you’ll find plenty of hidden gems! Below find our list of 10 classic Bollywood Diwali songs that will get the festivities started old-school style! Click the song names to get to the link to youtube.

10 Classic Bollywood Diwali Songs:

1. Kaise Diwali Manaye Lala (Mohammed Rafi, Paigham 1959)

Be prepared from some ridiculous Johnny Walker antics, but a fun dance beat to get your spirits up!

2. Aayi Ab Ke Saal Diwali (Lata Mangeshkar, Haqeeqat 1965)

On a somber note, this haunting Lata Mangeshkar melody from war epic Haqeeqat is a stark reminder of families in grieving this time of year.

3. Is Raat Diwali Kaise (Mohammed Rafi, Shamshad Begum, & Asha Bhonsle, Sabse Bada Rupaiya 1955)

Oh, what?! A Diwali qawwali?! SIGN ME UP! A peppy song describing Diwali festivities sung in traditional qawwali style that gets you clapping along.

4. Laakhon Taare Aasman Mein (Mukesh and Lata, Hariyali Aur Raasta 1962)

Another tragic lovers-separated-on-Diwali-night song starring Manoj Kumar and Mala Sinha, but the melody is sweet and watching Manoj Kumar mope is never such a bad thing. The Lata-Mukesh chemistry works well as always!

5. Jagmati Diwali Ki Raat Aa Gayi (Asha Bhonsle, Stage 1951)

We’re really getting old-school with this one. It’s a rare early song that sounds more like Geeta Dutt than Asha Bhonsle to me. It builds to a frenzy at the end that’s kind of exciting!

6. Deep Diwale Ke (Kishore Kumar, Jugnu 1973)

This may be one of the more popular Diwali songs on our list–sung by lively Kishore Kumar and picturized on Dharmendra with a bunch of happy school kids, you can’t go wrong!

7. Ek Woh Bhi Diwali Thi (Mukesh, Nazrana 1961)

For some balance, here’s another sad song by the inimitable Mukesh-Raj Kapoor duo. Everyone is having a grand time outside partying with sparklers, while moody Raj Kapoor broods upon the days that once were.

8. Deep Jalenge Deep Diwali Aayi Ho (Geeta Dutt, Paisa 1957)

As a connoisseur of Geeta Dutt obscurities, I love this song. With a joyous melody and that gentle lulling voice, it’s one of the better gems on this list!

9. Mele Hain Chiragon Ke Rangeen Ki Diwali Hai (Lata, Nazrana, 1961)

This would be the “happy version” counterpoint to the Raj Kapoor tragedy from earlier. You can see why Raj Kapoor is sad these days are over–everyone’s having a grand old time and it doesn’t hurt to have the voice of a goddess Lata to back you up!

10. Aayi Hai Diwali (Geeta Dutt and Shamshad Begum, Sheesh Mahal 1950)

Another early period Diwali song–and a duet no less! The whole household is bustling with activity and women all over join the chorus for the celebrations!

Even sexy song siren Helen puts on her serious face for a Diwali moment in Lahu Ke Do Rang (1979).

Here are two bonus tracks for extra thrills:

11. Aayi Diwali (Zohrabai Ambalewali, Rattan 1944)

The oldest song on our list! And of course, it’s a Greek tragedy–but rare and exciting for any fans of early early Bollywood. Before the days of Lata Mangeshkar, 1940s playback singer Zohrabai Ambalewali turned music director Naushad into an overnight sensation with this hit!

12. Jyot Se Jyot Jagate Chalo (the exciting Lata version! Sant Gyaneshwar, 1964)

OK, so this song might not be *technically* a Diwali song per se, but it’s thematically spot-on! And I just discovered the Lata Mangeshkar version to compliment the Mukesh version, which I had thought existed in isolation. I can’t believe I did not know about this sooner, I’m so happy right now!

This Diwali special was brought in by request from one of our favorite readers muskaan. We wish everyone a joyous Diwali and a prosperous year ahead!

– Mrs. 55

The Glorification of Alcohol in Hindi Cinema

A study released in April of this year claimed that Indian adolescents aged 12-16 exposed to alcohol consumption in films were nearly three times more likely to drink than their peers who did not watch Bollywood movies. While this study most likely pertains to the movies released in the industry today, I would venture to say that the origins of this trend can be traced back to films from the Golden Era of Bollywood cinema. Indeed, the consumption of alcohol has been glorified on India’s silver screen for decades, especially through portrayal of sharaab (alcohol) songs in films. Here, I’ve compiled a list of my five favorite male and female sharaab numbers from the Golden Era–let’s take a closer look at these examples to examine how the consumption of alcohol has been portrayed cinematically and its implications on Indian culture.

“Girls Just Want To Have Fun”

In Bollywood’s earliest days, drinking alcohol in films was portrayed as a strictly masculine activity, à la Devdas and other Bollywood heroes who have famously drowned their sorrows in liquor. In contrast, the idealized image of the traditional Indian woman did not permit the depiction of female alcohol consumption in the media.  This trend began to change in the 60s when films depicted heroines and female actresses playing roles in which they partook in the consumption of the Devil’s nectar, just like their male counterparts. As you can see below, the contexts in which female characters drink vary from film to film: alcohol has been used by the women of Bollywood as a coping mechanism, a means of revenge, or just a way to have a good time.

na jaao saiyaa.n (Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, 1962): In this film based on a Bengali novel by Bimal Mitra, Meena Kumari gives one of her career’s best performances as Chhoti Bahu. Chhoti Bahu is married to young zamii.ndar (played by Rehman), who neglects his wife at home in order to take part in debauchery at local brothels on a nightly basis. In desperate need of her unfaithful husband’s companionship, she decides to take up drinking in order to keep him away from those pesky courtesans at night. In this heartbreaking song sung by Geeta Dutt, Chhoti Bahu drunkenly entreats her husband to stay at home and spend the night with her. In a truly unfortunate example of art mimicing real life, both Geeta and Meena would succumb to alcoholism as a way to cope with their unhappy marriages in the coming years. For those of you who enjoy this song, be sure to check out Hemant Kumar’s Bengali version of the same tune: “olir katha shune.

Meena Kumari, as Chhoti Bahu, tragically turns to alcoholism in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (1962).

piike hum tum jo chale aaye hai.n (Gumnaam, 1965): This film (reviewed by us here) is a suspense thriller loosely based on the Agatha Christie novel And Then There Were None. The story revolves around seven vacationers who find themselves on a remote island in the middle of nowhere after a plane crash. One by one, they are murdered off and the big question is, of course: whodunnit? In the midst of all this tension, two of the vacationers, Miss Kitty (played by Helen) and Asha (played by Nanda), decide to loosen up and have some fun with a few drinks. In this comical duet sung by Asha Bhonsle and Usha Mangeshkar, the two actresses appear to be having the time of their lives in a drunken stupor on screen. I mean, who wouldn’t be having a good time if they were getting drunk with Helen?

Helen and Nanda get sloppy together in Gumnaam (1965). If you excuse the stumbling, Helen actually looks quite sophisticated in this scene because she’s not wearing one of her characteristically outrageous wigs/outfits.

aao huzuur tum ko (Kismat, 1968): This Asha-OP Nayyar collaboration is an all-time classic from the soundtrack of Kismat (along with “kajraa muhabbatvaalaa“). The film’s narrative is so outrageous that it’s not even worth summarizing here, but this song is picturized on the actress Babita, who is the mother of Karisma and Kareena Kapoor. Babita never managed to gain much success as a heroine, and that’s not surprising given that it’s unclear whether she is drunk or undergoing eplipetic fits in this particular scene. She certainly does make a statement though and manages to embarass the hero Biswajeet with her public intoxication at this party. Regardless of the picturization, Asha Bhonsle adds all the right expressions here to make this an unforgettable sharaab number on the basis of the song alone. Her vocal control in the extended introduction (“ham se raushan hai chaa.nd aur taare...”) before the song’s first stanza is especially commendable. 

Babita has probably had one too many in this scene from Kismat (1968)

kaise rahuu.n chup (Inteqaam, 1969): Inteqaam is an entertaining (but occaisionally illogical) thriller that stars Sadhana as a woman who seeks revenge against her former boss because he framed her for a theft that she did not commit. As part of her elaborate plan for revenge, she intends to marry her boss’s son (played by Sanjay Khan) and bring shame to his entire family by revealing that the new bahu is, in fact, a convicted criminal! In this song, Sadhana further embarasses her boss’s family by  acting extremely intoxicated under the influence of alcohol at a public gathering. (Technically, this might not be considered a genuine sharaab song because Sadhana is putting on a facade of being drunk without actually consuming, but I liked this song too much to pass up putting it on the list.) This soundtrack composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal is particularly memorable today because it casts a different light on Lata Mangeshkar, who was considered to be staunchly conservative and traditional in her playback output.  Lata surprises us all by agreeing to sing two sizzling cabaret numbers in addition to this drinking song for the film–listen to her nail those hiccups during the interludes!

Helen serves Sadhana another glass in Inteqaam (1969)

piyaa tuu ab to aajaa (Caravan, 1971): Asha Bhonsle and R.D. Burman come together to produce one of their biggest musical hits together with this classic item number from Caravan. Asha’s performance here solidified her status as the queen of cabaret singing in Hindi cinema. Furthermore, Helen’s portrayal of a nightclub dancer on screen during this song is considered the quintessential Bollywood cabaret performance. Helen’s dance moves are completely outrageous here but she makes it work somehow (see Mrs. 55’s step-by-step breakdown here). Given the ridiculousness of the situation here, you can’t really blame Helen for the heavy drinking…it certainly doesn’t stop her from completely owning the stage during her performance!

Helen gives one of the best cabaret performances of her career in Caravan (1971)

“Alcohol May Be Man’s Worst Enemy…”

Unlike their female counterparts, the men of Bollywood cinema have been imbibing alcohol since the industry’s earliest days. The most popular context for male drinking in Hindi films occurs when the hero resigns himself to heavy drinking in order to drown his sorrows, usually caused by woman-related heartbreak. While female characters are often stigmatized for their drinking and public intoxication, it is more acceptable for men of the silver screen to use alcohol consumption to deal with their grief.  Other contexts where actors are depicted consuming alcohol include scenes of male-male bonding (bromances, anyone?) and seduction of heroines and courtesans. Though Bollywood has glamorized the consumption of alcohol for both genders, the effect is far more pronounced for males, as evident in the examples I’ve selected below.

mujhe duniyaavaalo sharaabii na samjho (Leader, 1964): Even though its soundtrack is full of gems like “tere husn kii kyaa tariif karuu.n” and “ek shahanshah ne banvaa ke ek hasii.n taaj mahal,” Leader is one mess of a film starring Dilip Kumar and Vijayantimala. Dilip Kumar stars as a law graduate and aspiring political revolutionary who falls in love with a princess (played by Vijyantimala). The script has so many holes that it’s difficult to discern the overall message of this film, but there are some scenes of comic relief between Vijayantimala and Dilip Kumar that are worth remembering. By far, however, the main attraction here is the soundtrack composed by Naushad. In this particular number, an intoxicated Dilip Kumar claims that he has been forced to take up drinking to grapple with society’s evils.

Vijayntimala tries to stop a drunk Dilip Kumar from embarassing himself too much at this party in Leader (1964).

din Dhal jaaye (Guide, 1965): Where do I even begin with the praise for Vijay Anand’s Guide? Mrs. 55 and I both love everything about this film: the unique story written by R.K. Narayan, the stellar performances by Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman, and of course, the unforgettable soundtrack composed by S.D. Burman. Each and every song from this film is an absolute gem. In this particular Rafi solo picturized on Dev Anand, the hero drowns his sorrows about lost love in alcohol. The melancholic expression that pervades throughout this scene is enhanced by the beautifully crafted lyrics and tune.

Dev Anand turns to the bottle when love goes sour in Guide (1965).

chuu lene do naazuk ho.nTho.n ko (Kaajal, 1965): With this Rafi number penned by Sahir Ludhianvi and composed by Ravi, Raaj Kumar tries to get Meena Kumari, his on-screen shaadi-shudhaa (virtuous) wife, to come to the dark side by having a drink. Alcohol glorification occurs is at its finest in these lyrics: it is referred to as “mubarak cheez,” or a blessed thing.  Meena Kumari excels, as usual, at looking incredibly uncomfortable and disturbed by Raaj Kumar’s advances in this scene.

A drunk Raaj Kumar tries to get Meena Kumari on his team in Kaajal (1965).

jo unkii tamanna hai barbad ho jaa (Inteqaam, 1969): This film certainly features a lot of alcohol consumption on screen. In addition to the drunk Lata number discussed above, this Rafi solo from Inteqaam is picturized on Sanjay Khan as he laments being a mere object in Sadhana’s plans for revenge. Rajinder Krishan’s lyrics are exquisite in their ability to capture the essence of being deceived in love.

Handsome Sanjay Khan turns to alcohol to get over Sadhana’s deception in Inteqaam (1969)

yeh jo muhabbat hai (Kati Patang, 1970): Directed by Shakti Samanta, this film features an evergreen soundtrack composed by R.D. Burman. This particular number sung by Kishore Kumar is one of Bollywood’s most treasured drinking songs, and it features a handsome and bitter Rajesh Khanna drinking the night away because he was stood up at the altar by his wife-to-be.  Asha Parekh watches from a distance, not yet aware of the fact that she is the woman responsible for his heartache.

Rajesh Khanna drinks another glass of liquid courage before singing about the pain of disloyal love in Kati Patang (1970).
What are some of your favorite sharaab/daaru songs from Bollywood films? Let us know in the comments! We’ll understand if your typing is a little bit off…
Mr. 55

Meera Bhajans as Film Songs: The Saintlier Side of Bollywood

Meera-bai (c. 1498-1547 A.D) was a mystical poet and devotee of Lord Krishna

When most people think of Bollywood cinema, they usually think of extravagant costumes, seductive dance moves, and lots of melodramatic overacting. While all this extravagance is certainly an integral aspect of the industry, you may be surprised to learn about a saintlier side of Bollywood that I will discuss here today: the use of Meera-bai’s texts in Hindi film music.

Meera-bai was a 16th-century mystic whose devotion to Lord Krishna has been immortalized in Indian culture through her poetry and bhajans (religious songs). Meera, a Rajput princess, was married off to a prince at young age, but this marriage did not satisfy her as she already  considered herself the spouse of Lord Krishna. Her husband died in battle soon after their marriage and Meera became a widow at an early age. Meera transformed her grief into spiritual devotion and wrote many poems in praise of Lord Krishna.  In her texts, she worships Krishna from the perspective of a lover longing for union: romantic on one level and spiritual on another. Although her undying devotion to Krishna was initially a private matter, public moments of spiritual ecstasy soon outed her to society. Eventually, her brother-in-law became displeased with her excessive devotion for Krishna and made several attempts on Meera’s life. The most well-known story describes how he poisoned Meera’s prasad and made her drink it, but the Lord transformed the poison into amrit (spiritual nectar) to save her life.

Meera-bai’s texts express themes that are highly pertinent to  heroines in Hindi cinema from the Golden Era. Interpreting and contextualizing Meera’s love for Lord Krishna can be a challenging task, however, because of its apparently paradoxical relationship to acceptable gender norms for women at the time. On one hand, Meera could be considered the ideal Indian woman for the eternal devotion she displays toward her lover–in this case, Lord Krishna–in spite of all the obstacles placed in her way. The type of selfless devotion and sacrifice Meera-bai displays toward Krishna is the same type of devotion that Indian women in the chauvinistic climate of the ’50s and ’60s were expected to provide their husbands.  On the other hand, Meera-bai actually subverts the typical pativrata norms established by Indian society because her devotion is misplaced. Instead of serving her human husband, Meera devotes all of her love to Krishna, which is inconsistent with society’s expectations for the dutiful and virtuous Indian wife. This is further complicated by the fact that Meera, in her mind, actually considered herself to be the wife of Krishna (and supposedly conducted a marriage ceremony with a Krishna idol at a temple).

In any case, it is undeniable that Meera’s texts contain universal themes about love, pain, and devotion that have permeated several mediums of the South Asian cultural sphere. Here, let’s analyze a couple of examples in order to see how Meera’s words have been used in the context of Hindi film songs:

pag ghungruu bandh miiraa nachii re (Meera, 1947): Meera (1947) is a rare treat for lovers of Bollywood films because it is the only Hindi film ever made that features M.S. Subbulakshmi as both an actress and playback singer. M.S. Subbulakshmi, who was the first musician to be awarded the prestigious Bharat Ratna, is one of the most renowned vocalists in the history of the Carnatic musical tradition. Her singing is ethereal and sublime, and many people have praised her by saying she is modern-day personification of Meera-bai herself! Although she retired from films early in her career to pursue classical concert music, her portrayal of Meera in this film is remembered to this day for its natural and pure expression of spiritual divinity.  Words don’t do this woman justice, so just click the link and take a listen for yourself. I’ve selected one of about 20 Meera bhajans that are found in the film; in this particular poem, Meera uses the metaphor of dance to describe her love for the Lord. You may have noticed that the first line of this bhajan was used in another (much less saintly) Bollywood classic rendered by Kishore Kumar and composed by Bappi Lahiri from Namak Halaal (1982) decades later.

M.S. Subbulakshmi embodies the spiritual divinity of Meera-bai in the 1947 Hindi remake of the Tamil film Meera. 

ghunghaT ke paT khol re, tohe piiyaa mile.nge (Jogan, 1950): I have always thought that one of Geeta Dutt’s strengths as a singer was her rendition of bhajans. She shines here in this Raga Jaunpuri-based devotional composed by Bulo C Rani that has some beautiful words penned by Meera-bai. Literally, the first line translates roughly as  “remove your veil so that you can get a glimpse of your beloved.” However, on a deeper level, Meera-bai is using the veil as a metaphor for ignorance–she is asking us to remove our veils of ignorance so that we can be closer to the Lord.

erii mai.n to prem divaanii, meraa dard na jaane koii (Nau Bahar, 1952): Lata Mangeshkar is brilliant in her rendition of this Raga Bhimpalasi-based bhajan composed by Roshan and picturized on Nalini Jaywant  in Nau Bahar. Inspired by a Meera-bai poem, the words here describe how Meera’s devotion to the Lord can is best expressed through love, as she is unfamiliar with the traditional rites and rituals of worship.

 jo tum toDo piiyaa, mai.n naahii.n toDuu.n  (Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje, 1955):  V. Shantaram’s Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje was one of India’s first technicolor films when it was released in 1955.  In this Filmfare award-winning film, when the character played by Sandhya fears that she has destroyed her beloved’s (played by Gopi Krishna) dancing career, she becomes so depressed that she decides to reject all wordly pleasures and become an ascetic like Meera-bai. This Bhairavi-based bhajan composed by Vasant Desai is rendered beautifully once again by Lata, who succeeds in expressing the sentiment of Meera’s words about unconditional devotion to her Lord even if he is not faithful to her.

piyaa ko milan kaise hoye rii, mai.n jaanuu.n naahii.n (Andolan, 1977)Asha Bhonsle tends to employ a lot of over-the-top histrionics in her songs, but music director Jaidev manages to get Asha at her pure, unadulterated best with this soulful composition from Andolan picturized on Neetu Singh.

mere to giriidhhar gopaal, duusro na koii  (Meera, 1979): Directed by lyricist Gulzar, this film is yet another Bollywood biopic about Meera-bai, and Hema Malini takes the starring role here. Despite high hopes, this film achieved only moderate success at the box office. However, the film’s soundtrack of  compositions by sitar virtuoso Pandit Ravi Shankar has certainly left a memorable legacy. In this particular poem, Meera-bai’s words express her singular devotion to the Lord; there is no one else in the world for her except for her Lord Krishna. While Hema falls a little flat in her portrayal of Meera, Vani Jairam actually does a great job expressing the appropriate emotions needed in this rendition and in the rest of the songs on the soundtrack. However, as you may have suspected, Vani was not Ravi Shankar’s first choice of singer for this film–his first choice was none other than Lata Mangeshkar. Lata, however, turned him down, by using the following reasoning:

“How could I? I had already done Meera bhajans for my brother Hridaynath.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the non-filmi album of Meera bhajans released by Lata and Hridaynath. In fact, Lata’s rendition of a similar text  “mhara re giridhhar gopaal, duusra na koii” tuned by Hridaynath for this album is absolutely exquisite. However, her reasoning here doesn’t really make sense to me. Even before her album for Hridaynath, Lata had sung plenty of Meera bhajans for films (see above!) under the baton of other music directors, so I don’t see how this excuse constitutes a legitimate reason to refuse singing in this film. I suspect that her refusal had more to do with some lingering bad blood between her and Ravi Shankar from their prior collaboration on Anuradha (1960): apparently, tensions had flared between the two of them because Lata had failed to show up to a recording session of “saa.nvare saa.nvare” without prior notice. 

Hema Malini is way too attractive to pull off being an ascetic in Meera (1979)
 jo tum toDo piiyaa, mai.n naahii.n toDuu.n  (Silsila, 1981): Although this text is similar to the Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje song listed above, the melody is quite different because music directors Shiv-Hari have tuned this song to the Raga Chandrakauns, an underused raga that is quite rare in the filmi musical sphere. Lata, unfortunately, sounds a bit past her prime here, but this song is still memorable for Meera-bai’s words and their relevance to the contemporary situation at hand in the film. Similar to the real-life rumors that were rampant at this time, Jaya Bacchan’s character suspects that her husband (played by Amitabh Bacchan) is having an extramarital affair with another woman (played by Rekha). Meera-bai’s lyrics express the anguish and torment that Jaya feels in response to her husband’s infidelity, but she resolves to remain faithful to him even though he is not faithful to her. Interestingly, things also turned out this way in real life–Jaya stayed with Amitabh even though it was widely known within the film community that he had cheated on her with Rekha.
Jaya Bacchan laments her husband’s infidelity in Silsila (1981). Look at those eyes!
What are some of your favorite bhajans featured in Bollywood films? Let us know in the comments!
–Mr. 55