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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Aye Dil-E-Nadaan Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

 

As many of our readers may already be aware, today marks the 86th birthday of melody queen Lata Mangeshkar. In commemoration of this special day, we would like to present the lyrics and English translation to one of the most exquisitely beautiful songs sung by the Nightingale of India during her long and illustrious career: ai dil-e-naadaa.n from Razia Sultan (1983).

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Hema Malini stars as a 13th century empress of Delhi in Razia Sultan (1983)

Directed by Kamal Amrohi (of Mahal and Pakeezah fame), Razia Sultan narrates the story of the only woman to ascend the throne of Delhi and her alleged love affair with Abyssinian slave-turned-warrior Jaml-ud-Din Yaqut. Hema Malini stars in the title role, while her real-life beau Dharmendra plays the role of her love interest Yaqut. When Sultan Altamash decides that his beloved daughter Razia shall be the successor to his throne instead of his trouble-making son Ferozshah, the kingdom erupts in an uproar over the possibility of being ruled by a woman. After her father’s passing, Razia proves herself to be a compassionate and brave ruler who leads with an eye toward justice like her late father. Over time, Razia is accepted as the first female emperor of the kingdom until gossip spreads among the royal court about an affair between Razia and her former slave Yaqut. Although Yaqut is now a free man and army commander, the relationship between him and the empress is highly scandalous due to his roots as a dark-skinned African slave. When this controversy reaches its peak, Razia must make a choice between her kingdom and her love. In the end, in true Bollywood style, Razia makes the ultimate sacrifice for her love.

Although this film had the potential to provide a compelling view on the complexities of race and gender politics, it fails to meet the mark in many respects and was unable to achieve commercial success at the time of its release. It is likely that the heavy-handed use of formal Urdu made it difficult for audiences to understand many parts of the film’s dialogue. The pace drags in many scenes, and the starring duo provide few memorable moments throughout the film. Those familiar with this period of history will also note that many liberties were taken to create a fictionalized narrative suitable for presentation in a Bollywood movie.

The aspect in which director Kamal Amrohi has shined, as he has done in his previous productions, is in the selection of the music for the film’s soundtrack. Khayyam’s sublime and minimalistic compositions come together with Jaan Nisar Akhtar’s reticent yet expressive poetry to create a memorable album that is probably the single most redeeming quality of Razia Sultan. The crowning jewel of this soundtrack is ai dil-e-nadaa.n rendered flawlessly by the inimitable Lata Mangeshkar. Her voice captures the mysticism and tranquility of the poetry with remarkable ease. Jaan Nisar Akhtar’s poetry is beautiful in its simplicity as it probes the nature of human desire and the inevitable suffering that it causes. No discussion of this song would be complete without mention of the santoor interludes interspersed with moments of silence, which provide gentle accompaniment to the serenity evoked by Akhtar’s words and Lata’s ethereal voice.

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The elaborate costumes and sets used to shoot Razia Sultan (1983) make it one of the most expensive productions of its time. [Source]
A couple of anecdotes from key players involved in the making of this song to round out our discussion today:

Khayyam explains how he was inspired by the story of Razia Sultan during the composition of ai dil-e-naadaa.n: “

The caravan of Razia Sultan came to India from Turkey through a long and tortuous route traversing many countries. If you listen carefully, the tune and orchestration reflects the musical influences of all the regions she traveled across. The song is about the duel in her mind- the woman inside her is deeply in love with a black slave but the princess inside her is all too aware of her duty. The song depicts that dilemma in her mind. [Source]

Lata Mangeshkar has always ranked this song has one of the best of her career and included it in her An Era in An Evening concert that took place in Mumbai in March 1997 (see link above). In her own words, she says:

“Khayyam’s ai dil-e-naadaa.n from Razia Sultan is among the best songs I’ve sung. The way Kamal (Amrohi)-saab explained it to me,  I could actually visualise the situation. I was very satisfied by the way I rendered the number. Kamal-saab found my Urdu pronunciation clear and chaste. The lyrics of ai dil-e-naadaa.n written by Javed Akhtar’s father Jaan Nisar Akhtar, were inspiring. I have sung several songs written by him.” [Source]

Are you wondering why Lata’s voice sounds so heavenly in this song even though it was past its prime at the time of the film’s release in 1983? That’s because Khayyam had this song recorded by Lata nine years earlier in 1974. After just two rehearsals, she had recorded the entire song in one take! Khayyam recollects how the popularity of this song helped him be selected as the music director for other major films in the 1970s like Kabhie Kabhie (1976):

“Actually the reason, I got Kabhie Kabhie was the song ai dil-e-naadaa.n. For Razia Sultan, I had recorded Lata-ji’s ai dil-e-naadaa.n and also Qabban Mirza’s aayii zanjiir kii jhankaar as early as in 1974. ai dil-e-naadaa.n had then created such a stir that practically everyone in the film industry was talking about that song. That fame had reached to Yash Chopra and one evening, when I returned after a Razia Sultan sitting at Kamaalistan, I found Yash-ji and Sahir-saab waiting for me. They told me that they were making a film about a love-story of a poet and they wanted me as a composer. I immediately said, ‘Yes’.” [Source]

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In spite of a solid portrayal of the lead character by Hema Malini, Razia Sultan (1983) failed to achieve success at the box office. [Source]

Aye Dil-E-Nadaan Lyrics and Translation:

ai dil-e-naadaan
Oh, my naive heart!
aarzuu kyaa hai? justujuu kyaa hai?
What do you desire? What do you seek?

ham bhaTakte hai.n, kyo.n bhaTakate hai.n dasht-o-sehraa me.n?
Why do I wander alone in this deserted wilderness?
aisaa lagtaa hai mauj pyaasii hai apne dariyaa me.n
It seems as if I am a wave thirsty for water in its own river.
kaisii uljhan hai? kyo.n yeh uljhan hai?
What is this turmoil? Why is there this turmoil?
ek saayaa-saa ruuh-ba-ruuh kyaa hai?
What is this shadow that stands face-to-face before me?

kyaa qayaamat hai! kyaa musiibat hai!
What a disaster! What misfortune!
keh nahii.n sakte kiskaa armaa.n hai
I am unable to say whom it is that I desire.
zindagii jaise khoyii-khoyii hai, hairaa.n-hairaa.n hai
It seems as if my life itself is lost and confused.
yeh zamii.n chup hai, aasmaa.n chup hai
The earth lies quietly, while the sky remains in silence.
phir yeh dhaDkan-sii chaar-suu kyaa hai?
Yet, what pulsates around me in every direction?

ai dil-e-nadaan aisii raaho.n me.n kitne kaa.nTe hai.n
Oh, my naive heart! There are many thorns along the path of love.
aarzuuo.n ne har kisii dil ko dard baa.nTe hai.n
The pursuit of desires has given pain to every heart.
kitne ghayal hai.n, kitne bismil hai.n
Many hearts are wounded; many hearts are sacrificed.
is khudaayii me.n ek tuu kyaa hai?
In the face of divinity, who are you alone?

ek tuu kyaa hai, ek tuu kyaa hai?
Who are you alone?
ai dil-e-naadaan, ai dil-e-nadaa.n
Oh, my naive heart!

Glossary:

naadaa.n: naive, foolish; aarzuu: desire; justujuu: search, pursuit; bhaTaknaa: to wander; dasht: desert; sehraa: wilderness; mauj: wave; pyaasii: thirsty; dariyaa: river; uljhan: turmoil, confusion; saayaa: shadow; ruuh-ba-ruuh: face-to-face; qayaamat: disaster, crisis, Day of Judgment: musiibat: misfortune; armaa.n: desire, hope; khoyii: lost; hairaa.n: confused, distressed; zamii.n: earth, land; chup: quiet, silent; aasmaa.n: sky; dhaDkan: pulse, heartbeat; chaar-suu: all around, in all four directions; raah: path; kaa.nTe: thorns; dard: pain; baa.nTnaa: to allocate, to distribute; ghayal: wounded; bismil: wounded, sacrificed; khudaayii: divinity, world.

The use of the word bismil adds a unique spiritual dimension to the lyrics of this song. Bismil means wounded or sacrificed and originates from the Islamic ritual of sacrificing animals as an offering while uttering bismillah (in the name of God).

-Mr. 55

Intimate scenes between Hema Malini and Parveen Babi (particularly during the song khvab ban kar koii aayegaa) sparked some controversy at the time of this film’s release. [Source]

Yeh Kya Jagah Hai Doston Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

Rekha Umrao Jaan Yeh Kya Jagah Hai Doston
Rekha stars as a courtesan with a heart of gold in Umrao Jaan (1981).

We next present the beautifully tragic lyrics and English translation of “Yeh Kya Jagah Hai Doston” from Umrao Jaan (1981). Umrao Jaan is a heart-breaking film with depths more profound than the glittery tawaif dances it showcases. Based on the 1899 Urdu novel by Mirza Hadi Ruswa entitled, “Umrao Jaan Ada,” the 1981 film stays largely true to the original text.

Delving into the decadence of 19th century Lucknowi society, Umrao Jaan Ada portrays the rituals of a fascinating culture marked by luxury and oppression. I first read Ruswa’s novel during my junior year of college in Urdu class and fell in in love with the resilience of the story’s heroine.

Rekha in Umrao jaan 1981
Searching for a familiar face in a crowd of strangers, Rekha remains alone in Umrao Jaan (1981).

Interestingly, the framing of the 1981 Muzaffar Ali-directed film differs from the novel, told as a chronological account instead of a reminiscence. For me, this changes the tone of the film entirely: in the novel, the audience knows that although Umrao Jaan has suffered greatly in her lifetime, she eventually finds the peace and independence she deserves.

In the film, however, Umrao Jaan’s fate is unclear. We are left only with the stirring final image of her somber reflection in the mirror of her childhood home—an identity so long defined by others now confronted by its owner. Knowing these alternate endings colours the implications of Asha Bhonsle’s emotional “Yeh Kya Jagah Hai Doston” preceding them.

Rekha Umrao Jaan 2
Rekha hides a tear as Umrao Jaan sings to a gathering in her hometown of Faizabad.

Just prior to the film’s finale, Umrao Jaan (portrayed by Rekha) is asked to perform a song in her own town of Faizabad where she is now regarded as a pariah or stranger. The poetry that results in “Yeh Kya Jagah Hai Doston” evokes that sense of loss and confusion—a blameless fall from Eden with no path forward. As her own mother listens quietly outside the tent, Umrao Jaan’s addressing the unfamiliar gathering as “doston” becomes perhaps less ironic and more of an earnest plea.

Written by Shahryar with music by Khayyam, “Yeh Kya Jagah Hai Doston” is a counterpoint to the film’s earlier musical gems “In Ankhon Ki Masti” and “Dil Cheez Kya Hai.” With no ulterior motives, Umrao Jaan at last sings and dances as herself, voicing the real emotions within her heart. Many consider this song to be the film’s greatest composition.

We hope you enjoy our lyrics and translation to the soulful swansong, “Yeh Kya Jagah Hai Doston” below! Let us know your favorite Umrao Jaan moment in the comments!

Yeh Kya Jagah Hai Doston Lyrics and Translation:

Yeh kyaa jagah hai dosto.N?
What place is this, friends?
Yeh kaunsaa dayaar hai?
What kind of world is this?
Had-e-nigaah tak jahaa.N, ghubaar hii ghubaar hai
Where, as far as the eye can see, there are only dust storms

Yeh kis maqaam par hayaat mujhko lekii aa gayii?
To what realm has life brought me?
Na bas khushii pe hai jahaa.N, na gham pe ikhtiyaar hai
In this place I have no control over my happiness, and no choice in my sorrow

Tamaam umr ka hissaa maa.ngtii hai zindagii
Life demands an account of all my years
Yeh meraa dil kahe to kyaa? Yeh khud se sharmasaar hai
What will this heart of mine answer? It is so ashamed of itself

Bulaa rahaa hai kaun mujhko chilmano.N ki us taraf?
Who is calling me from the other side of those blinds?
Mere liye bhi kyaa koi udhaas beqaraar hai?
Is anyone there for me who is restless in sorrow?

Yeh kyaa jagah hai dosto.N?
What place is this, friends?
Yeh kaunsaa dayaar hai?
What kind of world is this?
Had-e-nigaah tak jahaa.N, ghubaar hii ghubaar hai
Where, as far as the eye can see, there are only dust storms

Glossary:

jagah: place; dayaar: world, region; had-e nigaah tak: until the limits seen by the eye; ghubaar: dust storm; maqaam: realm; hayaat: life; bas: power; khushii: happiness; gham: sorrow; ikhtiyaar: choice, tamaam umr: whole life, all the years; hissaa: account; zindagi: life; khud: self; sharmasaar: embarrassed, ashamed; chilman: curtains made of reeds, blinds; udhaas: sorrow; beqaraar: restless

As I read the pages of Ruswa’s novel, I was so struck by his descriptions of the admirable training in classical arts given to students of the kothe. These talents that in today’s society would be so valued as the pinnacle of culture, instead branded these women for a lifetime of ignominy. Today such diligence in the study and practice of classical voice, dance, and poetry is so rare and impressive!

Rekha in Umrao Jaan Yeh Kya Jagah Hai Doston
Ethereal beauty Rekha yearns for acceptance from her long-lost family in Umrao Jaan (1981).

For the grammar junkies among us, you may wonder why the “jagah” in this song is pronounced to rhyme with “yeh” instead of “kyaa.” Strictly speaking, the Lucknowi pronunciation of the word is the long “aah,” however, for poetic fluidity, Asha Bhonsle pronounces it here in the alternate form. Regional variants exist in the Hindustani language for similar words such as subah and vajah!

– Mrs. 55

Dil Cheez Kya Hai Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

Rekha stars as a courtesan and poetess in Umrao Jaan (1981), based on an Urdu novel by Mirza Muhammad Hadi Ruswa

Today, we continue our series on Umrao Jaan (1981) by providing the lyrics and English translation to what is arguably the film’s most popular song: dil chiiz kyaa hai?  Based on Mirza Muhammad Hadi Ruswa’s novel Umrao Jaan Ada, this film narrates the tragic tale of a young girl who is kidnapped and forced to become a tawaif (courtesan).

Through the course of this film, we witness the transformation of an innocent young girl Amiran as she becomes Umrao Jaan Ada, one of Lucknow’s most sought after courtesans. At the brothel, young Amiran receives training in classical voice, Kathak dance, and Urdu poetry–a forbidden world of art and education that the average Indian girl of this time period would never get the chance to explore. When the brothel’s madam Khanum feels that she has been sufficiently groomed, Umrao Jaan begins performing and attracting the attention of wealthy patrons all over Lucknow. Umrao’s first public performance as a courtesan is marked by the song dil chiiz kyaa hai?

This gem is considered to be one of Asha Bhonsle’s career-defining songs, and she was awarded a National Film Award for her performance of this ghazal along with the rest of her contributions to this soundtrack. Khayyam bagged a well-deserved National Film Award for his compositions in this film, and Rekha took home the National Film Award for Best Actress. From her performance in this mujra in particular, it is clear that Rekha is worthy of all the critical acclaim she received for her work in Umrao Jaan.  Although she may lack the technical precision of a trained Kathak dancer, she compensates with her compelling on-screen presence and natural elegance. With eyes like hers, would any man in Lucknow be able to resist the charms of Umrao Jaan Ada?

What is your favorite song from the Umrao Jaan soundtrack? Share with us in the comments! Until next time…

-Mr. 55
Rekha’s mujras in this film, especially dil chiiz kyaa hai?, are fan-favorites to this day.

Dil Cheez Kya Hai: Lyrics and Translation

dil chiiz kyaa hai? aap merii jaan liijiye
What is the heart worth? Take my life instead!
bas ek baar meraa kahaa maan lijiye
But just once, please accept what I say.

is a.njuman me.n aap ko aanaa hai baar baar
You must return to this gathering time and time again.
diivaar-o-dar ko ghaur se pahchaan liijiye
So, learn to recognize these surroundings carefully.

maanaa ki dosto.n ko nahii.n dostii kaa paas
I admit that friends may not always hold friendship in high regard.
lekin yah kyaa ki ghair kaa ahsaan liijiye?
Yet, does this mean you should accept kindness from strangers?

kahiye to aasmaa.n ko zamii.n par utaar laaye.n
If you ask for it, I shall bring down the sky to the ground. 
mushkil nahii.n hai kuchh bhii agar Thaan liijiye
No task is difficult if you pursue it firmly.

dil chiiz kyaa hai? aap merii jaan liijiye
What is the heart worth? Take my life instead!
bas ek baar meraa kahaa maan liijiye
But just once, please accept what I say.

Glossary

maan lenaa: to accept; anjuuman: gathering; diivaar-o-dar: walls and doors, surroundings; ghaur se: carefully; pahchaan lenaa: to recognize; dostii: friendship; paas: regard, consideration; ghair: stranger; ahsaan: favor, kindness; utaar laanaa: to bring down; Thaan lenaa: to pursue firmly.

A quick note regarding the word paas. Those of you familiar with its common use in the phrase kisii ke paas (next to someone/something) may be confused by the line “maana ki dosto.n ko nahii.n dostii kaa paas.” Here, a less common use of the word paas is used to mean regard or consideration. So, there is no relation to proximity here; the whole line would be translated as: “I admit that that friends may not always hold friendship in high regard.” Tricky, tricky.

As Umrao Jaan, Rekha seduces wealthy men in Lucknow with her most tempting asset: her eyes!

Justiju Jiski Thi Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

Rekha plays the role of Umrao Jaan with elegance and sophisticated grace.


Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan (1981) is one of Bollywood’s most  treasured films in the courtesan genre. With Rekha in the starring role, this film narrates the tragic story of Umrao Jaan Ada, a poetess and tawaif from the Urdu novel of the same name written by Mirza Hadi Ruswa. In addition to Rekha’s touching performance of this role, this movie has been immortalized in the history of Hindi cinema for its music. The soundtrack composed by Khayaam and penned by Shahryar is almost exclusively filled with ghazals sung by the evergreen Asha Bhonsle. In a previous post, we discussed and translatedin aa.nkhon kii mastii,” on of this film’s unforgettable ghazals.  Today, on the request of one of our readers (shoutout to Vasuki!),  we will be taking a closer look at another gem from the same soundtrack: “justajuu jiski thii.”

While “in aa.nkhon kii mastii” showcases the playful and proud side of Umrao Jaan, this song takes a different route and depicts the tragedy that Umrao has endured as a fallen woman. The song “justajuu jiskii thii” is found in the film when Umrao is called upon to perform a mujra at a birthday celebration for the son of the begum of Kanpur. In an ironic twist of fate, the begum turns out to be Ram Dei, the girl who was kidnapped and sold at the same time as Umrao when they were both young. Deemed the less attractive of the two, Amiran (who would later become known as Umrao Jaan)  was sold to Khanum’s brothel while Ram Dei was sold as a slave to a wealthy family. As the two women share a moment together recalling the tragedies of their past, Umrao is greeted by a painful surprise: Ram Dei is actually married to Nawab Sultan, the man that Umrao fell in love with during her younger years. In the presence of the couple, Umrao sings “justajuu jiskii thii,” a ghazal whose lyrics beautifully express the tragedy of unfulfilled love.

Rita Rani Kaul, as Ram Dei, listens to Umrao’s heart-wrenching poetry in admiration.

Musically, the tune for this song is probably my favorite among all of the ghazals found in Umrao Jaan. I think it must have been the favorite of music director Khayyam as well–if you listen carefully, you’ll hear snippets of this melody used as background music at various points in the film. In fact, before the proper song starts, Umrao recites a shair for Ram Dei in the same tune: gardish-e-vaqt kaa kitanaa baDaa ahsaan hai aaj/ yah zamii.n chaa.nd se bahtar nazar aatii hame.n.”   The lyrics and tune of this song are remarkably beautiful, but the real star of the show here is Asha Bhonsle.  Asha excels throughout this soundtrack, but I feel that her rendition of this song is particularly outstanding for its emotional depth and maturity.  Asha was 48 years old when she recorded these songs in 1981, but her voice sounds impressive and fresh as ever.  An interesting tidbit about the songs from this film is that Khayyam had Asha sing them at a half-step lower than expected (in the key of C) to create a deeper, fuller sound. Regarding her renditions on this soundtrack, Asha has said:

‘I was skeptical about the results when Khayyam lowered my pitch by half a note. But I have always believed that the composer calls the tune, so I sang just as Khayyam wanted me to do.’

There was nothing to be skeptical about here! The Asha-Khayyam collaboration for the music of Umrao Jaan has been cherished ever since this film was released, and the songs are remembered today  as some of the finest examples of ghazals in Bollywood cinema. Enjoy our translation of “justajuu jiskii thi” with the glossary below, and remember to send in any requests for future posts!

-Mr. 55
Rekha excels at expressing the pain of a fallen woman through her role in Umrao Jaan (1981)

Justiju Jiski Thi: Lyrics and Translation

justajuu jiskii thii usko to na paayaa ham ne 
I did not get whom I desired,
is bahaane se magar dekh lii duniyaa ham ne 
Yet, on this quest, I have seen the entire world. 

tujhko rusvaa na kiyaa khud bhii pashemaan na hue
I did not disgrace you, nor did I bring shame to myself.  
ishq kii rasm ko is tarah nibhaayaa ham ne
In this manner, I fulfilled the vows of our love.  

kab milii thii kahaa.n bichhaDii thii hame.n yaad nahii.n 
I do not remember when we met or where we departed. 
zindagii, tujhko to bas khvaab me.n dekhaa ham ne 
Life, I have only beheld you in my dreams. 

ai adaa, aur sunaaye.n bhii to kyaa haal apanaa? 
What more shall I tell you of my state? 
umr kaa lambaa safar tai kiyaa tanhaa ham ne
I have resigned myself to traveling the long journey of life alone.  

justajuu jiskii thii usko to na paayaa ham ne 
I did not get whom I desired. 

Glossary

justajuu: search, quest; bahaana: excuse, pretext; rusvaa: disgraced; pashemaan: ashamed; rasm: ritual, vow; bichhaDnaa: to separate, depart; adaa: pen name for Umrao Jaan; safar: journey; tai karnaa: to settle; tanhaa: alone.

Farooq Shaikh, as Nawab Sultan, reminisces about his unfulfilled love in Umrao Jaan (1981)