Aye Mere Pyare Watan Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

IndianIndependenceDay

In honor of India’s 67th Independence Day on August 15th, we offer the lyrics and English translation to a patriotic classic from Kabuliwala (1961): ai mere pyaare vatan.

Inspired by a Tagore short story of the same name, Hemen Gupta’s Kabuliwala (1961) narrates the story of a dry fruit seller named Rehman (played by Balraj Sahni) who leaves Afghanistan to come do business in India. Missing the daughter he was compelled to leave behind in his homeland, Rehman finds comfort in befriending a young Bengali girl named Mini in Calcutta.

This emotionally stirring film is accompanied by an equally beautiful soundtrack composed by Salil Chowdhury and penned by Prem Dhawan. By all accounts, the most memorable song from this soundtrack is ai mere pyaare vatan. Sung with incredible pathos by Manna De, this song has become one of the filmi world’s greatest contributions to the oeuvre of Indian patriotic music. The prominence that this song has gained in the desh-bhakti genre of Indian music is somewhat ironic given its context in the film: it is picturized on Rehman, an alienated Pathan in India who yearns for his homeland of Afghanistan.

In the sphere of Hindi film music, ai mere pyaare vatan is considered one of the most beautiful expressions of love for one’s homeland–a universal force that can transcend all cultural boundaries. On this special day, let us embrace the patriotic spirit of these lyrics and remember always to treat our homelands with honor, love and respect.

-Mr. 55
Balraj Sahni befriends a young girl who reminds him of his daughter back home in Afghanistan in Kabuliwala (1961)
Chhabi Biswas befriends a young girl who reminds him of his daughter back home in Afghanistan in the Bengali version of Kabuliwala (1957)

Aye Mere Pyare Watan: Lyrics and Translation

ai mere pyaare vatan, ai mere bichhDe chaman
Oh my dearest homeland, oh my lost garden!
tujh pe dil qurbaan
I shall sacrifice my heart for you.
tuu hii merii aarzuu, tuu hii merii aabruu 
You are my desire, you are my honor.
tuu hii merii jaan 
You are my life.

tere daaman se jo aaye un havaao.n ko salaam
I shall salute the winds that pass through your foothills.
chuum luu.n mai.n us zubaa.n ko jis pe aaye teraa naam
I shall kiss those lips that take your name. 
sab se pyaarii subaah terii sab se ra.ngii.n terii shaam 
You have the most beautiful of dawns and the most colorful of evenings.
tujh pe dil qurbaan 
I shall sacrifice my heart for you.

maa.n kaa dil ban ke kabhii siine se lag jaataa hai tuu
Sometimes you cling to my chest as my mother’s heart,
aur kabhii nanhii.n sii beTii ban ke yaad aataa hai tuu
and sometimes I remember you as my little daughter.
jitnaa yaad aataa hai mujhko utnaa taDpaataa hai tuu
The more I remember you, the more you torment me.
tujh pe dil qurbaan
I shall sacrifice my heart for you.

chho.D kar terii zamii.n ko duur aa pahu.nche hai.n ham
Having left your land, I have arrived somewhere far from home.
phir bhii hai yahii.n tamannaa tere zarro.n kii qasam
Swearing by every particle of your essence, I still harbor the desire
ham jahaa.n paidaa hue us jagah pe nikle dam
to take my last breath where I was born.
tujh pe dil qurbaan 
I shall sacrifice my heart for you.

ai mere pyaare vatan, ai mere bichhDe chaman
Oh my dearest homeland, oh my lost garden!
tujh pe dil qurbaan
I shall sacrifice my heart for you.

Glossary

vatan: homeland; bichhaDnaa: to be separated, lost; chaman: garden; qurbaan: sacrifice; aarzuu: desire; aabruu: honor; daaman: foothills; zubaa.n: tongue, lips, language; rangii.n: colorful; siinaa: chest; nanhii.n: little, young; taDpaanaa: to torment; tamanna: desire; zarra: particle; dam: breath.

Balraj Sahni on-screen with producer Bimal Roy in Kabuliwala (1961)
Balraj Sahni on-screen with producer Bimal Roy in Kabuliwala (1961)

Tum Gagan Ke Chandrama Ho Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

Sati Savitri
Sati Savitri (1964) portrays a Hindu myth about a wife’s unconditional devotion to her husband.

Today, we present the lyrics and English translation to a beautiful duet from Sati Savitri (1964): tum gagan ke cha.ndramaa ho. Directed by Shantilal Soni, Sati Savitri is a forgotten film in the Hindu devotional genre that narrates the love story of Savitri (played by Anjali Devi) and Satyavan (Mahipal). Savitri is celebrated in Hindu mythology as the ideal pativrata wife whose dedication to her husband allowed her to bring her husband back from Yama, the God of Death.

While the film itself has been forgotten, Laxmikant-Pyarelaal’s soundtrack for this movie is full of exquisite compositions that are still remembered today. Laxmikant and Pyarelaal had worked as assistants to the South Indian composer P. Adinarayana Rao on the music for Suvarna Sundari (1957). As the producer of Sati Savitri, P. Adinarayana Rao hired Laxmikant-Pyarelaal to compose the music for this film. In reverence of their former mentor, Laxmikant-Pyarelaal composed a classical soundtrack with several raga-based melodies. Aside from the lovely duet presented here, two stellar Lata solos from this film come to mind: jiivan Dor tumhii sang bandhii based in Yaman Kalyan and kabhii to miloge jiivan saathii based in Kalavati. 

The duet tum gagan ke cha.ndramaa ho is also rendered by Lata Mangeshkar and Manna De in raga Yaman Kalyan. In my opinion, no other playback singer renders Yaman Kalyan as gracefully as Lata does. Her prowess with this raga is matched here by Manna De, whose classical training set him apart from many of his male peers in the industry.

Apart from the beautiful melody and rendition, the lyrics of this duet are memorable for their use of chaste Hindi. Given the devotional Hindu story presented in this film, the use of Urdu poetry here would have seemed incongruous. Instead, lyricist Bharat Vyas has written a series of metaphors in pure Hindi where both Savitri and Satyavan use self-deprecating comparisons to describe themselves while using elevating comparisons to describe the other. In the mukhDaa, Savitri claims that she is the dust of the Earth whereas Satyavan is the Moon in the sky (tum gagan ke cha.ndramaa ho, mai.n dharaa kii dhuul huu.n). In response, Satyavan claims that he is merely the priest when Savitri is the prayer; he is thirst when Savitri is the nectar (tum ho puujaa mai.n pujaarii, tum sudhaa mai.n pyaas huu.n). This song certainly contains beautiful metaphors all around, but it is interesting to note that the poet decided to give the most self-deprecating line to the heroine: tum ho kaayaa mai.n huu.n chhayaa, tum kshamaa mai.n bhuul huu.n (You are the body, I am the shadow; you are forgiveness, I am the sin). Why are we not surprised?

You might have noticed that images from the film are missing from this post. Normally, when Mrs. 55 or I translate a song, we try to include images from the movie’s picturization of the song to go along with our entries. I tried searching for a long time, but I was unable to find any images or video clips of Sati Savitri on the internet (except for the film poster displayed above). If any of our readers have more information to share about this rare and forgotten film, we would love to hear about it! Until next time…

-Mr. 55

Tum Gagan Ke Chandrama Ho: Lyrics and Translation

tum gagan ke cha.ndramaa ho, mai.n dharaa kii dhuul huu.n
You are the Moon of the sky, while I am the dust of the Earth.
tum praNay ke devtaa ho, mai.n samarpit phuul huu.n
You are the God of love, while I am a devoted flower.
tum ho puujaa mai.n pujaarii, tum sudhaa mai.n pyaas huu.n
You are the prayer, I am the priest; you are nectar, I am thirst.

tum mahaasaagar kii siimaa, mai.n kinaare kii lahar
You are the boundary of the ocean, while I am a wave by the shore.
tum mahaasangiit ke svar, mai.n adhuurii saa.ns bhar
You are the notes of a profound melody, while I am an incomplete breath.
tum ho kaayaa mai.n huu.n chhayaa, tum kshamaa mai.n bhuul huu.n
You are the body, I am the shadow; you are forgiveness, I am the sin.

tum ushaa kii laalimaa ho, bhor kaa sinduur ho
You are the redness of daybreak, the vermillion of dawn.
mere praaNo.n kii ho gunjan, mere man kii mayuur ho
You are the humming of my spirit, the peacock of my mind. 
tum ho puujaa mai.n pujaarii, tum sudhaa mai.n pyaas huu.n
You are the prayer, I am the priest; you are nectar, I am thirst.

tum gagan ke chandramaa ho, mai.n dharaa kii dhuul huu.n
You are the Moon of the sky, while I am the dust of the Earth.

*Female lines in red are sung by Lata Mangeshkar. Male lines in green are sung by Manna De. 

Glossary

gagan: sky; cha.ndramaa: Moon; dharaa: Earth; praNay: love; devta: god; samarpit: devoted; pujaarii: priest; sudhaa: nectar; mahaasaagar: ocean; siimaa: boundary, border; kinaaraa: shore; lahar: wave; svar: musical note; adhuurii: incomplete; kaayaa: body; kshamaa: forgiveness; bhuul: sin, mistake; ushaa: daybreak, dawn; sinduur: vermillion; praaN: spirit; gunjan: humming; mayuur: peacock.

Goan composer Anthony Gonsalves conducts Lata Mangeshkar and Manna De on stage in Bombay (1958). Laxmikant and Pyarelaal are seated toward the right.

Nigahein Milane Ko Jee Chahta Hai Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

Who wouldn’t want to exchange glances with those eyes?

For today’s post, we showcase the lyrics and English translation of “Nigahen Milane To” from the film Dil Hi To Hai (1963). If I had to name my favorite actress from the Golden Era of Bollywood cinema, I think that I would pick Nutan.

As one of the beloved goddesses of India’s silver screen, Nutan starred in many evergreen films from the 1950s and 1960s, including Paying Guest (1957), Anari (1959), Bandini (1963), and Milan (1967), just to name a few. In my opinion, there’s something special about Nutan’s performances that sets her apart from her peers. She played her roles with a dignified beauty, a restrained grace, and an acute intelligence that was difficult to find in other actresses of the time. Here, I’ve chosen to translate a song from Dil Hi To Hai (1963), a charming Bollywood romance that is enjoyable to watch even though it is one of Nutan’s lesser-known films.

Nutan stars in Dil Hi To Hai as Jamila, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy London-based banker. Here, Raj Kapoor departs from the image established in his previous films by playing a comic double role as Jamila’s love interest Chand and Jamila’s aged music teacher Khan Sahab. While the film features some memorable performances by Nutan and Raj Kapoor, this film is probably even more memorable today for its soundtrack composed by music director Roshan. Two gems from this soundtrack have survived the test of time. The first is the Bhairavi-based classical number “laagaa chunarii me.n daag,” which is regarded as one of the best songs of Manna De’s career. The other gem is Asha Bhonsle’s exquisitely rendered Yaman qawwalinigaahe.n milaane ko jii chahtaa hai,” which I have translated here.

Penned by Sahir Ludhianvi, this qawwali centers around a woman’s desire to exchange glances with her beloved. The romanticization of eyes and sight is a common theme found in Bollywood films, and the poetry in this song is one of this era’s most cherished portrayals of this theme. The song’s charm is enhanced by the use of Urdu vocabulary (e.g. tahumat and tamhiid) and Asha Bhonsle’s immaculate rendition. Don’t you just love the way she owns those octave glides during the sargam passage?

Mrs. 55 and I actually performed this qawwali at Harvard during the annual South Asian cultural show Ghungroo two years ago. One thing that we noticed after listening carefully to these lyrics during rehearsal is that there is some ambiguity in gender. While most of the song appears to be from a female perspective, we thought that lyrics take on a masculine role for the line starting with “jab kabhii mai.ne teraa chaand-saa chahraa dekhaa…” (Whenever my eyes have fallen upon your moon-like face…). In addition to the fact that the moon is traditionally used by males to describe feminine beauty (e.g. Mohammed Rafi’s “yeh chaa.nd-saa roshan chahraa“), Nutan’s gestures and body language become more masculine in nature in this segment of the song. In fact, as she sings these two lines, Nutan begins to walk with a manly gait and and then flirts with a female friend as if she is her male lover. We may have totally made this up in our heads, but it was not uncommon for such gender-bending to occur in Bollywood songs–a full post on this trend will be coming up soon! In any case, please enjoy this timeless qawwali while following along with our translation/glossary provided below, and remember to send us your requests for any other songs that you would like translated.

-Mr. 55
Nutan takes on the masculine role for a few lines in this qawwali

Nigahein Milane Ko Jee Chahta Hai Lyrics and Translation

raaz kii baat hai, mahfil me.n kahe yaa na kahe?
It is a secret matter; shall I share it in this gathering?
bas gayaa hai koii is dil me.n, kahe yaa na kahe?
Someone has begun to reside in my heart; shall I reveal this here?

nigaahe.n milaane ko jii chahtaa hai
I yearn to exchange glances with my beloved. 
dil-o-jaa.n luTaane ko jii chahtaa hai
I yearn to give away my heart and soul to him.  

woh tahumat jise “ishq” kahtii hai duniyaa
The allegation that the world calls “love,”
woh tahumat uThaane ko jii chahtaa hai
I yearn to accept that allegation.  

kisii ke manaane me.n lazzat woh paayi
Although I have experienced the pleasure of being appeased,   
ki phir ruuTh jaane ko jii chahtaa hai
I yearn to once again engage in a lovers’ tiff. 
 
woh jalvaa jo ojhal bhii hai saamne bhii
The splendor that vanishes and reappears in love, 
woh jalvaa churaane ko jii chahta hai
I yearn to steal that splendor.  
 
jis ghaDii merii nigaaho.n ko terii diid huii
The moment when our eyes first met,  
woh ghaDii mere liye aish kii tamhiid huii
That moment served as a prelude to happiness for me.  
jab kabhii mai.ne teraa chaa.nd-saa chahraa dekhaa.
Whenever my eyes have fallen upon your moon-like face, 
Eid ho ya ki na ho mere liye Eid huii
it is as if I am celebrating the holiday of Eid.  

ni re ga, ga re ga ni re ma, ma ga ma ni re ga
ga re ga ni ga re, re ga, ga ma, ma dha ni
sa sa ni ni dha dha pa pa ga re
sa ni dha pa ma ga re,
ni dha pa ma ga re sa ni, re ga 

mulaaqaat
kaa koii paighaam diije
Please send me a message about our next rendez-vous, 
ki chhup-chhup ke aane ko jii chahtaa hai
Because I yearn to visit you secretly, 
aur aake na jaane ko jii chahtaa hai
And upon visiting you, I hope to never leave.  

nigaahe.n milaane ko jii chahtaa hai
I yearn to exchange glances with my beloved. 


Glossary

raaz: secret; mahfil: gathering; nigaahe.n: eyes; dil-o-jaan: heart and soul; tahumat: allegation; manaanaa: to appease; lazzat: pleasure; jalvaa: splendor,charm; ojhal: vanished; diid: sighting, gaze; aish: joy, happiness; tamhiid: prelude, preamble; Eid: Islamic festival celebrating the end of Ramadan; mulaaqaat: meeting, rendez-vous; chhup-chhup ke: secretly; paighaam: message.

Nutan leads the chorus with an enchanting smile in Dil Hi To Hai (1963)

Aage Bhi Jaane Na Tu Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

What a classy soiree!

I just spent three hours of my life watching Waqt (1965) instead of studying for the MCAT.  Therefore today we present the lyrics and English translation of “Aage Bhi Jane Na Tu.” Was it worth it? Totally.

This 1965 film directed by Yash Chopra features an all-star cast (Balraj Sahni, Achla Sachdev, Sadhana, Raaj Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Sharmila Tagore, Shashi Kapoor, Motilal, Rehman, Madan Puri, Leela Chitnis, and Shashikala, among others) along with a compelling storyline that defined the masala genre of Hindi cinema for years to come. The plot tells the story of a family of five who are tragically separated by a natural disaster. Years later, their lives become bizarrely connected through a series of complex entanglements involving romance, misunderstandings, illness, and of course–a murder. I don’t want to ruin the movie by giving away too many details, but its theme can be summarized by the powerful concluding statement made by Balraj Sahni’s character: “waqt hi banata hai aur waqt hi bigaDta hai” (Time creates all, and time destroys all).

Sadhana and Sunil Dutt have a moment in Waqt (1965)

The icing on the cake for this movie is its soundtrack composed by Ravi and penned by Sahir Ludhianvi. One popular song you may know from this film is Manna De’s “ai merii zohraa jabii.n,” but today, I have chosen to translate the soundtrack’s crown jewel: “aage bhii jaane na tu.” Unlike many songs in Bollywood movies that serve as fillers, this song is actually instrumental in advancing the plot. The song is played in the background at a soiree that is attended by many of the film’s major characters. During the course of the song, a lot of important things happen: Sadhana and Sunil Dutt get all romantic together, Rehman orders Raaj Kumar to steal Shashikala’s diamond necklace, Sharmila Tagore seeks Shashi Kapoor’s attention, and Shashi Kapoor is forced to leave the party early to take care of his sick mother. Most importantly, however, Raaj Kumar gets into a fight with a drunk Madan Puri because he makes a pass at Sadhana, and this fight is related to the murder that I eluded to above. I’ll leave it at that for now to keep things suspenseful…

Dashing Raaj Kumar attempts to steal Shashikala’s diamond necklace. Sneaky!

Sahir Ludhianvi is brilliant as always in his poetry, as he transforms a potentially mediocre party song into a beautifully expressed philosophical statement about life. Through his words, he urges listeners to adopt a carpe diem intellectual framework in which decisions should be based on the present instead of relying on the uncertainties of the future and the past. He illustrates that seizing the day is important by saying, “jo bhii hai, bas yahii ek pal hai” (What is here now is only this one moment), and these words are particularly apt for a movie whose title and theme revolve around time. Ravi’s exquisite tune and Asha Bhonsle’s passionate rendition do justice to the depth of Ludhianvi’s words, which all  have contributed to making this gem one of Bollywood’s most treasured songs from the Golden Era.

Shashi Kapoor leaves the party to take care of his ailing mother 😦

Do you recognize the woman on whom this song is picturized in the film? Her name is Erica Lal, but I couldn’t find much biographical information about her except that she was an American woman who married an Indian living in Mumbai at this time. In any case, she looks stunning on screen during this song and captures the spirit and style of the sophisticated ’60s crooner.

–Mr. 55

Erica Lal is the epitome of the stylish ’60s crooner in Waqt (1965)

Aage Bhi Jaane Na Tu Lyrics and Translation

aage bhii jaane na tu, piichhe bhii jaane na tu
You may not know what lies ahead of you, nor do you know what lies behind you.

jo bhii hai, bas yahii ek pal hai
What is here now is only this one moment.

anjaane saayo.n kaa raaho.n mein Deraa hai
Unknown shadows camp along the paths ahead,

andekhii baaho.n ne ham sab ko ghera hai
While unseen arms have embraced us all.

yeh pal ujaalaa hai, baaqii andhheraa hai
This moment is shining with light; everything else is darkness.

yeh pal gavaana na, yeh pal hii teraa hai
Do not waste this moment, as only this moment is yours.

jiinevaale, soch le yahii vaqt hai kar le purii aarzuu
Think fast, oh living soul: this is the time to fulfill all your desires.

is pal ke jalvo.n ne mahfil sa.nvaarii hai
The passion of this moment has graced this gathering,

is pal kii garmii ne dhaDkan ubhaarii hai
And the warmth of this moment has accelerated our heartbeats.

is pal ke hone se duniyaa hamaarii hai
The world is ours because of this moment’s existence.

yeh pal jo dekho to sadiyo.n pe bhaarii hai
Take a look at this moment, for its grandeur is to be remembered for centuries.

jiinevaale, soch le yahii vaqt hai kar le purii aarzuu
Think fast, oh living soul: this is the time to fulfill all your desires.

is pal ke saaye me.n apnaa Thikaanaa hai
One’s destination can be found in the shadows of this moment.

is pal ke aage hii har shay fasaanaa hai
Ahead of this moment, all objects become stories of fantasy.

kal kis ne dekhaa hai? kal kis ne jaanaa hai?
Who has seen tomorrow? Who has known tomorrow?
is pal se paayegaa jo tujh ko paanaa hai
From this moment, you shall receive all that you are due.

jiinevaale, soch le yahii vaqt hai kar le purii aarzuu
Think fast, oh living soul: this is the time to fulfill all your desires.

aage bhii jaane na tu, piichhe bhii jaane na tu
You may not know what lies ahead of you, nor do you know what lies behind you.

jo bhii hai, bas yahii ek pal hai
What is here now is only this one moment.

Glossary

pal: moment; anjaane: unknown; Deraa: stop, camp; andekhii: unseen; baahe.n: arms; ghernaa: to encircle, embrace; ujaalaa: light; andhheraa: darkness; jiinevaale: living soul;  aarzuu: desire; jalvaa: passion; mahfil: gathering; sa.nvaaranaa: to grace, adorn; ubhaarnaa: to intensify, accelerate; sadii: century; Thikaanaa: destination, address; shay: object;  fasaanaa: tale, story

Raaj Kumar beats up a salacious drunkard to protect Sadhana’s honor. With the right combination of handsome looks, sophisticated personality, and masculine brawn, he is a model example of the classic Bollywood stud.

Bollywood’s Beloved Sopranos: Lata and Asha’s Highest Notes

I feel like we’ve all been in this situation at some point: one of your favorite aunties steps up to the microphone at the annual Diwali function, and you have a sinking fear in your heart that she’s going to embarass herself by butchering another Lata classsic on stage. As she struggles through the sky-high notes of the antara, you cringe and ask yourself why you’re here again, subjecting yourself to this torture…

Well, it turns out it’s not entirely her fault. The reality of the situation is that Bollywood songs from the Golden Era tend to be pitched at extremely high scales for the average female singer. Unless a woman is a veritable soprano like Lata Mangeshkar or Asha Bhonsle, it is going to be quite a challenge for them to sing many of the classic songs from this period in their original keys. The high-pitched soprano female voice has become a hallmark of Hindi film music, and I’d like to explore this phenomenon in greater detail with this post.

Two sisters who changed playback singing forever: Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle.

Why are Bollywood songs for females from the Golden Era pitched at astronomically high scales? I don’t know for sure, but I definitely have a few ideas that could explain this trend. First, the high-pitched female voice is consistent with the image of the ideal Indian woman that was prevalent during the 1950s and 60s. The soprano register suggests innocence and purity, which enhanced the traditionally feminine perceptions of heroines advanced by film directors of the time. Lata Mangeshkar  is the ultimate example of this phenomenon; her voice, with its ethereal purity, has been considered the traditional female voice of India for decades. However, this explanation is less pertinent to Lata’s younger sister Asha Bhonsle. The voice of Asha, who was widely known for her experimentation with non-traditional genres such as the cabaret, is not a national emblem of purity in the same way as her elder sister’s. For this reason, an alternative explanation is needed to describe the popularity of the soprano female voice in Bollywood, and I would venture to say that this alternative explanation is rooted in musical origins. Before the arrival of the Mangeshkars onto the filmi musical scene, female singing in Hindi films was dominated by artists with heavy, nasal voices, such as Suraiyya and Shamshad Begum. Once music directors had the opportunity to work with the Mangeshkars, things changed forever: the nasalized heavy female voices were out and the delicate soprano voices were here to stay. After Lata and Asha became established as playback singers, I would argue that  music directors of the time pushed the boundaries of their compositions in terms of range to test and showcase the virtuosity of these two exceptional talents.

Before we take a listen to some of Lata and Asha’s highest highs throughout Bollywood’s musical history, explaining a little bit of musical nitty-gritty is necessary to fully appreciate the gist of what’s going on here. From my experiences with transcribing and performing many songs from this era, I would estimate that the vast majority (perhaps 90%?) of songs composed for Lata and Asha max out at F5 or F#5 (two F/F#’s above middle C on the piano) as their highest note. Therefore, in the brief list  of high notes that I’ve compiled below, I’ve only chosen to include those rare songs that surpass the typical upper limit of  F#5. Songs for both singers are listed in order of ascending pitch of the composition’s highest note.

Keyboard labeled with note names and frequencies. C4 is taken as middle C. The high notes listed here range from G5 to C6.

Lata Mangeshkar: Selected High Notes

 jhuumta mausam mast mahiinaa (Ujala, 1959):  In this Lata-Manna duet composed by Shankar-Jakishan, Lata nails a G5 (taar komal ga in the key of E) when she repeats the “yalla yalla” line in the taar saptak (high octave) at the end.

ajii ruuThkar ab kahaa.n jaayiega?  (Aarzoo, 1965): Shankar-Jaikishan is once again the culprit here: listen as Lata reaches an Ab5 (taar shuddh ma in the key of Eb) in the antara of this gem picturized on Sadhana from Aarzoo. Regarding the high pitch of this song, Lata has said:

“I remember “ajii ruuThkar ab kahaa.n jaayiegaa” in Aarzoo (1965). What a high pitch that was! My ears reddened when I sang it. But I stubbornly sang at that impossible scale, refusing to admit defeat to any range. I would get very angry and sing at any range without complaining. Composers would take full advantage of my silence and keep raising the scale. In fact, I used to have arguments with Jaikishan. I would ask him, “kyaa baat hai, aap merii pariksha le rahe hai.n? mai.ne aap kaa kyaa bigaDaa hai jo aap meraa kaan laal kar rahe hai.n? (What’s the matter? Why are you testing me? What have I done that you should trouble me so much to redden my ears?)’

jiyaa o jiyaa kuch bol do (Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai, 1961): The tandem effect described below with “ahsaan teraa hogaa mujh par” is also observed here. Lata gives it her all as she reaches a Ab5 (taar komal ni in the key of Bb) in the antara of the female tandem version of the fun Rafi classic from Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai.

rasik balmaa (Chori Chori, 1957):  This Raga Shuddh Kalyan-based Shankar-Jakishan composition is one of my all-time favorites! Lata hits a G#5 (taar shuddh ga in the key of E) when she sings the antara.

Nargis in a melancholic mood as she sings “rasik balma” from Chori Chori (1957)

ahsaan teraa hogaa mujh par (Junglee, 1961):  The Rafi version of this number is an all-time classic. Although the Lata version is less popular, it is still beautiful in its own right and brings up an interesting point about scales in tandem songs from this era. In almost all cases that I can think of, music directors made the female singer of a tandem song sing her versions in the same key as the male verion. Because men tend to be more comfortable in the higher register of their voices than women, this practice often put the female playback singer at a disadvantage when it came to hitting the highest notes of the composition. But who else would be up for the challenge of adjusting to the “male scale,”  if not Lata Mangeshkar? She hits a G#5 (taar shuddh ga in the key of Ein the antara of this evergreen Shankar-Jakishan composition based in raga Yaman. Regarding the difficulties of singing tandem songs, Lata has remarked:

Actually, “ahsaan teraa hogaa mujh par” was only meant to be sung by Rafi. But the film’s hero, Shammi Kapoor, suddenly decided that the heroine should sing it as well. It was picturised with Rafi’s voice on Saira Banu and later dubbed by me. So I had to sing it in the same sur as Rafi. The same was done with “jiyaa o jiyaa kuch bol do.

tere baadalo.n kii khair (Champakali, 1957): This Bhairavi-based composition composed by Hemant Kumar and picturized on Suchitra Sen is not as well-known as the rest of the songs on this list, but it’s worth mentioning for the A5 (taar ma in the key of E) that Lata hits  at its conclusion.

ahaa rimjhim ke yeh pyaare pyaare geet  (Usne Kaha Tha, 1960):  Salil Chowdhury was known for his incorporation of ideas of Western classical music into his Indian compositions. As an example, he has Lata sing an operatic-style counterpoint passage here in which she reaches an Bb5 (atitaar sa in the key of Bb) against Talat’s rendering of the mukhda at the end of this composition. Subtle, but exquisite!

aa ab laut chale.n (Jis Des Mein Ganga Behti Hai, 1960): Shankar-Jaikishan score another point here with this patriotic composition from Jis Des Mein Ganga Behti Hai. Mukesh and Lata both sing this song, but it is not structured as a prototypical romantic duet. Mukesh takes the main lines while Lata provides a few supporting lines and interesting background vocals, including the virtuosic glide in which she nails an Bb5 (taar pa in the key of Eb) with finesse.

aaja bha.nvar/jhananana jhan baaje paayalia (Rani Roopmati, 1957): Both of these drut bandishes based in Raga Brindavani Sarang and composed by S.N. Tripathi from Rani Roopmati are truly virtuosic by Bollywood standards. Lata sounds so impressive when she nails the Bb5 (taar pa in the key of Bb) at the end of both “aaja bha.nvar” and “jhananana jhan.” In addition to showing off her range, Lata also showcases her classical training and vocal dexterity as she navigates through a host of intricate taans in both songs. I have to say Lata’s virtuosity leaves Rafi in the dust in the duet here (sorry, Mrs. 55!).

Nimmi sings “aaja bhan.var” in Rani Roopmati (1957)


ham ramchandra kii chandrakala me.n bhii
 
(Sampoorna Ramayana,
1961): The Mangeshkar sisters team up here to sing a duet from Sampoorna Ramayana composed by Vasant Desai. It’s somewhat interesting to note that the song here is actually picturized on two pre-pubescent boys, who are receiving playback from female singers. At the end of the song, there is a dramatic ascent in the melody until both sisters climax at a powerful  Bb5 (taar pa in the key of Eb).

ai dil kahaa.n terii manzil
 (Maya, 1961): Salil Chowdhury makes another contribution to our list with this composition rendered by Dwijen Mukherjee (a noted Bengali singer with a voice similar to Hemant Kumar’s) and Lata. Like “aa ab laut chale.n,” this duet is not structured traditionally; rather, Dwijen sings the main lines and Lata provides background support. Lata sounds heavenly as she hits a Bb5 (taar shuddh dha in the key of Db) in one of Salil’s signature opera-inspired vocal passages.

woh ek nigaah kyaa milii 
(Half-Ticket, 1962): To the best of my knowledge, Salil Chowdhury wins the contest for having recorded Lata’s voice at its highest pitch in the history of Bollywood cinema with this composition.  In this duet with Kishore Kumar picturized on Helen, Lata manages to hit  the elusive soprano C6 (taar shuddh dha in the key of Eb) in the second staccato sequence of the interlude played between stanzas. Her voice is so high here that it blends in naturally with the instrumental piccolo parts.  Nailing a staccato passage in the soprano register like this is incredibly impressive for a vocalist trained in the Indian tradition (in which the emphasis is not placed on vocalizing at the extremes of one’s range)–brava, Lata, brava!

Asha Bhonsle: Selected High Notes

sakhii rii sun bole papiihaa us paar (Miss Mary, 1957): You get the opportunity to hear some some sibling rivalry in this Hemant Kumar composition loosely based on Raga Tilang from Miss Mary! Lata (on Meena Kumari) and Asha (on some rando actress I can’t recognize) duke it out at the end with some intricate taans, but Asha actually takes the more complex passages and touches an Ab5 (taar shuddh ma in the key of Eb)in her last taan here. For those keeping score, Lata also hits the same note in her taan right before.

Meena Kumari in a rare non-tragic role in Miss Mary (1957)

dil na kahii.n lagaanaa (Ghunghat, 1960): I hadn’t heard this Ravi composition picturized on Helen before doing research for this post, but it’s quite special. The song is divided into several differents segments with lyrics in four different languages: Hindi, Tamil, Bengali (a cover of Geeta Dutt’s classic “tumi je amar“), and Punjabi. During in an alaap in the final Punjabi segment, Asha manages to hit an A5 (taar shuudh re in the key of G).

tarun aahe ratra ajunii (Non-Film):  This composition by Hridaynath Mangeshkar is a Marathi bhavgeet, so I guess it technically doesn’t belong on the list. Even though I don’t understand the Marathi lyrics, this is one of my favorite Asha songs because the tune and rendition are simply sublime. Here, the line “bagh tula pusatos aahe” begins on Bb3 and climbs up to A5 (taar shuddh ni in the key of Bb) with the ornament Asha sings on the words “gaar vaaraa.” In the span of one musical line, Asha covers nearly two octaves of vocal range–wow!

suunii suunii saa.ns kii sitaar par (Lal Patthar, 1971): This Shankar-Jakishan composition picturized on Rakhee from Lal Patthar is a beautiful example of the use of Raga Jayjayvanti in filmi music. In a passage towards the end of the song (beginning at 3:13), Asha touches a Bb5 (taar komal ga in the key of G). She also finishes the song off with some powerful taans. For comparison, see Shankar-Jakishan’s Jayjayvanti beauty from Seema sung by Lata (note the exquisite taankari at the end!): manmohana baDe jhuuThe

daiyaa mai.n kahaa.n aa pha.nsii (Caravan, 1971): This song from Caravan is probably remembered more for Asha Parekh’s crazy dance moves than its musical underpinnings, but this song is composed in a manner that is rather unique for Bollywood music. Most songs in Bollywood are sung at a fixed tonic (sa), but R.D. Burman experiments with a musical technique all too familiar to those who listen to 90s Western pop: the key change. He goes wild here by changing the tonic of the song by half-steps multiple times, and Asha hits a Bb5 during a transition at the very end.

Asha Parekh hides herself on stage during the performance of “daiyaa mai.n kahaa.na aa pha.nsii” in Caravan (1971)

aa dekhe.n zaraa (Rocky, 1981): Despite my aversion to Bollywood music from the 80s, I still decided to include this song on the list for the Bb5 (taar pa in the key of Eb) that Asha manages to yell out at around 2:20.

nadii naa re na jaao shyaam (Mujhe Jeene Do, 1963): In the alaap of this Jaidev composition picturized on Waheeda Rahman, Asha nails a G#5 and briefly touches a B5 (taar pa in the key of E) before descending to pitches that are more comfortable for the average mortal.

tu mi piaci cara (Bewaqoof, 1960):  This cute S.D. Burman composition sung by Asha and Kishore features an opening line in Italian. Maybe it was the Italian lyrics that inspired S.D. Burman to have Asha sing some background operatic passages in addition to her normal lines. During one of these passages before the second-last antara, Asha hits a B5 (taar ma in the key of F#).

jo mai.n hotaa ek TuuTaa taaraa (Chhupa Rustam, 1973): This composition by S.D. Burman rendered by Asha and Kishore features some more opera-like passages at its conclusion. Asha is impressively comfortable as she nails a B5 (ati-taar sa in the key of B)  several times in a row as counterpoint against Kishore’s rendering of the mukhda!

o merii jaa.n maine kahaa (The Train, 1970): You wouldn’t expect this fun item number composed by R.D. Burman and picturized on Helen from The Train to be particularly virtuosic in terms of vocals, but Asha actually hits the a B5 (ati-taar sa in the key of B) in the song’s opening line with her leap on the word “kahaa.” For those of you listening very carefully, it’s important to keep in mind that the film version appears to be transposed a half-step higher than the album version of this song.

If you’ve managed to pay attention so far and take a listen to some of these songs, you may have noticed some interesting trends when comparing the high notes rendered by our two beloved Bollywood divas. After taking a look at the years I’ve listed next to each song, you’ll notice that all of Lata’s highest notes on this list span a range of nine years from 1956 to 1965, while Asha’s highest notes range over 24 years (!) from 1957 to 1981. The broad range of years in which Asha hit her high notes might provide evidence to those who support the notion that Asha’s voice aged better than Lata’s over the decades. But there is one caveat: the manner in which these two divas produce their high notes is distinct and may play a role in mediating this trend. If you listen carefully, you can hear that Lata always employs her “chest voice” to belt out the notes of a composition, even at the highest registers. On the other hand, Asha often employs her “head voice,” the more commonly used technique by female singers to access high notes. Head voice has a softer, gentler sound because it resonates around the nasal cavity instead of the chest during vocal production. This technique of singing is traditionally forbidden in the Indian classical tradition, so purists might consider some of Asha’s highest highs as “cheating”–head voice is sometimes even referred to as naqlii avaaz (fake voice). I’m not so much of a purist that I would discredit Asha for using her head voice in these compositions, but I will venture to say that, if asked to do so, she would not be able to hit the notes of the high soprano register in her later years using her chest voice as gracefully as Lata did during her peak.

Another interesting trend to note is how different music directors composed differently to suit the individual styles of  Lata or Asha. Although all the music directors on this list have worked extensively with both sisters, the music directors who asked Lata to sing at her highest range are not the same as the music directors who asked the same of Asha. Shankar-Jaikishan and Salil Chowdhury, by far, contribute to Lata’s highest record pitches whereas R.D. Burman and S.D. Burman seem to have saved their highest notes for Asha. Just some food for thought.

R.D. Burman teaches Asha Bhonle during a rehearsal session.

Please let us know if you find any more examples of Lata and Asha’s highest highs that are not on this list! I have attempted to find the best examples, but given the vast repertoire of Bollywood film music, I may have naturally missed out on some that are worth mentioning. Also, if you enjoyed this post, let us know in the comments and I’ll try to do some similar-themed posts in the future–perhaps next, we can take a listen to Lata and Asha’s lowest recorded notes or a an analysis of the Bollywood tenor’s highest highs? The possibilities are endless!

-Mr. 55