Dilip Kumar plays a swashbuckling raja who knows how to carry a tune in Kohinoor (1960).
Today we present the lyrics and English translation to the semi-classical “Madhuban Mein Radhika” from Kohinoor (1960). Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari star in this masala film set during a romanticized period of Indian history when Hindu royalty were constantly engaged in sword-fights with their rivals, playing the sitar to the acclamation of their courtiers, and saving damsels in distress on horseback. Kohinoor is remembered today for the brilliant soundtrack and delightful script (read: you will not cringe and die during most of the comic scenes) as well a for the breezy performances by its hero and heroine. Meena Kumari giggles more in this film than in any of her other films combined!
Dilip Kumar as the young raja travels to the countryside and happens upon a musical assembly where a talented dancer, played by Kumkum, challenges anyone to perform a song to which she cannot dance. Naturally, our hero is ready with “Madhuban Mein Radhika” to the delight of the court while Kumkum gracefully dances kathak to his tune. Shakeel Badayuni’s straightforward Radha-Krishna poetry is the basis of a rollicking number that keeps everyone, especially Kumkum, on their toes. “Madhuban Mein Radhika” is a true gem among film songs, drawing heavily upon Hindustani classical traditions that are rare to find executed with such unabashed purism in Bollywood films. It comes as no surprise that the song has maestro Naushad written all over it. To fully appreciate all the ornaments of the piece, I think it’s high time we break for a little vocabulary lesson…
A Brief Hindustani Classical Music Vocabulary Lesson:
Tarana in Hindustani classical music were thought to be invented by the great poet Amir Khusro (1253-1325 CE). Legend has it that a music competition was held by the famous conqueror Alauddin Khilji in which Amir Khusro and Gopal Nayak, court musician to the King of Devagiri were the last men standing. Nayak performed raaga Kadambak in Sanskrit for six evenings straight while Khusro sat enthralled among the courtiers. On the seventh night, Khusro sang the same song, copying each note to perfection, but substituted Persian words and jargon for the lyrics as he did not understand Sanskrit. His amazing performance won him the competition and thus, the tarana was born. Persian couplets and notation for tabla are often intermingled into the tarana, however, the basic phonetics are Farsi-based (eg. yalali, odani, tadeem). The structure consists of a main melody that the performer repeats and elaborates on as well as a second, contrasting melody, that may include higher notes and is introduced once before returning to the main melody. The taranas featured in Lata Mangeshkar’s “Tare Rahiyo” from Pakeezah (1972) and the Pakeezah (1972) Title Music are some of the film’s highlights.
Sargam is the vocalization of the notes that define the raga in which the song is sung. Improvisation ascending and descending the scale allows the audience to understand the raagas range and boundaries, often occurring at the beginning or the end of the piece. The sargam typically incorporates improvisation upon themes to set the tone of the piece. A great example of a beautiful mid-song sargam is in Asha Bhonsle’s “Nigahen Milane Ko” from Dil Hi To Hai (1960).
Jugalbandiis a playful competition between two performers in which one mimics the other, and then surpasses. A challenging test of both the ability to perfectly imitate and then improvise, a jugalbandi between two master musicians is absolutely thrilling to witness. This is commonly between two instrumental performers, but as in “Madhuban Mein Radikha,” is briefly showcased as between the singer and the tabla player (note: the lyrics actually reference the Carnatic mridangam, which is a different percussion instrument than the Hindustani tabla, however, a tabla is indeed is picturized in the film). Another fun example of jugalbandi in Bollywood is at the ending of the song Muqabala Humse Na Karo from Prince (1969).
Kumkum entrances her audience with a kathak performance based on classic Radha-Krishna imagery in Kohinoor (1960).
Are we all on the same page now? Because I’m fully expecting you to count the taal as you check out the music video here. Follow along with our English translation of the lyrics to “Madhuban Mein Radhika” from Kohinoor (1960) below! How many lovely ornaments of Hindustani classical music can you hear in the song?
Madhuban Mein Radhika Nache Lyrics and Translation:
ALAAP: Aaaah aaaah aaaah
madhuban mei.N radhikaanache re In the honey gardens, Radha danced Girdhar kii muraliiyabaje re As the flute of Krishna played
pag mei.N ghuungharbaandhke With dancing bells tied to her leg ghuunghaTmukh par daal ke With aveil placed upon her face nainan mei.N kajraa lagaake re With kajal applied to her eyes madhuban mei.N radhikaa nache re In the honey gardens, Radha danced
Dolatchham-chhamkaminii The beautiful lady swayed and sparkled Chhamakat jaise daamini Her sparkle was like lightening Chhanchal, pyariichhab laage re Her face appeared mischievous and lovable madhuban mei.N radhikaa nache re In the honey gardens, Radha danced
mridang baje… The drum was played…
Tirikitadhum Tirikitadhum Ta Ta mridang baje Tirikitadhum Tirikitadhum
Dha Tirikita Tak , Thum Tirikita Tak Tirikita Titikita Ta DhaNi
NaDir DiTa NiTa ODe NaDir DiTa niTa ODe Nadir Dita NiTa DhaRe Dhim Dhim Ta Na Na ….
madhuban: sweet garden, honey garden; Radhikaa: Radha, gopi lover of Krishna; nachnaa: to dance; girdhar: Lord Krishna; muralii: flute; baajnaa: to play; pag: leg; ghuungar: dancing bells; baandhnaa: to bind, to tie; ghuungaT: veil; mukh: face: Daalnaa: to place, to put; nainan: eyes; kajraa: eyeliner; Dolat: sway; chham-chham: sparkling; kaamini: beautiful lady; daamini: lightening; chhanchal: mischievous; pyaarii: loveable; chhab: face; mridangam:traditional Carnatic percussion instrument
Dilip Kumar jams his sitar with rockstar attitude in Kohinoor (1960).
Dilip Kumar’s performance in Kohinoor (1960) garnered the Filmfare award for Best Actor that year. According to Naushad, Dilip Kumar the perfectionist, supposedly learned how to play the sitar just for this song. While that may seem extreme, anyone who has seen Raj Kapoor fail miserably to pretend play the piano (as much as we love the man) will appreciate how big a difference this makes in any self-respecting musical number.
Wondering what’s up with the snake and the mongoose at the end of the song? Naturally, every self-respecting raja-rani film needs at least one assassination-by-cobra attempt…amiright?
On June 12, 2016, the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history took place at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. This tragedy took the lives of 49 innocent victims and wounded at least 53 more. The majority of victims targeted in this violent massacre were LGBT people of color. We stand in solidarity with Orlando and pay tribute to the lives lost in this hate-fueled tragedy through the translation of a timeless song from Mughal-E-Azam (1960): “pyaar kiyaa to Darnaa kyaa?”
Madhubala’s portrayal of Anarkali in Mughal-E-Azam (1960) is widely considered to be her greatest work.
Mughal-E-Azam (1960), directed by K. Asif, narrates the story of forbidden love between Anarkali (played by Madhubala) and Salim (Dilip Kumar). Salim, prince of the Mughal empire, falls in love with Anarkali, a beautiful dancer in the royal court. Emperor Akbar, Salim’s father, is outraged by his son’s relationship with a lowly courtesan. The ensuing conflict between Akbar and Salim, with Anarkali caught in the middle, results in a war between father and son that culminates in a tragic conclusion on all sides.
Although the love story of Salim and Anarkali has been dramatized several times over the decades, this depiction has become immortalized as a masterpiece in the realm of Hindi cinema. This film is considered a crowning glory of the careers for several of the artists involved, especially actress Madhubala, playback singer Lata Mangeshkar, music director Naushad, and lyricist Shakeel Badayuni.
With poignant eloquence, “Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya?” embodies the spirit of bravery in love. Indeed, this song expresses a universal message that originates from the time of Mughal emperors yet still resonates today. It inspires us to fight for those we love, to have courage in the face of adversity, and to live our lives freely without fear.
In light of the recent tragedy, let it also be a reminder that love can be expressed in many different ways. Those who love differently from the norm should not be afraid of expressing themselves simply for being who they are. By promoting tolerance over hate, we must come together and take a stand against the persecution of the LGBT community in today’s society.
After all, we cannot forget that love is love.
Madhubala brazenly defies societal norms in the royal court of Emperor Akbar in Mughal-E-Azam (1960)
Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya: Lyrics and English Translation
insaan kisii se duniyaa me.n ek baar muhabbat kartaa hai An individual only falls in love once in this world. is dard ko lekar jiitaa hai, is dard ko lekar martaa hai He lives with this pain, and he dies with this pain.
pyaar kiyaa to Darnaa kyaa? If I have loved, then why must I be afraid? pyaar kiyaa koii chorii nahii.n kii I have simply loved; I have committed no theft. chhup chhup aahe.n bharnaa kyaa? Then, why must I heave these sighs of pain in secrecy?
aaj kahe.nge dil kaa fasaanaa
Today, I will narrate the story of my heart, jaan bhii le le chaahe zamaanaa even if the world takes my life. maut vahii jo duniyaa dekhe
If death is only accepted when witnessed by the world, ghuT ghuT kar yuu.n marnaa kyaa? then why must I die by suffocating alone?
unkii tamanna dil me.n rahegii
My desire for him will continue to grow in my heart. shamma isii mahfil me.n rahegii
The flame will continue to burn in this gathering. ishq me.n jiinaa, ishq me.n marnaa After living in love and dying in love, aur hame.n ab karnaa kyaa? what else remains for me to do?
chhup na sakegaa ishq hamaraa
My love cannot be hidden, chaaro.n taraf hai unkaa nazaaraa
it can be seen in all four directions. pardaa nahii.n hai jab koii khudaa se,
If I do not wear a veil in front of God, bando.n se pardaa karnaa kyaa? why must my love remain veiled from society?
pyaar kiyaa to Darnaa kyaa? If I have loved, then why must I be afraid?
Guru Dutt and Mala Sinha are NOT actually waltzing in the iconic song “Hum Aap Ki Ankhon Mein” from Pyaasa (1957).
The waltz is a beautiful dance form with music in triple meter that originated in 16th century Germany. The name is derived from the Latin volvere, describing the ensemble rotations of the dancers. So what place does the waltz have in 20th century Bollywood films? How did this art form cross continents and cultures?
I first starting looking closely at waltz songs in classic Bollywood films when trying to select a song for my husband and my “first dance” at our wedding. I wanted to use an old Bollywood song for this western tradition, and found myself unsure where to start looking. My mind jumped to the most iconic waltz dance from Bollywood I could think of: who doesn’t recall the serene dream sequence from Pyaasa (1957) in which Guru Dutt and Mala Sinha twirl together through the mist? There was just one issue: “Hum Aap Ki Ankhon Mein” was not actually a waltz.
Meena Kumari and Kishore Kumar waltz to O.P. Nayyar’s “Mere Neendon Mein Tum” from Naya Andaz (1956).
Yup. You and I were both fooled. As I discovered the distinct triple meter of the waltz is not ubiquitous in classic Bollywood, nor can you really fake dancing a waltz to anything else. The 3/4 meter of the waltz bears a similarity to the Hindustani dadra 6/8 meter, paving the way for a transition across continents. You can recognize the distinct rhythm of the waltz by listening for a strong first beat followed by two lighter beats. A common mistake is that many people think when dancing the waltz, the first beat is when both dancers move “up.” In reality, that first strong beat is when the dancers may move downwards in unison, and return to normal height (or on the balls of their feet) for the lighter beats following. There are many variations to this pattern, but generally, it gives the waltz dancers that beautiful wave-like cadence as if they are floating across the floor.
The waltz assumes many unexpected incarnations in classic Bollywood, exemplifying everything from urban glamour to girlish excitement to full-out pity party. The first known appearance of waltz in a Bollywood song is in “Hum Aur Tum Aur Yeh Khushi” from Ali Baba (1940) composed by the legendary Anil Biswas. Music director Naushad, known for his brilliant Hindustani classical compositions, helped usher the waltz rhythm into Bollywood mainstream as early as with the tragic “Tod Diya Dil Mera” from Andaz (1949), “Ab Raat Milan Ki” from Jadoo (1951), and “Tara Ri Yara Ri” from Dastan (1952). S.D. Burman highlighted the waltz in his hit House No. 44 (1955) with amorous ballads “Phaili Hui Hai Sapnon” and”Chhup Hai Dharti.” By the late 1950s, the waltz was adopted by nearly every composer, developing an important place in Bollywood well into the 1970s.
Nargis’ surprisingly incredible waltz moves school everyone in “Dil Ki Girah Khol Do” from Raat Aur Din (1967). And you thought she was only cut out for the village belle.
In Hindi films, a song with a waltz rhythm need not always portray a couple dancing–in fact, some of the best waltz songs create tension by not showing the couple come together. Other times, such as in Nargis’ incredible performance in Raat or Aur Din (1967), waltzing with ease was a sign of Western sophistication and elitism. The waltz gained a brief romantic revival in the 1990s with the super hit song “Kuch Na Kaho” from 1942: A Love Story (1993). But this song became quickly overdone at every Indian function I attended growing up, so I refused to use it at my own wedding. I needed a list of off-the-beaten-path waltz songs from classic Bollywood that would still make us look stylish.
Raj Kapoor and Nadira dance together singing “Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh,” which begins as a lilting waltz in Shree 420 (1955).
But when I was planning my wedding, I never found that list. It’s as though thousands of men and women out there aren’t actually scrambling to dance to a Mohammed Rafi song in front of all their friends and family. I don’t get it. To the couple out there who wants to have the coolest wedding ever, this list is my gift to you!
My husband and my ‘first dance’ at our wedding: a waltz to Lata Mangeshkar’s “Lag Ja Gale.” When watching the video of us later, it was clear that I was no Nargis, but at least we had fun!
We ultimately decided on the Viennese waltz “Lag Ja Gale” for our first dance, which proved pretty ambitious for two people whose primary dance skills involved interpretive bhangra. Don’t see your favorite Bollywood waltz on our list? Let us know what other Bollywood waltzes you love in the comments!
The greatest music albums from classic Bollywood have been chosen. Which songs made the list of Hindi films’s top 30?
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 most talented artists 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. 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:
Music director Madan Mohan in his studio circa. 1960s. How many different instruments can you spot in this photo?
Ever find yourself listening to Bollywood film music and feel like your brain is exploding in ecstasy from the rainbow of instruments striking your tympanic membranes? We know the feeling. The history of Bollywood film music goes much deeper than the playback singers who lived in limelight. The incredible talents of Hindi film music directors and musicians are responsible for the compositions we love today. Their risks and creativity were a gift to generations of music-lovers. Without composer Naushad defying his parents to play the harmonium “live” for silent films in the 1930s or R.D. Burman’s daring musical ingenuity in his break-out film Teesri Manzil, Bollywood music as we know it would be radically different.
To truly understand the brilliance of the men and women who shaped Hindi film music, we must learn their tools. From traditional Indian instruments that date to the Vedic age to the orchestral forerunners of Europe to the unsung instruments of Brazil and Africa, the rich mediums of Bollywood music wrote their own rules. We have created a Beginner’s Guide to the Instruments of Classic Hindi Films for whether you’re a newcomer to Bollywood or a veteran, the innovation of these songs and their mechanisms will stun you. To simplify, we divided the instruments into rough categories with several of our favorite examples and links to videos and song translations beneath. And if you ever wonder which instrument was played in a particular song, refer back to this guide for the answer!
A Beginner’s Guide to the Instruments of Classic Hindi Films
Banjo: A plucked 4-5 string instrument with origins in Africa that traveled to America around the 18th century with African-American traditional music and became a staple of country and folk genres.
Ignore how uncomfortable the heroine’s Stockholm Syndrome makes you, and enjoy Meena Kumari’s decent impression of someone who knows how to play the banjo in the film Azaad. This is the only instance of this instrument’s prominent use in a film song that I know. If you have heard others, please leave a comment!
Kitna Haseen Hai Mausam (Azaad 1955)
Cello:A bass 4-stringed instrument dating back to 17th century Italy, the large cello is held against the seated cellist and traditionally played with a horsehair bow.
Guitar: A typically 6-string instrument with European roots with a multitude of incarnations, from acoustic to electric, that have influenced every genre from hard rock to reggae.
Bollywood film music saw a revolution with guitar use from the more acoustic versions a la “Tadbeer Se Bigdhi Hui” in the early 50s to the electric guitar riots of the 60s such as in the jolting opening of “Aaja Aaja” from Teesri Manzil (1966).
Aaja Aaja Main Hoon Pyaar Tera (Teesri Manzil 1966)
Chura Liya Hai (Yaadon Ki Baraat 1973)
Ajeeb Dastan Hai Yeh (Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai 1960)
Tadbeer Se Bigdi Hui (Baazi 1951)
Rulake Gaya Sapna Mera (Jewel Thief 1967)
Mandolin: An evolution from the lute family around 17th century Italy with traditionally 4 courses of double strings that feature prominently in classical European music.
This instrument has had a diverse role in Hindi film music–from an instrument of seduction in C.I.D. (1956) to one of tragedy in “Suhani Raat Dhal Chuki.” Fun fact: the mandolin that is featured in the interlude music “Achaji Main Hari” was played by Laxmikant and Manoharida themselves!
Kahin Pe Nigahen Kahin Pe Nishana (C.I.D 1956)
Achaji Main Hari Chalo (Kala Pani 1958)
Tum Bin Jaoon Kahan (Pyar Ka Mausam 1969)
Suhani Raat Dhal Chuki (Dulari 1949)
Santoor: An ancient Kashmiri instrument of 72-strings that are struck with special mallets and heard in traditional Sufi hymns and folk music of Northern India.
The beautiful, reflective santoor is prominent in many Bollywood films, often as a gentle romantic hint in the score during dialogue or first encounters with love. A great example is in “Mere Mehboob Tujhe” where the santoor is allowed to muse solo as the hero recalls his meeting with a mysterious woman for whom he now searches.
Sarangi: A bowed short-neck stringed instrument famed in Hindustani classical music for its close imitation of the human voice.
I often associate the sarangi with its great performances in courtesan songs. No better example is the hypnotizing opening of Pakeezah‘s immortal “Chalte Chalte.” The sarangi is a very evocative instrument, conjuring unimaginable sadness as in “Do Hanson Ka JoDa” or a lovely shyness in “Dil Cheez Kya Hai.”
Sarod: A lute-like instrument from Afghanistan that rose to prominence in the Mughal courts.
Like the santoor, the sarod often appears in the film’s score outside of a full-blown song-and-dance sequence. The sarod is highly versatile–when played quickly it can denote excitement and movement, and when plucked slowly it can pull at your heart strings. The mesmerizing battle between sitar and sarod in “Madhuban Mein Radhika” demonstrates this instrument’s power to take your breath away!
Madhuban Mein Radhika (Kohinoor 1960)
Man Re Tu Kahe (Chitralekha 1964)
Suno Chhoti Si Gudiya (Seema 1955)
Sitar: An 18-20 string plucked instrument synonymous with Hindustani classical music that influenced the Western pop world in the 1960s when adopted by The Beatles and Rolling Stones.
Tanpura: A 4-string instrument to accompany a Hindustani classical vocalist that does not play a melody, but rather provides a harmonic drone throughout the piece.
The beauty of the tanpura is in its relative simplicity. The singer plucks four strings in order continuously, allowing them to focus on their vocal composition while maintaining harmony. Listen carefully for its deep drone in the background of many classical and semi-classical songs!
Duniya Na Bhaaye (Basant Bahar 1956)
Man Tarpat Hari Dar (Baiju Bawra 1952)
Sukh Ke Sab Saathi (Gopi 1970)
Violin: A highly popular bowed 4-string instrument with roots in 16th century Italy that has had global impact, including in orchestral performances of Hindi film music.
Violins are an integral part of film music orchestration. I’ve listed several songs that highlight its use as a solo instrument, or more commonly as part of a large orchestra seen in numerous Hindi film songs from the 1950s onwards (the famous opening of “Pyar Hua Iqrar Hua” being but one of dozens).
Bansuri: An ancient flute-like instrument with a history dating back to the myths of Lord Krishna and Radha, the bansuri is made from a single shaft of bamboo with 6-7 holes and is associated with pastoral compositions of India.
The lonely bansuri is a common instrument of Hindi films denoting a tragedy, a philosophical side-note, or a quiet village scene. The bansuri of “Chingari Koi Bhadke” represents the second of these themes and will never fail to transport you to a different world of exoticism.
Been (Pungi): An instrument fashioned from a gourd and two reed pipes, the been is the traditional instrument of snake charmers and popular in folk music of South Asia.
The good old been is one of pop cultures favorite instruments, yet is actually only a prominent player in a few classic Bollywood songs. The landmark, of course, is Nagin (1954) where “Man Dole Mera Tan Dole” made been music popular even outside the crowds who gather for snake charmers.
Man Dole Mera Tan Dole (Nagin 1953)
Ek Pardesi Mera Dil Le Gaya (Phagun 1958)
Parde Mein Rehne Do (Shikar 1968)
Western concert flute:A popular sideblown woodwind instrument that dates back to the 11th century Byzantine Empire and is commonly heard in bands and orchestras.
I love how the flute has been used in Hindi film music. Rethink how you’ve always imagined the flute and take a listen to the evocative solo the opens “Ja Re Ja Re Udi Ja Re Panchi” or the seductive twist of the key flute in “Aao Na Gale Lagalo Na”!
Ja Re Ja Re Udi Ja Re Panchi (Maya 1961)
Ruk Ja O Janewali Ruk Ja (Kanhaiya 1959)
Aao Na Gale Lagalo Na (Mere Jeevan Saathi 1972 – key flute)
O Haseena Zulfonwali Jane (Teesri Manzil 1966)
Harmonica: First appearing in Vienna in the 19th century, the easily portable hand-held harmonica has influenced artists from Blues and jazz genres.
Harmonica plays an important role in classic Bollywood film music, often played by optimistic young heroes with a song in their heart despite having great odds against them.
Saxophone: Fashioned in brass originally in Belgium in the 19th century, the edgy saxophone is a key member of jazz and marching bands.
I was first alerted to the presence of saxophones when I heard the haunting and unexpected interlude music of “Awaaz Deke” (Professor 1962). Interestingly, I’ve found that in Hindi film music (due in large part to maestro Manohari Singh whose soprano sax sets your heart on fire in “Mehbooba Mehbooba”), it is just as often as a jazzy party-starter as an edgy bridge toward tragedy.
Shehnai: A traditional South Asian instrument known for its auspicious melodies at weddings and processions.
This lovely, but almost invariably tragic-sounding instrument is a staple of wedding scenes. The opening shehnai of “Babul Ki Duaaen” feels as if someone is crying, reflecting the sadness of a father’s loss. One of the more innovative melodies I’ve heard with shehnai is in the song “Chal Ri Sajni” (and incidentally among the most perfectly filmed and edited sequences in Bollywood history, but that’s another story…)
Babul Ki Duae.N Leti Jaa (Neel Kama 1968)
Kabhi Kabhi (Kabhi Kabhi 1976, interlude after ghughat utaa raha hoon main)
Chal Ri Sajni Ab Kya Soche (Bombai Ka Babu 1960)
Trumpet: 3 piston-valves are the hallmark of this 15th century European instrument which has influenced jazz, Latin, and pop music alike.
While a more limited role in Hindi film music, the trumpet moved strictly cabaret club numbers to the beautiful opening of “Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli” where the lifting trumpet solo carries our hopes to the sky with it.
Bongo-Conga: Afro-Cuban drums (consisting of the smaller hand-held bongos and the larger barrel congas) that are backbones of Latin music, Afro-Cuban jazz, and the mambo music that swept 1950s United States.
Wanna know why “O Mere Dil Ke Chain” is your favorite Rajesh Khanna song and your heart races every time it plays? It’s not (just) his perfect face, it’s the Bongo-Conga! This exotic and uber-fun percussion instrument translates effortlessly from living room romance to an outdoor gypsy party.
O Mere Dil Ke Chain (Mere Jeevan Saathi 1972)
Dilbar Dil Se Pyaare (Caravan 1971)
Gum Hai Kisise Pyar (Rampur Ka Lakshman 1972)
Castanets:A distinct handheld instrument commonly associated with the Spanish Sevillanas folk dance that is played by clicking two small wooden shells together in a quick rattle.
Once you hear this sound in a song, you’ll never forget it. More popular in Bollywood songs of the 50s and early 60s, the castanets add a playful nuance on top of the base percussion provided by a different instrument.
Tere Sur Aur Mere Geet (Goonj Uthi Shehnai 1959)
Yeh Chand Sa Roshan Chehra (Kashmir Ki Kali 1964)
Door Gagan Ki Chaaon (Door Gagan Ki Chaaon Mein 1964)
Aaiye Meharbaan (Howrah Bridge 1958)
Mora Gora Ang Laile (Bandini 1963)
Madal: A hand-drum used in Nepali folk music that made its debut in Bollywood under music director R.D. Burman and Ranjjit Gazmer in the 1970s.
The madal has a fuller more rounded tone than the tabla or bongo, lending itself well to rustic scenes. It was featured heavily in the destination film “Hare Rama Hare Krishna”!
Hum Dono Do Premi (Ajnabee 1974)
Kanchi Re Kanchi Re (Hare Rama Hare Krishna 1971)
Dhol: A exciting Panjabi instrument famous for its influence on bhangra music, the dhol (and its family members the dholak and dholki) is a double-headed drum featured in genres from pop to qawwali.
The dhol is a great instrument for dancing and some of the best Bollywood choreography has featured the upbeat dhol. If you ever doubted Vijayantimala’s rumored legendary dance skills, just watch and listen to the end of “Honton Pe Aisi Baat” with the mind-boggling dhol spinning circles around the other instruments.
Chadti Jawani (Caravan 1971)
Honton Pe Aisi Baat (Jewel Thief 1965)
Jhumka Gira Re (Mera Saaya 1966)
Yamma Yamma (1980)
Jai Jai Shiv Shankar (Aap Ki Kasam 1973)
Duggi:A traditional Uttar Pradesh kettle drum in the tabla family played with two hands.
Popularized by Bollywood musician Homi Mullan, this percussion instrument creates a more rounded tone than the tabla, but is a perfect pastoral compliment to “Ni Sultana Re” as well as the sultry domestic “Bahon Mein Chale Aao.”
Ni Sultana Re (Pyar Ka Mausam 1969)
Bahon Mein Chale Aao (Anamika 1973)
Roop Tera Mastana (Aradhana 1969)
Dekha Na Haye Re Socha Na (Bombay to Goa 1972)
Ghatam (Matka):An ancient percussion instrument from South India, the ghatam is a clay pot with a narrow mouth and is played with bare hands.
It doesn’t get any more traditional than the ghatam, but R.D. Burman figured out how to use it an as unconventional ways as possible. Bet you wouldn’t have guessed that the percussion of hipster hit “Samne Yeh Kaun Aaya” came from a clay pot?
Samne Yeh Kaun Aaya (Jawani Diwani)
Are Kaise Mitti Ki Maadho (Imaan 1974)
Muttu Kudi (Do Phool 1974)
Reco Reco (Reso Reso): A scraped percussion instrument with a distict sound with origins in Brazilian music.
The reco reco is basically a party in a box! The distinct rhythm it creates adds spice to every song that is bold enough to utilize it. Watch how Kishore Kumar in a hilarious scene from Padosan lipsyncs his own actual recorded voice while playing the Reco Reco (who is in turn lipsynced by Sunil Dutt!) in “Mere Samnewali Khidki Mein.”
Mere Samnewali Khidki Mein (Padosan 1968)
Mere Naina Saawan Bhado (Mehbooba 1976)
Mera Naam Hai Shabnam (Kati Patang 1970)
Tabla: A pair of hand drums used commonly in Hindustani classic music composed of two distinct drums with differing roles for each hand.
This is one of the most common percussion instruments used in old Hindi songs and is always to go-to when all else fails. I once took tabla lessons, but quit after 2 weeks because my guru insisted I needed to cut my nails shorter to play the instrument correctly. He was right, of course, but there are sacrifices I’m not willing to make!
Western Drum Kit: A collection of instruments often including a bass drum, a snare drum, and one or more cymbals that became popular with jazz bands in the early 20th century and ushered in rock-and-roll.
Rock-and-roll and nightclub bands have long been a part of Hindi film traditions and the Western drum kit hit the screen with a literal bang, and usually accompanied by a song better suited for “modern” audiences.
Dil Deke Dekho (Dil Deke Dekho 1959)
Ina Mina Dika (Aasha 1957)
Baar Baar Dekho (Chinatown 1962)
Tumne Mujhe Dekha (Teesri Manzil 1966)
Nain Milakar Chain Churana (Aamne Samne 1967)
Accordion:Believed to have been invented in Berlin in the early 19th century, the accordion, like the harmonium, is played by compressing the instrument’s bellows with one hand while playing keys with the other hand.
The accordion produces a harsher sound than the harmonium, but is often more exciting as in the epic performance in “Anhoni Ko Honi” or the drama-filled “Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega”!
Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega (Sangam 1964)
Awaara Hoon (Awaara 1951)
Sab Kuch Seeka Humne (Anari 1959)
Anhoni Ko Honi Karde (Amar Akbar Anthony 1977)
Jeena Yahan Marna Yahan (Mera Naam Joker 1970)
Heavy Breathing and Grunting: An R.D. Burman signature that marks any classic Bollywood song as particularly racy and is served by both men and women with an extra scoop of awkward sauce.
Yeah, I had to throw this in. Don’t pretend like it doesn’t exist, and definitely don’t pretend that you don’t love it. Awkward breathing and grunting nosies are a strange but important hallmark of many of our favorite classic Bollywood cabaret numbers. They really just have to be heard to understand (and to believe). Now before you start to blush, these noises are actually pretty complicated to make–it takes great breathing control and just the right amount of oomph. Seriously, try these exercises at home when no one’s around to judge. You’ll give your lungs a run for their money!
Harmonium: A type of hand-pumped accordion often used as melodic accompaniment in Hindustani vocals as well as qawwali and folk music.
The harmonium is one of Hindustani classical music’s best modern friends and a great accompanist to everything from a layman’s love ode (a la “Bahut Shukriya”) to semi-classical qawwalis (as seen in Nutan’s one-man-show “Nigahen Milane”).
Manjira:A small pair of hand cymbals that traditionally accompanied bhajans with roots in ancient temple music.
Although manjira are traditionally used as accompaniments to bhajans, I ADORE how they were used in the romantic “Chhupa Lo Yun Dil” to underscore the devotional imagery to a couple’s love for each other.
Piano: One of the world’s most familiar musical instruments, the piano is played through a keyboard that strikes strings connected to a soundboard.
You’ll be the classiest guy in the room if you can burst into song with your own piano accompaniment at a party. Or so classic Bollywood tells us. Piano songs are essentially their own genre in the world of Hindi films. Once the piano comes out, it gets fancy and emotional in a hurry.
Shankh (conch shell): An ancient instrument fashioned from the shells of large snails that are typically featured in Hindu religious hymns.
This occasionally heard instrument is usually only found in highly religious songs, but can also be heardwhen our heroes make a trip to a temple or when someone is praying for justice in the world. A powerful example comes during the climax of aarti in Purab Aur Paschim!
Om Jai Jagdish (Purab Aur Paschim 1970)
Mose Mora Shaam Roota (Johnny Mera Naam 1970)
What a whirlwind! We hope our introductory guide to the instruments of old Bollywood is a useful tool as you immerse yourself in the incredibly diverse music of our favorite films! All I have to say after reviewing my list is that I really could have used more cowbell.
Just kidding (in fact, listen to “Kitne Bhi Tu Kar Le Sitam” from Sanam Teri Kasam for some actual Bollywood cowbell action). What other instruments played in your favorite classic Bollywood songs have we left off our list? Leave us a comment with an old film song you wish you knew more about and we’ll try to tell you which instruments are featured!