A Guide to the Instruments of Old Bollywood Film Music: from Hindustani to Western (and everything in-between)

Madan Mohan recording studio orchestra
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

String Instruments

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.

Yeh Jo Mohabbat Hai (Kati Patang 1970)

Zindagi Ke Safar Mein (Aap Ki Kasam 1973)

Kuch To Log Kahenge (Amar Prem 1972)

Panna Ki Tammana (Heera Panna 1973)

Meri Bheegi Bheegi Si (Anamika 1973)

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.

Aye Dil-e-Nadan (Razia Sultan 1983)

Sajna Hai Mujhe (Saudagar 1973)

Mere Mehboob Tujhe (Mere Mehboob 1963)

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.”

Chalte Chalte (Pakeezah 1972)

Saranga Teri Yaad Mein (Saranga 1961)

Do Hanson Ka Joda (Ganga Jamuna 1961)

Dil Cheez kya Hai (Umrao Jaan 1981)

Aansuu Bhari Hai (Parvarish 1958)

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.

The ethereal sitar helped bring Hindustani music to the international stage. Used often in Hindi films to denote the gentle falling of rain (a famous Ravi Shankar composition in Satyajit Ray’s Pathar Panchali captures this brilliantly), sitar music is a classic Bollywood backbone.

O Sajna Barkha (Parakh 1960)

Hum Tere Pyar Mein Saara Aalam (Dil Ek Mandir 1963)

Chandan Sa Badan (Saraswatichandra 1968)

Tere Bina Zindagi Se (Aandhi 1975)

Chori Chori Chupke Chupke (Aap Ki Kasam 1974)

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).

Ek Pyar Ka Naghma (Shor 1972)

Mujhe Kisi Se Pyar (Barsaat 1949)

Likhe Jo Khat Tujhe (Kanyadaan 1968)

Pyar Hua Iqrar Hua (1955)

Karvaten Badalte Rahe (Mere Jeevan Saathi 1972)

Wind Instruments

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.

Chingari Koi Bhadke (Amar Prem 1972)

Chahoonga Main Tujhe (Dosti 1964)

Piya Bina (Abhiman 1973)

Na Koi Umang Hai (Kati Patang 1970)

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.

Jaanewalo Zara (Dosti 1964)

Hai Apna Dil To Awara (Solva Saal 1958)

Mere Sapno Ki Rani (Aradhana 1969)

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.

Awaaz Deke (Professor  1962)

Jis Gali Mein Tera Ghar (Kati Patang 1970)

Aage Bhi Jaane Na Tu (Waqt 1965)

Roop Tera Mastana (Aradhana 1969)

Mehbooba mehbooba (Sholay 1975)

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.

Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli (Anand 1971)

Zuby Zuby Jalembu (An Evening in Paris 1967)

Patli Kamar Hai (Barsaat 1949)

Haal Kaisa Janab Ka (Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi 1958)

Percussion

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!

Sanam Tu Bewafa (Khilona 1970)

Jurm-e-Ulfat Pe (Taj Mahal 1963)

Baiyan Na Daro (Dastak 1970)

Jaag Dard-e-Ishq (Anarkali 1953)

Inhi Logon Ne (Pakeezah 1971)

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)

Other

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!

Piya Tu Ab To Aaja (Caravan 1971)

Duniya Mein Logon Ko (Apna Desh 1972)

Mera Naam Hai Shabnam (Kati Patang 1970)

Aa Jaane Ja (Intaqam 1969)

Lekar Hum Deewana Dil (Yaadon Ki Baraat 1973)

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”).

Leke Pehla Pehla Pyaar (C.I.D. 1956)

Bahut Shukriya (Ek Musafir Ek Hasina 1962)

Nigahen Milane Ko (Dil Hi To Hai 1963)

Kajra Mohabbatwala (Kismat 1968)

Yashomati Maiya Se (Satyam Shivam Sundaram 1978)

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.

Chhupa Lo Yun Dil Mein (Mamta 1966)

Na Main Dhan Chaahoon (Kala Bazaar 1960)

Kanhaiya Kanhaiya Tujhe Aana Padega (Maalik 1972)

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.

Pyar Diwana Hota Hai (Kati Patang 1970)

Dil Ke Jharoke Mein (Brahmachari 1968)

Aji Rooth Kar Ab (Aarzoo 1965)

Dheere Dheere Machal (Anupama 1966)

Dost Dost Na Raha (Sangam 1964)

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!

-Mrs. 55

 

 

 

 

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Tu Jahan Jahan Chalega Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

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Against the stunning backdrop of the Lake Palace in Udaipur, Sunil Dutt mourns the loss of  his deceased wife in Mera Saaya (1966)

Today, we present the lyrics and English translation to the title track from Raj Khosla’s Mera Saaya (1966): tuu jahaa.n jahaa.n chalegaa. This timeless classic is embedded within the hearts of Hindi film music fans as an ode to love and its ability to provide strength and support during the most trying of circumstances.  

Unlike many songs from this era, tuu jahaa.n jahaa.n chalegaa is not used exclusively as a playback song in Mera Saaya. One version of this song plays in the background while a tormented Sunil Dutt sulks in confusion after an accused dacoit resembling his deceased wife (double role played by Sadhana) claims to be his wife weeks after her death. As he trudges around the beautiful Lake Palace (now one of India’s most luxurious and romantic hotels!) in Udaipur, Sadhana is nowhere to be found but we hear this song sung in full by her saayaa (shadow). Later in the film, tuu jahaa.n jahaa.n chalegaa is reprised in full when Sunil Dutt is listening to a record of his wife’s singing and a joyful flashback occurs to a party where Sadhana sings this song for guests along with his accompaniment on the piano. Interestingly, since Sunil Dutt taped his wife’s singing over an existing record, we hear a snippet of vah bhuulii dastaa.n, another haunting Lata-Madan Mohan gem from Sanjog (1961), during this version of the song.  

Mera Saaya (1966) contains some beautiful shots of the Lake Palace in Udaipur, Rajasthan
Mera Saaya (1966) has some beautiful shots of the Lake Palace in Udaipur, Rajasthan.

The title track from Mera Saaya epitomizes the magic that resulted from the collaboration between playback singer Lata Mangeshkar and music director Madan Mohan. An interesting anecdote about this song’s creation really brings this fact to life! After lyricist Raja Mehndi Ali Khan had completed the words, Madan Mohan had great difficulty composing a melody to finish the song. When Lata arrived on the day of this song’s recording, he told her the tune was not yet ready. Lata asked to see the lyrics and after humming a few lines, she said, “bhaiyaa, is me.n nand raag kaa istamaal kyo.n nahii.n karte?” Lata’s suggestion was enough to get Madan Mohan’s creative juices flowing, and he finished composing the tune in a jiffy. Decades later, this exquisite and gentle melody is still remembered as the textbook example of Raga Nand (a.ka. Anandi Kalyan) being used in Hindi film music!

Before tuu jahaa.n jahaa.n chalegaa was recorded, Raj Khosla was planning to release this movie under the name of Saaya. After listening to this song, he was so struck by its poetry that he decided to change the film’s title to Mera Saaya upon Madan Mohan’s suggestion. In my opinion, this type of camaraderie and rapport shared between artists of the Golden Era of Hindi films played a key role in producing cinema and music that has everlasting appeal. 

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In a flashback, Sunil Dutt reminisces fondly about accompanying his wife on the piano to the title track of Mera Saaya (1966).

Does your shadow follow someone special in your life? If so, don’t forget to share this song and translation with that person! Thank you to one of our readers Ayla for sending in a request for this post. Until next time…

-Mr. 55

Tu Jahan Jahan Chalega: Lyrics and Translation

tuu jahaa.n jahaa.n chalegaa, meraa saayaa saath hogaa
Wherever you go, remember that my shadow will be with you.

kabhii mujhko yaad kar ke jo bahe.nge tere aa.nsuu
Whenever you shed tears in my memory,
to vahii.n pe rok le.nge unhe.n aa ke mere aa.nsuu
my tears will come and stop them in their tracks.
tuu jidhar kaa rukh karegaa, meraa saayaa saath hogaa
In whichever direction you face, remember that my shadow will be with you.

tuu agar udaas hogaa to udaas huu.ngii mai.n bhii
Should you ever become sad, then I will also partake in your sorrow.
nazar aauu.n yaa na aauu.n tere paas huu.ngii mai.n bhii
Whether you see me or not, I will always be by your side.
tuu kahii.n bhii jaa rahegaa, meraa saayaa saath hogaa
No matter where you are going, remember that my shadow will be with you.

mai.n agar bichhaD bhii jaauu.n, kabhii meraa gham na karnaa
Should I ever become separated from you, never mourn on my behalf.
meraa pyaar yaad kar ke kabhii aa.nkh nam na karnaa
Never moisten your eyes with tears in memory of my love.
tuu jo muD ke dekh legaa, meraa saayaa saath hogaa
Whenever you turn back to look at me, remember that my shadow will be with you. 

meraa gham rahaa hai shaamil, tere dukh me.n tere gham me.n
My sorrow has always remained present in your sorrow.
mere pyaar ne diyaa hai tera saath har janam me.n
My love has always accompanied you in every birth.
tuu koii janam bhii legaa, meraa saayaa saath hoga
In whichever birth you take, remember that my shadow will be with you.

tuu jahaa.n jahaa.n chalegaa, meraa saayaa saath hogaa
Wherever you go, remember that my shadow will be with you.

Glossary

saayaa: shadow; kisii ke saath honaa: to be with someone; bahnaa: to flow; aa.nsuu: tears; rok lenaa: to stop; rukh karnaa: to face; udaas: sad; nazar aanaa: to be seen; bichhaD jaanaa: to be separated; gham karnaa: to mourn; aa.nkh nam karnaa: to moisten eyes with tears; muD ke dekh lenaa: to turn back and look; shaamil rahnaa: to remain present; dukh: sorrow; kisii kaa saath denaa: to accompany someone;  janam: birth.

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Sunil Dutt’s portrayal of a grieving husband haunted by past memories in Mera Saaya (1966) is bold and compelling.

Kisi Patthar Ki Murat Se Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

Sunil Dutt serenades Vimmi at an evening soiree in Hamraaz (1967)

The soundtrack of B.R. Chopra’s Hamraaz (1967) is remembered today for its showcasing of Mahendra Kapoor’s voice. Music director Ravi composed some unforgettable tunes for Mahendra Kapoor in this film, including “niile gagan ke tale,” “tum agar saath dene kaa vaadaa karo,” “na muu.nh chhupaake jiiyo,” and the gem that I’ve chosen to translate today: “kisii patthar kii muurat se.

This song is found toward the beginning of Hamraaz, an entertaining murder mystery starring Sunil Dutt and newcomer Vimmi among a supporting cast of well-known names like Balraj Sahni, Helen, Mumtaz, Madan Puri, and Raaj Kumar. In the film, Sunil Dutt plays the role of a popular stage actor who falls in love with Vimmi, the daughter of a wealthy contractor, during a trip to Darjeeling. With this particular song, he serenades Vimmi around the piano at an evening soiree.

Sahir Ludhianvi was right on point when he described the film’s heroine Vimmi as a “patthar kii muurat” (a statue of stone) in this song. In an otherwise entertaining and well-produced film, Vimmi sticks out as a sore thumb for her tepid and expressionless acting. While Vimmi certainly had the beauty to make it in films, it is clear from her debut performance here that she was not cut out to become an actress. Introduced to B.R. Chopra by music director Ravi after meeting at a dinner party in Calcutta, Vimmi struggled immensely during the production of Hamraaz. Next to some of the stalwarts involved with film, Vimmi appeared to be a novice as she struggled to deliver her lines and required take after take to complete the simplest scenes. Interestingly, in spite of Vimmi’s lackluster performance, Hamraaz was a big hit when it was released. Unfortunately, Vimmi could not capitalize on the success of her debut and she failed to make a successful career for herself in the industry. Like many individuals associated with Bollywood, Vimmi’s life ended in tragedy: her family disowned her after she signed Hamraaz, her marriage fell apart a few years later, and it is said that she even turned to prostitution to finance an addiction to alcohol before her death. Quite sad, indeed. You can learn more about her tragic life by reading a surprisingly detailed Wikipedia biography here.

In any case, this song is a pure delight to listen to because of Sahir’s exquisite use of Urdu poetry combined with Mahendra Kapoor’s silky vocals. For a seemingly simple song, some of the Urdu here is quite advanced–do you know what the words parastish, taqalluf, and baghaavat mean? If not, find out by reading the glossary and translation that we’ve provided below! To learn more about another classic song produced by the Mahendra Kapoor-Sahir-Ravi combo, see our previous post on “chalo ek baar phir sehere.

-Mr. 55
Songs picturized around the piano are so classy.

Kisi Patthar Ki Murat Se Lyrics and Translation

kisii patthar kii muurat se muhabbat kaa iraadaa hai
I have intentions of loving a statue of stone.
parastish kii tamanna hai, ibaadat kaa iraadaa hai
I desire to worship it; I intend to pray to it.

jo dil kii dhaDakane.n samajhe, na aa.nkho.n kii zubaa.n samajhe
She understands neither the beating of my heart nor the language of my eyes.
nazar kii guftaguu samajhe, na jazabo.n kaa bayaa.n samajhe
She understands neither the dialogue of my glances nor the expression of my emotions.

usii ke saamane uskii shikaayat kaa iraadaa hai
I intend to air my grievances about this woman in her presence.

sunaa hai har javaan patthar ke dil me.n aag hotii hai
I have heard that a flame resides in the hearts of these young stones.

magar jab tak na chheDo, sharm ke parde me.n sotii hai
Yet, until you inflame it further, it remains asleep behind a veil of modesty.
yeh sochaa hai ki dil kii baat uske ruubaruu kah de.n
I have resolved to express my heart’s feelings to her face-to-face.

natiija kuch bhii nikale aaj apanii aarazuu kah de.n
Regardless of the outcome, I will reveal my desires to her. 

har ek bejaan taqalluf se baghaavat kaa iraadaa hai
I intend to rebel against every spiritless formality today.

muhabbat berukhii se aur bhaDakegii voh kyaa jaane
Little does she know that her indifference will further arouse my love,
tabiiyat is adaa pe aur phaDakegii voh kyaa jaane
Little does she know that my disposition will be further agitated by her charm,
voh kyaa jaane ki apnaa kis qayaamat kaa iraadaa hai
And little does she know of my disastrous intentions. 

kisii patthar kii muurat se muhabbat kaa iraadaa hai
I have intentions of loving a statue of stone.

Glossary

muurat: statue; iraadaa: intention; parastish: worship; tamanna: desire; ibaadat: worship; zubaa.n: language; guftaguu: dialogue, conversation; jazbaa: emotion; bayaa.n: expression; shikaayat: complaint; chheDnaa: to tease, inflame; ruubaru: face-to-face; natiija: outcome; aarazuu: desire; bejaan: spiritless; taqalluf: formality; baghaavat: rebelion; berukhii: indifference; bhaDakanaa: to arouse, flare up; tabiiyat: disposition; adaa: charm; phaDakanaa: to quiver, agitate; qayaamat: disaster.

Despite her looks, Vimmi falls very flat in her debut role as Meena in Hamraaz (1967)

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