The Top 30 Best Classic Bollywood Soundtracks of All Time

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

Raj Kapoor Nargis Iconic BarsaatIntroduction

Welcome to the greatest music of classic Bollywood! We at Mr. and Mrs. 55 – Classic Bollywood Revisited! have compiled our ultimate list of the top 30 best classic Bollywood film soundtracks of all-time. Music is the very soul of classic Bollywood, a legacy of beauty and style that once lit the world. These soundtracks showcase the 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:

1. Pakeezah

Pakeezah Meena Kumari Chalte Chalte

Ghulam Mohammed and Naushad, 1971

2. Guide

Guide

S.D. Burman, 1965

  • Din Dhal Jaaye – Mohammed Rafi
  • Aaj Phir Jeene Ki – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Piya Tose – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Tere Mere Sapne – Mohammed Rafi
  • Gaata Rahe Mera Dil – Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi
  • Kya Se Kya Ho Gaya – Mohammed Rafi
  • Saiyan Beiman – Lata Mangeshkar

3. Mughal-e-Azam

Mughal-e-Azam

Naushad, 1960

  • Teri Mehfil Mein Qismat – Lata Mangeshkar and Shamshad Begum
  • Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Mohe Pangat Pe – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Mohabbat Ki Jhooti Kahani – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Aye Mohabbat Zindabad – Mohammed Rafi
  • Prem Jogan Ban Ke – Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan
  • Yeh Dil Ki Lagi – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Title Music

4. Nagin

Nagin

Hemant Kumar, 1954

  • Man Dole Mera – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Jadugar Saiyan – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Tere Dwar Khada Ek Jogi – Hemant Kumar
  • Mera Dil Yeh Pukare Aaja – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Sun Ri Sakhi – Lata Mangeshkar
  • Yaad Rakhna Pyar Ki Nishani – Asha Bhonsle and Hemant Kumar

5. Aradhana

Aradhana

S.D. Burman, 1969

  • Roop Tera Mastana – Kishore Kumar
  • Mere Sapnon Ki Rani – Kishore Kumar
  • Kora Kaagaz Tha – Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar
  • Gunguna Rahe Hai Bhanware – Asha Bhonsle and Mohammed Rafi
  • Baghon Mein Bahar Hai – Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar
  • Saphal Hogi Teri Aradhana – S.D. Burman

6. Teesri Manzil

Teesri Manzil

R.D. Burman, 1966

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

7. Barsaat

Barsaat

Shankarsingh Raghuwanshi and Jaikishan Dayabhai Panchal, 1949

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

8. Anarkali

Anarkali

C. Ramachandra, 1953

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

9. Kati Patang

Kati Patang

R.D. Burman, 1970

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

10. Chori Chori

Chori Chori

Shankarsingh Raghuwanshi and Jaikishan Dayabhai Panchal, 1956

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

11. Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

Roshan, 1963

12. Hum Dono

Hum Dono Abhi Na Jao Dev Anand Sadhana

Jaidev, 1961

13. Jewel Thief

Jewel Thief

S.D. Burman, 1967

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

14. Caravan

Caravan

R.D. Burman, 1971

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

15. Bobby

Bobby Main Shayar To Nahin

Laxmikant Shantaram Kudalkar and Pyarelal Ramprasad Sharma, 1973

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

16. Pyaasa

Pyaasa

S.D. Burman, 1957

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

17. Abhiman

Abhiman

S.D. Burman, 1973

18. Anand

Anand

Salil Choudhury, 1971

19. Kabhi Kabhi

Kabhi Kabhi

Mohammed Zayur Khayyam, 1976

20. Baiju Bawra

Baiju bawra

Naushad, 1952

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

21. Mother India

Mother India

Naushad, 1957

22. Madhumati

Madhumati

Salil Choudhury, 1958

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

23. Basant Bahar

Basant Bahar

Shankarsingh Raghuwanshi and Jaikishan Dayabhai Panchal, 1956

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

24. Aar Paar

Aar Paar

O.P. Nayyar, 1954

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

25. Kashmir Ki Kali

Kashmir Ki Kali

O.P. Nayyar, 1964

26. Bandini

Bandini

S.D. Burman, 1963

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

27. Sangam

Sangam

Shankarsingh Raghuwanshi and Jaikishan Dayabhai Panchal, 1964

28. Yaadon Ki Baraat

Yaadon Ki Baraat

R.D. Burman, 1973

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

29. Amar Prem

Rajesh Khanna Amar Prem

R.D. Burman, 1972

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

30. Umrao Jaan

 

Rekha2_UmraoJaan

Mohammed Zayur Khayyam, 1981

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

– Mrs. 55

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Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

Rajesh Khanna Anand Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli

Dangerously attractive Rajesh Khanna proves that real men wear lavender in Anand (1971).

Next we showcase the lyrics and English translation of “Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli” from the sentimental mega-hit Anand (1971). Diagnosed with terminal lymphosarcoma of the intestine, Rajesh Khanna is determined to raise the spirits of those around him. With a smile, he explains his philosophy to his bewildered physician, Amitabh Bachhan:

“Babumushai, zindagii badii honii chahiye, lambii nahii.N.” [“Babumushai, life should be big, not long.”]

Brimming with rich symbolism from floating balloons to boatmen in the ocean, “Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli” explores the outlook of a man whose journey is approaching its destination. Rajesh Khanna give a tour de force performance as a character at peace with the mysteries of the world.

Rajesh Khanna gives out balloons at Juhu Beach

Rajesh Khanna buys out a lucky balloon-wala in “Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli” from Anand (1971).

The song begins with a distinctive, uplifting trumpet solo, establishing the tone. While other gorgeous songs of Anand such as “Kahin Door Jab Din” are sung by the gentle Mukesh, Manna Dey was chosen for “Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli.” Known better for his masterful Hindustani classical numbers of the 1960s, Manna Dey’s film career began to falter with the rise of Kishore Kumar’s heroic romantic vocals. But his popularity revived in the 70s with Anand when Rajesh Khanna himself asked music director Salil Chaudhary for a chance to lip-sync a Manna Dey song. As Manna Dey recalled in a 2012 interview,

“I loved the way he [Rajesh Khanna] picturised music. The success of a song depends upon how an actor picturises it. He was the number one in picturising songs. I will ever be indebted to him.”

We hope you enjoy the lyrics and English translation of “Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli” from Anand (1971). Follow along with the video here while reflecting on film lyricist Yogesh’s philosophical poetry!

Zindagi Kaisi Paheli Lyrics and Translation:

Zindagii kaisii hai pahelii, haaye!
Oh, what a riddle life is!
Kabhii to ha.Nsaaye kabhi yeh rulaaye
Sometimes it makes us laugh, sometimes it makes us cry

Kabhii dekho man nahii.N jaage, peechhe peechhe sapno.N ke bhaage
Sometimes the mind does not awaken, it chases dreams
Ek din sapno.N ka raahii chalaa jaaye sapno.N ke aage, kahaa.N?
One day that traveler of dreams will go beyond the dreams, but where?

Jin hone sajaaye yahaa.N mele sukh dukh sang-sang jhele
Those who bring people together, they experience joy and sorrow together
Wohii chunkar khaamoshii yuu.N chalii jaaye akele, kahaa.N?
Those same people choose silence and depart alone, but where?

Glossary:

zindagii: life; pahelii: riddle, puzzle; haaye: oh, sigh; ha.Nsaanaa: to make [someone] laugh; rulaanaa: to make [someone] cry; man: mind; jaagnaa: to awaken; peechhe: behind; bhaagnaa: to run; ek din: one day; sapnaa: dream; raahii: traveler; aage: ahead, future; melaa sajaanaa: to arrange a fair (literal), to bring people together; sukh: happiness; dukh: sadness; sang-sang: together; jhelnaa: to experience; chunnaa: to choose; khamoshii: silence; akelaa: alone

Juhu Beach Rajesh Khanna Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli Anand

“Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli” was famously filmed at suburban Bombay’s Juhu Beach, made even more gorgeous by the delicate silhouette of Rajesh Khanna against the shoreline.

It’s hard to believe we lost a legend like Manna Dey 6 months ago, a little more than a year after losing Rajesh Khanna. The singer was 95 years old. This beautiful tribute to those dream chasers we wish were with us, “Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli,” was requested by fan Ajay.

-Mrs. 55

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)

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

O Sajna Barkha Bahar Aayi Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

Sadhana wistfully enjoys the rain in "o sajna barkhaa bahaar aayii" from Parakh (1960). Because she plays the role of a village girl here, she was instructed to get rid of the characteristic "fringe" hairstyle seen in her later movies in order to avoid looking too glamorous!

Rain songs have always held a special place in Bollywood cinema. From “pyaar hua iqraar hua” in Shree 420 (1955) to “ghanan ghanan ghir aayii badra” in Lagaan (2001), fans of Hindi cinema have been treated to a number of beautiful gems about the rain over the years. Today, I’ve translated an all-time classic rain song from the film Parakh (1960) directed by Bimal Roy (he won his third Filmfare Award for Best Director for this film!): “o sajna barkhaa bahaar aayii”.   Parakh satirizes Indian democracy using a plot in which the postmaster (Nasir Hussain) of a village mysteriously receives a check for five lakh rupees to be given to an individual who is most well-equipped to benefit the village. When it is decided that an election will be held, influential characters in the village begin campaigning to persuade the village that they are the most deserving candidate to receive the check: namely, the impious postman (Motilal), the pious piest (Kanhaiyya Lal), the creepy rich man (Asit Sen), the greedy doctor (Rashid Khan) , the landlord (Jayant), and the well-respected schoolmaster (Vasant Chowdhury). Meanwhile, the postmaster’s daughter (Sadhana) begins to fall in love with the schoolmaster, and she sings “o sajna” as she pines for him in the rain.

A musically timeless duo: playback singer Lata Mangeshkar and music director Salil Chowdhury

This song is considered to be one of the finest compositions of the music director Salil Chowdhury (who also wrote the story for Parakh). Although Salil Chowdhury did not receive his due during his lifetime, he is undeniably  one of the most talented and revolutionary composers from the Golden Era. His compositions are often remembered for their unusual melodies, rich orchestration, and integration of Western and Indian classical themes. Those of you familiar with Salil Chowdhury’s work in Bollywood may be surprised to know that he also composed songs for a wide variety of Indian languages, including Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, Telegu. Among these languages, Salil’s most prolific work was in his native tongue Bengali–he revolutionized the genre of the Bengali adhunik (modern) song with his musical compositions and self-written lyrics (what a multi-talent!). In fact, as is the case with many of his Hindi songs,  the tune for “o sajna” was released in Bengali first in 1959 as “na jeo na.” This song was one of Lata Mangeshkar’s earliest hits in the Bengali music industry, and Bengalis have cherished the collaboration between Lata and Salil ever since this major musical milestone.

–Mr. 55

P.S: As an extra tidbit of trivia, it has been said that the only non-classical record found in the collection of renowned Hindustani vocalist Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan after his death was an LP of “na jeo na.” What an honor!

O Sajna Barkha Bahar Aayi Lyrics and Translation

o sajnaa barkhaa bahaar aayii
Oh, my beloved, the rain-filled season of spring has arrived.
ras
kii puhaar laayii, a.nkhiyo.n me.n pyaar laayii
It has brought sprinkling droplets of nectar, it has brought love to these eyes.

tum ko pukaare mere man kaa papiiharaa
The cuckoo bird in my heart calls out to you,
miThii miThii aganii me.n jale moraa jiiyaraa
as my heart burns in a sweet fire.

aisii rimjhim me.n, o sajan, pyaase pyaase mere nayan
My eyes long for you, my beloved, in this light shower of rain;
tere hii khvaab me.n kho gaye
they have become lost in a dream of you.

saa.nvalii salonii ghaTaa jab jab chhaayii
When the beautiful dark clouds spread throughout the sky,
a.nkhiyo.n me.n rainaa gayii, nindiyaa na aayii
the night passed in my eyes, and I could not fall asleep.

o sajna barkhaa bahaar aayii
Oh beloved, the rain-filled season of spring has arrived.

Glossary

barkhaa: rain; ras: nectar; puhaar: sprinkles, droplets; papiiharaa: pied-crusted cuckoo bird (associated with the monsoons in Indian mythology); jiyaraa: heart; rimjhim: light rain; saa.nvalii: beautiful; salonii: dark; ghaTaa: clouds; rainaa: night; nindiyaa: sleep.