Tere Bina Zindagi Se Koi Shikwa Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

Directed by the renowned lyricist Gulzar, Aandhi stirred up quite the controversy after the film was released in 1975. Shortly after the release of Aandhi, India found itself in the midst of a national state of emergency instituted by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in response to the deep-seated political unrest and instability that had emerged across the nation. The 21-month Emergency of 1975-1977 is often viewed as one of the darkest eras in the political history of post-independence India: corruption, censorship, and the suspension of civil liberties threatened to compromise the basic principles upon which the nation’s democracy had been built. In this context, it’s not surprising that Aandhi was banned by the government during the Emergency on the grounds that the film’s protagonist bore an inappropriate resemblance to Mrs. Gandhi. As a result, certain scenes depicting the protagonist drinking and smoking were re-shot and an extra scene in which the protagonist tells her father that she idolizes Indira Gandhi (“ye hii to mere ideal hai.n“) was included to separate the film from real life. Although the parallels in appearance, mannerisms, and even the film’s title (Aandhi, meaning storm, rhymes with Gandhi) are undeniable, Gulzar explains in an old Filmfare interview that he never intended to base this film on the life of Indira Gandhi:

“Contrary to popular opinion, my story wasn’t based on Indira Gandhi’s life. It had nothing to do with Indira-ji. She was just the role model for the lady politician. Frankly, who better could there be? She was such a dynamic lady.”

SuchitraSen_Aandhi_IndiraGandhi
Suchitra Sen tells her father that she idolizes Indira Gandhi in a flashback scene that was added to Aandhi (1975) after the film was initially banned by the government.

With inspiration from a novel titled Kali Aandhi by Hindi author Kamaleshwar, Aandhi (1975) depicts the story of Aarti Devi (portrayed by Suchitra Sen) as she struggles to balance her professional ambitions with her quest for personal gratification while navigating through the volatile world of Indian politics. While traveling on the campaign trail, Aarti is caught by surprise when she runs into her estranged husband JK (portrayed by Sanjeev Kumar), who happens to be the owner of the hotel where she is staying currently. Nine years ago, the call to public service compelled Aarti to eschew her domestic duties and leave her husband and daughter in order to pursue her dreams of becoming a politician. After their unexpected reunion, Aarti and JK cultivate a tender but awkward relationship as they reminisce about memories from their past and come to realize that they still have unresolved feelings for each other after all these years. Through an artistic use of flashbacks, we learn about the development of Aarti and JK’s early romance, the disapproval of their marriage by Aarti’s father, and the eventual breakdown of their relationship. Their domestic conflict evolves into an Abhimaan-esque clash of egos and personalities, and they eventually decide to part ways after several failed efforts to maintain a happy marriage.

Su
Suchitra Sen sports Indira Gandhi’s trademark silver streak in Aandhi (1975).

Ultimately, Aandhi illustrates the complexities of an evolving relationship between two individuals who share mutual respect and affection for each other but are unable to reconcile their differences to converge seamlessly on the same path. In addition to providing a mature and realistic view of human relationships, Aandhi sheds light on the unique challenges that confront Indian women in positions of power as they attempt to balance their professional and personal lives. Although Aarti wins her election at the conclusion of the film, this victory is made bittersweet as she grapples with an unfortunate reality: professional success and domestic bliss were often mutually exclusive for Indian women of her time.

SK
The Martand Sun Temple near Anantnag, Kashmir serves as a gorgeous backdrop for this classic song from Aandhi (1975).

In addition to Gulzar’s skillful direction and the captivating performances delivered by Suchitra Sen (her diction is excused!) and Sanjeev Kumar, Aandhi is remembered most often today for its soundtrack of stunning songs composed by R.D. Burman using Gulzar’s poetry. Each Lata-Kishore duet is a gem and serves to illustrate a different facet of Aarti and JK’s relationship in the film. In particular, the classic “tere binaa zindagii se koii” is a tender and wistful expression of regret and lost love. Without the frills of an elevated vocabulary, this song boldly questions: can living life without the one you love be considered a life at all?

Tere Bina Zindagi Se Koi Shikwa: Lyrics and Translation

tere binaa zindagii se koii shikvaa to nahii.n, shikvaa nahii.n
I have no complaints against a life without you.
tere binaa zindagii bhii lekin zindagii to nahii.n, zindagii nahii.n
Yet a life without you is not a life at all.

kaash aisaa ho tere qadamo.n se
I wish that, from your footsteps,
chunke manzil chale.n aur kahii.n, duur kahii.n
we could find a new destination; somewhere else, somewhere far.
tum gar saath ho manzilo.n kii kamii to nahii.n
With you by my side, there is no shortage of destinations for us to reach.

SK: suno Aartii, ye jo phuulo.n kii bele.n nazar aatii hai.n na?
Listen Aarti, do you see those things that look like flower vines?
darasal ye bele.n nahii.n, arabii me.n aayate.n likhii.n hai.n.
In fact, they are not vines. They are verses written in Arabic.
ise din ke vaqt dekhnaa chaahiye, bilkul saaf nazar aatii hai.n.
We should see them during the day. They can be read very clearly.
din ke vaqt yah saaraa paanii se bharaa rahtaa hai.
During the day, this whole place is filled with water. 
din ke vaqt jab ye phuvaaare

During the day, when these fountains…

SS:  din kii baat kyo.n kar rahe ho? kahaa.n aa paauu.ngii mai.n din me.n?
Why do you keep talking about the day? How will I come here during the day?

SK: yah jo chaand hai na? ise raat main dekhnaa.
Do you see this Moon? Watch it at night.
yah din me.n nahii.n nikaltaa.

It does not come out during the day. 

SS: yah to roz nikaltaa hogaa.
But the Moon comes out every night.

SK: haa.n, lekin biich me.n amaavas aa jaatii hai.
Yes, but the dark fortnight comes in between.
vaise to amaavas pandrah din kii hotii hai.
The dark fortnight usually lasts 15 days.
lekin is baar bahut lambii thii.
But this time, it felt much longer.

SS: nau baras lambii thii na?
It felt as if it were nine years long, no?

jii me.n aataa hai tere daaman me.n
I yearn to seek refuge in your bosom
sar chhupake ham rote rahe.n, rote rahe.n
to hide my face as I continue to weep.
terii bhii aa.nkho.n me.n aa.nsuuo.n kii namii to nahii.n
Are your eyes not clouded by the mist of fresh tears, too?

tum jo kah do to aaj kii raat
If you say so tonight,
chaa.nd Duubegaa nahii.n, raat ko rok lo
even the Moon will not wane. Please stop the night from passing!
raat kii baat hai, aur zindagii baaqii to nahii.n
We only have tonight, for the rest of our lives will not be shared together.

tere binaa zindagii se koii shikvaa to nahii.n, shikvaa nahii.n
I have no complaints against a life without you.
tere binaa zindagii bhii lekin zindagii to nahii.n, zindagii nahii.n
Yet a life without you is not a life at all.

*Female lines in red are sung by Lata Mangeshkar. Male lines in green are sung by Kishore Kumar.  The dialogue takes place between Sanjeev Kumar (SK) and Suchitra Sen (SS). 

Glossary

shikvaa: complaint; qadam: footstep; chunnaa: to select; manzil: destination; kamii: shortage, dearth; bele.n: vines; darasal: in fact; aayate.n: verses; phuvaare: fountains; amaavas: dark fortnight; pandrah: fifteen; baras: year; daaman: lap, bosom; aa.nsuu: tear; namii: moistness; chaa.nd: Moon. 

SK
After rumors circulate regarding her nightly meetings with Sanjeev Kumar, Suchitra Sen reveals to the public that she has been meeting her estranged husband in Aandhi (1975).

Did you know that this song was based on a Bengali melody originally composed by R.D. Burman for a Durga Puja album in the 1970s? Listen to “jete jete pathe holo deri” to hear this melody sung by the composer himself! When Gulzar heard R.D. Burman working on this song with Bengali lyricist Gauriprasanna Mazumdar, he enjoyed the song so much that he wrote Hindi lyrics for the tune so it could be included in Aandhi. When Gulzar inserted the iconic “nau baras lambii thii, na?” dialogue in between antaras of this song, he reports in the same interview that R.D. Burman was not pleased:

“So we kept the original tune for the mukhda, and he composed something else for the antara. But when I inserted some dialogue into the lyrics, Pancham scolded me, “’Do you have any idea of sur and taal? You cut in with your dialogue anywhere you want. It’s not done!”’ But we did it!”

They certainly did something right, as this song has become immortalized as one of Hindi film music’s most treasured creations. Thanks to our reader Raju for requesting this post! Until next time…

-Mr. 55

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Chhupa Lo Yun Dil Mein Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

Mamta Suchitra Sen Chhup Lo Yun Dil
Suchitra Sen wishes her daughter will never meet a Fate like her own in Mamta (1966).

Today we showcase the lyrics and English translation to the soulful “Chhupa Lo Yun Dil Mein” from Mamta (1966). One of Majrooh Sultanpuri’s greatest pieces, the calming lyrics set the tone for both the song’s music and its picturization, entering the film as fluidly as it ebbs away, as if an extension of the dialogue the audience so yearns to hear. “Chhupa Lo Yun Dil Mein” is an expression of unwavering romantic devotion set to a soothingly monastic pace.

Suchitra Sen and Ashok Kumar play two lovers who were unable to wed because of class differences, but never forget their love for one another. Suchitra later marries an abusive husband, and ultimately is forced into becoming a courtesan to survive. She tearfully gives up her only daughter so that her child can escape her mother’s ignominious shadow. In the aftermath, “Chhupa Lo Yun Dil” is not lipsynced, but rather the female voice is picturized on a lingering image of Suchitra Sen fading behind a drawn curtain, while the male is picturized on Ashok Kumar shrouding his eyes behind a pair of sunglasses. Poetically fitting, both literally conceal themselves from the viewer in a song dedicated to the beauty of hidden worship.

Ashok Kumar Mamta 1966 sunglasses
Ashok Kumar pensively shields his emotions in Mamta (1966).

Roshan’s soundtrack of Mamta is as gorgeous as it is diverse (see our earlier translation of “Rahe Na Rahe Hum“). “Chhupa Lo Yun Dil” employs a rare paucity of musical instrumentation: from the opening chimes of temple manjira to the traditional bansuri echoing alone in the empty cinematic space, the song emphasizes the ascetic nature of their devotion. To match, the romantic lyrics are infused with religious imagery, and director Asit Sen carefully constructs shots that instead of bring the hero and heroine closer together, in fact emphasize their distance (even their eyelines don’t match!). Indeed, perhaps the song is not two lovers singing to each other after all. The song can be read instead as a mother singing to the daughter she will leave forever, and a father discovering a new meaning to his life by caring for the child in her mother’s memory.

Based in Bollywood’s favorite raaga Yaman, “Chhupa Lo Yun Dil” is one of the most moving Hemant Kumar-Lata Mangeshkar duets of all time. We hope you enjoy our English translation to the lyrics of “Chhupa Lo Yun Dil Mein” below!

Chhupa Lo Yun Dil Mein Lyrics and Translation:

MALE:
Chhupaa lo yuu.N dil mei.N pyaar meraa
Hide my love inside your heart
Ki jaise mandir mei.N lau diye kii
Like the flame of a candle inside a temple

FEMALE:
Tum apne charano.N mei.N rakh lo mujhko
Keep me by your feet
Tumhaare charano.n ka phuul huu.N mai.N
For I am the flowers beneath your footsteps
Mai.N sar jhukaaye khaDii hoo.n priitam
I am standing with my head bowed, my beloved one
Ki jaise mandir mei.N lau diye kii
Like the flame of a candle inside a temple

MALE:
Yeh sach hai jeenaa thaa paap tum bin
It is true that to live without you was a sin
Yeh paap mai.N ne kiyaa hai ab tak
I have committed this sin until now
Magar thii man mei.N chhabii tumhaariI
But your image was always in my mind
Ki jaise mandir mei.N lau diye kii
Like the flame of a candle inside a temple

FEMALE:
Phir aag birhaa ki mat lagaanaa
Please do not light the fire of separation again,
Ki jal ke mai.N raakh ho chukii hoo.N
For I have already burned into ashes

MALE:
Yeh raakh maaThe pe mai.N ne rakh lii
I have worn those ashes upon my forehead
Ki jaise mandir mei.N lau diye kii
Like the flame of a candle inside a temple

BOTH:
Chhupaa lo yuu.N dil mei.N pyaar meraa
Hide my love inside your heart
Ki jaise mandir mei.N lau diye kii
Like the flame of a candle inside a temple

Glossary:

chhupaanaa: to hide; mandir: temple; lau: flame; diyaa: candle; charan: footsteps; phuul: flower; sar jhukaanaa: to bow [one’s] head; khaDaa: standing; priitam: loved one; jiinaa: to live; paap: sin; man: mind; chhabii: image; aag: fire; birhaa: separation; jalna: to burn; raakh: ashes; maaThe: forehead

Gorgeous Suchitra Sen Mamta 1966
Suchitra Sen’s glittery teal eyeshadow brilliantly matches her sari before becoming soaked in tears in Mamta (1966).

Famous Bengali director Asit Sen was well-known for making films with a refreshingly strong female lead, from Khamoshi (1969) starring Waheeda Rehman to Safar (1970) starring Sharmila Tagore. His mentor was none other than auteur Bimal Roy of Parineeta (1953) fame, which undoubtedly influenced the stories he chose to tell in his own directorial works. This beautiful Mamta song was requested by fan Jiyati Verma! Thank you for the great request!

– Mrs. 55

Rahe Na Rahe Hum Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

Suchitra Sen Ashok Kumar Mamta
Ashok Kumar and Suchitra Sen star in the beautiful Asit Sen film Mamta (1966).

Today we showcase the lyrics and English translation of the melodious “Rahe Na Rahe Hum” from the film Mamta (1966). This gentle beauty sung by Lata Mangeshkar captures an inspiring philosophy on losing a loved one. An optimistic melody balances the tragic sentiments of its lyrics. While Ashok Kumar must leave Suchitra Sen to study law abroad, he pledges his loyalty to her upon the forthcoming separation and asks her to sing for him before he leaves.

The film Mamta explores the sacrifices Suchitra makes upon becoming a mother and like the thematically-similar blockbuster Aradhana (1969) demonstrates the resilience of a woman wronged by society. Majrooh Sultanpuri wrote the lyrics to Roshan’s superb compositions for Mamta that have kept the film’s legacy alive today. “Rahe Na Rahe Hum” continues to be a favorite with its playful chime opening and nectar-sweet vocals that betray the heartache of the scene.

Suchitra Sen in Mamta
Suchitra Sen tears the petals from a flower on the eve of her separation from Ashok Kumar (right) and tosses the torn petals into the pond (left). The imagery of Suchitra’s identification with a flower recurs throughout the song and film–note how even her saari is decorated with a floral pattern!

“Rahe Na Rahe Hum” captures an appreciation of transience, framed as a neglected yet wonderous consequence of continuity, and highlights the transcendence of attachment to worldly phenomena such as seasons, physical proximity, and even time itself.

The tender line “ashqo.N se bhiigii chandnii mei.N ek sadaa si sunoge chalte chalte” allows simultaneously for mourning and recovery. While Suchitra acknowledges he will miss her, those tears of sadness will not last through the end of his journey that both know he must continue without her. Like the flowers petals that fall away drifting into the pond, Suchitra’s presence is not fettered by a set manifestation. Ultimately “Rahe Na Rahe Hum” is far more than mere words of consolation—it is an ode to love that celebrates the permanence of memory.

Suchitra Sen in Mamta
Suchitra Sen sings “Rahe Na Rahe Hum” as a parting gesture to the man she loves in Mamta (1966).

We hope you enjoy the full lyrics and English translation to the beautiful “Rahe Na Rahe Hum” below. Note that the plural pronoun “hum” can be translated as either “we” or “I.” I’ve chosen the singular for poetic purposes, but you can see how this no-doubt deliberate subtlety on the part of Sultanpuri sahib may color the translation slightly differently with each read. Watch the original song here!

Rahe Na Rahe Hum Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

Rahe na rahe hum mahakaa kareN.ge
Whether or not I am here, this fragrance will remain
Banke kali banke sabaa baagh-e-wafaa mei.N
As if a flower, as if a breeze in our devoted garden

Mausum koi ho, is chaman mei.N rang barse rahe.Nge hum khiraamaa
Whatever the weather may be in our garden, I will fill it gracefully with color
Chaahat ki khushbuu yuu.N hii zulfo.N se uDegii khizaa ho ya bahaare.N
The sweet fragrance of our love will still fly from my hair, whether Autumn or Spring
Yuu.N hii jhuumte aur khilte rahe.Nge
I will continue to sway and blossom
Banke kali banke sabaa baagh-e-wafaa mei.N
As if a flower, as if a breeze in our devoted garden
Rahe na rahe hum…
Whether or not I am here…

Khoye hum aise kyaa hai milnaa kyaa bichhaDnaa nahii.N hai yaad humko
I am so deeply lost in love that I no longer know separation from unity
Kooche mei.N dil ke jab se aaye sirf dil ki zameen hai yaad humko
Ever since you entered the lanes of my heart, I can only remember its world of love
Ise sarzameen pe hum to rahe.Nge
In that realm I will remain
Banke kali banke sabaa baagh-e-wafaa mei.N
As if a flower, as if a breeze in our devoted garden
Rahe na rahe hum…
Whether or not I am here…

Jab hum na ho.Nge, jab hamaare khaak pe tum rukoge chalte chalte
When I am gone, when you pause by my ashes as you walk
Ashqo.N se bhiigi chaandnii mei.N ek sadaa si sunoge chalte chalte
In the rainy moonlight that is wet from my tears, you will hear my call as you walk
Wohii pe kahii.N hum tum se mile.Nge
There somewhere, we both will meet again
Banke kali banke sabaa baagh-e-wafaa mei.N
As if a flower, as if a breeze in our devoted garden

Rahe na rahe hum mahakaa kareN.ge
Whether or not I am here, this fragrance will remain
Banke kali banke sabaa baagh-e-wafaa mei.N
As if a flower, as if a breeze in our devoted garden

Glossary:

mahaknaa: [a fragrance] to spread, kali: flower; sabaa: breeze; baagh: garden; wafaa: loyalty, devotedness; mausam: weather, atmosphere; chaman: garden; rang: color; khiraamaa: gracefully; chaahat: love, desire; khushbuu: sweet fragrance; zulf: hair; khizaa: Autumn; bahaar: Spring; jhuumnaa: to sway; khilnaa: to blossom; milnaa: to meet; bichhaDnaa: to separate; kooche: lane; zameen: world; yaad: memory; sarzameen: realm, society; khaak: ashes; ashq: tears; bhiigii: wet, rainy; chaandnii: moonlight, sadaa: call, voice

You may be interested to note that there is a duet version of this gem that is reprised at the end of the film by Mohammed Rafi and Suman Kalyanpur. Yes, it was the days of the famous Rafi-Mangeshkar feud–hence why the duets of the film necessitated recruiting additional singers (also from the same film, the flirtatious hit “In Baharo.N Mei.N Akeli” by Rafi and Asha as well as “Chhupa Lo Yuu.N Dil” featuring Lata and Hemant Kumar).

This song was requested by the one and only “lalten“! Let us know in the comments, does this song make you feel happy or bring tears to your eyes?

– Mrs. 55

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