Who Is Minoo Purshottam? Appreciation from a Former Student

Minoo Purushottam, Bollywood playback singer.
Minoo Purshottam, Bollywood playback singer of the 60s and 70s, performing live for the BBC.

Minoo Purshottam was an acclaimed Bollywood playback singer of the 1960s and 70s. She lived in the era dominated by the famous soprano sisters Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle, fighting for the ground they couldn’t cover—and scoring! Continuing our slant of broadcasting the unsung heroes of classic Bollywood, I now introduce you to Minoo Purshottam, yesteryear songstress and incidentally, my former vocal instructor.

I spent much of my childhood in Houston where I had the pleasure of learning music from Minoo-ji in the classical Hindustani style. Before becoming her student, I knew her work well from the soundtracks of great Bollywood films I had grown up with. You may not know her name, but you’ve probably heard her songs. From “Ni Main Yaar Manana Ni” with Lata Mangeshkar from Daag (1973), “Na Na Na Re, Haath Na Lagaana” from Taj Mahal (1963) with Suman Kalyanpur, and “Huzur-e-Wala Jo Ho Ijaazat” from Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi (1966), Minoo-ji made an important mark among the musical legends in India.

helen na na na haath na taj mahal
Helen dances to Minoo Purshottam’s playful “Na Na Na Haath Na Lagana” in Taj Mahal (1963).

Minoo-ji made her playback debut in Taj Mahal at the age of 16. Legendary music director Roshan took her under his wing, giving her a chance to sing a duet with Suman Kalyanpur. She recalls that she was much shorter than Suman and since in those days singers shared a single microphone during a studio recording (at Mehboob Studios, no less), she had to stand on a platform to make up for the difference!

From the daughter of a farming family in Patiala, she went on to become a singing maestro, working with composers like S.D. Burman, O.P. Nayyar, and Madan Mohan. Although she had a few occasional solos, her most famous work in films is as a partner, not a lead—always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Yet listen to how heroine-esque Minoo-ji’s voice sounds in the playful Jaidev composition “Raat Piya Ke Sang” from the lost film Prem Parbat (1973)! She toured with playback singers like Mohammed Rafi until his passing, yet when it came time to record songs for films, he was matched with Asha Bhonsle or Lata Mangeshkar. Minoo-ji waited for the female-female duets to shine.

Ni Main Yaar Daag Minoo Purushottam
One of classic Bollywood’s favorite female dance duets, “Ni Main Yaar Manana Ni” features the vocals of Minoo Purshottam from the hit film Daag (1973).

Eventually, Minoo Purushottam turned to non-filmi ghazals where she felt the songs could have more “meaning,” something with a more serious philosophy, and eventually left India and settled in Houston where she started teaching Hindustani vocals. Her depth in the heart-stirring ghazal Zakhm Rahguzaaro.N Ke demonstrates another aspect of her talent that may otherwise have remained hidden behind the glitzy duets of old Bollywood.

I remember her classes used to take place at an auntie’s house in the community. We sat next to each other on a keyboard bench and she played the melody as I tried to keep up with what she was singing.  Minoo-ji was a strict teacher, but full of laughter and great stories—a Panjabi like me. I remember she often performed at local functions where she held her audiences captivated.

huzur e wala minoo purushottam helen
Asha Bhonsle and Minoo Purushottam join forces for the cabaret number “Huzoor-e wala” in the mystery film Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi (1966).

I often regret that I was too young to fully appreciate the magnitude of the legend from whom I was learning. I sometimes wish I could go back and ask her the questions on her life experiences and the inspirations that made her the fascinating artist she became. Yes, she never reached the heights of the playback singers we all associate with that era—but it is precisely because of it that I respect her more, standing her ground in a world notorious for its ruthlessness. Perhaps it was because of her innocence and much younger age that she never felt any rivalry between herself and these stars. Minoo-ji enjoyed collaboration rather than competition. And in Bollywood, that was a rare and beautiful thing.

What is your favorite Minoo Purshottam song? Let us know in the comments! For more unsung heroes of early Bollywood, check out our previous posts on costume designer Mani Rabadi and music composer Anthony Gonsalves!

Minoo Purshottam playback singer
Minoo Purushottam, Bollywood playback singer of the 60s and 70s.

– Mrs. 55

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Na Tum Humen Jano Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

Na Tum Humen Jano Dev Anand
With glistening suavity dripping from his pomade, Dev Anand croons the love ballad “Na Tum Humen Jano” to a sleeping Waheeda Rehman in Baat Ek Raat Ki (1962).

Today we showcase the lyrics and English translation of the haunting melody “Na Tum Humen Jano” from Baat Ek Raat Ki (1962). Dapper Dev Anand plays a young lawyer whose enigmatic client, Waheeda Rehman, has been convicted of murdering her ex-lover in a fit of rage. Deemed clinically depressed and mentally unhinged, Waheeda’s only chance at redemption, in classic Bollywood tradition, is the stable love of a good man. Dev Anand rises quickly to the occasion, “pretending” to woo her for..ahem…medical reasons–and more importantly to extract the true events leading up to the murder for which she is convicted. I think it comes as no surprise that she ultimately proves innocent and Dev Anand actually falls in love with her while faking it. But that’s not what makes this film’s twist ending so fantastic–and trust me, it’s not what you’d expect!

Waheeda Rehman Na Tum Humen Jano
Waheeda Rehman is awakened by the sound of a haunting melody in Baat Ek Raat Ki (1962). Did anyone mention that black is totally your color, Waheeda?

So how does this gem of a Hemant Kumar solo fit into the bizarre whoddunit? I’ve always found Hemant Kumar an intriguing rogue in the strict actor-singer pairings of classic films–the mysterious dark chocolate mousse of Bollywood playback. His tender yet overwhelmingly manly voice stood out among the Rafi wannabes of the age–the celestial way his voice resonates in the opening lines is a rich treat for the soul. Famed music director Salil Chowdhury said of the singer’s voice,

“If God could sing, he would have a voice like Hemanta.”

Have truer words ever been spoken? No better testament exists than the love song “Na Tum Humen Jano.” In Baat Ek Raat Ki, “Na Tum Humen Jano” plays on a gramophone record in the moments leading up to the murder. Waheeda Rehman is so traumatized afterwards, she cannot recall details of the event or her exact involvement. Naturally, Dev Anand believes that singing the song while she sleeps will subconsciously trigger her memory, thereby providing him the missing evidence of what  transpired that fatal night. He croons to her hidden in the background, observing her reaction as the melody wafts through the air. What follows is one of the most nostalgic songs of yesteryear.

We hope you love the lyrics and English translation to “Na Tum Humen Jano” as much as us! Follow along with the video and try to keep your beating heart in check as you get swept away in the romance!

Na Tum Humen Jano Lyrics and Translation:

Na tum hame.N jaano, na hum tumhe.N jaane
You do not know me, I do not know you
Magar lagtaa hai kuch aisaa meraa humdum mil gayaaa
Yet somehow I feel as if I have found my soul mate

Yeh mausam yeh raat chhup hai
These surroundings and this night are quiet
Woh honTo.N kii baat chhup hai
Those words on our lips are quiet
Khamoshii sunaanii lagii hai dastaa.N
The silence has begun to tell a story
Nazar ban gayii hai dil kii zubaa.N
Our glances have become the language of our hearts

Mohabbat ke moD pe hum
At the crossing of love
Mile sab ko chhoDke hum
We met and left everything behind
DhaDakhte dilo.N ka leke yeh caravaa.N
We took our beating hearts with us on this caravan
Chale aaj dono.N jaane kahaa.N
Let us go together today, I know not where

Na tum hame.N jaano, na hum tumhe.N jaane.N
You do not know me, I do not know you
Magar lagtaa hai kuch aisaa meraa humdum mil gayaaa
Yet somehow I feel as if I have found my soul mate

Glossary:

humdum: soulmate; mausam: atmosphere, surroundings; raat: night: chhup: quiet; honT: lips; baat: words; khamoshii: silence; sunaanaa: to tell; daastaa.N: tale, story; nazar: glance; zubaa.N: language; mohabbat: love; moD: crossing, turn; sab: everything; dhaDakhnaa: to beat [heart]; aaj: today

Waheeda Rehman Baat ek raat ki na tum humen jano
Prior to murder charges, the lovely Waheeda Rehman sings merrily along to a record of “Na Tum Humen Jano” in Baat Ek Raat Ki (1962).

Now before anyone comments on how angelic Lata’s solo moment is halfway through the song, don’t be fooled! That voice of a goddess is none other than rival soprano Suman Kalyanpur! Her highest high note in the cameo moment is an E5, which doesn’t even come close to Asha and Lata’s famous trills. Composed by S.D. Burman, the song is fully picturized as a happy female solo earlier in the film here! Was Suman Kalyanpur’s solo able to compete with the magic of the famous Hemant counterpart? I think it was certainly a valiant effort, but…let’s not lie to ourselves.

Our English translation of “Na Tum Humen Jano” was requested by diehard fangirl Reena! Stay classy, Reena.

– 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