Sriram’s Top 30 – Epilogue


This is not really a list of the 30 greatest songs in Hindi cinema, is it? This audience is a pretty knowledgeable audience…and if one were to do it using a formal process – voting, scoring and all that – I might find that maybe 10 out of these 30 songs would make it to a final consensus list. Really stretching it, 15, max.

And that’s what I’ve always maintained right from the first – that if most of you agree with half the songs on my list, I’d be more than happy.

In fact, if you ask me to cross my heart and truly list out what I think are the 30 greatest songs, irrespective of any other consideration, only 15 perhaps, would make it to my own greatest songs list.

So what is this list about, then? What are these ‘other considerations’ that I have mentioned from time to time, to the mystification of many?

Right in my first post, Sameer Khedkar made an interesting comment. He said, ‘Just take all the top Madan Mohan songs. And all the top songs in Yaman. There’s your 30, right there.’

I wouldn’t go that far, but he’s got a point. The top 10 songs by Rafi, top 10 by Lata and top 10 across all the rest would be a fairly strong list, probably stronger (song to song) than what I have. Or just run through Top 10 soundtracks (Mughal-e-Azam, Pakeezah, Bandini etc.) and pick 2-3 songs from each. Or take Naushad, SD, Roshan, Salilda etc. and do the same.

You’d get a fabulous list of 30 in each case, and be confident that you have no weak links. In terms of defending your selection, you’d have no worries. Someone else might suggest some other song, but you’d be rock sure that your selection was equally strong.

But would such a list make music?

Great music after all, is not about a succession of great notes. It is the arrangement, the intermingling of soft and hard, light and heavy, low and high, soulful and strong – done with a plan, with an underlying theme, to a particular rhythm, not at random.

I wanted my list to showcase the immense diversity that we have in our musical heritage, and with this end in mind, I arrived quite early at a simple rule – 1 song per film, no matter how tough it appears. I broke that rule only once, as mentioned, and hopefully, with good enough reason.

This allowed me to showcase single great songs from otherwise OK soundtracks (a concern Sumita Kumar had expressed early on in one of her comments). ‘Meri Neendon mein tum’, ‘Ye Raat Ye Chaandni’, ‘Tu Pyar ka Saagar Hai’ etc. would have got buried otherwise. Ditto for singers like Shamshad, Suman Kalyanpur, Bhupinder, Bhupen Hazarika, who may not be as prolific as the giants, but are no less beloved for what they brought.

Then came the question of arrangement. Srivatsa Yajaman asked me what the logic behind the rankings was. ‘Just out of curiosity, what was #31?’ he asked, somewhat testily. At various times, commenters have responded to a song with ‘Yes, agree Top 30, but not so high,’ or something similar. Also, the inevitable ‘Why is X ranked higher than Y?’

Upto a point, there was logic. You will recognize that 1-10 was a higher standard overall than 11-20, which in turn was better than 21-30. But I could just as easily have pushed Suhaani Raat or Ayega Aanewala or Piya Tose or Dil Dhoondta Hai or Mere Saajan Hai Us Paar up 5-10 spots and pushed some others down, with no real complaints. (In fact, that would definitely make the ranking more consistent and logical, for sure)


Actually, ranking the truly great songs (or books, or movies, or sportsmen) is actually a fairly puerile exercise. (Thank you Tanuj Suri, for your early comment – ‘What an absolutely jobless exercise! But one that I fully endorse.’)

After we’ve ranked all the songs, what are we going to do? Will Waqt ne Kiya step up gracefully to the podium and receive a medal, while Man Re and Kuch Dil Ne Kaha standing by her side contrive to look happy (while actually being sad), or worse, raise black power salutes? Will Asha be inconsolable and turn to her parents sobbing (who don’t know what to do, because Lata’s cracked it, and they’re proud of both sisters equally)? Will old and wise Mere Saajan Hai Us Paar maintain a dignified silence, despite knowing he’s surrounded by lesser mortals? Will Waheeda’s mercurial dancer in Piya Tose shake her bangles at me and stalk off in a huff, because that tart Anarkali’s nautanki was judged superior? Will Madan Mohan’s Ghost rise from the battlements at night, and point a quavering finger at me, accusing me of fell deeds? (Though, now that I’ve written this last, I’m a little scared that may actually happen – knowing Madanji’s lifelong disappointment around public awards!). No, rankings beyond a point do nothing more than stir emotions, and all the wrong ones.

Positioning, on the other hand is a different story. If you think of these numbers not as ranks, but as positions, there’s so much you can do around that concept. They could be delicate links in an exquisite piece of jewellery, strands in a garment, serais on a caravan route across the desert, pit-stops on a mountain climb – each one connected, and dependent on the other, leading upto a final destination or something that is greater than all of them individually.

Rankings are competitive, they divide; positions are collaborative, they unite. And music is all about unity.

These were some of the thumb-rules I followed for positioning the songs (to the extent possible, for I broke most of them at some point):

  • Alternating the male voice and the female voice.
  • Spacing out the 8 Lata solos.
  • Spacing out the duets.
  • Following a couple of light romantic numbers, with a song of sorrow, or of prayer or of existential thought.
  • Ensuring the audience didn’t have to wait too long before the first Rafi came up (at #19, I was seriously pushing it!), otherwise (unfounded) accusations of bias would follow.
  • Ensuring I didn’t have too many Burmandada songs back to back. All through, I was rock firm about my #1 to #4, and pretty certain of #5 – #8. I was clear about the broad positioning of the rest, but I kept shuffling as I went along. At one point, Surya Mantha said my Burmandada bias was showing through (this was at #16 – Teri Bindiya, which was the 4th SD song I had presented out of 15). My next song was supposed to be the Jaal song. So I shuffled it and went with the Madan Mohan double-bill, then the song from Seema, before I brought in Jaal. And when I did show Jaal, I made it all about Sahir, just to push Burmandada into the background. (I’d planned my Sahir piece for Hum Dono, originally). I was quite okay with not sticking to a definitive ranking for the others, because I was confident that these are all great songs anyway, so any up or down within limits wouldn’t cause major damage.
  • Having elements of surprise, so as to keep it from becoming too predictable. For instance, just when we’d gone past a bit of trouble with Chingari and the Parveen Sultana song to safer (and serious) waters in Aayega Aanewala, Dil Dhoondta Hai and Suhaani Raat, I tossed in the light and popular Na Tum Hame Jaano, then decided it was time to test your acceptance with a philosophical Mukesh song. Same with the Shamshad number, which came out of the blue in the midst of other popular, well-known and readily accepted classics.
  • Even the pieces I wrote were varied. Some were short, purely factual descriptive pieces. Some were long essays. Sometimes I focused on the raga, sometimes on the singer, on the lyricist, on the composer. If I’d done 2-3 long pieces in a row, I slipped in a short descriptive piece. I threw in a few personal anecdotes. I also found one opportunity to use a poetic device – a refrain – at one place: in the descriptions of Ye Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaaye and Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya (don’t know how many of you noticed it.)

The concept of ranking was not entirely irrelevant though. I used it for two purposes:

One was based on the simple observation that whether we like it or not, rankings and countdowns pull crowds. If I had announced at the beginning that this was just a series of great songs, without that competitive element, I doubt it would have gathered as much interest. That whole element of ‘fighting for your favorite to be included in the list’ would be been lost. So you see, the Devil can quote Scripture for his own ends. The ranking concept served a more important purpose than mere marketing, for the theme in the music was one of a wave gathering itself towards a crest. Incrementally the songs kept getting better, the notes of dissent kept getting fewer. The songs also got a bit more reflective (and in one case outright devotional), tackled the more serious issues, amidst the base romantic ones. Regardless of quality, if I’d thrown Seema in say #25, people would have howled. I held Seema back for an appropriate moment, willing to ignore those who were pressing me for Manna Dey (or thought I didn’t appreciate Manna Dey). By the time we reached Seema at #13, you my audience, were willing to give me the leeway for some whimsy.

The placement of the Shamshad song was, in my mind, absolutely critical. (Standalone, it was better placed a bit lower; because by the time Shamshad played, expectations were sky high, and many who wanted their personal favorites to be included grudged the loss of a valuable top-10 spot). But without Shamshad, the jump from the sweety-sweety Ye Raat Ye Chandni and Abhi na jao to the black despair of Pyaasa would have been too abrupt. I used the raw intensity of Meri Neendon me Tum as a bridge to smoothen that transition. (I’ve always found that song to be very intense, my write up was on those terms, I planned it on that basis; the fact that people reacted somewhat differently – syrupy, really?!! – couldn’t be anticipated.)

The climax really, was with the Pyaasa/Mughal-e-Azam/Baiju Bawra trio – the pinnacle of Hindi film music. What more can you have after Mohe Bhool Gaye Saawariya and O Duniya ke Rakhwaale, in terms of music and singing, and what more can you have after Pyaasa and Mughal-e-Azam in terms of histrionics, backed with the musical perfection of two extreme positions – one minimalist, the other with all the grandeur of the Mughal court?

One thing I’ve learnt from listening to Hindustani classical concerts, Western Classical music and from studying great literature is that the climax should not really be the end. I am sure great filmmaking will have the same precept, but I am not really a movie person, so others can validate this.

After the smoke and gunfire and the clash of cymbals, you need to come back gently to the ground, reflecting on what you’ve done or gone through. If you hear any great Mozart or Beethoven symphony, study the final fourth movement closely. (I don’t know about modern stuff – Som Bakshi is the go to man for Stravinsky and the like). The music finally turns introspective, lands you softly on the grass where you can rest and look at the sky.

I tried to do that with my #4 to #1.

We first had a light moment, with the contest and all the guesswork, a pause that helped us recover from the seriousness of what had just passed.

Then in Poocho na Kaise, Kuch Dil Ne Kaha and Man Re tu Kahe na Dhir Dhare, the music soothed and the mind turned inwards – it was still poignant, incredibly melodious, but the storm was over; each one of these songs was chosen for its place, not merely because each one standalone was one of the greatest solos ever sung by that singer (which I believe to be true), but equally because of the nature, theme and mood of those songs.

And I kept absolutely quiet, still, not wanting to disturb the music with unwanted commentary.

It finally ended with the brilliant question mark of Waqt ne Kiya.

In a comment to Sripriya Ranganathan, I’d said that I’d seriously considered ranking Tu Pyaar Ka Sagar Hai #1, and I was dead serious, for that was the only other possible ending in my mind. In the end, I went with my heart, because I absolutely adore Waqt ne Kiya. She said I was in love with Tu Pyaar Ka Sagar: true, but not to the degree I am in love with Waqt ne Kiya.

Surya Mantha commented in my Baiju Bawra post that I should have ended with Man Tarpat, and I thought at that point that he kind of understood what I was doing all along (which was wonderful to see). Yes, Man Tarpat could have been a #1, exactly like Tu Pyaar Ka Saagar Hai could have.

Muhajid Ali Khan suggested that knowing me, he thought I might have ranked ‘Ye Duniya agar Mil be jaaye’ as #1. He’s got a point. A couple of years ago (and even now, in one of my darker moods), I might have chosen that equally brilliant ending, giving the world the bird. I suppose I should consider myself fortunate that I didn’t happen to think of it at all!

I drew up my list of 80-odd and the final 30 in a 2-hr frenzy one evening. Then I immediately posted my very first post, announcing what I was planning to do. The actual final list differed from the original at exactly 3 points.

  • I replaced Tu Ganga ki Mauj with O Duniya ke Rakhwale (more fitting for a climax), and this is why Man Tarpat would not have worked. It would have been a fitting #1, but not a #5. (In retrospect, I made a mistake here and Nidhi Kumar was quick to react. In going with the absolute-best song from that film from a musical perspective, I lost sight of the overall objective. The relatively cheerful tone of Tu Ganga ki Mauj would have been better, given that Mohe Bhool Gaye Saawariya was a song of lament, and the last 4 songs weren’t exactly disco numbers or even light romantic songs. The overall tone of the last 7-8 songs became somewhat sad and serious in consequence. But as I mentioned, the Rafi song choice was the one that confused me the most. I should have gone with my first instinct.)
  • I replaced my original Kishore choice (Koi Humdum Na Raha) with Chingari, purely in order to have at least one Kishore-RD number in the mix. Perhaps my original instinct might again actually have been better – I don’t know.
  • I replaced my original choice of song in SD Burman’s own voice (Doli Mein Bithai Ke) with the song from Bandini (Mere Saajan Hai Us Paar). When I started, I thought people would react only to the music; it soon became apparent that this was an inadequate view, hence the choice of a song that was every bit as good, and far more meaningful. I had never seen the video of Saawan Ka Mahina before, nor seen the movie, so the country bumpkin came as a bit of a nasty jar. My inclusion of the song was based purely on its sound. (Thank you Sumita Pathak for your encouragement, ‘You go ahead and do what you set out to do, don’t worry about folks who’re commenting on dresses’, at that critical stage when I was a bit rattled.) My own original purist position, however, does get reflected in the fact that I consider Baiju Bawra a greater soundtrack than Pyaasa or Mughal-e-Azam (I mean Bharat Bhushan, seriously? Meenakumari does salvage things a bit, but she’s a lone bird against the ranks of Guru Dutt / Waheeda and Dilip Kumar / Madhubala). It was not only me who felt the conflict throughout. See your own response to Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya – the audience was split midway between the purists, who said ‘classic, yes, but I never liked listening to it’, (and certainly there are other songs in Mughal-e-Azam which are better, musically), and the song-in-contexters, who had no such reservations.

Given that I did it in such a rush (and without looking up the Net for the long list, if you remember from my original post), naturally, I made mistakes. Here are my regrets / misses:

  • Talat Mahmood (I don’t regret not including KL Saigal and Pankaj Mullick, because this list was always meant for an audience, and I honestly didn’t know what the level of that audience would be. I didn’t want it to end up being somewhat elitist, where 5 guys would nod sagely and say Wow, while the rest would leave the hall before the interval. The mistake was in clubbing Talat alongside – because I always felt he was an acquired taste. I am actually thrilled to learn how popular he is amongst those with a keen ear.)
  • Salil Chowdary (I love Madhumati, Rajnigandha, O Sajna, Barkha Bahaar Aayi etc. Problem was Lata. How do you have diversity in the female voice, when you have the entire body of Lata’s work in front of you? I already had 8 Lata solos and 2-3 duets. Which of the 8 Latas could I give up for Madhumati? I thought of Mukesh from Madhumati, but then there might be too many Mukeshs. Ae Mere Pyare Watan would have worked well but I didn’t think of it.)
  • I was very careful to showcase diversity across films, singers, composers, moods etc. What I missed was genres – qawwali and cabaret / equivalents. Certainly ‘Na to Karavaan Ki Talaash’ should go in straightaway and maybe the best of the cabarets or gangster-moll songs (Aaiye Meherbaan, Babuji Dheere Chalna, Aa Jaane Ja, Piya Tu, O Haseena Zulfowaali, Kahin pe Nigaahen, or a koli dance type like Shola jo Bhadke) should be in. In retrospect, this was a serious loss for the overall music, for it would have immediately provided light, cheerful moments in what is otherwise overall a somewhat serious tone. Qawwali and cabaret are both essential Hindi film music forms and they should have been present.
  • The Jagjit Singh ghazal. Given the number of Ghazals I’ve heard, I could have picked a stronger one easily, across singers. That was an error of judgment. The sleazy Raj Babbar in a white suit and a polka-dot shirt didn’t help.
  • Some of my most favorite soundtracks – Pakeezah, Madhumati (Zulmi sang aankh ladi would have been a fantastic inclusion!), Udan Khatola – didn’t get a place. Again some brilliant songs (esp. Rafisaab’s) such as ‘Hum Bekhudi me Tum ko Pukare’, ‘Tere Bin Soone’ I had to keep aside, with regret. Same with some brilliant Lata songs (O Sajna, Barkha Bahar Aaiyi, Chand Phir Nikla).
  • I have no regrets about the Shamshad song, or the Parveen Sultana version, or Bhupen Hazarika or the first Geeta song – Ae Dil Mujhe Bata De, even if many of you didn’t agree they belonged to this list. I stand by those choices. Of course if we edit the list to include at least 1 Talat, 1 Salilda (from Madhumati surely), Na To Karavan and 1 cabaret, we’ll have to take a hard look at what to drop, and the question of having a 9th Lata song vs 1 from Shamshad will have to be addressed.

For the record here was the final distribution (I would be a poor Engg-MBA indeed without using at least some numbers, somewhere):

25 solos (13 Male, 12 female) and 5 duets.

8 Lata solos, 2 Geeta Dutt, 1 Asha, 1 Parveen Sultana.

4 Rafi solos, 2 Manna Dey, 1 each from Mukesh, Kishore, Burmanda, Hemantda, Jagjit, Bhupinder and Bhupen Hazarika

8 SD Burmans, 4 each from Naushad and Madan Mohan, 2 from Roshan and RD, 1 each from 10 other composers.

Kishore, Mukesh, Hemantda, Shamshad, Asha, Suman Kalyanpur in the duets. I tried to avoid Rafi and Lata in the duets where possible, as they were already well represented in the solos. A word about my own biases, which should be pretty obvious by now. Mostly, I didn’t speak openly about my negative biases, preferring to let you discover it through revealed preference. I was happy to extoll those that I adored, and my silence about others spoke in some way. On one occasion, Krishnan Swamy asked me specifically why I’d kept silent about S-J (in the Mukesh post), then I let rip in the comments.

8 SD Burmans appropriately reflect my positive bias.

Only 4 Rafi solos, on the other hand, under-reflect my positive bias.

The low number of Kishore and RDs appropriately reflects my negative bias.

The 8 Lata solos are DESPITE my negative bias.

When I hear Lata, I’m always torn between my love for the beauty of her voice and undoubted musical genius and my indifferent feelings for her as a person. So I’m not a dyed-in-the-wool Lata fan, the way I am of Rafisaab. This also affected my song choices. When I knew I had to pick 4 Rafis solos (OMG Only 4!), and Man Re, Baiju Bawra and Pyaasa were automatic picks, I unerringly flew back across all his great work in the 50s and 60s to land on ‘Suhaani Raat’ in 1949. My heart told me that was the right pick. My heart was not of much use with Lata, so the 8 Lata solos were largely a brain exercise. Those that are hardcore Lata fans will do a far better job.

So that’s pretty much it. You could do a different list of 30 that factors in your own preferences in songs, singers, composers etc. and it would work equally well. Someone who’s a mega RD – Kishore – Asha – OP Nayyar fan for instance, would arrive at a totally different mix.

But it would be a different Raga. This one is mine.

This has been an absolute pleasure and joy to do. I have made so many new friends, rediscovered old ones. Now I have the post-party housekeeping to do, which in this case is a happy job, consisting as it does of looking through the hundreds of clips you’ve all posted to rediscover forgotten classics and discover stuff I’d never heard (or heard of) before.


Sriram’s Top 30 – The Final ten!!

I realized I couldn’t… I shouldn’t leave you hanging anymore. So here are the final ten of the countdown.

Hope you enjoy them.

#10: Abhi Na Jao Chhod Kar (Mohammed Rafi / Asha Bhonsle, Hum Dono, 1963, Music: Jaidev, Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi, Raga: Yaman)

This song captures a mood brilliantly – that of parting from a lover after a tryst. I hope none of us is so jaded as to forget that bittersweet agony of early love. Dev Anand’s entreaty (abhi abhi to aaye ho…) and Sadhana’s reply (..agar main ruk gayi abhi, to ja na paun gi kabhi…) are so beautifully expressed and rendered by Rafisaab and Asha.

‘Accha to hum chalte hain’ from Aan Milo Sajna (Rajesh Khanna-Asha Parekh) has almost exactly the same theme; the difference of course is in the lyrics.

This is Sahir at his romantic best. Hum Dono was another great soundtrack with gems such as Allah Tero Naam, Kabhi Khud Pe, Main Zindagi ka Saath Nibhata and Prabhu tero Naam. The list of classic songs in Yaman (Kalyan) is as long as my arm. We’ve already had #28: Hoton Se Chulo Tum and #18: Na Tum Hamein Jaano. Zindagi Bhar Nahi Bhoolegi woh Barsaat ki Raat, Chandan sa Badan, Saranga teri Yaad Mein, Woh Shaam kuch Ajeeb Thi, Beeti Na Bitai Raina, Ehsaan Tera Hoga Mujhpar, Mausam hai Ashiqana…..and so many others.

Abhi Na Jao Chhod Kar.. 

#9: Meri Neendon Mein Tum (Kishore Kumar & Shamshad Begum, Naya Andaz, 1956, Music: OP Nayyar, Lyrics: Jaan Nisar Akhtar, Raga: Pilu)

This is an amazing song, with a raw, emotional intensity and power that is hard to ever forget. There are times when I’m driving with the volume up, when I almost want Shamshad to stop singing…such is the piercing sharpness of her voice. ‘Tu mera naaz hai, meri andaaz hai….dil ki awaaz hai’!!! Kishore is brilliantly controlled in his intensity, you can feel the throb in his voice, and his deep register is a perfect counterpoint to Shamshad’s tone. The background score, the blowing curtains, the gathering clouds – it is a perfect storm. Kishore is the rumble of thunder in the distance; Shamshad is the lightning that cleaves through the darkening sky.

This song is not about context. I couldn’t care less what the movie was or where the song was placed in it. Standalone, it reverberates through your senses – give me this song, anytime, any place, any mood. Meenakumari makes her first appearance on my list, always a pleasure!

PS: Till very, very, late in this series, I was quite chuffed with the fact that NOBODY had brought this up as a candidate. That happened just 2 days back. Take a bow, Srivatsa Yajaman. Also nod to Charubala Seshadri for remembering Shamshad just a bit earlier, and wishing we could have at least one from her. Here it is, Shamshad’s finest.


Meri Neendon Mein Tum 

#8: Ye Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaaye To Kya Hai (Mohammed Rafi, Pyaasa, 1957, Music: SD Burman, Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi, Raga: Yaman-Kalyan)

The exclamation mark in one of the greatest soundtracks in Hindi cinema (in My Top 3 soundtracks), in one of the best films ever made, by one of the all-time great teams at the height of their powers. What more can one ask for? I won’t bother listing which are the great songs in Pyaasa – the answer of course, is all of them, including the nazms!

What could be more ludicrous and surreal than a poet, who gains public appreciation only after he is given up for dead, who gatecrashes his own memorial ceremony, and denounces the world only to get kicked out? It could be straight out of a Victor Hugo novel (I was reminded of the deaf judge trying Quasimodo), with dollops of strong black Russian despair. Guru Dutt holds up a mirror to society and it doesn’t look good, does it?

It is one of the landmark moments of Indian cinema. Throughout Pyaasa, Burmandada is spot on with his minimalism. The music is filigree work around a rare precious stone, a setting that allows the beauty and power of the words to resonate. Sahir, is simply Sahir. And every singer in Pyaasa (Rafisaab in this song and in many others, Geeta Dutt, Hemant Kumar in Jaane wo kaise) is in top form.

Ye Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaaye…

#7: Pyaar Kiya to Darna Kya (Lata Mangeshkar, Mughal-e-Azam, 1965, Music: Naushad, Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni, Raga: Darbari and Durga)

The exclamation mark in one of the greatest soundtracks in Hindi cinema (also in my Top 3 soundtracks), in one of the best flms ever made, by one of the all-time great teams at the height of their powers. What more can one ask for? I won’t bother listing which are the great songs in Mughal-e-Azam – the answer of course, is all of them! Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya is, of course, Defiance with a capital D. The context of the song, the expectation before the song (that Anarkali will submit), the surprise, the growing rage in Prithviraj Kapoor’s face- as he swells up, you fear he’ll have a stroke – the concern on Mrs. Akbar’s face, Salim’s quiet pride, Nigar stepping back and distancing herself from the event…and through it all, the half-smile on Madhubala’s lips– of scorn, of contempt, of ‘do what you want, I’m not afraid.’ Apparently the song was based on an Eastern UP line that Naushad had heard , which went ‘Prem kiya, kya chori kari hai…’, which Shakeel then adapted into its current form. When Madhubala pulls out the dagger from Salim’s waist, the concern on everyone’s face is palpable – will she stab Salim, or Akbar or herself? Turns out the dagger in Akbar’s heart is actually in her words, at the end of every stanza –  ‘Maut wahi jo duniya dekhe, ghut ghut kar yun marna kya,’ and ‘Purdah nahi jab koi khuda se, bandon se pardah karna kya’…the real dagger, meanwhile, is presented to Akbar with that same mocking smile. Shakeel’s genius is on full display here. It is one of the landmark moments of Indian cinema. The song begins with an opening intro dance sequence, where the camera pans across Akbar’s grand ‘sheesh mahal’. And here Naushad aptly uses the grandeur of Raga Darbari. The initial bars ‘Dhaan…titta dhaan…tarikita..titta dhaan’ are in Darbari (see my note in #13: Tu Pyar ka Saagar Hai about ‘grand’ Darbari). But then Naushad didn’t want to do the entire song in Darbari (long song, may have been a bit too much), so he switches to Raga Durga.


Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya…

#6: Mohe Bhool Gaye Saawariya (Lata Mangeshkar, Raga: Bhairav) AND

 #5: O Duniya ke Rakhwaale (Mohammed Rafi, Raga: Darbari)

Baiju Bawra, 1952, Music: Naushad, Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni

Welcome to the Baiju Bawra show.

Baiju Bawra completes the trio of all-time great soundtracks, and perhaps edges Pyaasa and Mughal-e-Azam. The other 2 have more number of great songs, but Baiju Bawra has 4 songs that I would close my eyes and include in an all-time Top 10, no regrets, if I didn’t have any other considerations (those I will explain in my epilogue to this series). I don’t think even Pyaasa and Mughal-e-Azam reach quite those heights. You must have observed by now, that I have followed one rule throughout – which is, 1 song from 1 movie soundtrack. This is the only film for which I have broken that rule. Surya Manthan commented earlier that he would consider it criminal activity to pick only one song from the Madan Mohan – Lata – RMAK trio and it is obvious from my list that I agree. The same applies to this film – only in this case, even after including 2 out of 4, it still feels criminal.

In ‘O Duniya ke Rakhwale’, Rafisaab reaches heights in his singing, that nobody before or after ever has. As simple as that. The mix of ragas around Raga Darbari (every stanza is different), the impossible control in the higher register, which keeps going higher that you believe it could. Just close your eyes and shake your head in wonder at Rafisaab’s singing. ‘Man Tarpat Hari Darshan ko Aaj’ has the same incredible performance by Rafisaab, to produce the greatest bhajan ever sung in Indian cinema. ‘Mohe Bhool Gaye Saawariya’ is early Lata at her most brilliant. In fact, through this series, nobody brought up this one till Arun Srinivas did, 2 days ago as part of his carpet-bombing strategy. He’s cracked it – reasoning, if he throws the entire long list at me, something will stick eventually! The ache and longing in Lata’s voice in this song is exceptional. ‘Tu Ganga ki Mauj’ is a personal favorite. The beauty of the song and Rafi’s equally brilliant performance didn’t strike me the first time I heard it, unlike the other two. But it kept growing on me, and I now consider it fully the equal of the others. For what it’s worth, it is interesting to note that in 1953, the Filmfare best song went to ‘Tu Ganga ki Mauj’, and this was at a time when there weren’t separate male and female categories. Originally I’d planned to go with Tu Ganga ki Mauj. Over the last week, I’ve switched to Man Tarpat, then to O Duniya ke Rakhwaale, then back to Man Tarpat, took one last look at Tu Ganga ki Mauj, before finally settling on O Duniya Ke Rakhwaale.

You will appreciate that this hasn’t been an easy choice. If someone were to press for the inclusion of the others instead, it is fully understandable.



Mohe Bhool Gaye Saanwariya…

Prelude to the Final 4

All right, we’ve entered the home stretch. Just 4 more songs left, and I am going to do it differently here on. For these 4 songs, I am only going to provide the summary Singer, Movie, Year, Music, Lyrics and Raga information. I am not going to add a single line of commentary. (for one of them, I will add a line of suggestion, but that’s about it). I don’t believe any of these songs needs any explanation or justification for being where they are. In my view, it would be silly to try and add anything to the beauty of the songs themselves.

A few points about these four songs:

  1. Two are male solos; two are female solos
  2. All four songs are sung by four different singers
  3. Three different composers are involved; as are three different lyricists
  4. #4, #3 and #2 are in three different ragas; I don’t know the raga for #1!
  5. Three are in B/W, one is in colour.
  6. After trawling through the thousands of comments across the whole series and hundreds of suggested / remembered video clips posted, this is the current situation:
    • #4 was proposed by 1 person, with a video, got a few likes. Said person proposed the song in 2 different contexts, so I’ll give it to him/her.
    • #3 has been mentioned exactly once, with a video, got a few likes, then seconded by one or two others.
    • #2 was requested early on and it wasn’t by one of you Karu Pandeys who’ve been hovering over my head (and occasionally squawking into my ear), like seagulls guiding a ship into port. It was by a good friend, who evidently has a good ear. No video, no likes.
    • #1 has been mentioned exactly once, no video.

Yet I believe when I do post my #4 to #1, there will be few complaints about the quality of the songs and their true classic status. There can and will always be debate on position, though.





#4: Poocho na Kaise maine Rain Bitaayi (Manna Dey, Meri Surat Teri Aankhen, 1963, Music: SD Burman, Lyrics: Shailendra, Raga: Ahir Bhairav)

Poocho Na Kaise…

#3: Kuch Dil ne Kaha (Lata Mangeshkar, Anupama, 1966, Music: Hemant Kumar, Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi, Raga: Bhimpalasi)

Kuch Dil Ne Kaha…

#2: Man Re Tu Kahe na Dheer Dhare (Mohammad Rafi, Chitralekha, 1964, Music: Roshan, Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi, Raga: Yaman)

Man Re Tu Kaahe Na…

#1: Waqt ne Kiya (Geeta Dutt, Kaagaz ke Phool, 1959, Music: SD Burman, Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi, Raga: ???)

Waqt Ne Kiya…

Don’t worry, It’s not over yet.The countdown is, yes. But an EPILOGUE you can not miss is coming up soon. 🙂




Sriram’s Top 30 (C0ntd…)

Didn’t I tell you, you were in for a treat. Have you ever seen music being understood and explained this way. And we have lots more where that came from.

Moving on with countdown…

#25: Mere Saajan Hai Us Paar (SD Burman, Bandini, 1963, Music: SD Burman, Lyrics: Shailendra, Raga: ???

How much does context matter in appreciating a song? I’ve been thinking over this question after reading some of the comments on this series. Would we appreciate a song more, if it had been filmed on a different actor? Used in a different movie? Placed at just the right point in a story line?

As a purist, I’d have to say No. Our earliest memories of many, many songs were sans pictures – heard on the radio (usually a public good, with no fancy Bose acoustics), played out on scratchy tapes, borrowed from a friend. Of course, we saw and heard some songs together first, and those images remain an indelible part of our feel for the song. But it is true that a great cinematic experience elevates a great song, so it cannot be ignored.

As an example, Madan Mohan was one of the greatest music directors in Hindi cinema, but he had a specific problem. He would sometimes focus on the technical purity of a song in isolation, almost ignoring the storyline of the film it was to be used in. Dekh Kabira Roya, for instance, has 2 incredibly soulful songs – Humse Aaya Na Gaya (Talat) and Kaun Aaya Mere Man ke Dware (Manna Dey). Problem was DKR was a light, slapstick comedy along the lines of Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, and required perhaps the same treatment, musically.

Burmandada’s genius went beyond mere musicality, to an appreciation of the song-in-context-to-the story.  The stunning climax of Bandini, with Nutan confronting her awful dilemma – her choice between her past and her future – is inextricably linked with the greatness of this song. Shailendra’s lyrics (all through Bandini), combine with Burmandada and Bimal Roy to produce an all-time great cinematic moment. A decade later, Hrishikesh Mukherjee (Bimal Roy’s protégé) combined with Burmandada again to produce another fantastic climax to another great film – Abhimaan (with Tere Mere Milan ki Ye Raina).

SD Burman’s own voice (usually played in the background to some random fakir-type character going about his job, often in the opening screen credits) is also special. I was debating for a long time about which one to go with – Wahan Kaun hai Tera, Musafir (Guide), Allah Megh De, Paani De (Guide), Prem ke Pujari (eponymous), Doli Mein Bithai ke Kahaar (RD’s composition, opening credits of Amar Prem, with Sharmila in the fields), Sun Mere Bandhu Re (Sujata)…before I settled on this one. All of them are great songs, in their own right.
Lastly, the musical roots of this song (and of many other SD Burman compositions) lie in the Bhatiyar tradition – the folk music of boatmen in Bengal. I don’t know the raga (if indeed, it has a specific raga base).

Mere Saajan Hain Us Paar

#24: Dil Cheez Kya Hai (Asha Bhonsle, Umrao Jaan, 1981, Music: Khayyam, Lyrics: Shahryar, Raga: Bihag)

I used to have an Umrao Jaan / Bazaar cassette. Wore out that cassette, then another one, then 2 more CDs. Exceptional soundtracks both – you never had to fast forward. I had another Mughal-e-Azam / Pakeezah one like that. (Feel free to post your favorite combo CDs in the comments!).
Asha was such a versatile singer…she could be soulful, playful, seductive and go full-on disco. She could also be very average and screechy, especially in her early years. She did great work with OP Nayyar, SD and RD of course, but Umrao Jaan  with Khayyam came completely out of the blue. I believe the story goes that Khayyam saab told her to sing 2 notes below her normal register throughout, and that made all the difference! Had a tough time picking one amongst In Aankhon Ki Masti, Yeh Kya Jagah hai Doston and Dil Cheez Kya hai.

Raga Bihag is somewhat unusual – not too many composers have used it, and I don’t know much about it. Khayyam used it for this one and for In Ankhon Ki Masti both.

PS: I first heard  / saw Johnny Lever’s version of this song (with full hand gestures) in Tezaab, back in 1988, before I heard the original. A movie I watched 17 times on video. Ah, adolescence!


Dil Cheez Kya Hai 

#23: Chingari Koi Bhadke (Kishore, Amar Prem, 1970, Music: RD Burman, Lyrics: Anand Bakshi , Raga: Bhairavi)

Kishoreda and. Rafi saheb are the two giants of Hindi male playback singing, both with careers spanning over 30 yrs each. And for a good reason – both were amazingly versatile, could do just about anything. Rafi had the edge in classical, raga-based compositions, but Kishore could do them too (Mere Naina Saawan Bhadon or Yeh Kya Hua for example). Kishore ruled when the tempo went up, but Rafi was no slouch (Think Oh Haseena Zulfonwali or Yeh Chand sa Roshan Chehra). And in the mainstream middle, which was medium-paced, soulful, romantic numbers (both happy and sad) both have a huge number of spectacular songs.

I particularly like Kishore’s early work (his songs in Jhumroo – Koi Humdum Na Raha & Thandi Hawa Ye Chandni Suhani, Aa Chalke Tujhe, the delightful Yeh Raatein Ye Mausam Nadi ka Kinara with Asha, Dukhi Man Mere etc.). But it was with RD Burman that Kishoreda became the giant that we know him to be, now.

Amar Prem is an incredible soundtrack, probably RD Burman’s finest. The song itself is a masterpiece – the use of the flute, the transitions, the initial guitar strum repeated for dramatic effect – a perfect example of RD Burman’s unique ability to blend the classical and the modern. Kishore is pitch perfect and the rhythm totally in-sync with the rocking of the boat. Then you add in the visuals – Rajesh Khanna – Sharmila Tagore, the boat, the lights, the lantern, the glass…

PS: After 2 decades ruling the industry, Rafi handed over the baton to Kishore in Aradhana, 1969. Therein hangs a tale. SD Burman was the music composer for Aradhana and Rafi saheb was the lead playback singer (his first choice). Dada recorded Gun Guna Rahe hai Bhaware (Rafi-Asha) and one Lata song (I think Kora Kagaz tha)…then had a heart attack. Enter RD Burman and Kishore. Mere Sapnon ki Rani and Roop Tera Mastana followed and became superhits, (These songs are still credited to SD Burman, but they are RD through and through) Rajesh Khanna became a superstar with 10 plus consecutive hit films, Kishore was his voice, RD composed most of those songs, and the duo never looked back. Looking back, it feels like it was something that was meant to happen – it was time for change.


 Chingari Koi Bhadke

#22: Hume Tum Se Pyaar Kitna (with a twist!) (Begum Parveen Sultana, Kudrat, 1981, Music: RD Burman, Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri, Raga Bhairavi)

We sometimes marvel at the ability of a Manna Dey, a Rafi, a Lata to handle a difficult classical composition. But even they would agree readily that, great playback singers as they are, the great pure classical singers (and our country has had a fair few) are in a different league altogether.

While playback singers have tried their hand at classical music (with mixed results), the reverse is pretty rare. Maybe it is because in the rarefied world of Ustaads and Pandits, a step into film playback singing is regarded as a step down (this is pure speculation, btw…but they are prima donnas, for sure). Shiv-Hari were a good partnership for a while, and of course you have Bade Ghulam Ali Khan agreeing to sing the Tansen solos in Mughal-e-Azam (Prem Jogan ban…and Shubh Din Aayo), for which he was paid the then princely sum of Rs. 25,000 per song (Apparently he quoted what he thought was a ridiculous figure just to shake the filmwallahs off, but they agreed to the price!). There’s also the wonderful Bhimsen Joshi – Manna Dey ‘competition’ in Ketaki-Gulab-Juhi-Champak ban phule (Basant Bahar, 1956), where Manna Dey has to ‘win’. (Check out that video if you can, it’s wonderful!)

I’ve often wondered what a top-flight classical singer could do with a regular playback song (the Tansen solos and Ketaki-Gulab-Juhi are pure classical, un-singable by the proletariat, so they don’t count.)

Pandita Kishori Amonkar took at stab at it in the title song for Geet Gaaya Patharon ne, but it didn’t work out so well. Her voice is totally magical and you can listen to her mesmerized for an hour in a classical concert, but the song seemed to lack inspiration. She didn’t like the experience much either – never returned to films. I don’t know what the full story there was (lots of speculation around politics played by the Mangeshkar sisters etc.) but Pandita Amonkar has been known to be pretty ‘temperamental’, for want of a better word, and I can readily imagine sparks would have flown!

And so we come to Begum Parveen Sultana. For a long time, I wasn’t even aware that this version of Hume Tumse Pyaar Kitna existed. I’d liked the song for years (Kishore’s version), a beautiful composition in Raga Bhairavi (#23 Chingari is also in the same Raga)…when I stumbled onto Parveen Sultana’s version. It just blew my mind. Even the straight Pyar in the first line becomes a Pya..a..a..a..r in the second, the alaaps in the middle, the effortless voice modulation – a stunning rendering of a great song.

I think it was pretty sporting of both the Begum and Kishoreda for agreeing to do this. Both of them won the Filmfare awards in 1981 for best male and female playback solo.

PS: I saw and heard Begum Parveen Sultana last year in Pune, and she’s still going strong – as magical as ever.

Humein Tumse Pyaar Kitna

#21: Aayega Aanewala (Lata Mangeshkar, Mahal, 1949, Music: Khemchand Prakash, Lyrics: Nakshab, Raga: ???? )

I really don’t want to gild the lily on this one – what can I say that hasn’t already been said about Aayega Aanewala? A landmark song in a landmark film in a landmark year, one that launched Madhubala to stardom, one that firmly established Lata as the voice of two generations?

Seen from a 70-yr distance, the impact of this song on the common public can scarcely be believed. The song’s original LP came with the name of Kamini (Madhubala’s screen name in the movie) as the singer. Apparently that used to be the practice. Aayega aanewala became so popular that people bombarded the radio stations asking for the name of the real singer, and thus began the practice of recognizing screen and music credits for the actual playback singers of songs.

This is the early Lata – a divine voice, with that innocence, that pathos that calls out to you across the decades. Not the perfect Lata of her peak years, but the Lata that appeals to me more. The haunting melody, the empty swing, the longing…

Khemchand Prakash was a music composer that should be hallowed more than he is. He did wonderful work with Rajkumari (ditto – should be recognized more), launched Lata as a major singer even before this one in Ziddi (with Chanda re, ja re, ja re), gave Kishore his first break….He died before Mahal was released, thus never getting to see the public acclaim that he fully deserved. One of those ironies that life periodically throws at us (parallels with Van Gogh, Gregor Mendel cross-breeding 28000 pea plants when nobody had a clue what he was on about and in modern times, Stieg Larsson), just to remind us that there are guys out there who’ve done far more and received far less than we keep moaning about.

Someone help me with the raga on this one. There are very few times I find myself agreeing with RD Burman’s dictum ‘Raag ki aisi ki taisi’, but this is one of them. Doesn’t really matter, does it?

Aayega aane wala


PS – Subramanian is an engineer from IIT Roorkee and an MBA from IIM Calcutta. After a decade working as a management consultant and as a corporate professional, Sriram founded Mind Matters in 2006, which is today one of India’s leading corporate training firms. Sriram’s writing pursuits started at the age of six, when he faithfully wrote weekly letters to his mother (an English teacher); she marked them for grammar, punctuation, spelling and sentence construction in red ink. Throughout his career, Sriram has juggled multiple interests including reading, writing, music, travel, sports and parenting. Sriram is married to Shilpa Gupta, his classmate from IIT Roorkee, who is also an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad, ex-investment banker and the bestselling author of Ananya: A Bittersweet Journey, published by Rupa in 2015. Their sons, Aditya and Ritwik, are tennis players at the National and State levels respectively. Sriram lives in Pune.

His debut novel Rain, published by Readomania is out now. You can find the book here.


Day 50 :: #100HappyDays


Day 50!!

Halfway through! Yaaaay!! And you know what that tells me?…That whenever I look back on this year, there would at least be 50 wonderful moments of bliss and gratitude, waiting for me… to make me smile, to make me ‪#‎thankful‬ all over again. Events that I wouldn’t otherwise have thought of as momentous, and maybe even forgotten completely about…had it not been for this documentation.

Like this morning.

They say every cloud has a silver lining. Like when you get a writer’s block, on account for having stayed away from your story and mostly in bed, for almost two weeks. And had it not been for the writer’s block, I would have never went out for a walk at 5:30 a.m. I’m just not that person.

But today I did. The weather seemed to reward me generously for my fortitude 😉 With pleasant breeze and a soft drizzle that settles on your shoulders like snow. And the colors! What pretty colors everywhere I looked; flowers, leaves all freshly rain washed.

And then of course there was Yanni, keeping me company… his music wafting up in the air and making the morning spiff up even more. And guess what? Ailing me of my writer’s block!

Listen to this and tell me that this would do that kind of a magic to you… 🙂