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 Songs (Contd…)

Halfway through… Now is when the choices get trickier and more complicated. Every song must justify its spot.


#15: Aap ki Nazaron ne Samjha (Lata Mangeshkar, Anpadh, 1962, Music: Madan Mohan, Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, Raga: Darbari)


#14: Lag Jaa Gale (Lata Mangeshkar, Who Kaun Thi, 1964, Music: Madan Mohan, Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, Raga: Pahadi)

I’m presenting this as a double-bill, and I’m sure you understand why. We’ve talked about individual brilliance several times before in this series, but this is a tribute to that rare event – the chemistry that can be created when multiple brilliant individuals combine together in perfect harmony. Considering that all these people are creative talents and geniuses, the possibility of ego-clashes leading to flare-ups always exists, so when it does work out it is something to wonder at.

They always said Lata – Madan Mohan were a match made in heaven, and when you add Raja Mehdi Ali Khan to the mix, you get a series of unforgettable classics. Just consider the quality of songs that I haven’t included, from this trio. I consider Nainon Mein Badra Chhaye (Mera Saaya) to be every bit as good as the two I have included, and it was almost impossible to decide which one to leave out. And then you have Jiya Le Gayo Ji Mora Saawariya (Anpadh), Jo Humne Dastaan Sunaayi (Woh Kaun Thi), Naina Barse Rimjhim Rimjhim (Woh Kaun Thi) and Tu Jahan Jahan Chalega (Mera Saaya).

Two other truly great combinations that one can speak of in the same breath are Naushad-Shakeel Badayuni–Mohammed Rafi / SD Burman – Sahir Ludhianvi – Rafi – Guru Dutt.

Less sublime-heights but equally (if not more) successful were Shankar Jaikishan – Shailendra – Mukesh – Raj Kapoor / RD Burman – Kishore – Asha.

The hallmark of a Madan Mohan composition of course is melody, the sheer lyrical element (the parallel in Western Classical – pls note Somsekhar Bakshi – would be Schubert). At one level they are simple songs, yet there is nuance, complexity and the end effect is unforgettable.

We used to have a small music room in the ground floor of my IIM Cal hostel, which had a gramophone player and old LPs. I was once listening to “Aap Ki Nazaron ne Samjha” with my eyes closed, when a chap from the senior batch walked in, heard a few lines, looked at me, turned the LP cover over and said, ‘What is this crap you’re listening to?’.

Ab, where does one even begin…?

Lag Ja Gale is in Raga Pahadi (and we’ve seen it before here in #30: Sawan ka Mahina and #19: Suhaani Raat). Aap Ki Nazaron ne Samjha is in Raga Darbari, and it is a wonderful Raga, which I will touch on later.


Aap Ki Nazron Ne…

Lag Jaa Gale…

#13: Tu Pyaar Ka Saagar Hai (Manna Dey, Seema, 1955, Music: Shankar-Jaikishan, Lyrics: Shailendra, Raga: Darbari)

This is a school assembly song in some schools (not mine, thank goodness!), and that kind of spoils it for people. Rather like being forced to mug and expound on Shakespeare in Class IX, which puts people off for life, whereas the joy in discovering and exploring Shakespeare out of one’s own interest is indescribable.

It is an absolutely gorgeous song, with stunning lyrics. If ‘Ohre Taal Mile’ makes you wonder at the connectedness of things and the limits of knowledge and reason, Tu Pyaar ka Saagar Hai implores you to go beyond when you have reached that limit and ask for (divine) assistance. And it does with exceptional imagery. Consider these lines:

Ghaayal man tha, paagal panchi

Udne ko beqarar, udne ko beqarar

Pankh hai komal, aankh hai dhundhli,

Jaana hai saagar paar, jaana hai saagar paar

Ab tu hi ise samjha, raah bhoole the kahaan se hum…

And Manna Dey is absolutely the right man for this song. I wrote a eulogy for Rafi saab; for Manna Dey, I’ll simply use Rafi saab’s own words. To a bunch of fans and mediapersons, Rafi saab said, ‘Aap sab mere gaane sunte hain. Main to khud Manna Dey ke gaane sunna pasand karta hun.’

When Manna Dey sings this song, you can feel the depth of feeling in his heart. This is not a song to be sung on the fly, as a matter of routine professionalism. The throb in his voice is not that of the trained singer, it is that of a devotee. You sometimes feel this way in a pure classical concert, where you feel the artiste is unearthly, touched by a spot of stardust. Also in the devotional Bhakti tradition that is so strong and rich all across our country.

Raga Darbari (mentioned earlier in just the previous post) is one of my favorite ragas. As the name suggests, it evokes grandeur. You can see the link with other great Darbari songs – O Duniya Ke Rakhwaale, Dil Jalta Hai to Jalne De, Hum Tujhse Mohabbat Karke Sanam. All these three songs mentioned, though, use Darbari in a mournful mood (rona-dhona, at some level!). Tu Pyar Ka Sagar Hai, as an invocation, is much closer to the base ‘mood’ and gravitas of Darbari. Later on, I will show an outstanding example of the grandeur of Darbari.

Tu Pyaar Ka Saagar…

#12: Yeh Raat Ye Chaandni Phir Kahan (Hemant Kumar, Jaal, 1952, Music: SD Burman, Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi, Raga: Kafi)

From a song in praise of the Divine (#13), to a song written by a man who was a skeptic all his life, till his last defiant breath.

Enter Sahir Ludhianvi.

In my opinion, one of the two greatest lyricists in Hindi cinema (Shakeel Badayuni being the other, but while I admire and respect both equally, I feel a little closer to Sahir personally)

The man could dismiss Nehru and his statesmanship (and Nehru was a not a man to cross lightly those days) with a few strokes of his pen:

‘Chino Arab Hamara, Hindostan Hamara,

Rehne ko Ghar nahi hai, Saara Jahan Hamara’.

Bitter? He could do bitter better than anyone. And even the good Khuda couldn’t escape his censure.

‘Aasman pe hai khuda, aur zameen pe hum,

aajkal wo is taraf dekhta hai kam’

And yet this man had the sensitivity to write the following lines:

‘O saare jag ke rakhwale,

nirbal ko bal denewale,

balwaano ko de de gyaan, Allah tero naam’

Sahir on society, its warts and all, is untouchable. His question ‘Jinhe Naaz hai Hind par, woh Kahaan hai?’ was relevant then and continues to be relevant to this day.

Of course, his ultimate criticism was reserved for himself – always the sign of the greatest intellects:

‘Kal aur aayenge nagmon ki khilti kaliyan chunne waale

Mujshe bahtar kehne wale, tumse bahtar sunne wale,

Kal koi mujhko yaad kare, kyun koi mujhko yaad kare

Masruf zamaanaa mere liye, kyun waqt apnaa barbaad kare’

When Sahir turned his pen towards romance, he was as good as anyone else. This was after all the man who inspired crazy levels of devotion from sane, rational people (apparently the poetess Amrita Pritam used to pick up cigarette butts he chucked and puff them, seeking inspiration).

‘Tu abse pehle, sitaaron mein bas rahi thi kabhi?

Tujhe zameen par bulaaya gaya hai mere liye,

kabhi kabhi mere dil meir khayaal aata hai’


Mere khwaabo ke jharokho ko sajaane waali

Tere khwaabo mein kahi mera guzar hai ke nahi

Poochh kar apni nigaaho se bata de mujhko

Meri raato ke muqaddar mein saher hai ke nahi

Pyaar par bas to nahi hai…

Playful? We have:

Hum aapke khwabon mein, aa aa ke sataaeyenge

Hum aapki aankhon se neenden hi uda de to?


‘Tu abhi tak hain haseen, aur main jawaan

Tujhpe kurbaan meri jaan, meri jaan.’

Dreamy and evocative? That’s this song right here.

‘Pedo ki shaakhon pe soyi soyi chaandni,

tere khayaalon mein khoyi khoyi chaandni,

aur thodi der mein, thak ke laut jaayegi,

raat ye bahaar ki phir kabhi na aayegi

Do ek pal aur hai yeh samaa, sun jaa dil ki dastan.’

Sahir Ludhianvi could be moody, irascible, certainly he was an egotist. But the man was an utter genius. We haven’t seen his like since.

And so this wonderful, dreamy song featuring Dev Anand and the sparkling Geeta Bali, sung beautifully by Hemant Kumar, composed by Burmandada for a Guru Dutt movie, shot on a Goan beach under the palms and the moonlight, is dedicated to that poet of poets, Sahir Ludhianvi.

Ye Raat Ye Chandni…

#11: Yeh Zindagi Usi Ki Hai (Lata Mangeshkar, Anarkali, 1953, Music: C Ramachandra, Lyrics: Rajendra Krishan, Raga: Bhimpalasi)

I’ve waxed eloquent on the last few songs, so I’ll take a breather on this one. Not that it needs much introduction or embellishment. Simply a wonderful, poignant song, sung by the early Lata with her magical voice. The ‘Alvidas’ at the end stay with you…

C Ramachandra’s other wonderful compositions include Jaag-Dard-e-Ishq-Jaag (also from Anarkali), Aadha hai Chandrama (Navrang) and Ae Mere Watan ke Logon.

Raga Bhimpalasi is another raag I am very fond of. ‘Nainon mein badra chaaye’ is another brilliant example in Bhimpalasi.

Ye Zindagi Usi Ki Hai…


PS – Sriram 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.

Sriram’s Debut Novel Rain is out now. You may find out more about the book here.

Sriram’s Top 30 Songs (Contd…)

Over to the rest of the countdown…

20: Dil Dhoondta Hai, Phir Wahi, Fursat ke Raat Din (Bhupinder, Mausam, 1976, Music: Madan Mohan, Lyrics: Gulzar, Raga: Yaman Kalyan)

Madan Mohan’s swansong, and what a way to end! Mausam also had the beautiful Ruke Ruke the Kadam, but Dil Dhoondta Hai is a song for the ages. It has a dreamy quality to it, the tempo and the rhythm feel like the singer is in absolutely no hurry to get anywhere soon, and Bhupinder’s wonderful, unique voice is just perfect for the song. A sense of wistfulness permeates the song, a longing for times gone by, a bittersweet reflection on opportunities taken and opportunities missed.

To achieve all this in a song takes some doing, but Gulzar, Madan Mohan and Bhupinder combine to make it happen.

I still remember the first time I watched Mausam – I must have been about 18 or 19, and I watched it with a much older cousin and his wife (who was also mad about Hindi film music). They’d obviously seen it before, and knew what was coming. I’ll never forget the moment when Sanjeev Kumar searches the streets of Calcutta for Kajri, and Sharmila Tagore in her hooker’s outfit looks down from her window and shouts abuses. Before my jaw had finished dropping, it goes ‘Interval’!!!

Bhupinder is a personal favorite – so many lovely songs, including Ek Akela is Shahr Mein, Karoge Yaad To, Kisi Nazar ko Tera Intezaar, Beeti Na Bitai Raina Huzoor is Kadr…This one’s his best.

Raga Yaman and Raga Kalyan are like a pair of naughty twins, born to create confusion and chaos in the minds of the unwary. Somewhere you find references to Yaman, somewhere to Kalyan, then you discover that they’re both the same, only called by different names (apparently Kalyan was the old name, then it became Yaman under the Mughals). And then there is Yaman-Kalyan, which is apparently almost the same, only not quite, because 1 note in the middle is different. Then there is Shuddha Kalyan, and the only good Lord knows what that is. Anyway, this one is in Yaman-Kalyan. Make of that what you will.

Dil Dhoondhta Hai…


#19: Suhaani Raat Dhal Chuki (Mohammed Rafi, Dulari, 1949, Music: Naushad, Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni, Raga: Pahadi)

This song, Rafisaab’s first really great solo, has a very special place in my heart. The magic in this song is beyond my powers of description, so I won’t try.

In my mind, Rafisaab’s musical brilliance lies in that beautiful Urdu word – Nazakat. The closest English equivalents would be a mix of delicacy, grace, elegance, sensitivity, refinement…In the 50s and 60s, that entire generation of music directors, lyricists and singers combined to produce songs that had that nazakat, and Rafisaab was at the forefront (though this was by no means exclusive to him in that era).

Things were said and left unsaid; the eyelashes dropped, the eyes spoke. The hero didn’t need to be a he-man, all fire and brimstone and bulging biceps and baritone; he could be a gentleman, serenading his lover with words that fell softly like flowers. He could mourn, he could cry, he could wear his heart on his sleeve and still be manly. The heroine could charm, she could play coy, she could seduce and she could blaze fury with her eyes alone, without dropping a stitch of clothing or raising her voice.

With the gentle fading of Rafi went an entire era and its values.  Within the short span of 10-15 years, we had gone from Madan Mohan to Bappi Lahiri. The boatmen of Bengal and the sensuousness of Urdu were now firmly in our rear-window.

My good friend (Nidhi Kumar’s) mother (Sunita Kumar) keeps saying, ‘Lovely music, but I don’t like the lyrics…’. To which, I will gently remind her of that scene from Pyaasa, where Guru Dutt starts singing a nazm, but the audience wants something more cheerful. His immortal response (Sahir’s of course) is , ‘Hum Ghamzadaa hain, kahan se laaye khushi ke geet, laaye khushi ke geet…’ The point being, if I’m presenting a song from the 70s or the 80s (even one that is amongst the greatest of that era), the chances are very high that it is not going to have that grace in the lyrics, in a way that songs from that earlier era had. Gulzarsaab is clearly the exception here – his career began as assistant lyricist in Bandini under SD Burman (he composed Mora Gora Ang Laile), and he is perhaps the last connection we have with that age.

In a way, this song’s lyrics themselves serve as a metaphor for the sentiment I’m trying to express – ‘Suhaani raat dhal chuki, na jane tum kab aaoge, hawa ki rukh badal chuki…’

Rafisaab lived his life as very, very few people live it. Tales of his generosity, his simplicity, the love and affection he inspired in everyone around him abound. The royalty controversy with Lata is suggestive – from a commercial standpoint, she was probably right, and judged in today’s commercially savvy terms, Rafi’s outlook seems quaintly old-fashioned, even naïve. But it was entirely in sync with his views, attitudes and the way he lived his life – and it is one that evokes my respect and admiration.

When Rafisaab died, the people of Bombay gave him a fitting funeral – > 10,000 people carried him to his grave, despite the pouring rain. The Indian Governement declared a 2-day public holiday. My aunt (and she was the Aunt Agatha types) cried for 2 days.

This series is a series on music, specifically Hindi film music. But I cannot write about Mohammed Rafi purely in musical terms, for he was something much, much greater. I present this song simply as a dedication and with thanks to Rafisaheb – a great singer, a symbol of a bygone age and most importantly a great human being.

Suhaani Raat Dhal Chuki…


 #18: Na Tum Hamein Jaano (Hemant Kumar & Suman Kalyanpur, Baat Ek Raat Ki, 1961, Music: SD Burman, Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri, Raga: Yaman)

When I think romantic duet, this is almost the first song that comes to my mind. It has a lovely melody, great lyrics and Dev Anand – Waheeda in a cool, suspense film. That there are 2 versions only adds to the fun – I like them both.

Nobody could hum like Hemantda could. There’s that carry-forward sustain in his voice after every word that’s unique to him. Here you can see it in the ‘Chale aaj do…ooonon, jaane…n kaha….aaan’, where the voice rolls over the words and the beats to fall into the spaces like a gentle, soothing mountain brook.

The list of great Hemantda songs is long – Jaane Who Kaise Log The Jinke, Ya Dil Ki Suno, Tum Pukar Lo, Jaag Dard-e-Ishq Jaag, Bekarar Karke Humein, Chupa Lo Yun Dil Mein, Leheron pe Laher (which by the way is note for note ripped off in the Baazigar song Ye Kaali Kaali Ankhen), Hai Apna Dil to Awara…

Suman Kalyanpur was a wonderful singer whom we really should have heard more of…that whole sad story is too well known to recount here. In songs like ‘Mere Mehboob Na Ja’, the classical ‘Man mohan man mein’, and the popular ‘Aajkal Tere Mere Pyaar ke Charche’ she showed how good she was.

For the record, I have 25 solos and 5 duets in my list. This is the second duet (after #30: Saawan ka Mahina)

Na Tum Humein Jaano…


#17: Ohre Taal Mile Nadi ke Jal mein (Mukesh, Anokhi Raat, 1968, Music: Roshan, Lyrics: Indeevar, Raga: Pilu)

Everybody has a ‘go to’ song for when they are feeling low. This one is mine.

Mukesh, somehow, doesn’t get the acclaim and popularity that, in my opinion, he fully deserves. Everytime I mention Mukesh, people complain that his voice is nasal, or just that there’s too much ‘rona dhona.’ I suppose that’s true to some extent – if you think peppy or uplifting songs, I doubt anyone would think of Mukesh.

My initiation into Hindi film music actually began with Mukesh. The first cassette I bought with my pocket money was a ‘Mukesh sings for Raj Kapoor’ album with the Mera Naam Joker clown on the front cover. Over the next month, I heard and then started singing all the Aag, Awara, Anadi, MNJ, Sangam songs; some really doleful like ‘Sajanwa bairi howe’ and ‘Mujhe Tumse kuch bhi na chahiye’. But there was also the delightful ‘Dil ki nazar se’, ‘Kisi ki mukurahaton’, ‘Zinda hoon is tarah’ and so many others.

Two things stand out for me about Mukesh’s singing – a) the timbre of his voice, that voice quality within a somewhat limited range which was unique and b) the emotion, the expression of sentiment. If you want soulful, look no further than Mukesh gems such as ‘Dil Jalta Hai to Jalne De,’ ‘Chandan sa badan’, ‘O Jaanewale Ho sake to’, ‘Saranga teri Yaad mein’, ‘Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye,’ ‘Dil Tadap Tadap ke keh raha’ or the late ‘Kabhi Kabhi’ and ‘Main pal do pal ka shaayar’.

This song is my go-to song because of the lyrics. I’m not a conventionally religious person, but these words transport me to a somewhat philosophical, contemplative place (though some would say I hardly need a reason to turn contemplative!).

Raga Pilu is quite a popular raga in Hindi films. Allah Megh De Paani De, Kali Ghata Chaaye Mora, Mohe Panghat Pe Nandlal, Kabhi Aar Kabhi Paar, the brilliant Tere Bin Soone, the lovely Chandan ka Palna, Resham ki Dori and many others are composed in Raga Pilu.

Oh and that joker clown cassette? Turns out it wasn’t Mukesh at all – it was some character called ‘Babla’ who was singing Mukesh songs for Raj Kapoor. My cousin (Venkata Natarajan) heard one song, told me that wasn’t Mukesh (well what he actually said was – ‘you’re a dunce, no way that’s Mukesh’), showed me the fine print at the back, I went and got the real thing and never looked back. That’s how I started.

Ohre Taal Mile…

#16: Teri Bindiya Re (Mohammed Rafi / Lata Mangeshkar, Abhimaan, 1973, Music: SD Burman, Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri, Raga: Khamaj)

Abhimaan is another wonderful soundtrack, with gems like ‘Tere Mere Milan Ki ye Raina’, ‘Nadiya Kinare’, ‘Meet na Mila Re Man Ka’ and ‘Loote koi Man ka Nagar’. But this song has always been my favorite.

This is not adolescent passionate love – all sighs and tears and emotions – but mature love on display here. There is pride, understanding, companionship – Jaya and Amitabh complete each other’s sentences, take off where the other left off. In this duet, (I think it was their wedding function), there is no sign yet that the storm clouds are brewing.

The song is based on Raga Khamaj (which I’ve already described under #26: Piya Tose); here again, just like in Piya Tose, Burmandada uses the 7-beat Rupak taal. There is a beautiful rhythm and flow to the song, in consequence.

Teri Bindiya Re…

PS – Sriram 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.

Sriram’s debut novel Rain is out now. You can find the book here.

Sriram’s Top 30 Songs

A dear writer friend, Sriram Subramanian (Facebook), recently ran a countdown of his favorite Bollywood numbers of all times. The list caught on like wild fire, and pulled in music lovers of all ages into a discussion which is nothing short of a crash course in Indian classical and film music. Not only is Sriram’s knowledge of music remarkable and his reasoning empirical, he writes with a palpable emotional connect about these songs which is very endearing and engaging.

These series and write-ups are a real treat for the music lovers. I just had to share it..

Over to Sriram…

All right. Finally got down to doing something I’ve been meaning to do for a very long time; compiling a list, of the top 30 of my personal favorite Hindi Film songs.

I’ve been hearing songs for over 35 years now, first on radio (Binaca Geetmala, Vividh Bharati), Chitrahaar of course…then buying cassettes and CDs…Developing my taste, learning more as the years went by. Sang a bit, learnt a bit of Hindustani classical (myself then more with my son, Ritwik these days)…delved back to understand ragas used in old film songs to gain deeper appreciation. What follows is the result of all that, and doubtless it represents my own preferences and biases, for in the end it is a very personal list. Still, I believe each one of these 30 songs is a classic in its own right, and will remain loved and appreciated decades later.

There are say 20 good A-grade films made each year; close to 70 years post Independence; 5-6 songs on an average per film – so the population is about 8000 songs. Even if only 1 in 10 songs is good, and 1 in 100 is great, we are still looking at 80 truly great songs. So that’s where I started, with a long list of 80. And I drew this list from memory not from Internet searches (reasoning that if a song were truly great, I wouldn’t miss it). Of course, there’s scope for error here – and there may be another 30-40 songs that are great, that I didn’t’ include in my long list.

Then I began the process of elimination, which grew progressively difficult as I went on eliminating. Truly, between 30-40 was seriously heart-breaking, and I would say another day, another mood and those songs would be in, and others may be left out.

Before I begin, a quick look at some of those that I included in my long list, but had to leave out of my final 30:

  1. 3 of the greatest bhajans in Hindi Cinema (Allah Tero Naam, Man Tarpat Hari Darshan ko Aaj, Sooraj ki Garmi se Jalte hue tan ko)
  2. Some of my all time fav Rafi numbers (Mere Mehboob Tujhe, O Duniya ke Rakhwaale, Chaudvin ka Chand ho, Zindagi Bhar nahi Bhoolegi wo Barasat ki Raat)
  3. Ditto for Lata (Ghar aaja Ghir Aaye, Bahon Me chale aao, Mohe Panghat pe nandlal, Raina Beeti Jaye, Aaja Re Pardesi, Thandi Hawayen, Phaili Hui Hai Sapnon ki Bahe, Jab Raat Hai Aisee Matwali)
  4. All of Talat, unfortunately (including Jalte Hain Wiske Liye, Sham e Gham ki Kasam)
  5. Karra Shamshad numbers (Kajra Mohabbat Wala, Reshmi Salwar Kurta Jaali ka)
  6. Kishore favourites (Dil Kya Kare, Chingari Koi, Aa Chal ke Tujhe, Yeh Shaam Mastani, Phoolo Ke Rang se etc.)
  7. Mukesh favorites (Saaranga teri yard me, Jaane Kahan Gaye wo din, Dil Ki Nazar Se and almost all of his work with Raj Kapoor, Kabhi Kabhi, Main Pal to Pal ka Shaayar)
  8. Hemant Kumar favorites (Ya Dil Ki Suno, Tum Pukar Lo, Jaane Woh Kaise Log the jin ke)
  9. Some of Asha’s best work in Umrao Jaan, plus some really peppy duets and solos, esp. with RD Burman.
  10. Pretty much everything after 1980, with very few exceptions (including some really good songs like Har Kisi ko Nahin Milta, Pehla Nasha, and all of AR Rehman’s work). Obviously this reflects my personal biases, but in my view none of them are good enough to replace any song from my personal Top 30.
  11. I didn’t start with KL Saigal / Anil Biswas / Pankaj Mallick – cause those early songs, while brilliant, don’t appeal to many…so I spared junta ‘Dil Jalta Hai to Jalne De’ etc.

 So, over to the COUNTDOWN then… Let’s do 30 through 26, today.

 # 30: Saawan Ka Mahina (Mukesh & Lata, Milan, 1967, Music: Laxmikant Pyarelal, Lyrics: Anand Bakshi, Raga: Pahadi )

There’s an infectious joy in this song about the weather, the initial correction (‘shor nahi baba, sor’), and I just love the beat. Beautiful melody, rendered with perfection by Mukesh and Lata. Raga Pahadi is a favorite raag for all Hindi film music composers. You can see the raga connection to other great songs like ‘Chaudvin ka Chand’, ‘Dil Pukare, Aa re, Aa re, Aa re’, and ‘Rula ke gaya sapna mera.’

Sawan Ka Mahina…

# 29: Ae Dil Mujhe Bata De (Geeta Dutt, Bhai-Bhai, 1956, Music: Madan Mohan, Lyrics: Rajinder Kishan, Raga: ???)

On the face of it, this appears to be just a very good song, not a great one. The song, Madan Mohan’s first hit, is not technically perfect – often I feel the pacing is not uniform – there are parts where the music and Geeta’s words seem to rush along…and yet, and yet…there’s magic that’s created. Geeta Dutt is perhaps the perfect counterpoint to the technical perfection of Lata…despite what appears to be in some places flawed, almost (dare I say it) amateur, the emotion, the ‘bhaav’, the seduction comes through in the end in a way that’s not replicable. I have heard many people do close-to-perfect renditions of Lata classics, never heard anyone manage it with Geeta Dutt. Everytime I hear this song, I start smiling midway through and the smile doesn’t go away for a long time. To me, that’s greatness.

I don’t know the raga for this one, haven’t been able to find it with preliminary searches. If anyone can identify it, thanks!

PS: Shyama and Ashok Kumar is a bonus!

Ae Dil Mujhe Bata De

#28: Hothon se Chhulo Tum (Jagjit Singh, Prem Geet, 1981, Music: Jagjit Singh, Lyrics: Indeevar, Raga: Yaman)

Mellow, lovely lyrics, sung in Jagjit Singh’s honeyed voice…pity Raj Babbar’s polka dot shirt cannot be wiped from memory! As someone mentioned, there are many great songs in Yaman – this is the first on my list.

Hothon se choolo tum…

#27: Dil Hoom Hoom Kare (Bhupen Hazarika, Rudaali, 1993, Music: Bhupen Hazarika, Lyrics: Gulzar, Raga: Bhup (ali) )

This is a fantastic song from a singer I wish I’d heard more from. The earthy richness of the voice, the Assamese folk influence – I remember when I first heard it in the 90s, I went ‘Wow!’. Raga Bhup(ali) is perhaps the simplest raga – it is almost the first raga that beginners learn. Just 6 notes, Sa Re Ga Pa Dha Sa – all shuddha – no komal or tivra swars, no hanky panky with different aaroha and avaroha notes. In my advanced class, my music teacher told us we’d be doing Bhup next, and there was a collective groan from the class, who all thought it was beneath them. Only later did we realise how powerful and subtle a good Bhup can be. This is perhaps the finest. You can see the link with another good Bhup in ‘Chanda hai tu, mere suraj hai tu’ (Aradhana).

For a poor Bhup, which does sound almost childish in its lack of subtlety, look no further than Sayonara, Sayonara (and that’s without factoring in Asha Parekh in a kimono!)

Dil hoom hoom kare..

#26: Piya Tose Naina Laage Re (Lata Mangeshkar, Guide, 1965, Music: SD Burman, Lyrics: Shailendra, Raga: Khamaj)

The first great Lata solo to make an appearance on my list. Lata’s career spans 50 years – I tend to divide into early Lata (1948 – mid-late 50s), mature / peak Lata (late 50s to early-mid 70s), ageing Lata (but still very good) mid 70s – early 80s, and I-wish-you’d-stopped Lata (anything after the mid eighties, though she was still capable of producing the rare gem). This is Lata in the high-noon of her career, when she was as close to perfection as is humanly possible.

SD Burman is my favourite composer. Period. Sheer genius. Almost every song from Guide is a classic. Dada put in 2 songs in Guide, not just using the same raga, but using the exact same notes, one sung by Rafi and the other by Lata (Mohse chhal kiye jay, hai re hai, dekho, saiyan beimaan… and Kya se kya ho gaya, bewafa, tere pyaar mein), yet he treated them so differently that most people don’t realise it till its pointed out. Guide not winning the best music award that year was utterly farcical (Go check which song / movie actually won it!)

Piya tose is an utterly enchanting, sparkling song…in Raga Khamaj. Khamaj has many really great songs – including O Sajna, Barkha Bahaar Aayi, Kuch to Log Kahenge and Tere Mere Milan Ki ye Raina. It is also set in roopak tal (tin tin na, dhin na thin na – 7 notes – 1,2,3…4,5…6,7) which is somewhat unusual for a dance song.

I don’t think I need to add anything about Waheeda in Guide. Enjoy!

Piya tose naina…

Stay tuned, for the rest of the countdown! 🙂


PS – Sriram 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. Sriram’s debut novel Rain – A Survivor’s Tale is out now. You can find more about it here.