There are many cliches in Hindi movies that have thankfully been abandoned - think 'brothers separated at a mela', 'andhi behan, vidhwa maa' (blind sister, widowed mother), 'Maa, main first aaya hoon' ('Mother, I have come first in class' usually said by a hero who looks like he could have a couple of kids in school at the very least), and so on. But along with that, we lost a musical cliche too, a loss I mourn deeply. That of the movies with a piano in a chandelier-hung living room that could easily house a couple of families, with long winding red-carpeted staircases - you spotted that and you knew at once that that was usually good for a couple of melodious songs.
The fifties and sixties were probably the golden age of Hindi music; and there were plenty of songs that boasted the use of the piano - sometimes, as the prelude to the song itself, sometimes providing just the interludes. For the purposes of winnowing through a vast treasury of such songs, I restricted myself to:
a) Songs that were picturised *at* the piano - at least for the major part.
b) One song per composer - and that still gave me a round dozen!
So here, in chronological order:
1. Basant (1942) - Ek duniya basa le
Music Director: Pannalal Ghosh
Artistes: Parul Gosh, Arun Kumar
Picturised on: Mumtaz Shanti, Ulhas
This is one of the first songs* in Hindi films that used the piano as both an accompaniment and an accessory. I have not seen the movie, but my earliest memories of the song are listening to my father play his LP records. In fact, I remembered listening to it, but I had to call my father to ask him which the song was. That led to an interesting conversation that meandered through the bylanes of his memories - finally, he gave me the name of the film, and I had a fine time searching for the song itself on Youtube.
(*For some reason, Blogger would not bring up the video of this song, so I had to link it. It did bring up an unusual one though - Madhubala as a child artiste from the movie. Mumtaz Shanti and Ulhas play her parents.)
2. Babul (1950) Milte hai aankhein dil hua kisi ka
Music Director: Naushad Ali
Artistes: Talat Mahmood, Shamshad Begum
Picturised on: Dilip Kumar and Munawar Sultana
A simple love story that ends in tragedy (as was the norm with most Dilip Kumar movies of the time, I think); Nargis playing a role with grey shades, and wonderful, wonderful music. This comes close to the beginning of the movie, where Ashok (Dilip Kumar playing the newly-arrived postmaster) and Usha ( the daughter of the zamindar) have fallen in love with each other.
There is another beautiful Naushad number, that he composed more than a decade later, which could have made it to this list if it weren't for my self-imposed restriction. Aye husn zara jaag, from Mere Mehboob, sung by Mohammed Rafi and picturised on Rajendra Kumar and Sadhana. Ironically, Rajendra Kumar was originally known as the 'poor man's Dilip Kumar'.
3. Aaram (1951): Ae jaane-e-jigar
Music Director: Anil Biswas
Artiste: Talat Mahmood
Picturised on: Premnath / Madhubala
Composed by the granddaddy of piano songs. It was Anil Biswas who popularised the use of the piano in Hindi films. It was very difficult to choose just one from the oeuvre of this prolific composer, he had so many wonderful songs that begged to be listed. I am sure that had I endeavoured some more, I could have made a list of ten Anil Biswas piano songs. In fact, another song from the same movie almost made it to the list, only it was a Lata solo (picturised on Madhubala) but the artiste at the piano was Premnath. So I had to regretfully abandon it.
4. Anhonee (1952): Main dil hoon ek armaan bhara
Music Director: Roshan
Artiste: Talat Mahmood
Picturised on: Raj Kapoor, Nargis
Directed by KA Abbas, the movie had an interesting premise - that of a rich woman, who, upon rescuing her sister from a bordello brings her home and tells her that everything she owns is also her sister's, and does not realise then that she did not mean to include her fiance; Nargis in a double role; Talat singing for Raj Kapoor - the film was one of Roshan's triumphs, though the sixties were his golden period. It is interesting to see how the song actually breaks in the middle with the piano striking a discordant note before the last verse displays a completely different emotion.
5. Sangdil (1952): Kahan ho kahan mere jeevan sahare
Music Director: Sajjad Hussain
Artiste: Talat Mahmood
Picturised on: Dilip Kumar
A very talented composer, whose arrogance, short-temper, and unwillingness to compromise on any detail cost him many offers; Sajjad Hussein composed for less than twenty films and a hundred songs during his three-decade long career. His tunes were complicated and not at all easy to sing. He is said to have made Lata Mangeshkar cry during the rehearsals of one of his songs, telling her "ये नौशाद मिया के गाने नहीं है; थोड़ी और मेहनत करनी पड़ेगी" ("There are not Naushad's compositions, you will have to try harder.") That could hardly have endeared him to either Lata or Naushad. He had words with Dilip Kumar during the making of Sangdil, after which he never worked with Dilip again. He lost Mughal-e-Azam due to a difference of opinion with K Asif. Yet, those in the know, held him in high regard. In fact, Anil Biswas opined that he was the only original composer in Hindi movies.
6. Kathputli (1957): Manzil wohi hai pyar ki
Music Directors: Shankar-Jaikishen
Artiste: Subir Sen
Picturised on: Balraj Sahni and Vyjayanthimala
A personal favourite by a very under-rated singer. When I first heard this song, I assumed it was Hemant Kumar singing; I wonder if it was because Hemantda influenced many singers who came after him. This was (to me) one of the unexplained scenes in the movie. Is there an attraction between Balraj Sahni and Vyjayanthimala, though the latter is supposed to be in love with Jawahar Kaul? Or is it a one-sided attraction, with Vyjayanthi's Pushpa feeling only admiration for a man who had helped them both in their time of need?
Shankar-Jaikishen have an interesting background - they initially played the tabla and the harmonium for Prithvi theatre and took bit parts in the plays before taking on as assistants to Husnlal Bhagatram. Raj Kapoor gave them their break with Barsaat (1949), after which they never looked back. They were probably the most commercially successful composer duo in Hindi film history. Working with Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri, they formed an unbeatable musical team that gave the RK banner its best music right through the mid-sixties.
I had some qualms choosing Manzil wohi hai pyar ki because when you think of SJ and piano songs, Dost dost na raha from Sangam (1964) is the first song that comes to mind; but the Kathputli song is far more complex composition, and Dost dost na raha was too whiny to suit me. And while this is a personal favourite (it has Shammi, how can it not be?), it didn't quite make the cut because it did become rather repetitive as the song went on. But if I were to choose between this and Sangam, Shammi Kapoor would score over his elder brother - the picturisation (and orchestration) is far better.
7. Maya (1961): Koyi sone ka dilwala
Music Director: Salil Choudhary
Artiste: Mohammed Rafi
Picturised on: Dev Anand
Salilda was a man of many talents - composer, writer, poet, he could play almost any musical instrument and above all, he was a gifted arranger. He was also one of the few composers who did not set the lyrics to music; to him, the music came first. For someone who was inspired by western classical music, Salilda had very few 'piano songs' even though he did use the piano extensively.
Maya had a plethora of songs including, but not limited to, the lovely Lata -Rafi duet Tasveer teri dil mein, Zindagi hai kya sun meri jaan, and Jaa re, ja re ud ja re panchhi. Koyi sone ka dilwala is also one of the Salilda songs that does not have a counterpart in any other language. For an in-depth and well-researched website on Salil Choudhary, please visit Gautam Chaudhury's labour of love.
8. Shagoon (1964): Tum apne ranjh-o-gham
Music Director: Khayyam
Artiste: Jagjit Kaur
Picturised on: Nivedita, Kamaljit and Waheeda Rehman
With lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi and sung beautifully by Jagjit Kaur (Khayyam's wife), Tum apne ramjh-o-gham was not the only melody in this movie which starred Waheeda's real-life husband Kamaljit. Parbaton ke pedon par, Bujha diya hai khud apni haathon were other classics.
It is interesting to note that the chord progression in Tum apne ranjh-o-gham is the same as that in Jaane kya dhoondhti rehti hai from Shola aur Shabnam (thanks to my husband for pointing that out).
9. Waqt (1965): Chehre pe khushi chhaa jaati hai
Music Director: Ravi
Artiste: Asha Bhonsle
Picturised on: Sadhana, Raaj Kumar, Sunil Dutt
In the toss up between this and another lesser known Ravi score for Tower House, this one won hands down. Interesting, there are two versions of the Tower House song, the other a Lata solo, both on the piano. However, this one had Sadhana *and* Sunil Dutt, the former singing of her love for the latter, and waiting for him to come and make her his, so how could I resist? Of course, one knows that the minute a character sings such hopeful songs, the fates are going to laugh. Some cliches do persist.
Ravi made his debut in Hindi films with Vachan (1955). An unassuming man, he stayed far away from the ratrace. He has often credited Hemant Kumar and Devendra Goel for helping to shape his career. And in the eighties, encouraged by director Hariharan, he ventured into the Malayalam film industry where he is known as 'Bombay Ravi'. His noteworthy films include Panchagni, Nakhakshathangal, Vaishali, Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha among others.
10. Teen Deviyan (1965): Khwaab ho tum ya koyi haqeeqat
Music Director: SD Burman
Artiste: Kishore Kumar
Picturised on: Dev Anand, Simi, Kalpana, Nanda
SD had very few piano set pieces that this one comes as a wonderful exception; a young and handsome Dev Anand, and three heroines, each of whom think that he is singing those evocative lyrics (Majrooh Sultanpuri) to her. It was also a film that was ahead of its time, though they did bow down to box-office dictates (and the social mores of the time) by going in for a predictable (and tame) ending.
It is interesting that Dada (as SD was affectionately known) came to Bombay against his will; after a couple of movies and commercial success, Dada was not happy and almost left Mashaal (an Ashok Kumar starrer) incomplete so he could return to Calcutta. Ashok Kumar put his foot down and insisted that Dada remain to complete the movie. He did, and the rest is history. Dada also had a long and fruitful association with Dev Anand, who initially signed him for Baazi.
SD was another composer who bucked the trend of setting words to music. His tunes blended folk music with classical and even western arrangements. I heard that he always gave his producers alternate tunes so they were spoilt for choice.
11. Baharein Phir Bhi Aayegi (1966): Aap ke haseen rukh
Music Director: OP Nayyar
Artiste: Mohammed Rafi
Picturised on: Dharmendra, Tanuja, Mala Sinha
Originally starring Guru Dutt in the lead role, his untimely demise led to the movie being stalled. It languished in the cans for some time, until (it is said) Dharmendra stepped in to help revive the project. He also stepped into the leading man's shoes. An idealistic journalist, he is sacked when he writes about the deplorable conditions in a mine owned by the newspaper's creditors. However, he is soon re-employed when disaster strikes in the mine. The owner (Mala Sinha) also falls in love with him, not knowing that her younger sister and he are romantically involved. And of course, no one knowing what the other feels, Dharmendra sets out to serenade his lady love, and ends up serenading her elder sister also.
It is interesting that this song is quite similar to a song from Khayyam's Shola aur Shabnam. This is also a piano song, and I did consider it, but it lost out to the earlier Khayyam composition.
OP Nayyar is known for being the only composer who never worked with the reigning queen of melody - Lata Mangeshkar. He was also a man who demanded, and commanded, the highest fees ever paid to a music director; earning up to a lakh per movie in the 1950s, an immense sum for those days. He had a long and rewarding association with both Asha Bhonsle and Mohammed Rafi, even having the reputation of having groomed Asha. When they had a bitter fallout, Asha repudiated the association saying that no one music director had 'made' her - they came to her because her voice suited their songs. However that may be, one cannot deny that a majority of her best songs in the fifties came from his baton.
12. Anupama (1966): Dheere dheere machal
Music Director: Hemant Kumar
Artiste: Lata Mangeshkar
Picturised on: Tarun Bose, Surekha
Hemant Kumar was a far better composer than he was a singer, but even with his limited range, he gave us some wonderful songs. But who can forget the scores of Nagin, Bees Saal Baad, Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, or even Khamoshi, where he wielded the baton?
Dheere dheere machal is a far better composition than the lighter "Yeh mard bade, dil-dard bade" from Miss Mary that is another 'piano song'. And besides I had already used it elsewhere.
Dheere dheere machal is song that signifies 'waiting' on two levels - the wife who asks for her heartbeats to quieten is waiting for her husband to come home; and a mother is waiting not only for the birth of their child, but also to share the news with her husband.
Anupama had Tarun Bose in one of the best roles of his career. Even though the titular role belonged to Sharmila Tagore, Bose was amazing in the way he moves from the man who loves his wife beyond words to an alcoholic who can only love his daughter (whom he blames for her mother's death) when he is drunk. The sadness, the despair, the unspoken love - to me, they are all encapsulated in the final scene in the movie, where he hides behind a pillar in the railway station to bid his daughter goodbye.
These then, are my picks for 'piano songs' - I did not venture later than the sixties because the piano had lost its quiet elegance by then. In fact, even this song, while popular, had become louder and somehow, it did not have the same cache as the older songs did.
And in recent times, it seems that the piano has completely disappeared from the homes of the rich in movies. Or maybe it is because the instrument of choice has become the guitar. Whatever the reason, it is indeed a musical loss.
© Anuradha Warrier