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14 September 2011

My Favourites: Songs of Kings and Queens

Fellow-blogger dustedoff passed on a request from one of her readers to do a 'Ten Best Raja-Rani post'. I will admit it - I'm a sucker for the genre. Give me the opulent palaces, the decadent princes, the beautiful princesses, the devious villains (usually the 'Diwan' (administrators), or the 'Senapati' (commander-in-chief of the army), and some political chicanery; throw in some wonderful songs, some paegeantry, some swashbuckling, horse chases, sword fights, fencing, and I'm in heaven. Or somewhere real close. Which should also explain why historical biographies and well-researched, well-written History (Abraham Eraly's works take up much space on my book shelf) are a perennial favourite; and why Georgette Heyer is one of my favourite light fiction authors.

And so, there was a discussion over at dustedoff's site as to what would constitute a Ten Best from this genre. Will it be songs that contain the word 'Raja' and / or 'Rani'? Or songs that have some connection with royalty? How do we classify songs from these films that truly encompass many different genres of songs - and these were valid concerns that dustedoff raised. Her reader, pacifist, came up with an idea that I have actually used as the basis for this post. The songs will be sung by the raja or rani or the shehzaada or shehzaadi.

I went one step further. I would not use songs that were sung to the above mentioned members of royalty. Nor would I use songs that played in the background. One or both the singers had to be of royal blood. By using that as the basis for choosing, I realised that I had automatically cut off all the songs from one of my favourite raja-rani films - Mughal-e-Azam. In a film where Shehzaada Salim barely spoke, where was he going to sing? Similar constraints made me drop all songs from Anarkali. 

Sikander did not have any songs that were lip-synced by either Sikander or Porus - so that was out. I must confess that it would take a wild stretch of imagination to be able to accept Alexander the Great singing. Somehow, I cannot imagine Prithviraj Kapoor doing anything so, so banal as sing! 

So, within all these self-imposed constraints, here is an attempt to do what dustedoff and pacifist were talking about. This is a collection of ten songs, from the category mentioned, and the princes and princesses are historical, legendary, and sometimes merely mythical. I hope I do not disappoint. 

1. Chandrakanta (1956)
Now this is annoying. No, not the film. Chandrakanta is a film I have seen in my salad days, when one watched whatever Doordarshan thought fit to broadcast. And I found it entertaining then. What is infuriating, to say the least, is to find that not one song from the film has been uploaded, not even the beautiful Rafi solo Maine chand aur sitaron se tamanna ki thi, much less the film itself.

This was a lesser-known raja-rani film. With the beautiful Bina Rai as the fiery princess who is on the vengeance trail, and Bharat Bhushan as the commoner she is in love with, and with murder, battle and sudden death, it was an entertaining watch. Just close your eyes when Bharat Bhushan appears; Bina Rai was enough eye candy for both of them. The flm had some wonderful songs penned by Sahir Ludhianvi and composed by the underrated N Dutta, and ran solely, in my opinion, on Bina Rai's star power. 

Beena plays Princess Chandrakanta, whose kingdom is usurped by the wicked Veerjal. Her father is imprisoned, and she herself is forced to dance for the tyrant, who has her father whipped until she agrees. When she tries, and fails to kill him at the end of the dance, he has her father killed anyway. She, however, manages to escape his clutches, swearing revenge for her father's death and her own humiliation. 
As she moves from hiding place to hiding place, she gets some respite from her gruelling life at an ashram far away. There, she meets Kunal (Bharat Bhushan) who makes her forget the drudgery of life for a few blissful months. However, Veerjal's tyranny is increasing day by day, and the princess' subjects are reeling under his rule. Chandrakanta wakes up to the call of duty, and mobilises an army of ordinary people against the dictator. Onward to battle! In this, she succeeds, and is united with Kunal. And of course, the bad man gets his come-uppance.
 2. Samrat Chandragupt (1958)
Nirupa Roy pirouetting. Nirupa Roy flirting. Nirupa Roy dancing. And singing. Nirupa Roy being coquettish. And looking dashed pretty as well. And nary a child to be seen that she can misplace. I nearly thought I'd mistaken the evidence of my own eyes! (And a shout out to bollyviewer who probably won't believe me either!) I first saw this film on Doordarshan; we were so starved for entertainment that I think we would have watched anything. So, Pukar, Samrat Chandragupt, Sikander, Rustom Sohrab were all lapped up eagerly. Nirupa Roy is Princess Helena, daughter of Seleucus Nicator (Ulhas). Chandragupta saves father and daughter from Antigonus and later marries her. (Though historically, he is said to have defeated Nicator in an earlier battle, and the latter, wily strategist that he was, forged the alliance between the mighty emperor and his beautiful daughter with an eye to the future.)

Unfortunately, Samrat Chandragupt is Bharat Bhushan. A sorry choice for the mighty Maurya emperor, eh? And he is said to have befriended and defeated Alexander the Great. Now, my vision of Alexander is our very own 'Sikander' - aka Prithviraj Kapoor. I can hardly imagine Bharat Bhushan's Chandragupta Maurya defeating a fly, let alone the towering Papaji. Sigh. History meet fantasy. However, the film had nice songs courtesy Kalyanji-Anandji, including Chahe paas ho, chahe door ho; Jaa tose nahin boloon; Mujhe dekh chaand sharmaaye; etc.,
And Bharat Bhushan did look sufficiently Royal. It also had plenty of battles to slake my bloodthirstiness.  And they didn't look like cardboard and paste. The film dealt with just enough history to make it palatable, I suppose, because the love affair between Chandragupt and Helena goes through a few song and dance routines - in the middle of fighting off coup attempts (all in a day's work) with the help of the ever efficient Chanakya. 
3. Yahudi (1958)
For those of you who are wondering why Yahudi, Dilip Kumar plays Prince Marcus, crown prince of Rome in this film. (The makers are clever enough not to set in a particular period. He could be the son of any  Roman emperor.) Meena Kumari is Hannah, a Jewish girl by upbringing. She is also Lydia, daughter of Brutus, governor of Rome. 

Marcus has had an accident on one of his campaigns and has been brought to Hannah's father. Falling in love with Hannah, and learning that his host has an undying hatred of Romans, Marcus pretends to be a Jew. When Hannah returns his affections, the duo have a pleasant time until Hannah finds out that Marcus is not who he claims to be. She is heartbroken and accuses Marcus of deceit. Marcus begs her pardon, but tells her that he continues to love her, and will wait for her until she comes to him. She goes off in aggrieved, but cannot resist his call, or the yearnings of her own heart.
Again, a thoroughly enjoyable movie, with some quiet, under-stated acting by the cast (including Sohrab Modi), and quiverful of songs by Shankar-Jaikishen. 

4. Rani Roopmati (1959)
Based on the legends that are still sung in Mandwa,  the movie rendered quite a faithful account of a love story that resonates among the sands and stones of a harsh land, insofar as they stuck to Baz Bahadur and Roopmati. However, they brought in a third angle to the triangle and an intent-on-murder side plot which, while entertaining enough, was definitely not factual. But these are minor quibbles, if at all.  Mandwa's Sultan is on uneasy terms with Mughal Empreror Akbar. His son, though, is a disappointment to him. Wajid Khan (Bharat Bhushan) is not only a lover of peace, he is also more interested in music and the arts than in ruling over the kingdom. On a foray into the neighbouring countryside, he is enchanted by a song; and soon, the singer. She is Rajkumari Roopmati (Nirupa Roy), the princess of Mandhavgarh (There are contradictory stories about her position. Some legends portray her as a peasant girl). The two are in love, but Roopmati knows her parents will not approve. She is a Hindu Kshatriya, he is a Pathan. However, love knows no barriers. She has a condition, though. If he can  bring the Narmada to Mandwa, she will be his for life.
The lovers live in peace amidst much music and poetry and dancing. But alas, their happiness is shortlived. Wajid Khan has ascended the throne of Mandwa as Baz Bahadur after the death of his father. And Akbar still has designs on Mandwa. He sends Adham Khan to lay seige to Mandwa. And Baz Bahadur prepares to meet the might of the Mughal army. While Roopmati has to save herself from Hamida Banu, the daughter of their subedaar.

Parts like Rani Roopmati preparing for battle are, as far as I have read, untrue. She is said to have committed suicide by drinking poison after Baz Bahadur falls in battle. But hey, it's nice to see Nirupa Roy all dressed up to fight.

5. Parasmani (1963) 
Let me warn you at the beginning that this tops my list of unwatchable movies. I did sit through this once, but I will be dashed if I have to do so again - no, not even for the absolutely lovely score by Laxmikant-Pyarelal. I have no idea what gave Mahipal the idea he could act, or who found him appealing on screen. And the same goes for Gitanjali. I have no doubt there are Mahipal and Gitanjali fans out there. But with a fabulous, beautiful, gorgeous Helen, I'm trying to figure out why the he!! she wasn't the heroine! She could dance up a storm, and looked prettier than the heroine and could act! (End rant.)    

And the story is convoluted enough: there is a son lost at sea; a lovely (huh?) princess; a wicked Senapati who will soon get his comeuppance; a rare gem that no one has heard of, a horoscope that will change the lives of many, many people; and so on and so forth. And oh, I forgot - there is also the fact that the producer suddenly decided since colour had come in with a vengeance in Hindi films, the rest of the film should be in colour. It was a bad, bad idea. If Mahipal and Gitanjali were bearable (just about) in Black&White, they were totally unbearable in colour.                                                                                                                 
But the songs. LP's first released picture had a plethora of wonderful, wonderful melodies. Sung with gusto by Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh and Kamal Barot. Songs included, apart from the above, the lovely, lovely Rafi number Roshan tumhi se duniya, and Lata's Mere dil mein halki si, and Ooima ooima yeh kya ho gaya, and the duets: Hansta hua noorani chehra (Lata, Kamal Barot), and Chori chori jo tumse mili

Repeat warning: stick to watching the songs on YouTube. Or go prepared. 

6.  Rustom Sohrab (1963)
Aaah! This was a Prithviraj Kapoor past his prime. But he could still land a knockout punch, and look better than a much-younger, also-past-his-prime PremnathIn a story about strife fomented between father and son, it's the love stories that are interesting - that between Rustom (Prithviraj Kapoor) and Shehzaadi Tehmina (Suraiyya), and that of Sohrab (Premnath) and Shahru (Mumtaz). Tehmina, who falls in love with Rustom, hopes he will come again to Samangan. When he doesn't, she resorts to having his faithful steed stolen. All is fair in love and war. Rustom breaks down walls in his search for his stallion, and the King, Tehmina's father, assures him they will find his horse. He offers him the hospitality of the palace. Tehmina is nothing if not enterprising. Having got Rustom to her kingdom, she now disguises herself as a serving wench and entertains Rustom with a song.
In subsequent visits, she is found out, but makes it clear that she is in love with him. Attagirl, now there's a woman after my own heart! For a detailed review of this film, go here. Sajjad Hussein's music is sublime. There's a wonderful qawwali picturised on Premnath; with all due respect, wasted. I'd much rather watch a young and very pretty Mumtaz than Premnath in jowls and a helmet that looked like a cross between a Viking and a bird of some kind, with a bath towel for a cape.

7. Kohinoor (1960)
Here's prince and princess. Dilip is Prince Dhivendra Pratap Singh Bahadur of Kailash Nagar. Meena Kumari is Princess Chandramukhi of Rajgarh. The two of them have fallen in love with each other's portraits, and meeting in real life doesn't dim the ardour one notch. Though there is trouble in store. The throne of Kailash Nagar is coveted by its Diwan; and the princess of Rajgrah is coveted by the Senapati of Rajgarh. Hmm. Several chases, abductions, much knocking on heads by an over-enthusiastic princess ensues before the couple escape. They seem rather carefree for two people who have just escaped fates worse than death.  But what better way to relieve your stress than to break out into song?
Never the matter. We have the benefit of an OP Nayyar-type tonga composition, only this is Naushad, and the 'tonga' is actually twin horses, clip-clopping in admirable time to the duet. For a review of this film, click here.

8.  Tajmahal (1963)
A full ten years after Pradeep Kumar and Bina Rai got together for Anarkali, they joined hands to play another set of legendary lovers - Prince Khurram, later Emperor Shah Jehan (Pradeep Kumar) and Arjuman Begum, niece of Empress Noor-e-Jehan, later Mumtaz Mahal. Like most historicals, this is also not a hundred per cent accurate, mixing fact, legend and fiction in equal measures. But with Roshan's music and the grandeur of the Mughal kingdom, who is going to complain much? The path to marriage was strewn with obstacles - political intrigue, other marriage alliances, and the ambitions of an Empress. However, love triumphs.

And the lovers spend a blissful 16 years, until Death, a harsher master, intervenes. (Since she died bearing her 14th child (in 16 years!), maybe that had something to do with it? Okay, scratch that out - that takes away the romance.) And then the Emperor  builds a mausoleum for his lovely wife, one that, for generations, has come to symbolise true love. This is the stuff from which romance is woven.
9. Jahanara (1964)
It is interesting that Emperor Shah Jehan, having loved, and knowing what it was to have loved, should be the obstacle to his daughter's happiness. But so it was. Jahan Ara (Mala Sinha), the princess of Hindustan, has known Mirza Yusuf Changezi since her childhood. That playmate has since become dearer to her, and she, to him. Unfortunately, this is not to the Emperor's liking. And so he bans the two from meeting any more. Sigh. Of course, sister Roshanara is also around to do some tattling. And with Mirza Changezi being Bharat Bhushan I wasn't expecting any spine either. I must say that he did not disappoint me. Apart from spouting poetry at the drop of a hat, he didn't seem to have much gumption. 
Jahanara had some wonderful compositions by Madan Mohan, the most popular one being Talat Mahmood's pathos-soaked Phir wohi shaam, wohi gham, wohi tanhayi hai. Other melodies included Talat's Main teri nazar ka suroor hoon, and Teri aankh ke aansoo, Rafi's Kisi ki yaad mein and Lata's Woh chup rahen to.  Read dustedoff's take on this movie.
10. Rajkumar (1964)
How can I not have a song that belonged to that Prince among men? Especially when he happens to be one of my favourite actors? So, here he is, in his glory, in and as 'Rajkumar'. Shammi Kapoor. He is Prince Bhanu Pratap, crown prince of a state the scriptwriter didn't bother to name. He is newly returned from abroad, and his father is waiting to hand over the reins of the kingdom to him. Only, Prince Bhanu seems to be rather a clown. Or insane. Or both. *Warning: Long, convoluted sentence coming up* Caught up in a palace intrigue, he manages to escape, meet up with Rajkumari Sangeeta who is baying for his blood since she thinks he is responsible for murdering her father, and fall in love with her. And she loves him too, but what is love if there aren't any tiffs and making up?
This, my friends, is my not-so-inclusive list of songs from the Raja-Rani category. I was fortunate that this genre typically had wonderful songs; maybe there is something about rajas and ranis that inspire music directors? All I can add is that the songs all fall into the 'romantic songs' category, so that is the common factor.


  1. I haven't seen Chandrakanta or Samrat Chandragupt. The former film sounds very interesting, and I have always liked Bina Rai after seeing her in Anarkali. The change in her face a decade later (Tajmahal) was astounding. Where do you source these films, by the way? It is very difficult to find old films, and these are from the early fifties.

  2. Ha, not my favourite category because they bore me to death :( But lovely songs. Simply lovely! And thanks for warning me off Parasmani - not that I would have picked it up, but I remember liking Hansta hua noorani chehra a lot, and have often been tempted to buy the DVD.

  3. Ha! You don't like Raj Kapoor, you don't like raja-rani films; away with you, woman. What are you doing on this blog? ;)

  4. Yes, Bina Rai was ethereally beautiful for a short span of time. She also died pretty young, didn't she? She was married to Premnath.

    'Source' these films? DD of the late eighties. :) And some I buy when I can find them in India. Rhythm House has quite a decent collection of oldies. Just watch out though; some of them are 'edited' to a fault. (Not Rhythm House's fault. The DVD makers are to blame.)

  5. What a FANTASTIC list, Anu! Thank you so much. Even though I've heard of all of these films, I haven't seen Samrat Chandragupta, Rani Roopmati, or Chandrakanta - but am adding them to my watchlist right now.

    I love the way you're written the post - your humour is so brilliant (that bit about Premnath's helment and cape in "Phir tumhaari yaad aayi" is inspired!! - as is Bharat Bhushan vis-a-vis spine). :-D I wish I'd known what a rotten movie Parasmani was (did you like the SFX? The giant electric mushrooms? The rolling foil sphere? The giant spider that's obviously a man on a huge web of cotton-wrapped rope?), but even the lovely songs will not induce me to watch it again!

    Anyway, here are a couple of suggestions:

    Ik jaan meri aur laakh sitam, from Abe Hayat (Shashikala is a princess):


    And this: :-)


  6. Thanks, Madhu. I'm glad I lived up to your words. :)

    As for the films to watch, just keep in mind that our film makers are not known to be bothered where historical accuracy is concerned. Chandrakanta is a fable, so any (and all) liberties are forgiven. Besides, I have a soft spot for heroines who are fiery wildcats. The other two I watched when I was a kid, so my recollection of events is rather hazy. :)) And all I can remember of Parasmani is that I SWORE not to watch it ever again. It hurt my eyes!

    I meant to link to your posts of Kohinoor, Jahanaara and Abe Hayat. I haven't seen the last, and so I didn't know of this song at all. :( And such a beautiful number at that! Shashikala looked very pretty, didn't she?

    And Shammi! To. Die. For. That's a nice way to start the day (though I think Rajkumar was a better film than Prince, despite its tacky colour and cheap costumes).

  7. Count me in as someone who *loves* this type of movies. I love the costumes and the jewellery - sigh. I wish I'd been born Indian! I haven't seen much of Bharat Bhushan, but I can't say I want to.

  8. No, Bina Rai didn't die young. She was alive and kicking in the 80s and looked after her ailing husband. I can recall an article on her in the 'Illustrated Weekly of India' from late 80s!

  9. Hey, she died in her early fifties. That's young! :)

  10. By the way... somewhat off-topic here, but not totally. Have you seen Halaku, Anu? (Pran played Halaku, Veena played his wife, the Christian Dorcas, and Ajit and Meena Kumari played a pair of torn-apart lovers).

    I watched it last year, and remember having done some (admittedly perfunctory) net searches about Halaku, and coming up with nothing - so I'd assumed he was a figment of some writer's imagination.

    Then the other day, I began reading the historian John Man's biography of Kublai Khan - and it included much information on his brother Hulegu, whose Christian wife (whose wisdom and good sense Hulegu had a lot of respect for), Doquz...


  11. Arre wah! Kya list hai, kya choice hai, kya gaane hai! Waah! Waah!

    Never ever heard of Chandrakanta! But the songs sounds good.
    Chandragupta Maurya couldn't really defeat Alexander, could he? He was one generation afterwards, though there are reports that he once saw Alexander. BTW who plays Chanakya in the film?

    Nirupa Roy in armour, instead of a white sari, must be a sight to behold!

    Two of my own fav raja-rani films, which some people call historicals would be: Sohrab Modi's Sikander and Pukar

    As a child, when I saw Parasmani, I was over the moon. It was very netertaining, but I don't think I would like it now. The same with Thief of Baghdad with Shatrughan Sinha and Sulakshana Pandit!

  12. early fifties is surely young, maybe she just looked old in the foto.
    And for a teenager everything older than 25 looks old! ;-)

  13. I haven't seen the movie, Madhu, but I have come across the songs often enough; there's a very lovely Helen number in the movie. But I have read about him before, so I knew he existed as a real person. I assume the movie had nothing to do with history?

  14. Well, next best thing - you are married to one! Make him buy you the clothes and jewellery. :)

    I agree with you about Bharat Bhushan.

  15. Boooo! I LOVE PARASMANI! Who cares about the story or the lead actors?! It is FULL of crazy!


  16. Too true. :( She aged very quickly, and looked much older than her fifties when she died. But then, she was ailing for quite a while before that - that makes it difficult for anyone to look gorgeous. :)

  17. Thanks, harvey. Your comments always make me smile.

    You are right about Chandragupta being a generation ahead of Alexander; there are written records (Greek and Indian) that he met Alexander once; that he defeated Alexander is just the jingoistic rewriting of history. Chanakya was played by BM Vyas. He did quite a few movies right up unto the nineties.

    I wonder if Parasmani will appeal to kids now? I can see my six year old looking wide-eyed at all the crazy sets, but by the time he is ten, I think he will be as bored with it as anyone else.

    Nirupa Roy did quite a few of these movies, you know, where she was NOT weeping mother? I'm just discovering that facet in recent years. And she was very pretty when she was young.

  18. ps: Chandrakanta is great fun; I don't know if you remember a TV serial of the same name (which was quite bad, by the way).

  19. Oh Thank you Anu for this wonderful list.
    I love all the songs, especially the Rani Roopmati and Samrat Chandragupt ones.
    50s was a very raja rani rich decade, I believe.

    I laughed so much at,
    >Nirupa Roy pirouetting. Nirupa Roy flirting. Nirupa Roy dancing. And singing. Nirupa Roy being coquettish. And looking dashed pretty as well. And nary a child to be seen that she can misplace

    hahahahahahaha!! There are other humourous gems as well.

    I love the songs of Do Dil (a raja film - Biswajit...I know, I know :-D
    Hemant Kumar produced some lovely tunes here.


  20. Heh. That I agree with. :) Have you reveiwed it? Maybe if I'd seen it with you I'd have appreciated it more. As it stands, however, I honestly don't want to think about that movie.

  21. pacifist, I'm glad I met the standards set. Funnily enough, the link you sent doesn't play - it says 'Embedding disabled by request'. But it plays on YouTube perfectly well (the same link). What a beautiful song it is. Thanks a tonne. And as long as it plays in the background, I don't have to watch Biswajeet. ;)

  22. Another 1952 raja-rani song from Raja Harishchandra


  23. Lovely song, pacifist. Husnlal-Bhagatram, no? I haven't seen the the film, but from the clip you sent, I think it would rank with Parasmani in terms of the male lead. :) The heroine was very pretty , though.

  24. No, the movie didn't have anything to do with history. ;-) Not surprising.

  25. Just saw this post - I love all the songs here, and I used to love the raja and rani and Ministers and mean Dewans in my younger days. Of course, I have no idea about Parasmani as a movie, but its songs were absolutely wonderful and I remember listening to the songs in the summer holidays of 8th grade and loving them all. I will definitely keep your warning in mind and stay away from that movie, should I ever happen to lay eyes on it. Btw, where is Rhythm House in India? Is there one in Madras?

  26. Lalitha, yes, please. Parasmani hurts my eyes, especially the coloured part! Talk about garish!

    Rhythm house is in Bombay. In town, actually. No, they don't have any branches. But long back, when Sriram had just begun Landmark in Madras, they used to have a wonderful collection of old Hindi films. Now that it's been sold to the Tatas, I do not know how good they are.

  27. Hi Anuradha! I am Shweta from BBC Worldwide and was interested in the first image of your blog above...It's a painting of a king and queen. Do you hold copy rights for the image? If you do, please contact us on bipin.doshi@bbcwindia.com.

    Thank you.

  28. I was just re-reading the post and saw the name "Abraham Eraly" - he used to be a Prof at MCC - so good to see a familiar name again after all these years. By the way, we bought a CD collection recently and it featured 5 male singers but I was so disappointed that it didn't have any Rafi songs. However, it did have Saigal and his wonderful song, Jab dil hi toot gaya ... from Shah Jahan and we talked about how meaningful the song was and wondered if you had done a post on Saigal. I thought you might have the song here but no dice. So now I have to see if you have done a post on Saigal.

  29. Shweta, thanks for visiting my blog. I'm afraid I cannot claim copyright to the image, only the content. The image is available on the web in two or three different places, so I'm not even sure who holds the copyright and where the original image came from.

  30. Welcome to my blog, Lalitha. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I have not done a post on Saigal. :) I might, one day.

    Abraham Eraly was your professor? You are lucky! I had a history professor who made the subject so dry!


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