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11 April 2013

My Favourites: Stage Performances

I'm suffering from withdrawal symptoms. I seem to have wandered off far away from Hindi films and film songs, even though I spent half my nights listening to a playlist of songs over and over and over again, almost obsessively. In that playlist are songs that range from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the melodious to the musically-challenged - they all appeal to me in different ways for different reasons.

And so, I cast about for a theme; I have been accused of being very fastidious about my themes, of being so particular about their definition that my readers are scared to post their choices for fear I will reject them. Hmm... methinks the lad doth protest too much. 

I'm fascinated by the stage. Once mankind moved from being hunter-gatherers, every culture and civilisation has had its own version of the performing arts - Greek and Roman theatre, Commedia dell'arte, Renaissance fare, Restoration spectacular, Sanskrit theatre... the list is endless. 

When film became the norm, the early directors used many familiar elements from theatre - song and dance, drama and melodrama, tragedy and comedy; only the platform changed, the act remained the same. As film progressed beyond the trappings of theatre, though, in Indian cinema at least, we continued to hold on to our songs and dances. Situations were once cleverly crafted to include song; and in reverse, songs were meticulously composed to be part of a theatre-within-a-film. 

So. Today's theme is performances on stage. Much to a certain reader's chagrin, I shall now set down my  parameters for this theme - it has to be on stage; not a fair ground performance, or a nightclub (which has a stage of sorts), or a roadside act. It cannot just be a singer (or singers) standing on stage singing a song. (That took out one of my perennial favourites Mere mehboob tujhe.) I wanted a performance - a dance drama, a dance competition, something that involved those on stage actually moving instead of standing there holding a mike and looking for all the world like stuffed frogs. I didn't want it to be a dream sequence (that took Paanch rupaiyya barah aana out of the running). 

So, with all my restrictions for myself, without much ado, and in no particular order, here are my favourites.
Half-Ticket (1962)
Music: Salil Choudhary
Lyrics: Shailendra
Singers: Kishore Kumar, 

Lata Mangeshkar
This is probably the stage song to end all stage songs. Kishore Kumar, on the run from Pran, who is chasing after him to regain a diamond he placed in the 'lad's' pocket, literally tumbles into a stage show, and begs the dancer (Helen) to help him. Of course, he asks for help in verse. And Helen, quick on the uptake, responds, also in verse, absorbing him into her act.  Watch this for some inspired lunacy that Kishore Kumar brings on stage. Pran joins in, in disguise. Hear it for Lata's mastery of the notes and pitch. Salilda, confident of Lata's ability to soar into the high notes without losing her perfect pitch, made Lata trill in almost-operatic frequency. She sounds like a bird on the high notes,and you have to listen carefully to distinguish where her voice ends and the flute begins. Helen does not miss a step, Lata does not miss a note, and Pran ends up being tied up to a stage prop while Kishore goes along his merry way. 

Samadhi / 1950
Music: C Ramchandra
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishen
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, 
Amirbai Karnataki 
College functions allow Hindi films to insert a song even if there is really no situation to fit it into. In Samadhi, Nalni Jaywant and Kuldeep Kaur perform a flirtatious conversational number, with an appreciative Ashok Kumar in the audience. I like that they have the deeper-voiced Amirbai Karnataki giving playback for Kuldip Kaur, who is the 'male' on stage. Because while Amirbai's voice is definitely female, it still has a touch of bass, which makes it perfect for a female-disguised-as-a-male - that everyone knows is a female-disguised-as-a-male. C Ramchandra is credited with bringing 'western' influences into Hindi film music; while that is not strictly true, he did use a lot of western rhythms in his compositions.

Raagini (1958)
Music: OP Nayyar
Lyrics: Qamar Jalalabadi
Singers: Kishore Kumar, 
Asha Bhosle
This was a song that was tailor made for Kishore Kumar. He got to clown around, being chased by the woman (for a change, the heroine takes the initiative) importuning him to return her love, all the while singing a lovely song that is humorous as well as romantic. Padmini is the revelation here, matching Kishore's comic timing with elan, even as she dances up a classical storm. The song had its stereotypes well in place - with both Kishore and Padmini dressed in the overtly traditional costumes (it was also funny because Kishore was Bengali chokra while Padmini was a Madrasi chokri (even though she was a Keralite by birth, she and her sisters were brought up in erstwhile Madras. I'm pretty sure she would identify strongly as a Madrasi chokri.) It may not be politically correct, but it was pretty funny all the same, and OP Nayyar's composition hit all the right notes, while Qamar Jalalabadi had a blast with the lyrics. Especially when Kishore tells her Sach poochho to mere dil mein pyaar illai-illai (To tell you the truth, there is no love in my heart) and she replies: O Bengali, meraa ho jaa kahti hai Miss Pillai (Please be mine, o Bengali, begs Miss Pillai.) 

Albela (1952)
Music: C Ramchandra
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishen
Singers: Chitalkar, 
Lata Mangeshkar
I love the beats in Shola jo bhadke. It is such an infectious number, and Geeta Bali brings a joyousness to her movements that find its complement in Bhagwan's signature step. As stage entertainers (in the film), it is strange that there are only two stage numbers (out of 12 songs) - this one, and Bholi surat dil ke khote. Lata Mangeshkar was the sole female voice; Mohammed Rafi stepped in for two duets while C Ramchandra's alter ego Chitalkar sang the rest. Inspired and encouraged by Raj Kapoor, Bhagwan decided to write, produce, direct and act in his own film. He had directed a string of low-budget movies before this, but this was his first production. None of the top actresses he approached agreed to act in his film once it was known he was the hero, and in later interviews, he would express his gratitude towards Geeta Bali for agreeing at once, even though she knew she was not the first choice. Far better known for its lovely songs which ranged from 'western' tunes to Indian folk songs, and a mix of Indian and western instruments in its orchestration, Albela was the third highest grosser of the time.

Aag (1948)
Music: Ram Ganguly
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Singers: Mohammed Rafi, Shamshad Begum
I love the picturisation. Starting off with a pot swinging in midair (while a ghatam plays in the background), then moving to various  musical instruments (while they simultaneously play in the background) to the folk tune/dances and even the closeup shot of the graceful movements of a dancer's hands (whoever those hands belonged to do, definitely is a graceful dancer - the movements are fantastic), it is a wonderful stage song. Like Albela, the plot of Aag also hinged on the stage; only here, Raj Kapoor's Kewal is the director, not the performer. Ram Ganguly would not compose music for Raj Kapoor after this; from Barsaat, Shankar-Jaikishen would take over the music for every RK production until Bobby.

6. O yaar zulfonwale
Ek Musafir Ek Hasina (1962)
Music: OP Nayyar

Lyrics: Shewan Rizvi
Singers: Mohammed Rafi
Asha Bhosle 
Now this crosses into the 60s where the stage performances suddenly saw inexplicable costume changes without a pause in the song. However, this is a  lovely song in a film that boasted many wonderful melodies. Taking its chorus from the beginning of an Amir Khusrau Dehlvi couplet (Zabaan-e-yaare-man turki, wa man turki namidaanam) which he wrote in Persian, the song has three stanzas, each one depicting the lead pair as lovers in three different eras. Sadhana looked beautiful (she still can't dance, which makes me wonder how on earth she debuted as one of the background dancers in Barsaat!), Joy is handsome, the movie is half-baked, but do watch the film for the lead pair and the songs. The latter are, without exception, wonderful.

7. Mere piya gaye rangoon
Patanga (1949)
Music: C Ramchandra
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishen
Singers: Chitalkar, 
Shamshad Begum
Ever found yourself missing your beloved? In today's world of communication (and miscommunication), it seems so easy to be in touch 24 hours a day. Not so in the misty past (six decades or so ago would probably count as the misty past to today's wired generation), when a telephone was a luxury and international calls a rarity. Picturised on Gope and Nigar Sultana, Patanga boasted of a wonderful score by C Ramchandra who, as was his wont, also doubled as Chitalkar, the playback singer. Shamshad joins him in this song on stage, as two lovers bemoan their sadness at being apart, one in Rangoon, Burma, and the other in Dehradun, India. Rajinder Krishen upped its comic element with the  lyrics as each one explains just what their condition is in their beloved's absence. Examples verge from how he is celibate, to how he lives on whatever he gets, whether crumbs and leftovers (kha lete hai jo mil jaaye rookhi-sookhi baasi), how he's even forgotten how to wear trousers. While she explains that she's lost her appetite and wasted away for love of him. 

8. Piya tose naina laage re
Guide (1965)
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Shailendra
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
How can I have a post on stage performances and not include Waheeda Rehman? One of the finest actresses in Hindi cinema, and certainly one of its most graceful dancers, Guide was as much an ode to her beauty and prowess as a dancer as it was to Dev Anand's trip as the eponymous Raju Guide. This was a song where lyrics, music, vocals, and picturisation melded together to form a classic. I have always considered Vijay Anand one of the finest directors of song picturisation - he had a definite vision of how to place the song and where. In this song, which is actually a series of stage performances by Rosie, a dancer, the costume changes (a Maharashtrian navvari, a tribal sari, the ghagra choli, etc) not only made sense, but was made believable by the way the shots were edited.

9. Andaz mera mastana
Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi (1960)
Music: Shankar-Jaikishen
Lyrics: Shailendra
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Picturised as a fundraiser for a hospital, the hospital staff puts on a stage show - Omar Khayyam. The premise is that the poet, in search of inspiration, finds his rubaai flitting across his mind. As he tries to capture those niggling thoughts and write them down, they take on a life of their own, and manifest themselves in the female form. Raj Kumar, a doctor, takes on the role of the poet, while Meena Kumari and her friends, all nurses, are both his muses and the culmination of their inspiration. Raj Kumar's new bride is in the audience, and she is an unwary witness to the performers' deeper feelings finding an outlet.

10. Daiyya yeh main kahan aa phansi
Caravan (1971)
Music: RD Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Singer: Asha Bhosle 
A song that beats any Kishore Kumar performance for its sheer zaniness, Asha Parekh channels her inner comic to put on a 'dance' that is half lunacy and half magic. Watch the audience reaction when they first see a woman on stage dressed in an odd assortment of clothes, including a tasselled lampshade (that was inspired cruelty on Aruna Irani's (character's) part). It is definitely a downmarket audience, the 'stage' is a barn, and a brood of hens inexplicably appear on stage. A timid, and frankly nervous Asha begins by asking Daiyaan yeh main kahan aa phansi (What trouble have I landed in?), and is joined by Jeetendra doing calisthenics, Junior Mehmood clowning around, and the entourage of dancers as she pulls an egg out of a man's hat, manages not to step on the hens running madly around the stage, swings across the audience on a pillow tied to the rafters by a rope (don't ask!), and in short, saves the day, even as there is chaos all around. RD composed a crazy tune, one that Asha states was the most difficult song of her career. Listen to it carefully, and it is crazy - as crazy as the picturisation. And the other Asha was a really fine dancer. 

These are some of my favourites. What are yours?


  1. Madhulika Liddle11 April 2013 at 01:16

    Oh, Anu. Anu. :-) You have just made my day. What a totally delightful post! The only song there that I hadn't heard before was Main Baangaali chhokra - which turned out to be every bit as good as you made it sound. When I began reading, I thought, "I must put in Daiyya yeh main kahaan aa phansi" - but what made me think you wouldn't have added it? Loved that one, and so many more - the ones from Ek Musaafir Ek Haseena, Albela, Samadhi, Guide and Half-Ticket in particular. All among my absolute favourites.

    Here's one which I recently came across, in Shrimatiji. A cute one, and totally nutty - Shyama, who's trying to get a job as a theatre artiste, has realised she's bitten off more than she can chew. Therefore Main na karoon teri naukri:


    And another nutty one, Kajra mohabbatwala:


  2. Madhulika Liddle11 April 2013 at 01:18

    "Taking its chorus from the beginning of an Amir Khusrau Dehlvi couplet (Zabaan-e-yaare-man turki, wa man turki namidaanam) which, ironically, he wrote in Persian"

    Why 'ironically'? Just curious.

  3. Great theme!
    And good choices!
    Particularly love woh ik nigaah kya mili, main bangali chokra, mera piya gaye rangoon and daiyaan main yeh kahaan aa phasi!
    The first song that came to my mind after reading your post is kajra mohabbatwala, but Madhu has alread ymentioned that.
    Next in my memory comes the soulful laaga chunari me daag. My eternal favourite, I wish it wasn't supposed to be a comic song.

    Then I would include all nautanki songs from Teesri Kasam!! Wonderful compositions there!

    A song which I recently discovered: aap se miliye from Pyar Ka Mausam, which is fun but more than that an innovative music by Pancham with rhythm breaks in the song.

    Isn't kath likh de saanwariya ke naam babu also a stage song?

  4. Thank you, Madhu! :)
    I'd forgotten about Kajra muhobathwala completely. In fact, I didn't even remember it was a stage song. Just watched it and realised that Biswajeet made a very convincing woman, including the jhatak mataks, and that Babita couldn't pull off a convincing male at all. (grin)

    I had never seen the song from Shrimatiji - thank you so much; it was such a delightful number. But is it a stage song? I couldn't make out from the video clip.

  5. *head to desk* Sorry. That shouldn't have be ironic at all. :( I don't quite know what I was thinking of when I wrote that, but I do remember it was something along the lines of writing about the Turkish language in Persian. It is only when I read your query that I realised that actually, it makes perfect sense for a Persian not to understand Turkish! *goes off to remove 'ironically'*

  6. Thank you, Harvey. I didn't put inLaaga chunri mein daag because Raj Kapoor is just sitting there like a duck. I know there is a dancer, but somehow it didn't seem to fit in. I'm glad you added it in the comments, though, because it is one of my favourite Manna Dey numbers.

    I was going to addAa aa bhi jaa from Teesri Kasam, but it was such a poignant song and I left it out in favour of Piya tose naina laage re, so I'm doubly glad you put in all the nautanki numbers from that film. What beautiful songs.

    I don't remember the song from Pyar ka Mausam at all. Quite elaborate stage sets, no? :) Shashi looks dishy. (As always!)

    Aaye Din Bahaar Ke - Asha Parekh was never one of my favourite actresses, but boy, she could really dance!

  7. contd.
    from 'Rangoli'

    from 'Junglee'

    from 'Dharam Karam' (this 'RK' film, only seen the first half of it. is it good? bad? or underrated? must be the least talked about of the lot)

    from 'The Burning Train'

    some recent ones
    from 'Damini'

    of 'modern' stage songs I cannot recall anything beyond the MANY songs of a certain Madhuri Dixit.(I DON'T like many of her now 'iconic' songs , infact I probably dislike almost all her 'best' dances of the early 90s,)
    One song I do like
    from 'Saajan'

    and this one from 'Aaja Nachle'

  8. Thanks for the appreciation, Chris. :) I'm so glad everyone seems to have enjoyed this theme.
    Aah, a Shammi Kapoor stage song! Thank you! I'd completely forgotten about this one.

  9. Dharam Karam was a decent film;not great, but watchable. Young RK is not half the director his father was, but the plot had a good idea - the clash of generations, with the middle generation being hammered by both parents and children. The song, however, wouldn't make my list, since RK is only singing here. It is not really a stage performance.

    For some reason, I'd thought of Ayyayya karoon main kya as a nightclub number, not a stage performance. I wonder where my brains have gone a-begging! Thanks for adding that to the comments.

    The 80s weren't really a good time for songs (or films) were they? The song from The Burning Train is quite horrible, in my opinion. :) Though one can always watch Hema, Parveen, Dharam and VK any time, I guess.

    Damini - the film was good, but for a trained dancer, Meenakshi Seshadri was awful at the regulation filmi dances. However, there is a thandav in this film that was fantastic.

    I must admit to preferring Aaja Nachle to Tu shaayar hai - the early 90s was the era of bad hair, bad fashion and bad dances. I agree totally that many of her iconic dances leave me cold. Though she is a fantastic dancer. Amazingly graceful and very, very talented.
    Thanks for the links, Chris.

  10. Madhulika Liddle12 April 2013 at 01:53

    Oh, yes. The Shrimatiji song does happen onstage.

    Here's another funny one, this time from Sagaai. Much happens. :-)


    And how could I forget this one? One of my favourite 'cocking-a-snook' songs, Aaj Himalaya ki choti se:


  11. Madhulika Liddle12 April 2013 at 01:56


    Someone, though, did leap to your defence - AKM e-mailed me with reasons for why incongruity = irony. ;-) - going on the assumption that the placement of that couplet in a Hindi song was ironic, not that Khusrau had written it in Persian.

  12. Anu,

    Wonderful theme and excellent description of songs. Serial 2,3,4,7 and 8 are my great favorites. Now I submit the following songs with some trepidation and prayer that they meet your criteria:

    1. 'Ae mohabbat unse milne ka bahana ban gaya' by Mohd Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar from 'Bazaar' (1949), music Shyam Sundar

    The only complaint could be that Shyam and Nigar Sultana are rather laid back on the stage, but that is because of the slow pace of the song. But it ranks at the top of my list of Rafi-Lata duets.


    2. 'Nacho nacho pyare man ke mor' by Snehprabha Pradhan from 'Punarmilan' (1940), music Ramchandra Pal

    You have mentioned about graceful hand movements. Going back further into the vintage era, I have not seen more graceful movements than this stage dance by Snehprabha Pradhan. Music is, of course, out of the world. I believe Ramchandra Pal was a nephew of RC Boral, and in many films of the Bombay Talkies he gave music jointly with Saraswati Devi.


  13. Salilda, Lata ...nuff said


  14. Another one from another of my fav MD's, this is loosely set in Bhairavi ..and it has excellent orchestration music was pretty much adjunct to the drama . The tune is all Madan Mohan I'm wondering if the initial orchestration was his..


  15. Shyama was so beautiful, wasn't she?

    The song from Sagaai is delightful! And another head-to-desk moment - how could I have forgotten Door hato ae duniyawalon. It is such an iconic song! Thanks for those links, Madhu.

  16. See, now if my half-brain cell was working, then I could have used that as my defence (bless AKM!). :( But the truth is, I had no clue what I was writing. And it was so patently wrong.

  17. Thanks, SoY. (I was expecting a few stinging responses from you! *grin*)

    The bicycle seems to be more of a prop, no? :) You are right, they don't seem to be doing anything much on stage. But the song is a beauty.

    I hadn't seen the clip from Punar Milan before. Thanks for the clip.

  18. Like. :) Asha was a wonderful dancer, and this song/dance combination was really good. Funnily enough, while I have seen the film and have heard its other songs multiple times, I had completely forgotten about this one. Thanks for the link.

  19. I love that they had a stage large enough they could show the deer running away from Dushyant, while Shakuntala is busy fleeing from the bee on another part. :) This is the first time I have heard this song. You're right about the music.

  20. A delightful post and a subject after my heart. Regarding Asha Parekh's dance and song number from Caravan, here is a bit of info about that. In an interview on televison Asha Parekh had said that she had a tough time shooting for this song. She said"Mujhe sach mooch lag raha tha ke main kahan aa phansi". She felt trapped because she is a trained dancer and she was instructed to dance like someone who has no clue how to dance and that she said was quite tough for her, for dance came naturally to her. In this song from Maeri Soorat Teri Aankhen you can see how much she is enjoying doing the Kathak


    and she is really good in raat ka samaa, my favourite song


  21. I am thrilled I have passed! Emboldened, let me present the ultimate stage song. (I am given to using 'superlatives'). The dance by Mumtaz Ali is fabulous, supposed to be the first person to introduce male dancing in Hindi films.

    'Main to Dilli se dulhan aya re' by Arun Kumar and Rahmat Bano from 'Jhoola' (1941), music Saraswati Devi


  22. “Tu Na Aaya Hone Lagi Shaam Re – Aasha (1957)”
    - http://youtu.be/s3fdcj42_0Y
    - is an interesting stage show song–
    Vyajayntimala does perform solo dances, but there is prompter accompanying her on every (revolving) stage.
    In the last part @3.40, one can see Asha Parekh performing a miniature cameo part too.

  23. What moddom, you have a bee in your bonnet about bees being on your stage. But be that as it may that bee was enough for Dushyanta to get jealous because it had designs on his future bibi. Ryder has a funny translation..

    Eager bee, you lightly skim
    O’er the eyelid’s trembling rim
    Toward the cheek a-quiver.
    Gently buzzing round her cheek,
    Whispering in her ear, you seek
    Secrets to deliver.
    While her hands that way and this
    Strike at you, you steal a kiss,

  24. :) You mean I made things easy? *grin*

  25. Thank you, Shilpi. Yes, Asha was one of the few non-south Indian actresses of the time who was a trained dancer. As is usual with a heroine who can really dance, film-makers ensured there was at least one dance number with her in their films. Raat ka sama is one of my favourite songs. Thank you so much for the link. (And for that bit of trivia about her finding it difficult to perform Daiyaan main yeh kahaan aa phansi.)

  26. Ashokji, lovely lovely performance! Thank you so much for this. I think Aasha was Asha Parekh's debut on screen before she became a full-fledged heroine in her own right with Dil Deke Dekho.

  27. It was funny to see the stage Dushyanta strike at the bee with his sword! :)

    And Ryder seems to be taking the bee's side. No?

  28. Yes, I noticed the hyperbole a few times. :) This song is also 'new' to me, and is a very, very pleasant number.

  29. have u heard and seen kishore kumars 'suniye suniye aajkal ki ladkiyon ka programme'. its hilarious and im sure it definitely counts.

  30. Well, I don't like Mr R; Gayatri Joshi cannot dance for toffee, though she is a competent enough actress, and I hate the song. But yes, it does pass muster as a stage performance.

  31. That is from Ladka Ladki, is it not? Yes, I've heard it. It is a hilarious song. I think I could have made a 10-song 'Kishore Kumar Stage Performances' post. :) Thanks for the link.

  32. Madhulika Liddle14 April 2013 at 01:36

    Have you seen this one, Anu? Richard posted it on his blog, in celebration of Shamshad Begum's 94th birthday, today. Good stage song, and picturised on Gope's wife, Latika.


  33. I noticed Richard had posted a new post on his blog, but no, I hadn't yet visited. Interesting song, actually... I should go and take a look now. Thanks for the link, Madhu.

  34. "I'm suffering from withdrawal symptoms."

    You too? :( I've been watching so many Hollywood films lately, so many, and a bunch of British ones too. (Quick summary: I am head-over-heels in love with Robert Donat, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, and yes, yes, Laurence Olivier too.) Seriously, how does that happen? :( I haven't seen a Dev film in months!

    And by the way, your header killed me. Oh my God Raj Kapoor. <3 But I love this post! I'd never have thought of it. "Aankh Seedhi Lage" is one of my favorite songs, and I remember watching Half Ticket and trying not to laugh my head off 'cause my grandma was sleeping.

  35. Ha! I wondered where you were. :) Just wait until my next post to see what you missed!

  36. I can't wait to see your next post, Anu!

  37. I submit "
    Aan Milo Balma Taron Ki Chaon Main : Shamshad Begum : Md Mohammad Shafi - Hulchul (1951) - http://youtu.be/aqkkR7OpAZ4

  38. Lovely selection, Ashokji. I liked the expressions on Dilip Kumar's and Nargis' faces as much as the song.

  39. Very true. Dilip Kumar and Nargis seem to like each other's company, in the ambiance in which they are as well and as much as the ambiance and the song.

  40. Yes, I liked the way he pushes her away with his palm against her face, and how she grins at him in response. :) So natural.


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