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11 January 2016

My Favourites: 'What's Life?' Songs

'Life's as tedious as a twice-told tale' quoth Shakespeare in King John. 'Life's but a walking shadow', he claimed in Macbeth. Such vexation that he can't even agree with himself, offering multiple definitions for life. But why not? What is life if not contrary, contradictory, vexatious...? 

What is life? It is the sort of philosophical question that leaves people scratching their heads - you can either be extremely philosophical or extremely flippant, depending on your mood of the moment. But Hindi movies excel at posing such existential dilemmas, and offering solutions - take it or leave it. So, one day, when I was searching for songs to file under my 'Word Play' theme, a theme I had neglected completely, I thought - deeply - about the meaning of 'Life ™.' What is the meaning of life? Considering my penchant for Hindi films and songs, I decided to turn to them to resolve my ignorance. And never mind that they cannot make up their mind as to the answer, and offer extremely contradictory opinions as to the meaning of life - after all, 'Life™' means different things to different people. So here they are, some of the 'answers' I found to that deepest of existential angst. 

1. Zindagi hai kya, sun meri jaan
Maya (1961)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: Salil Choudhary
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Well, I didn't have to try very hard to ask this question; it was asked for me, in the song itself. Zindagi hai kya, queries the rather dashing ice cream seller, and then he proceeds to answer the question himself: Pyaar bhara dil, meethi zuban... And while 'pyar' (love) can only be received from the powers above, he has a trick up his sleeve to provide the 'meethi zuban' (sweet tongue) - the wares he is hawking.  Buy his ice cream, and sweetness will drip from their lips, he promises.   
Pyaar tujhe dega 
Woh maalik o pyaare 
Zabaan main teri meethi
Karoon aa yahaan
Of course they will; this is an educated hawker who knows how to pun as well as sell ice creams (but if he continues to just hand the ice creams over, I wonder how he's going to make any money out of it). 

 2. Zindagi khwaab hai
Jaagte Raho (1956)
Singer: Mukesh
Music: Salil Choudhary
Lyrics: Shailendra
Here we have a man who is very hungry (but is willing to share his meagre meal with a stray dog), and I'm sure he would have welcomed the street hawker from the previous song. But as he sits, shaking the paper out (to show his canine friend that there's nothing more to share with him), comes along a happy drunkard who has discovered the meaning of life - Life is but a dream, claims he, and in a dream, what's truth, what are lies? It appears that having solved one riddle, he's just found two more mysteries to solve. But hedonist that he is, it doesn't faze him. 'Sab sach hai!' Everything's the truth in a dream. The song is amusingly cynical, given that our drunk dilettante is offering alcohol to a man dying of thirst. It can not only rouse emotions in stone, he claims, it can even bring a dying man to life.  
Ek pyaali bhar ke maine,
Gham ke maare dil ko di
Zehar ne maara zehar ko,
Murde mein phir jaan aa gayi

3. Zindagi pyar ki do chaar ghadi hoti hai
Anarkali (1953)
Singer: Hemant Kumar
Music: C Ramchandra
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan
Life is not a dream, nor is it sweetness (kindness) of conversation, but that love that the ice cream seller in the first song talked about? The kind of love that comes if the powers above grant us that felicity? Well, that is the what life is, for the two star-crossed lovers in this song. A portent, of course, since for them, life is but a few short hours of loving. 
Taaj ya takht ya daulat ho zamaane bhar ki
Kaun si cheez mohabbat se badi hoti hai?
And these few hours mean much more than a crown and all the riches in the world. Are they aware, these lovers, of what their future holds? How can they not know their love is doomed, when one is the anointed prince of the realm, and the other a lowly court dancer?

Anand (1970)
Singer: Manna Dey
Music: Salil Choudhary
Lyrics: Yogesh
Life is back to being a riddle for a man with a terminal illness who, nevertheless, manages to keep everyone in his life laughing, while he grieves - many things - in private. It amuses him that people run after their dreams, only to realise one day, that their paths have taken them far beyond. 
Kabhi dekho man nahin jage,
Peechhe peechhe sapno ke bhaage
Ek din sapno ka raahi, 
Chala jaaye sapnon ke aage kahaan
It is the song of a man who knows he has but a short time to live, but is determined to live each and every moment of the life that is left to him. His determined cheer is in sharp contrast to the distress of the man who, willy-nilly - becomes his friend, and cannot hide his grief. 

5. Ye zindagi hai yo yo
Aaram (1951)
Singer: Manmohan Krishna
Music: Anil Biswas
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishen
To call this one of my 'favourites' would be a stretch, but it's a pleasant song for all that, and a cheery one. Besides, it has an unusual singer - Manmohan Krishna, who's better known for being a maudlin paternal figure on screen. Here, he's a cheerful, dashing man, who's the friend and roommate of a struggling artist, played by Dev Anand. Now, to him, life is a yo-yo, filled with ups and downs. And since whatever has to happen, will happen, why worry? Just bounce back up like the yo-yo does, and you will be fine! 
Din-raat ik tamasha duniya mein ho raha hai
Jo kuch bhi ho raha hai
Hota rahega pyare
Chal tu bhi aise jaise
Ye chal rahi hai yo-yo

6.  Kaise koyi jeeye zehar hai zindagi
Baadbaan (1954)
Singer: Hemant Kumar
Music: Timir Baran & SK Pal
Lyrics: Indeewar
Life is not love, or sweetness, or a riddle or a dream - it's poison. A hero who falls in love with one woman, and marries her despite her father's opposition, and then is conflicted when he begins to get emotionally involved with a young woman he meets in his village, Baadbaan was a sensitively handled take on relationships.
Baadal hai ya dhuan, aag lagi kahaan
Jalta na ho kahin mera hi aashiyaan
Angaare the, aansoo nahin woh dil ne jo piye

Kaise koi jiye, zehar hai zindagi 

Bin Badal Barsaat (1963)
Singer: Hemant Kumar
Music: Hemant Kumar
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
In stark contrast to the previous definition, comes one where life is beautiful. And why not? They are young, they are in love, and for a change, there's no parental opposition to stand obstacle in their way. (On the contrary, they have a rather sensible paterfamilias.) They have already surmounted the obstacle of an age-old curse, and reincarnated beloveds bent on revenge. Or have they? That's a tale for another day, but for the time being, love has won over revenge, science over superstition, and life is indeed beautiful. 
Chahaten raat kya muhurat hai
Aayiye aapki zaroorat hai
Zindagi kitni khoobsoorat hai

8. Arre zindagi hai khel
Seeta aur Geeta (1972)
Singers: Manna Dey, Asha Bhosle
Music: RD Burman
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi 
'All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players' said the Bard in As You Like It. Our hero and heroine seem to take it one step further. Street performers, for whom the world is a stage, they define life as a game, one where you can either win or lose. Some people can play. They also have their own homespun wisdom to offer, based on their own experience: talk less, work more; proceed carefully... does the audience understand?  
Arre zindagi hai khel,
Koi paas koi fail
Khiladi hai koi
Anadi hai koi   

9. Zindagi hasne gaane ke pal do pal
Zameer (1975)
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Music: Sapan Chakravarty
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
Life is meant for laughter, and song. Even if it's only momentary. It's a song of encouragement, where a fall is not a sign of defeat, it merely shows you're human. It's a song of rebellion, one which asks you to demand your rights, and if you don't get them, to take them by force. 
Jahaan sach na chale wahaan jhooth sahi
Jahaan haq na mile wahaan loot sahi...
Life is not for the faint of heart, and searching for happiness is not a crime, either. 'Sukh doondh le sukh apradh nahin...' (With Sahir penning the lyrics, did you really not expect the whiff of revolution?)  

10. Zindagi ek safar hai suhana
Andaz (1971)
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Music: Shankar-Jaikishen
Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri
Our hero seems to see life as a beautiful journey, one that is exciting because one never knows what the next turn in the road will bring. In its way, it's a carefree philosophy; spend your life in laughter and song, and damn the world. Smile today, for who knows what tomorrow will bring? Rajesh Khanna made a cameo appearance, got the best song, taking the view that death is inevitable, so why be so frightened of death that one forgets to live?
Maut aani hai, aayegi ik din
Jaan jaani hai, jaayegi ik din
Aisi baaton se kya ghabraana
Yahaan kal kya ho kisne jaana 

1971 saw the end of another journey - the more-than-two-decades-old Shankar-Jaikishen partnership, which began with Barsaat (1949). (Though the cracks in their friendship had begun much earlier.) Jaikishen passed away in September that year. It was ironic that this was the last song he recorded. In hindsight, its lines were almost a forewarning:
Zindagi ek safar hai suhana
Yahan kal kya ho kisne jaana...

So. Here endeth this journey. You've read, perhaps heard these lessons before. Now, I ask you, what you think is the meaning of Life?  

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