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14 September 2016

My Favourites: Zulfein Songs

Greek and Roman cultures prized long hair as a symbol of wealth and power. (And sometimes, hair was quite literally the source of 'power' - viz., Samson.) The Old Testament advocated that 'good' women cover their hair. Hindu scriptures demanded that married women cover their hair when in the presence of men other than those of their household; widows had to shave their hair as well. All this, ostensibly, to ‘protect’ the women from the lascivious gaze of men who, apparently, couldn’t control their libido when faced with the erotic sight of a woman’s hair. All hail patriarchy!

History, mythology and fairy tales are replete with hairy tales. Rapunzel's hair was so long and thick, her foster mother, a witch, used it as a ladder to ascend to the turret where Rapunzel was imprisoned. Medusa, twice punished (raped by Poseidon and cursed by Athena), uses her snake-hair to wreak revenge on anyone who looks at her. Draupadi, dragged to the Kuru court by her long, open hair, refused to tie up her tresses until she had bathed them in Dushashana’s blood. Kannagi, angered by the murder of her husband, untied her hair, and set fire to Madurai in revenge. 

Closer home (and more benignly), my grandmother had thick long hair that touched her knees. So did my mother. The sort of hair that, when braided, was so heavy that it wouldn’t move an inch when they walked. Except the ends. Which swayed, oh so gently. I loved it, and always wanted to grow my hair. When I was finally allowed to do so, my hair swept past my hips, thick and straight and silky – genetics was kind. The only difference was that my grandmother, mother, even my sister had black hair; pitch black hair. Mine? My hair was brown. The colour of nutmeg, except when the sunlight hit it, when it showed reddish undertones. I always wore it in two braids, except when I left it loose in all its glory. It was my one vanity.

Trimming the ends meant much tears – don’t cut off more than a ¼ inch, I would plead, and my brother, who often did the needful, would insist that he was going to chop my tresses mercilessly. Then, when I began working, a momentary madness overtook me – and I got my hair permed. When the madness passed, which was immediately after I exited the salon, I was aghast at the havoc that I had wrought on my hapless hair. I called my husband up from Churchgate station, weeping inconsolably at both length (or lack thereof) and texture. Fortunately for me, my hair forgave me my trespasses. I learnt my lesson, and once the perm grew out, I left my hair in peace.

Until this summer. Over the years, my lack of sleep, increased stress, and long drawn out illnesses have taken their toll on my hair. So, when I was in India, I hauled myself to a salon and asked them to chop it all off. This time, it was the salon attendant who was reluctant to do so. ‘Itna?’ he asked me, holding out a scant 4 inches. I shook my head. ‘Aur.’ Itna?’ He reluctantly held out 6 inches. Impatient, I motioned to somewhere above my shoulder blades. ‘Itna!’ He nearly wept. ‘That’s nearly ten inches. Are you sure?’ Of course I was. Reluctantly, he cut off long swathes of hair, exclaiming every time another lock fell to the floor. I feel so much lighter, but there are times I feel something is missing. 

But. Hindi films knew how to celebrate hair. Especially women's hair, because 'zulfein' seemed to refer only to women's hair. So here are some of my favourite ‘zulf’ songs, songs that are romantic, sensuous, playful... and extremely lovely. 

1. Raat nikhri huyi, zulf bikhri huyi
Hum Hindustani (1960)
Singer: Mukesh
Music: Usha Khanna
Lyrics: K Manohar
Helen, her hair left loose and flowing, looking adorably shy. Joy Mukherjee, romantic (and shirtless), running his fingers through her hair, as he hopes the night will never end. Not quite yet, anyway.  She returns the favour towards the end of the song, lovingly brushing his hair back from his forehead. The picturisation is interesting; there are perhaps only a handful of songs that so evidently exemplify post-coital bliss. Here, the erotic undercurrents are quite strong, and evidence, if evidence is needed, that Helen was capable of so much more than being the vamp. Unfortunately for her, the film was not a huge success, and she was boxed into the role of a dancer. Even though the lyrics are quite banal, Mukesh infuses this song with just the right amount of romance, passion, and promise.   

2. Tu mere saamne hai, teri zulfein hai khuli
Suhagan (1964)
 Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: Madan Mohan
Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri

Here, Hasrat Jaipuri makes a direct connection to a man losing control at the sight of a woman's hair, left loose.  
Tu mere saamne hai, teri zulfein hai khuli, 
Tera aanchal hai dhala, main bhala hosh mein kaise rahoon...
Guru Dutt and Mala Sinha are a married couple in the film, and one expects that a husband would, of course, find his wife attractive. It appears that the sight of her, hair loose and flowing, has aroused his passions, but this unfortunate wife, however, has to find ways to douse her husband's amour  

Nazrana (1961)
Singers: Mukesh, Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Ravi
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan
Here, Raj Kapoor warns Vyjayanthimala against going into the garden with her hair in disarray. He's not worried about losing control at the sight of her tresses. Au contraire, when she asks him why, he explains: Isliye... ke sharma na jaayen phoolon ke saaye...
Vyjayanthimala's carefully braided hair is beautiful enough (and so is she) to cast the flowers into shade. (She's also feisty enough to ask him not to sing for the bees may laugh at him.) A lovely romantic number before everything goes south in a melodrama crafted to drag sorrow from the heights of joy, Nazrana  had some lovely songs, a great cast (including Usha Kiron), and excellent acting. Alas, that could not save the movie from the contrived tragedy of its plot.   

4. Tumhari zulf ke saaye mein
Naunihal (1967)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: Madan Mohan
Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi
Meri awaaz suno is probably the most popular song from this not-so-popular film. It narrated the story of an orphan, a young child who, aching for someone to call his own, is told by the principal who adopted him that that Jawaharlal Nehru is his relative. (Now, why a foster father, an educationist to boot, should make up such a tale is beside the point.) The child spends his time trying to meet the great statesman. Running parallel to that track, however, is the love story of the school teacher, Uma (Indrani Mukherjee) and Rakesh (Sanjeev Kumar). Here, again, her hair seems to be a huge source of attraction. He seems more than happy to turn day into night in the shadows of her hair, for their love inspires him to complete the journey of a lifetime within a moment.  

Mere Sanam 
Singer: Asha Bhosle
Music: OP Nayyar
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
For a change, it is not a man who is complimenting a woman's beautiful hair. No sirree, the woman can do it all by her own self. Especially when it is Mumtaz. A very young Mumtaz, who really doesn't look old enough to be singing such songs. Nevertheless, sing she does, and such a lovely song too, asking Biswajeet to not be scared of the dark it's but the darkness of her silken tresses. So, please, she pleads, follow its fragrance as far as it leads him... this is the classic 'entrapment' song that was such a beloved trope of days gone by. Everything here, including the seduction, is faked in order to cause a misunderstanding between the hero and heroine. 

6. Zulfon ko hata le chehre se
Sawan ki Ghata 
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: OP Nayyar
Lyrics: SH Bihari
Those were the days of the terrible bouffants, and Sharmila, especially, was quite fond of them. (So fond, indeed, that she refused all of Hrishikesh Mukherjee's admonishments to not style her hair that way in Anupama, a fact that she deeply regrets today.) Manoj Kumar doesn't seem to mind singing paeans to that horrible hairstyle, though to give her credit, Sharmila manages to carry it off quite well. He would like her to move her hair off her face; he's sure the sun will be put to shade by her beautiful face, while the night will be shamed as well. Hmm... rather a tall order, is it not? Sharmila doesn't seem to think much of these exhortations, herself. 

Teesri Manzil (1966)  
Singer: Mohammed Rafi, Asha Bhosle
Music: RD Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri

How do I have a song list and not include Shammi Kapoor? From one of Shammi Kapoor's iconic films comes this ode to long-haired beauties. While Helen keeps her hair tightly pinned up, so we really do not know whether she's 'zulfonwali' or not, the supporting dancers all have their hair hanging loose down their back. Of course, the song is addressed to Asha Parekh, who is determined to find 'Rocky' and teach him a lesson. Only, Shammi has learnt of the plot and has taken adequate precautions he's not Rocky, the hotel drummer anymore; his place has been taken by his friend (Salim Khan in a cameo).  Shammi is now 'Anil', the club singer, addressing Asha (who has her hair in a 'bun' as well) as 'beauty with long hair' (I almost wrote 'hairy beauty' instead!).  

8. Chhedo na meri zulfein
Ganga ki Lahren (1964)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar
Music: Chitragupt
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri

Here is a song that is very different from the ones listed above. There's no adoration, there are no deep romantic declarations. He does not want to lose himself in her dark tresses. Instead, there's teasing and laughter and affection. (Of course there is; the man is Kishore Kumar.) He pulls at a loose curl, and she pulls away from him, not in anger, but mildly pleading with him not to do so what will people say? Well, not much, he responds. They will say he's 'mad' (deewana), they'll call her a 'kali ghata' (a rain-bearing cloud – yes, well, it all sounds so much better in Hindi/Urdu). So they go on, with her pleas to him to stop and his teasing responses to her pleas. It is pretty obvious that she more than likes the teasing.  

Preet Na Jaane Reet (1966)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: Kalyanji Anandji
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi   
One more Shammi Kapoor, but how could I resist? This song is not so much about the lady's mane as it is a question about whether she loves him or not. Her hair is pareshaan (as used in the song, it means 'teased', I would think), he says, her eyes are penitent; is that not love? Think before you answer, he warns her, for your eyes will reveal your truth, whatever your lips might say. She seems none too loth to be in his arms, so it's pretty obvious that she is in love with him. Certainly, she neither denies nor admits her love for him, even when he directly asks her whether he is not already residing in her heart. The more he presses for an answer, the more she retreats into shyness, her actions providing him with the answer her lips dare not utter        

10. Ye zulf kaisi hai
Piya ka Ghar (1972)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
In a country where a large percentage of marriages are still 'arranged', it is conceivable that the 'girl' and 'boy' do not see each other until the initial 'vetting' is over. Today, with Skype and Facetime, the prospective bride and groom do get to 'meet' and talk to each other, at least virtually, but there was a time when if you were very lucky, you got to 'meet' each other before the wedding adequately chaperoned, of course. If not, you probably met your bride/groom for the first time at the mandap. All you had until then was a photograph, and many of my peers spend a lot of time gazing lovingly at black and white snaps of their prospective spouses. In Piya ka Ghar, Anil Dhawan and Jaya Bhaduri are in the same situation – their marriage has been fixed, but all they know about each other is what a grainy photograph shows them; her hair, long and thick and lustrous; his eyes, sharp and clear. How would he/she be in real life, this person in the photograph? Anand Bakshi's lyrics capture the mixed emotions of a young man and woman who are told they are going to marry a stranger. Jaya Bhaduri was one of the few heroines who had long lustrous hair in real life.  'Zanjeer jaisi hai' was a perfect description of that thick braid.

Mujrim (1958)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: OP Nayyar
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Finally, a bonus song. This has nothing to do with romance, or passion. And though it is from a Shammi Kapoor film, there's no Shammi either. However, there's Johnny walker, and being Johnny (like Kishore Kumar), the song has to be a comic one. Even though Anil Dhawan described Jaya's braid as shackles, Johnny seems to think of it as a rope that will trap him. Indeed it has, for Johnny is in jail, thanks to a romance. He bemoans the fact that love is blind... 'Pyar tha andha tabhi toh ye banda jail ka hai mehmaan...'  Rafi sings the song with the usual verve he reserved for Johnny Walker, and Majrooh Sultanpuri sneaks in a reference to himself: Ishq ki duniya ajab hai kaha tha Majrooh ne kal / Kuchh na banega chaahe chakale mein ghoome chaahe Tajmahal...

What hairy tales, sorry, songs, can you add to this list?

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