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14 August 2021

Dance Songs in Old Hindi Cinema

The Waltz (Camille Claudel)
Source: Wikipedia
I have been in a bit of a bind lately, as is evidenced by the neglect of my blog. So, when Arjun (formerly known around these parts as Young A) offered to write a post for me, I quickly – and gratefully accepted.

Arjun has always been interested in dance and music even as a wee tot – his brother still shudders at the memory of one particularly memorable ride. As a baby, Arjun hated being strapped into his car seat and would squall from the beginning of the journey to journey’s end, stopping to draw breath only when the car paused at traffic lights. The only thing that quietened him then was to play Baar baar dekho. That evening, we played that song on a loop for the 80-mile round trip to my older son's football practice and back. As I pulled into the garage at around 9.30p.m., my then 12.year-old looked piteously at me and said, “I used to love that song, but could you please break that CD?”

A few months later, when Arjun was a year and a half old, he loved to dance to old Hindi songs. He would drape a thorthu (a thin white towel we use to dry our hair) on his head; it was his ‘dupatta’. By now, he had shifted his allegiance to Pyar kiya to darna kya. A friend who called to speak to me remarked humorously that Arjun was listening to very ‘age-inappropriate songs’.

That love for music and dance and performance art never palled – as he grew older, ballet and Irish step dance, vocal training and choir – and now, theatre – became part of his life. Arjun is an excellent singer and dancer, with very eclectic tastes (‘chaotic’, he says) in music – listening to everything from western classical music to old Hindi songs, jazz and blues and contemporary pop, and everything else in between. These days, he alternates between listening to Salma Agha and her sister’s cover versions of ABBA, and exploring Usha Uthup’s oeuvre amidst Japanese, Brazilian and French music. Both our sons have introduced their father and me to various new voices/bands.

Arjun devours Greta’s, Madhu’s and Richard’s blogs, seeking out the stories of the musicians and background dancers with whom he’s fascinated. This post is a confluence of all these interests.

Over to Arjun.
Jaan pehchaan ho
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: Shankar-Jaikishan

Lyrics: Shailendra
This is probably one of the most iconic Bollywood song and dance numbers, featuring Laxmi Chhaya as the lead dancer. Herman Benjamin (one of the choreographers for the song; the other was Surya Kumar) also does his own little performance as the singer, shaking, jiving and twisting behind his microphone as the band blasts a combination of filmi, jazz, rock and early psychedelia. Gumnaam, as well as Arzoo introduced the Shake (a popular dance from England) to India, cementing the dance’s popularity. It continued to be choreographed in future films in the latter half of the 60s.

Baar baar dekho
China Town (1962)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: Ravi
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Though China Town was released in the 1960s, the music and dance style of the film is more reminiscent of the previous decade, showing the transition of music, as the dancers sway to the rhythmic beat of the drums, double bass and hand claps. They quickly shift back and forth into a Cha Cha as the music changes. Shammi Kapoor, flaunting the most hideous moustache known to mankind, leads them on.

[Poor Shammi! But I have to admit the moustachioed look was a wreck. His hairstyle was worse. Who gave him those tight curls?]
Hai hai hai yeh nigahein
Paying Guest (1957)
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
In the 1930s and 40s, various Caribbean, Latin and Black dances became standard in the dance halls, brought to Europe and America by colonials, immigrants and soldiers. This song starts off in a slow waltz before speeding up into a fast-paced mambo as a drunken/drugged Dev Anand gives into the urge to get up and join the smiling couples who twirl around him. As he sings (and flirts with a bevy of women), a very ticked off Shashikala follows him around.

Mera naam Chin Chin Choo
Howrah Bridge (1958) 
Singer: Geeta Dutt
Music: OP Nayyar
Lyrics: Qamar Jalalabadi

Another Swing number, this time featuring the marvellous Helen. Howrah Bridge featured many Indo-Western jazz songs. Surya Kumar, appearing in the song, choreographed the number in the style of ‘Lindy Hop’, a popular African-American dance that became popular in ballrooms in the 1940s.

Oh meri baby doll
Ek Phool Char Kante (1960) 
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: Shankar-Jaikishan
Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri
This song would simply not have worked if it weren’t for the dozens of dancers just doing their own moves. They add the “just get up and dance” vibe the song requires to be effective. Sunil Dutt, rocking a white blazer, jumps onto the podium shocking Johnny Walker though Waheeda Rehman stands up and joins in the fun. When the last verse ends and the tempo increases, so does the dancers’ steps. The men do what seems to be a very odd variation of the Charleston while the women, in their circle skirts, spin across the screen. 

(Oh, Iqbal Singh features in the dance! He sang Beautiful Baby of Bombay or was it Beautiful Lady of Broadway? Or was it the Bashful Lady of B – okay, moving on.)
Tin kanastar peet peet kar
Love Marriage (1959)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: Shankar-Jaikishan
Lyrics: Shailendra
I just came here for the Swing, okay? And to see Edwina! I will confess the song irritates me no end with the whole “West bad, India good” black and white dichotomy that Dev Anand’s character preaches when the song moves into a typical Indian/filmi rhythm. 

If you are so into the whole “Western dancing bad! India good!” Dev, why are you wearing a suit? And why are you in a Jazz Club in the first place? You could have just stayed home.
I’d like to believe that all the dancers were just pretending to nod, clap and dance to what he was saying just to get him and Mala Sinha to leave quietly, with their smug superiority. “Smile and dance boys, smile and dance and maybe they’ll just go away.”

Please note the obviously fake ‘playing’ the band does. Make it convincing, please. Also stop lifting the bass off the ground and slamming it back; that is not how you handle musical instruments. (My orchestra friends will be hunting you down!
[I wondered where the Bharatanatyam dancer sprang from, myself. Did she come on an off chance that some stuffed shirt like Dev would come by to give moral lessons? Perhaps she’s a Boy Scout, whose motto is ‘Be Prepared?” Or does she go out dressed like that all the time? Enquiring minds want to know.]

Tiki riki tiki riki ta kuri
Woh Kaun Thi (1964) 
Singers: Asha Bhosle, Mohammed Rafi
Music: Madan Mohan
Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan
My mother’s first reaction to this song was “Oh my God, Manoj Kumar can smile?!” A shocking sight to see indeed. Even someone like Manoj, with that weird pouty expression he carried through many movies in the 1960s, couldn't resist breaking into a grin with everyone around him doing the Twist. Not much else to say about the song. It’s just good fun!  And... Edwina!

The Twist was actually written about in 1959 by Hank Ballard. It was picked up by the host of a local dance show in Baltimore named Buddy Deane who recommended it to Dick Clark, the host of American Bandstand, another teen dance and music show. Dick Clark was wary of Ballard’s reputation as many of his songs were quite raunchy. He held auditions and selected Earnest Evans, now known as Chubby Checker, who performed the song on the show in June 1960. However, the actual Twist as we know it today did not become popular all over the world until around 1961-1962 when it became the go-to dance in clubs from Paris to Cairo to Bombay, Singapore, and Hong Kong. It was a huge deal!

Chhoti si mulaqaat pyar ban gayi
Chhoti Si Mulaqaat (1967)
Singers: Mohammed Rafi, Asha Bhosle
Music: Shankar-Jaikishan
Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri
Another Twist-worthy song! I love Vyjayanthimala in this and am amazed at how she manages to move while wearing such a tightly-draped sari. While many of the extras remain stationary, the others join in with what seems to be a combination of the Twist, Shake and Swing dancing, and what might be the Cha Cha and the Shuffle.
Towards the end, the background becomes blurry and only focuses on Vyjanthimala and Uttam Kumar staring at each other before they find themselves in a dark room with coloured sequins. Then, they begin to Shake and suddenly come to from the dream world. Movie musical experts will realise this is an ode to (or a copy of) a particular scene the 1961 film adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical “West Side Story” where during a wild dance at the gym, Tony (Richard Beymer) and Maria (Natalie Wood) see each other across a crowded dance floor. They move towards each other before starting a soft delicate Cha Cha, never breaking eye contact as the room slowly whirls back to reality.

Mud mud ke na dekh
Shree 420 (1955)
Singers: Asha Bhosle, Manna Dey
Music: Shankar-Jaikishan
Lyrics: Shailendra
This song features Nadira (born Florence Ezekiel) in what is probably her best-known role as Maya. She begins the dance in an almost waltz and ballet style while dozens of female extras (oh, look young Sadhana!) all clad in white tulle dresses with dark petticoats swirl around like powder puffs. 
[I must confess I have never spotted Sadhana in this song.]
When Raj Kapoor joins in with a trumpet solo, the extras change into Caribbean-style ruffled outfits and he joins in a Rumba style step as Nadira enters in a long halter gown and white veiled headdress that gives her almost the look of a serpent. (Ooh, symbolism!) 
While the dancers are present, they do form an integral part of the song. 
Unlike many of the other songs listed here which have a more casual feeling, Mud mud ke na dekh is a very stylized cabaret number like Jaan pehchaan ho. I’d also like to point out that the refrain of Mud mud ke na dekh has numerous words on the off-beat in the beginning that do not entirely fit with the waltz rhythm.

Aaja aaja main hoon pyar tera
Teesri Manzil (1966)
Singers: Mohammed Rafi, Asha Bhosle
Music: RD Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
The last song on this list brings us back to the swinging 60s and the Shake! The song opens with its iconic guitar riff as a bunch of go-go dancers move uniformly. One pulls Shammi Kapoor onto the dance floor.

Like some of the other songs on this list, the tune jumps from 60s Rock n’ Roll to a Cha Cha Cha and back. Eventually Asha Parekh grabs Shammi’s Robin Hood hat and joins in the dancing.
In true musical fashion, the dancers smoothly incorporate Asha’s dancing into their own. The moves are not jarring like another song in this list (*ahem* Tin kanastar peet peet kar). The vocal jousting between Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhosle, and the music, culminate in pandemonium – the song is so infectious that even the diners in the hotel ballroom get up and start twisting and shaking as the tempo becomes faster and faster and faster (including the few European extras who actually have something to do in this song rather than simply sit there.)

To me, this song and its accompanying dance is one of many that sums up the chaotic nature we think of when we see the 1960s represented. 

[Which dance forms have you identified in the songs of the Golden Era? Post your favourites in the comments below.]

© Arjun Warrier

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