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19 February 2022

Dance Songs – Lata Mangeshkar

Pic courtesy: @FilmHistoryPics - Twitter
As I mentioned in my earlier post, this has been a period of immersion in Lata Mangeshkar’s songs.  Every free moment I get
though there haven’t been many of those these days – has been a moment I could listen to yet another Lata song. And if I were feeling particularly maudlin, her sad songs never failed to arouse an emotional response – that someone ‘gets’ me! Every word of those lyrics was seemingly written to reflect my sadness – and Lata’s voice only added to their pathos. It seems strange written that way – why does the death of someone like her affect you so? 
Why does the sadness linger? Is it for her? Or for the nostalgia that her songs evoke? Nostalgia for a simpler past? When you, at least, didn’t have the stresses or responsibilities of adulthood in an increasingly chaotic world? Or is for the people you have lost? People whose memories you hold dear, and your shared memories that included Lata, in all her glory?
Is it because the other greats – Mukesh, Talat, Geeta, Rafi, Kishore, Suraiya, Shamshad… all died before this collective outpouring of grief just magnified yours? I have no answers. But in these intervening weeks, Shalini and I exchanged songs and reactions, playlists and emotions and had long conversations over texts. (We also mulled over wrapping Asha in bubble wrap and putting her in safe house - she can't be allowed to die!)

In one of these exchanges, I mentioned I was listening to Lata’s sad songs. And Shalini said that her husband K and I were masochists since we were both wallowing. She, proclaimed Shalini proudly, was listening to Lata’s pure dance songs! I had already decided to do a post of love songs in Lata’s memory; now, I jumped at the idea of making it a month-long celebration of a singer I had loved from my childhood.

So, here, in Lata’s memory is the next set of songs – all pure dance songs. Some of the best pure dance songs have been duets, but because I’m focusing only on Lata for now, these are all solo numbers (choruses do not count). As you can see, the list is heavily populated with the usual suspects – Padmini, Vyjayanthimala, Waheeda, Helen… but there are some unexpected heroines as well.

Na dir diim tana – Padmini
Pardesi (1957)
Music: Anil Biswas
Lyrics: Prem Dhawan/Ali Sardar Jafri
In terms of pure dance, this is one of the best there is. To say Padmini is a ‘fantastic dancer’ is to understate the obvious; she was probably the best classical dancer among heroines in films (though I think Vyjayanthimala was perhaps the most successful). Na dir dim tana combines several classical dance forms, but the choreography is so seamless that it is difficult to point out where one ends and the other begins. Pardesi was an Indo-Russian collaboration and had two versions. Unfortunately, the Indian version doesn’t seem to exist in its entirety. Strangely, the Indian version was black & white (I’ve heard it said there’s a coloured version as well but have never seen it) but the Russian version was coloured. The song I’ve linked to here is from the Russian version of the film – I am glad it is, because this really did deserve the colour treatment. 

Piya tose naina laage reWaheeda Rehman
Guide (1965)
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Shailendra
One of my favourite songs – for SD’s composition, the way the music is arranged, for the lyrics, the way Lata has sung it, the way Vijay Anand picturised it, the way Waheeda danced… I love everything about it.

A very long song sequence, almost 9 minutes long, the song was edited so beautifully that through it, Vijay Anand charted the meteoric rise of Rosie (Waheeda) the dancer to Rosie, the stage artiste. Shot as a series of dance performances that Rosie gives, the choreography (Sohanlal Master and his younger brother, Hiralal) blended Bharatanatyam, Kathak and folk dances to celebrate various festivals across the land. With each stanza/dance, the stage grows progressively bigger and grander, and the audience appreciation (within the film) grows louder and more chaotic. By the end of the dance, Rosie is a bonafide star.

Hothon mein aisi baat – Vyjayanthimala
Jewel Thief (1967)
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
This song technically has Bhupinder singing along (‘Hey Shalu!) but to me, it has always been a Lata solo. It is yet another brilliant song sequence – with another superlative dancer. Once again, brilliantly shot by Vijay Anand as a ‘climax song’, i.e., a song sequence that occurs just before the climax. In an interview much later, Vijay Anand had said that Vyjayanthimala refused to rehearse for this song. But that doesn’t show in her final sequence (choreographed by Sohanlal Master and shot in a single take by cinematographer, V Ratra). Once again, I love everything about this song.

Ooi ma ooi ma ye kya ho gayaHelen
Parasmani (1963)
Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal
Lyrics: Farooque Kaiser
Long before Helen became known for her nightclub dances and cabaret, there were plenty of songs where she danced to traditional folk dances. In this musical fantasy-adventure mishmash that starred Mahipal, Geetanjali and Nalini Chonkar, the only saving grace was the music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal in their debut as independent music composers (Chhaila Babu, the first film they signed, did not release until 1967.) And watching Helen dance so gracefully and fluidly – and with such joy – is almost worth watch the film (at least until the song ends).

Dil mein pyar ka toofan – Kumari Kamala
Yahudi (1958)
Music: Shankar-Jaikishan
Lyrics: Shailendra
Entering the Hindi film industry with Kismat (as Baby Kamala), Kumari Kamal (as she was credited) danced her way to stardom in her native Tamil. In Hindi, she was restricted to dance numbers, of which she had many to her credit. In Yahudi, based on the persecution of Jews in the Roman Empire, Kamala plays a dancer who is called to the court to dance at Princess Octavia’s (Nigar Sultana) wedding. Yahudi had a wonderful compilation of melodies by Shankar-Jaikishan, with Lata singing not only for Hannah (Meena Kumari) but also for Kamala and Helen.

Ghunghat hata na de na goriye Geeta Bali
Sapan Suhaane (1961)
Music: Salil Choudhury
Lyrics: Shailendra
This is the first of the dances in this list where the dancer is not a trainer artiste. But in Sapan Suhaane, Geeta Bali does a fairly competent job of pulling off this folk number, composed by Salilda. Perhaps it helped that the song also focused on her expressions – Geeta has a wonderfully expressive face – while the heavy lifting was done by the background dancers. But the joy inherent in the song, the occasion being a wedding, was captured wonderfully in Lata’s exuberance.

Inhi logon neMeena Kumari
Pakeezah (1971)
Music: Ghulam Mohammed
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Meena Kumari was no trained dancer, but she was incredibly graceful (unlike several of her contemporaries) and could carry off simple steps with a reasonable competency. Here, playing a tawaif, she makes her debut entertaining men. In order to convince her lover that she lost her chastity under duress (the loss of the veil standing in for the loss of her innocence), she requests him to ask three men – the cloth merchant who sold her the dupatta, the dyer who dyed it red, and the constable who should have protected her – to confirm what she says is true.

While the song is credited to Ghulam Mohammed and Majrooh Sultanpuri, its antecedents go back by at least three decades if not earlier. It appears in Himmat (1941, composed by Pt Gobind Ram, lyrics by Aziz Kashmiri, sung by Shamshad Begum); Yaqub parodied the song in Aabroo (1943, composed by Pt Gobind Ram). The song seems to have had its roots in UP’s folk music and is often credited (though not credibly validated) to Amir Khusro.

Dil pehla aur pyar doosra - Cuckoo
Saqi (1952)
Music: C Ramchandra
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan
Long before Helen became the go-to girl for dances in films, there was Cuckoo Moray, better known simply as Cuckoo. Beginning as a dancer in the early 40s, her charming smile and charisma made her a certain draw, with the public clamouring for a ‘Cuckoo dance’. In Saqi, she appears in this ‘Arabian’ number (the heroine of this fantasy film was Madhubala) as she dances in what appears to be a palace. The song was choreographed by Gopi Krishna.

Zulmi sang aankh ladi – Vyjayanthimala
Madhumati (1958)
Music: Salil Choudhury
Lyrics: Shailendra
Ah! What can I say? Another song where the composition, lyrics, singing, dancing, picturisation, all come together to become greater than the sum of its parts. Using folk dances as the base for the choreography (the film had three choreographers – Sachin Shankar, Satyanarayan and Sohanlal Master) gave Vyjayanthimala the chance to display her prowess as a danseuse. Lata sounds particularly sweet in this song which sings of the first signs of attraction between a village maiden and a young man from the city.

Aa aa bhi jaaWaheeda Rehman
Teesri Kasam (1966)
Music: Shankar-Jaikishan
Lyrics: Shailendra
This is yet another stage performance by Waheeda, but unlike the respectability of a theatre artiste in Guide, here, she is Hirabai, a nautanki dancer. She dances to entertain an all-male audience. The choreography pays homage to the nautanki’s classical antecedents, mingling Kathak and folk in one harmonious whole. It’s not as far-fetched as it seems, since Kathak was one of the classical dances that was popularised in a bastardised form by the tawaifs and stage artistes. Lata infuses her voice with both the sorrow and the regret that the lyrics call for.

Jhananajhan ke apni paayal – Padmini
Aashiq (1962)
Music: Shankar-Jaikishan
Lyrics: Shailendra
This is a song that serves only to showcase Padmini’s talent as a dancer. Because the picturisation is weird. It begins with a grieving Padmini walking out of a house and onto a… road on a hill? Then, inexplicably, the scene shifts to a happy Padmini dancing on stage; only, if you look closely, there’s another Padmini (in silhouette) dancing on top of a drum (that’s a prop on the stage).

Piya sang khelo Holi – Waheeda
Phagun (1973)
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Piya sang khelo holi
appears at a pivotal moment in the film. The drama in the film depends on this song, and both the song and the dance that is the sequence on screen break off abruptly as the scene segues neatly into the conflict that drives the narrative. This is the third song in which Waheeda appears on this list, but each dance that accompanies the song is different. Here, the choreography takes its inspiration from Marathi folk theatre. Melody, lyrics, song, picturisation – needless to say, were all wonderful, and Waheeda’s expressive grace was its crowning glory.

Ab aage teri marzi – Vyjayanthimala
Devdas (1955)
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
Vyjayanthimala pops in again with this Kathak-based mujra from Devdas. As Chandramukhi (a role she asked for – and got), Vyjayanthimala plays the tawaif who offers succour to a despondent Devdas (Dilip Kumar) who is spiralling into self-destruction. Here, he’s been brought into the kotha by that self-confessed hedonist, Chuni Babu (Motilal), in a bid to make him drown his sorrows in wine, woman and song. As always, Vyjayanthimala’s expressive face and the sheer joy of her movements elevates the choreography. If you look closely, you can spot Pran and Johnny Walker among Chandramukhi’s clientele.

O babul pyaareHema Malini
Johny Mera Naam (1970)
Music: Kalyanji Anandji
Lyrics: Anjaan
A stunningly beautiful Hema Malini, in her first film opposite Dev Anand. The score by Kalyanji-Anandji, while not great, was still pleasantly hummable. This one, indeed, has a sweetness that cloaks the grief of a daughter whose father is being held hostage for her ‘good behaviour’. As she searches cluelessly for him, comes this opportunity to pass on a message through song. As always in a Vijay Anand film, the song serves a purpose. Lata voice beautifully mirrors the mixed emotions that Hema expressed quite well on screen.

Bakkad bam bam – Vyjayanthimala
Kathputli (1957)
Music: Shankar-Jaikishan
Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri
If Vyjayanthimala appears on this list again, it's no wonder. Between Padmini, Vyjayanthimala and Waheeda, they had set the bar rather high for Hindi film heroines who followed – a knowledge of dance became de rigeur for heroines who followed. This is a delightful stage show and the choreography borrows from the Tamilian Mayilattam or peacock dance. Another song/dance sequence that had a peacock dance (and a very good one at that, though not especially a great song) was Suno suno suno ji rasiya from Jhanak Jhanak Paayal Baaje (1955). Choreographed by Gopi Krishna and with music by Vasant Desai, it was on my shortlist. But Sandhya’s make up (and that of the background dancers) put me off so thoroughly that I dropped the idea. The dancing, especially, is excellent, so perhaps it’s worth being an ‘also’.

Meghwa gagan beech jhankeHelen
Harishchandra Taramati (1963)
Music: Laxmikant Pyarelal
Lyrics: Kavi Pradeep
By the early 60s, Helen was already well-established as a ‘western’ dancer; most of her songs now took place in night clubs or villains’ dens. So, to see her dancing a semi-classical (or Hindi film ‘classical’) number was as much as surprise as knowing that a mythological film was released during the swinging sixties. I love this more for the song than the dance, incredible as that may sound with Helen on screen.

I did write up the duet dance songs as well - they are too good not to be a separate post. In the meantime, what are your favourite dance numbers/Lata solos? Please post them in the comments.

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