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19 June 2022

My Favourites: Train Songs

There’s a romance associated with train journeys. There’s a certain nostalgia for the days of my youth when we travelled regularly by train, whether it was from (then-) Madras or Bangalore to Kerala where my grandparents lived, or whether it was elsewhere on vacations. I’m old enough to remember the first class cabins that each had its own bathroom and opened out directly onto the station. I was a wee child then. And of course, we usually travelled second-class anyway, arriving sooty and grimy at our destination. I still remember pressing my face against the window bars so I could see the engine whenever the tracks curved. I can recall the change in the sound of the railway carriages over the tracks when it went over water bodies. I remember seeing the black smoke rise from the steam engines, only to turn lighter as it dispersed against a blazing blue sky.

My favourite pastime was to grab a window seat and gaze at the countryside thundering past our windows until one or the other of my siblings would push me away to take my place. Then, armed with the books that my father always bought us at the Higginbothams’ stall at the station, I would proceed to clamber up to the topmost berth where I could stretch out and read in peace. I even loved sleeping on the train – the rolling motion of the carriages was like being in a rocking chair, and the clickety-clack of the wheels on the tracks were my lullaby.

I also associate railway journeys with eating! While my mother carefully packed food for the entire journey, what I liked most was eating the food that the vendors sold, either at the station, or sometimes even on the train. And since my father would buy us anything we wanted to eat, and there were three of us kids, we were well supplied with comestibles, as Billy Bunter would have put it.

Most importantly, we came in contact with a variety of people from disparate backgrounds. Spending so much time together in the cramped confines of a train compartment meant that interesting conversations were struck up, friendships – transient or otherwise – forged, and the tedium of long train journeys in the heat of the summer pleasantly alleviated by shared experiences. Uunfortunately, like ‘ghoda-ghadi songs’, ‘piano songs’, or ‘picnic songs’, train songs too seem to have become extinct in Hindi films.

I still love the trains. But since we always seem to be rushing about when we travel to India, time and convenience take precedence, and trains remain nostalgic memories. To commemorate those memories and to hark back to a time when trains were a common sight in Hindi films, here’s a list of ‘train’ songs in no particular order, though my favourites cluster towards the top. My only criteria for this was that the person singing the song had to present on the train (or on top of the train) for the entirety of the song. 

Apni to har aah ik toofan hai
Kala Bazar (1960)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Shailendra

Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman. Having fallen in love (or attracted to) Alka (Waheeda) at first sight, Raghu (Dev) has been following her around, trying his best to get acquainted with her. He even follows her to Ooty where her parents are taking Alka for a holiday. Perched on the berth below Alka’s, Raghu begins to sing. Shailendra’s impish lyrics are a delight – neither Alka nor her parents are sure whether Raghu is referring to god or trying to flirt with Alka. She sits up, displeased, when he sings: Apni to har ik aah ik toofan hai/Uparwala jaan kar anjaan hai, but he’s closed his eyes devoutly, and Alka sinks back into the berth. And Raghu? He’s innocence personified.

Hai apna dil toh awara
Solva Saal (1958)
Singer: Hemant Kumar
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Dev and Waheeda again. This time, it’s not a flirtation, overt or covert. Laaj (Waheeda) is eloping with her boyfriend. Prannath Kashyap (Dev), is a down-on-his-luck reporter, looking for a scoop. And hearing Laaj’s and her boyfriend’s conversation, Kashyap’s ears perk up. Meanwhile, Gogi (Sundar), a freelance photographer and Kashyap’s friend is wondering to himself why no girl ever finds him handsome enough to fall in love with him. And Kashyap? Why, he’s a handsome fellow, isn’t he? Why hasn’t he fallen in love yet? Because his heart is a vagabond, says Kashyap. Who knows who it will settle upon? A debonair Dev, a pretty as a picture Waheeda, SD’s music, Hemant’s singing and Majrooh’s delightful lyrics – what’s not to love about this song?

Raahi matwale
Waris (1954)
Singers: Talat Mahmood, Suraiya
Music: Anil Biswas
Lyrics: Qamar Jalalabadi

A young and handsome Talat Mahmood plays hero to a beautiful, sprightly Suraiya but this song is not a romantic number. A young man travelling by train, looking out of the window at the dark night, is inspired to break into song. His spirit embraces the dark clouds, the bright moon, the cool breezes… Dekh dekh chakori ka man hua Chanchal /Chanda ke mukhde pe badly ka aanchal /Kabhi chhupe kabhi khi roop ka nikhaar...  A young woman, awakened by his song, listens intently, and almost without meaning to, joins in. Dil ne suni kahin dil ki pukar… The violins and the violas give you the sensation of being on a train even if you do not see the clip.

Dekhoji ik bala jogi
China Town (1962)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: Ravi
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Another ‘pretend-to-be-devout-while-flirting-with-girl-under-the-nose-of-her-parents’ song. Only, being Shammi Kapoor, he has to be more flamboyant. Unlike Alka’s parents in Kala Bazar, here, Rita’s (Shakila) father (SN Bannerjee) not only knows who Shekhar (Shammi Kapoor) is, but thoroughly disapproves of him as Rita’s suitor. So, Shekhar is left to find inventive ways to meet his beloved. Now, Rita’s father is taking his daughter to Calcutta where she can be married off to a more suitable man. So Shekhar follows. On the same train. In the same compartment. In disguise. Complete with an iktara in hand. And while his prospective father-in-law enjoys Shekhar’s song, Rita is quite irritated by his constant nudging of her – that is, until she twigs who he actually is. (Unfortunately, so does her father.)

Hum ne tujh ko pyaar kiya hai itna
Dulha Dulhan (1964)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Kalyanji-Anandji
Lyrics: Indeevar
The male version of this song (sung by Mukesh) is the more popular one, but Lata’s version fits the theme better. Strangely enough, this version actually comes earlier in the film. The whole song is filmed in a train compartment as a lovely Sadhana tries to convince Raj Kapoor that she loves him very much indeed.

Cheel cheel chillake kajri sunaaye
Half Ticket (1962)
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Music: Salil Choudhary
Lyrics: Shailendra
Another ‘train song’ that is not very romantic, but unlike Raahi matwale, Cheel cheel chillake kajri sunaaye is sung by a man (Kishore Kumar) who spends the best part of the film masquerading as an overgrown child. (No, it isn’t funny.) Sung by the inimitable Kishore himself, Shailendra’s inspired nonsense verse manages to sneak in a few satirical references to the state of the world. Salilda’s music trips on its own journey, and Kishore gives full rein to his lunacy here, both in the acting and the singing.

Gaya andhera hua ujaala
Subah ka Tara (1954)
Singers: Talat Mahmood, Lata Mangeshkar
Music: C Ramchandra
Lyrics: Noor Lakhnavi
A soulful Talat-Lata duet, this song is not so much romantic as it is full of hope – for a new tomorrow, a brighter future… Picturised on Pradeep Kumar and Jayashree, the songs were the only silver lining in a dismal, mess of a film. (This was especially strange given that the director was V Shantaram who had several progressive, socially-conscious films to his credit.)

Hum ko samajh na lijiye
Kalpana (1960)
Singer: Asha Bhosle
Music: OP Nayyar
Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan
What does a young woman do when the other occupant of her first class compartment happens to be a strange young man? Well, warn him off, of course, though most women would try and look as inscrutable and reserved as possible. Not our heroine, of course. She jumps down from the upper berth and tells her co-passenger off in no uncertain terms – don’t think of her as a delicate flower; she’s perfectly capable of handling him and any attempts he may make to flirt with her. Ashok Kumar looks alternately bemused, amused and impressed by her song and dance routine.

Dhak dhak karti chali
Dilruba (1950)
Singer: Geeta Dutt
Music: Gyan Dutt
Lyrics: ?
Another train song, another dance inside the compartment, though Rehana is rehearsing on her way to a show. Her troupe of musicians provide the musical accompaniment to her dance. I haven’t watched Rehana in a lot of films and haven’t really liked her acting much in the ones I have watched, but here in this song, she’s sprightly and vivacious, and I found myself liking both her and the song very much. (The film, starring a very young and very handsome Dev Anand, was rather entertaining, though like a lot of films both past and present, lost its way midway.)
Chaiyya chaiyya
Dil Se (1998 )
Singer: Sukhvinder Singh, Sapna Avasthi
Music: AR Rehman
Lyrics: Gulzar
Duniya ki sab se chhoti prem kahani hogi” quips Amarkant Varma (Shah Rukh Khan) when he runs into a mysterious, beautiful young woman at Haflong railway station. Sipping the chai she had sent him to get while she boarded a train, he waits to board the next one. And as he waits, comes another train with people on top – so, of course, he joins them. His infatuation with the woman he’s met for a brief moment finds expression in another woman’s song: Jin  e sar ho ishq ki chhaon/Paaon ke neeche jannat hogi…

The lyrics were revised from Bulleh Shah’s original verse (upon meeting his estranged guru, Shah Inayat Qadri) that began O tere ishq nachaaya kar ke thhaiyan thhaiyan) by Gulzar, who infused Sufism into his verses. Sung beautifully by Sukhvinder and Sapna, and one of Farah Khan’s best-choreographed dances, the song is beautifully picturised on the top of a train as it meanders through the countryside.

Dhanno ki aankhon mein
Kitaab (1977)
Singer: RD Burman
Music: RD Burman
Lyrics: Gulzar
Gulzar’s masterful and insightful treatise captures the innocence of childhood without the cloying, diabetic sweetness of Hindi cinema’s usual ‘grownups-in-kids’-bodies’ portrayal. Master Raju’s innocent charm pervades the film as little Bablu struggles to fit into a world he’s not familiar with. When he finally gives up the struggle and runs away, he meets a sundry group of kindly, endearing and/or quixotic characters. One of them is Ram Mohan, the happy-go-lucky driver of the train on which Bablu stows away (sitting on a stack of coal). It’s a stressful job, and the driver keeps up his spirits by singing of his love for his wife.

Kasto mazaa he relaima
Parineeta (2005)
Singers: Sonu Nigam, Shreya Ghoshal
Music: Shantanu Moitra
Lyrics: Swanand Kirkire
One of my favourite songs from contemporary Hindi films (the entire score, actually), Kasto maza hai railaima really captures the joy of travelling on a train before the lyrics segue into a romantic song about seeing his beloved wherever he looks. The icing on the cake is the chorus by the children. Picturised on the famous toy train that winds down the hills from Darjeeling, the song features a handsome Saif Ali Khan and a very pretty Vidya Balan in her debut film. 
Have you loved travelling by train? Share your memories and your favourite train songs in the comments below.

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