How vicarious songs came to the aid of bashful actors in Hindi films

How should the budding romance between the protagonists be depicted on screen, when the script forbids them from directly doing so? Enter buskers and vicarious music to aid.

 |  13-minute read |   05-04-2021
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Amitabh Bachchan’s breakout film, Zanjeer (1973), has a duet “Deewaane hain deewano ko na ghar chaahiye, muhabbat bhari ik nazar chaahiye”. But the song is not sung on screen by Amitabh and Jaya Bhaduri. Amitabh’s role in the film is too serious — of an angry young man — to warrant a song and dance routine, though Jaya has no such issues, having sung “Chakku chhuriyan tez kara lo” earlier in the film. So how is the budding romance between the two protagonists to be depicted on screen, when the male lead has been forbidden to do so by the film’s script? Enter the buskers Gulshan Bawra (playing the harmonium), also the film’s lyricist, and a minor actress Sanjana. They sing with gay abandon on behalf of Amitabh and Jaya, expressing the emotions raging inside the hero and heroine, as they watch the street song from Amitabh’s house while simultaneously exchanging coy glances at each other.

Incidentally, singer Mohammad Rafi had been fasting and was a bit irritable during the song’s recording. One ‘take’ of the song had been okayed by the music directors Kalyanji-Anandji, but co-singer Lata Mangeshkar wanted a retake. Uncharacteristically, Rafi refused. Gulshan Bawra followed him out of the studio and told him that he was going to enact this song on screen. Rafi came back and gave two ‘takes’ and sang it in a way that suited Gulshan Bawra’s persona.

A year later, in Majboor (1974), Amitabh would step out of the room and try to placate Parveen Babi through the good offices of the beach buskers (in the voice of Rafi and Asha Bhosle) – harmonium and all – in “Roothe rab ko manana aasaan hai, roothe yaar ko manana mushqil hai”.

Buskers in India, like their Western counterparts in markets, metros, pavements, street corners, beaches, waterfronts, railway stations, entertaining the public. But unlike the western counterparts, they also play a role in films by vicariously conveying the feelings of the actors who cannot or will not do it themselves. These buskers play the role of their surrogate — they deputise for them to ensure that film story continues its journey.

Hindi films are replete with this fascinating cinematic device.

A similar song was enacted in CID (1956) with a harmonium-slung Shyam Kapoor (Rafi) and flautist Sheila Vaz (Shamshad Begum), singing “Leke pehla pehla pyar” on behalf of Dev Anand and Shakila. The debonair, and clearly love-struck, Dev would have done the honours himself, but his love-interest is in no mood. Enter the buskers as the outsourced service providers. The lady dancer confronts Shakila – “Mukhde pey daley hue zulfon ki badli, chali balkhati kahan ruk ja o pagli”. In the later stanza, she continues – “Dekha aisa mantar maar, akhir hogi teri haar, jadunagri se aaya hai koi jadugar”. All this while, Dev walks behind Shakila, egging the buskers on. The experiment works and the lady eventually, whilst at her house, melts. The buskers having done their job and left the screen, she (in the voice of Asha Bhosle) laments – “Uski deewani haai kahun kaise ho gayi, jadugar chala gaya main toh yahan kho gayi”.

The harmonium again appears (street-singers cannot do without it) in the song “Bichhde hue milenge phir, kismet ne gar mila diya” (Post Box 999 released in 1958). There is a dholak player too, and a female dancer. Shakila (unamused) and Sunil Dutt (smiling) are amongst the audience. The song not only takes care of them, but Leela Chitnis too, craning her neck — the song articulating her conviction that those separated would meet again one day.

Sheila Vaz reprises her role as a busker in “Jab hum tum dono razi, toh kya karega qazi” in Bade Sarkar (1957). The ubiquitous harmonium, along with dholak, is in attendance. Kishore Sahu and Kamini Kaushal have had a lover’s tiff. Vaz (in the voice of Asha) proclaims — “Kyun duniya ke pichhe bhage, kuchh nahin duniya dil ke aage, dekh nazara pakad ke hath humara, samajh le dil ka ishara, jamaa le rang zaraa”.

In Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai (1960), the minor actor Raj Kishore wields the guitar, while a female extra plays the harmonium, and a male extra, the dholak. Raj Kishore (in Rafi’s voice) sings “Jaane kahan gayi, dil mera ley gayi woh”, echoing Raj Kumar’s anguish at his doomed love affair with Meena Kumari (all works out well in the end though). A dejected Raj Kumar, sitting on a rock next to the sea, could not have been expected to sing the song of separation; it did not suit his character. Enter the trio and sing on his behalf.

This phenomenon is as old as the films. As long back as in 1937, Izzat had a song – “Prem dor me baandh hume, kit chale gaye girdhari” sung by minor actors in the voice of Ashok Kumar and Devika Rani (music by Saraswati Devi) for Devika Rani pining for Ashok Kumar. For a brief period during the song, she dreams of herself singing it with Ashok Kumar. Even the actress credited with the longest kiss in Hindi films (in Karma) could be coy and let others emote for her!

And the list goes on. “Mohabbat ka haath, jawani ka palla” in Howrah Bridge (1958) on Ashok Kumar and Madhubala; “Ek bewafa se pyar kiya” in Awara (1951) on Nargis; “Nain khoye khoye” in Munimji (1955) on Dev Anand and Nalini Jaywant; “Nigahon ka ishara hai” in Night Club (1958) on Ashok Kumar and Kamini Kaushal; “Dhalti jaaye raat, kehde dil ki baat” in Razia Sultana (1961) on Jairaj and Nirupa Roy.

It is not only the buskers who put to song the emotions heaving inside the hearts of the main actors. There is another equally important category – the boatman. He not only plies his trade in ferrying people across the river, but also creates the atmosphere, the mood, the ambience by singing (usually) a philosophical ditty. And, for the purposes of this article, sometimes gives voice to the innermost feelings of the main cast.

The iconic “Sun mere bandhu re” in Sujata (1959) is one such song. If Hemant Kumar is considered the voice of God, SD Burman, who also composed the song, is the ghost voice of all Bengali boatmen. His voice was plaintive, serene, slow and melodious. In this song, picturised on the romancing Sunil Dutt and Nutan, the song evocatively captures their mutual feelings for each other.

In “Ulajh gaye do naina” from Ek Saal (1959), Ashok Kumar and Madhubala are in love and it shows. But they have inhibitions in declaring it to each other. How to overcome the reserve and communicate their feeling? Enter the boatman and his wife to shoulder the responsibility. The couple is relieved.

In “Kho gaya hai mera pyaar” from Haryali aur Raasta (1962), the boatman ferrying Mala Sinha away from Manoj Kumar, who watches it sail away from the riverbank, understands what Manoj Kumar is going through and breaks into the song, very apposite in the circumstances. The boatman is also prescient enough to sing in the voice of Mahendra Kapoor who would be a very successful ghost voice of Manoj in later films, though in this film Mukesh does the honours in other songs.

There is also a song, not sung by, but addressed to a boatman: “O mere majhi, mere sajan hain us paar” in Bandini (1963). SD Burman’s pathos-soaked voice (who also composed the song) suited Ashok Kumar’s melancholia perfectly. The song is set on a riverbank with a steamer about to depart, and evocatively captures the struggle of Nutan to choose between the ailing love of her life Ashok Kumar and the young doctor who loves her and could give her a comfortable life (Dharmendra). The entreaty works eventually — Nutan abandons the train which is about to depart and makes it to the steamer in the nick of time on which Ashok Kumar is travelling. Incidentally, most songs of SD Burman were about creating the atmosphere, and not as a vicarious platform. But the song such as this is an exception.

Mukesh too, with his unique voice, served as the voice of boatman. “Kaise manau piyawa” in Char Diwari (1961) beautifully captures the emotions of Shashi Kapoor for Nanda on their wedding night.

Then there are itinerant singers, such as baul singers, who do the needful.

“Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo” from Pyasa (1957) is one such song where the baul singer (in the voice of Geeta Dutt) echoes Waheeda Rehman’s yearning for Guru Dutt.

Or they could be villagers in a pastoral setting, or people in slums, or fishing villages or tribal people singing what the actors would want to sing.  

In “O meri pran sajni, champawati aaja” from Annadata (1972), a village couple – Gopi Krishna (the dance maestro) and Madhumati – express their love for each other on behalf of Anil Dhawan and Jaya Bhaduri whose shyness prevents them from taking matters in their own hands.

In “Mere jeewan mein kiran bankey bikhaney walley, bolo tum kaun ho” from Talaq (1958), the villagers sing on behalf of Rajendra Kumar and Kamini Kadam.

“So rahe hain bekhabar, sonewale gaon mein, aan milo balma taron ki chhaon mein” in Hulchul (1951) deals with Nargis’ feelings for Dilip Kumar. Dilip wants to reciprocate but unfortunately there is no male amongst the bevy of female villagers.

“Laagi more man ki o sajana, zara yaad rakhna” from Shabab (1954) has villagers sing for Bharat Bhushan and Nutan.

“Mose rooth gaye more Ram re” in Karigar (1958) is sung by temple singers on behalf of Nirupa Roy for Ashok Kumar.

“Ho jab se mili tose ankhiyan” in Amaanat (1955) is sung by villagers for Bharat Bhushan and Chand Usmani.

“Ab toh ji hone laga kisi ki surat ka saamna, gori gori goriyon ko padey na dil thaamna” in Mr and Mrs 55 (1955), is sung by a wandering woman seller with her son, while a coy Guru Dutt and Madhubala look on approvingly.

“Kit gaye ho khewanhaar, naiyaa dubti” in Achhut Kanya (1936) is sung by a wandering old woman woodcutter (in the voice of Saraswati Devi, who was also the composer) for Devika Rani, in love with Ashok Kumar (who makes an appearance at the end of the song). The same song and footage are used for another sequence in the film, when Devika Rani is married to Anwar. When one song and its picturisation can work for two diametrically opposite situations, why re-shoot?

A farmer’s wife sings “Chhodo chhodo mori baiyan saanwre” in Miya Biwi Raazi (1960) for Kamini Kadam (and Shreekant).

Sometimes a radio artist steps in. “Hum they jinke sahare, who hue na hamare, doobi jab dil ki naiyya, saamne they kinare” from Safar (1970) is sung capturing Sharmila Tagore’s heartbreak at Rajesh Khanna’s cancer. Similarly, “Humne dekhi hai in aakhon ki mehekti khushboo, haath se chhooke isse rishton ka ilzaam na do” from Khamoshi (1969) is being sung representing Waheeda Rehman.

A song may be sung in a music gathering. “Kya karun sajni aaye na baalam” in Swami (1977) is sung by Dheeraj Kumar on behalf of Shabana Azmi.

“Unke khayal aaye toh aate chale gaye” from Lal Pathar (1971) is sung by GM Durrani (in the voice of Rafi – ironical because Durrani was a big singer during his heyday) on the tanpura, and Raj Kumar (on whose behalf the song is intended) playing the table.

A song may be sung by a friend. “Salaam-e-hazrat qubool kar lo” from Babar (1960) is sung by Shubha Khote for Azra, though Azra seems quite capable of singing herself, having asked Shubha why she had stopped the song after the introductory humming.

Sometimes the singers at the wedding sangeet take over and express the feelings of the groom and the bride – all fun and games of course. “Mere banne ki baat na poochho” from Gharana (1961) sung in support of Rajendra Kumar and Asha Parekh.

Sometimes, these songs are not directed at one person, but a whole community who are thinking the same thing. “Ab ke baras bhejo bhaiya ko babul” from Bandini (1963) is one such song where a woman prisoner sings this doleful song for all fellow inmates including Nutan.

Sometimes it can be an inanimate object like a record player. “Main jab bhi akeli hoti hun, tum chup ke se aa jate ho” from Dharmputra (1961) is one such song pictured on Mala Sinha.

 “Kitni akeli kitni tanha si lagi, tumse mil ke main aaj” from Talash (1969) is another song where the feelings of Sharmila Tagore for Rajendra Kumar are outsourced to the turntable.

“Dil ka diya jala ke gaya, yeh kaun meri tanhai mein” in Akashdeep (1965) expresses Nimmi’s blossoming love for Ashok Kumar. She may have sung it herself, but for the fact that she is mute.

Sometimes film stars on screen do the job for the actor(s) sitting in the audience. “Jaaneman Jaaneman tere do nayan” in Chhoti Si Baat (1975) has Dharmendra and Hema Milini singing on behalf of Amol Palekar and Vidya Sinha up to a point. Then Amol Palekar imagines Vidya Sinha on the screen with Dharmendra, and then eventually slips into Dharmendra’s role – all in his imagination, of course. So, it is a quasi-vicarious song at best.

The list continues. The number of such songs since the last few decades has come down drastically, though they do happen occasionally. “Chhupana bhi nahi aata, jatana bhi nahin aata, humein tumse mohabbat hai, batana bhi nahin aata” in Baazigar (1993) is sung by Vinod Rathod at a party for Siddharth who watches helplessly at Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. “Pardesi pardesi jaana nahin, mujhe chhod kar, mujhe chhod kar” from Raja Hindustani (1996) is sung by female singers/dancers in front of a roadside dhaba echoing the sentiments of Amir Khan and Karisma Kapoor. Amir, unable to resist, joins in a little later.

The present-day films, with their scripts and storylines, reflecting the mores of society at large, hardly have any scope for diffidence or bashfulness or reservations or inhibitions. If you feel something, then articulate it yourself — no delegation allowed. Power of attorney does not work anymore. Another glorious genre of Hindi film music has been consigned to the realm of nostalgia.

Also read: How Bollywood songs have been borrowing without sharing credits

Writer

Ajay Mankotia Ajay Mankotia @ajaymankotia

The writer is an author, former revenue official and a music aficionado.

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