Immortal Songs of Love

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Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman in the iconic Guide
Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman in the iconic Guide

What better time to remember some immortal songs of love down the ages that have always held a special place in our hearts

VANIT SETHI

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE harsh winter is losing its bite in northern India, and the lovely spring is making its silent, guarded entry. In another 15-20 days, most of the woolens will be off, and flowers will be in full bloom. But right now, the weather can cheat you – one day it’s bright and sunny, and the next day could be cloudy, rainy, or foggy. And even as the sun tries to increase its power, cold icy winds from the hills sweep across the plains.

Change of weather is always a great time for reflection and rejuvenation. By the middle of this month, young college students, newly-married couples, those in matrimony for several years, and elderly couples whose children are away – all start getting into a romantic mood with the arrival of Valentine’s Day on February 14. What better time to remember some immortal songs of love down the ages that have always held a special place in our hearts.

So, I begin my favorite but painstaking task of running down memory lane to choose 14 best songs in two languages – Hindi and English (to coincide with the 14th day of the second month of the year 2014 – 14.02.2014). Right from the 1950s to the present-day, I have chosen seven songs each in Hindi and English – just one from each decade.

It’s a laborious task, but one I enjoy doing and I’ve done it earlier. It’s certainly not easy to choose just one song from each decade, but there are a few songs that remain etched in our collective memory for various reasons (which will be described below). In Hindi, songs are inseparable from the movies in which they appear. Some of the best love stories down the ages with the best screen couples invariably have the best love songs too.

English songs, on the other hand, are more known for the singers who sing them, even if they appear in a movie. Yet surprisingly, what is common between the two is that the best love songs in both the languages happen to be from the same period – the three golden decades of music from the 1950s to the 1970s.

I don’t really know why these decades produced the best music we have known, but it could have something to do with life in that period itself, which was far simpler, and perhaps more passionate. This combination of innocence and longing, I think, is great for really good music. So here, I hurtle down again into a time machine to reach the 1950s, and travel forward to the present-day.

Hindi film songs – popularly known as Bollywood music – is one thing that unites us all Indians, apart from cricket. Most of us are either listening or humming these songs almost every day. Each of us has our favorites, and there are memories associated with them – when, where, how, in what circumstances we heard them, and most importantly, why they have left such an impression on us.

Some of the best Hindi songs are filmed on the most famous on-screen pairs in movies that have stood the test of time. That’s what makes these songs so unforgettable and evergreen. Raj-Nargis, Dev-Waheeda, Rajesh-Sharmila, Amitabh-Rekha, etc. These screen couples (often off-screen lovers) made millions of hearts go aflutter when they crooned, romanced and wooed each other in films that we love to watch time and again. So, let’s get the ball rolling.

Pyar hua, iqrar hua (Shree 420, 1955): Raj Kapoor and Nargis in the rain, together under one black umbrella, walking the night streets of a studio set Bombay – silent, innocent passion oozing with every raindrop. This iconic scene, from one of the best RK films, is considered the ultimate in romance. Young lovers in India of the 1950s and much later tried to emulate this scene in their own lives in different ways. To this day, this song (Lata-Manna Dey) and the scene remains a classic, along with the film.

Din dhal jaaye (Guide, 1965): On a thundery evening, an assistant of Raju (Dev Anand) comes home to give him a file. Raju asks him to stay over for a drink, as he is lonely and depressed. After a gulp or two, Raju breaks out into this melancholic song (Mohd Rafi), expressing his longing for his estranged partner Rosy (Waheeda Rehman). Rosy, trying to sleep upstairs in her bedroom, descends down the stairs in her flowing white nightie, looking almost ethereal. While Raju is sitting on the floor with his head and arms on the stairs, Rosy’s trembling fingers meet his on the staircase. You can almost feel the current run through your body. SD Burman’s music is pure magic in this evergreen classic, based on RK Narayan’s novel.

Chingari (Amar Prem, 1972): Anand Babu (Rajesh Khanna) and Pushpa (Sharmila Tagore) drifting down the Hooghly in a boat. With a glass in his hand being served by Pushpa, Anand is intoxicated by the drink, a drizzly Calcutta evening, and Pushpa’s beauty. This is a captivating tale of how a lonely businessman and a prostitute with a heart of gold get irresistibly drawn towards each other. Sung by the incomparable Kishore Kumar on RD Burman’s music and Anand Bakshi’s lyrics, this song was, surprisingly, filmed in a Bombay studio, and not on the Hooghly in Calcutta. Set to Raag Bhairavi, it won several awards. Anand’s ‘Pushpa, I hate tears’ had become one of the famous monologues in Bollywood. As for the lyrics of Chingari, you just have to listen and feel them on a rainy night with your beloved (with or without the kashti and maajhi). Just sample the opening lines – Chingari koi bhadke to saawan usey bujhaye, saawan jo agan lagaye usey kaun bujhaye.

Dekha ek khwab (Silsila, 1981): Amitabh, Jaya and Rekha together in a love triangle was the casting coup of all time, accomplished by Yash Chopra. Closely and dangerously mirroring their real-life relationship, Amitabh and Rekha sizzle in this lovingly-made film, which is both an aural and visual experience. Shot in the Keukenhof tulip gardens in Netherlands and Pahalgam (Kashmir), this song (Kishore-Lata) is a wonderful dream sequence. A must-listen song for those deeply in love, and a must-watch film for those passionate about Bollywood. 

Ye haseen wadiyan (Roja, 1992): Rishi Kumar (Arvind Swamy) leads his wife Roja (Madhoo aka Madhubala) down the valley, shutting her eyes with his hands. And then, he asks her to slowly open her eyes. Lo and behold, what does she see – majestic, snow-covered hills all around! AR Rahman’s music rises to a crescendo as the camera pans from the valley below to the snowy peaks above. And then, shatters into multiple, mesmerizing sounds as it reaches the top. Shot largely in Manali (though supposed to be Kashmir), Roja is south Indian ace director Mani Ratnam’s first foray in Bollywood (original Tamil, subsequently dubbed in Hindi, Marathi, Telugu and Malayalam).

The plot centres around terrorism in the Kashmir valley during the 1990s, and how Roja tries to get her husband released from the clutches of a deadly militant (who is reformed in the end), overcoming the language barrier. The song (SP-Chitra), and indeed the movie’s music, is among Rahman’s best so far. 

Piyu bole (Parineeta, 2005): A huge piano in a Bengali mansion in the Calcutta of the 1960s. Childhood friends (now young lovers), Shekhar (Saif Ali Khan) and Lolita (Vidya Balan) compose a tune on the fly and fill words in it. The song (Sonu Nigam-Shreya Ghoshal) takes them behind a church on a wind-swept monsoon night, and also on a boat in the Hooghly, as Shantanu Moitra’s music keeps pace with the wind and the river. It transports you to the swinging sixties and the passionate intellectual-cultural life of erstwhile Calcutta. Rabindranath Tagore and Elvis Presley have a huge influence on the music of this film, based on Sarat Chandra’s 1914 Bengali novella of the same name. Parineeta (married woman) has been filmed several times earlier by other directors. Vidya Balan made a huge impression in this first film of hers. In the song, she is as natural as can be – a typical Bengali beauty.  

Kyon na hum tum (Barfi, 2012): A dreamy, vagabond picaresque song (Papon-Sunidhi Chauhan) filmed on a road journey, highlighting the blossoming unusual love between a deaf-mute youth Barfi (Ranbir Kapoor) and an autistic girl Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra). Anurag Basu’s unique love story, set in the 1970s Bengal (Darjeeling and Calcutta) was India’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Oscars.

Though a serious theme, the film is light-hearted, but with a poignant undertone. Both Ranbir and Priyanka excelled in their roles. The song may sound best, listening to it in a slow-moving open jeep while criss-crossing green fields and rivulets – just like in the movie. Pritam’s music is a class apart. If music be the food of love, play on!

Say It in English

Many of us urban Indians have a special association with English songs too. Though we haven’t seen most of them in movies, we have heard them on cassettes, discs, CDs, and often on Radio Ceylon. Here too, we have our favorites – talked about, discussed, debated, and audio tapes exchanged. Often in our youth, we have fancied forming a pop group and touring the world, much like our icons – Elvis Presley in the 50s, Beatles in the 60s, ABBA in the 70s, etc.

Earlier, English songs always evoked images of the beautiful, green British countryside, and later, the fast and pulsating life in American cities. They represented freedom, liberty, and the lust for life to most of us. Many singers and groups have penned and crooned some landmark numbers that have remained with us through the ages. So, let’s roll the dice.

I’d like to be (Jim Reeves, 1958): James Travis Reeves, popularly called ‘Gentleman Jim’ was well-known for his soft and melodious country-style music. His songs continued to rule the charts for years after his death in 1964 in a plane crash. A Texas boy, Jim Reeves was adored for his rich light baritone voice. His songs talk of simple infatuations and heartbreaks in the American rural life. Many of his lyrics are deeply touching. ‘I’d like to be’ talks of a lover’s desire to be whatever his beloved holds close to her. Sample this lovely stanza in the song: ‘And if you need someone to talk with, I’d like to be the little voice inside; And if you’ll ever have a heartache, I wanna be the tear you hide’.

The last waltz (Engelbert Humperdinck, 1967): Born as Arnold George Dorsey in Madras (India) in 1936, The last waltz is this British singer’s best single, and also one of his biggest hits, spending five weeks at No.1 on the British charts in 1967. He adopted a German surname from a 19th century composer of operas. The title of the song refers to the narrator’s first and last dances with the woman he loves. The song is a delightful waltz number, where the narrator wishes the song would never end so that they can keep dancing: ‘I fell in love with you, The last waltz should last forever.’ Truly poignant and touching.

My only fascination (Demis Roussos, 1974): ‘You’re my only fascination, my sweet inspiration, Everything I hoped would be, You’re the dawn that rises for me, My summer wind from the sea.’ This hauntingly beautiful song, with out-of-the-world lyrics could only have been sung by a Greek singer. This song has such a warm and mushy Mediterranean feel to it.

Roussos was born and raised in Egypt, but moved to his homeland Greece during the Suez crisis. It was in Greece that his musical career began, after he participated in a series of musical groups, beginning at the age of 17. His other memorable songs are Lovely lady of Arcadia, and Someday, somewhere, but this one is by far the best. If you’re truly in love, this is the song to go for.   

I just called to say (Stevie Wonder, 1984): Visually challenged Black singer Stevie Wonder was a child prodigy, who achieved great name and fame with this number, which went on to win the Academy and Golden Globe awards for the Best Original Song, along with three Grammy nominations in 1984. This was also featured in the 1984 comedy film The Woman in Red, along with two of his other songs. Here, I just want to say, you’ve got to listen to this number if you haven’t so far. But even if you have, this is one song you can listen to again and again. Especially if you are in love.

Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic
Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic

My heart will go on (Celine Dion, 1997): Dion agreed to do this song only because of the persuasion of her husband, for the 1997 blockbuster Titanic, based on a real-life tragedy – the sinking of a massive luxury sealiner in April 1912 on its maiden voyage from London to New York. This song became famous for its lovers’ pose – executed by the film’s leading actors Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslett – at the hull of the ship, often called the Titanic pose, and emulated by lovers and couples worldwide. This song, much like the vast sea, seems to go on and on, playing in your mind long after it’s over.   

Shalala Lala (Vengaboys, 2000): Originally written and sung by Danish rock band Walkers in 1973, this song was remixed with an upbeat, fast-paced tune and released in February 2000 by Eurodance pop group Vengaboys, based in Amsterdam. The two-male, two-female band is popular for its beach party albums and songs like Ibiza and Brazil. This song is ideal if you’re group dating in party hotspots like Goa, Bali or Hawaii.  

Say something (A Great Big World, 2013): Sung, composed and written by the American pop duo Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino, who call themselves A Great Big World, this song is somewhere at the top of the iTunes charts. First released in September last year by Epic Records, it attracted public attention when it featured in the American reality TV show So You Think You Can Dance. Soon thereafter, Christina Aguilera too featured in the song, re-released in November last year.

This piano ballad talks about an impending break-up and a desperate attempt to save the situation. This was written after the young duo experienced a break-up in their own lives. The song has been critically praised for its powerful lyrics, the emotional composition, and Aguilera’s vocal delivery. It has reached the top ten in most countries. If you don’t want to give up on love, then you’ve got to say something. Say it now.   

Phew! Compiling lists is often a thankless exercise. No one is really satisfied with them. Everyone has a better list, sure! But this exercise is pure, undiluted fun all the same. Something I feel compelled to do now and then. Of course, these lists are arbitrary and purely personal, but one, I hope, has at least pleased all my friends and readers. Now, the turn is yours. The ball is in your court, and I’m waiting for your serve.   

 

  

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