Of all the themes that Hindi films are famous for, it is love that has generated the greatest amount of musical creativity. Beautiful lyrics with lilting tunes have poured forth over decades on the subject. All Indians have their favourite “Hindi movie love songs”. I am, however, also attracted to a different category of songs – the male solo. Some of the most iconic songs in the history of Hindi cinema feature the young hero often coming of age or setting out on a potentially life-altering experience. These songs have followed a trajectory for over half-a-century, from Raj Kapoor to Aamir Khan.
‘Awara Hoon’ from ‘Awara’ (1951), featuring Raj Kapoor
This is the ultimate hymn of carefree poverty-stricken youth. Awara was Raj Kapoor’s third film as actor and director under his banner, RK Films. The 1951 movie explores the role of the environment in shaping a person’s moral fibre. By the end of the film, the finger will be pointed at a class-ridden society for producing such “awara” or irresponsible citizens, but at the point at which the song appears, we are only supposed to enjoy the tramp Raj’s antics.
Raj pilfers a chain and gets caught, runs away with a stranger’s cycle, boards a truck and is thrown out, takes to the highway and then returns to his slum that is full of starved children. It is only then that the full force of what he has just sung strikes you. Raj has neither home nor family, and nobody loves him. Despite being filled with bruises, he has never stopped laughing or singing happy songs. It is plain to the viewer that the slum that he enters can only harbour such deprived lives; also, that the only way that a person can survive amidst such squalor is by defying deprivation and destitution, as the tramp does. He will soon find love, though, and that will make him sing to a different tune.
‘Suhana Safar’ from ‘Madhumati’ (1958), featuring Dilip Kumar
A picturesque song with a hero in the midst of nature is not new, but what is unique about “Suhana Safar” from Bimal Roy’s Madhumati is its depiction of the pristine quality of nature, undiluted either by memory or human habitation. The song celebrates the forest, with its wild flowers and trees and gushing stream, and the sky that meets the earth. It starts with the hero walking away from his shadow and ends with him hoping that perhaps it is here that he will find his new world and his dream.
Madhumati, like all Roy films, has enchanting music by Salil Choudhury. The USP of this particular Mukesh number is that it is lip-synced by a smiling Dilip Kumar.
‘Main Zindagi Ka Saath’, ‘Hum Dono’ (1961), featuring Dev Anand
A soldier in mufti in a forest gets into his uniform and drives away in a jeep. He is not alone – his man Friday is helping him dress, and there is the imaginary face of his beloved reflected in the water. Clearly he has not forgotten her, though he claims otherwise in the song.
The soldier’s philosophy of life is worth following. In three neat stanzas written by Sahir Ludhianvi, the soldier dismisses all his worries and even celebrates defeat. He has trained his heart to reach that height where one cannot distinguish between happiness and sorrow.
One of the flaws of the images that accompany Hindi film songs is that performers often have to act out the words, which sometimes reduces the merit of a song. In this track, this drawback is actually turned into a virtue. When Dev Anand sings, “Har fikra ko dhue mein udata chala gaya” (I dismissed my worries in a puff of smoke), he blows out the smoke from his cigarette. It is perfectly timed and is an image that sticks in the mind.
‘Zindagi Kaisi Hain Paheli’, ‘Anand’ (1971), featuring Rajesh Khanna
This is a musing on life by a terminally ill patient who, ironically, has a great zest for living and imparts a bit of that to all whom he comes into contact with in his final months. The entire song, composed by Salil Choudhury and sung by Manna Dey, is shot on a beach, where the protagonist Anand is just part of a crowd, the “mela” of life. His doctor friend sits close by with his fiancé, but they are as incidental as are all other relationships. What matters is the vastness of life, made anonymous by the even vaster sea.
Anand (Rajesh Khanna) is taken aback by the sheer urgency of the surging waves, and he lingers on the balloons that he has released in the boundless sky. The sea and sky fill up the song. For most of the song, Anand walks away from the camera towards the other end of the beach, a diminishing figure gradually reduced to a speck. In one of the few times that his face is in close-up, he sings of the dreamer getting ahead of his dreams, a subtle reminder of his impending doom. The irony is made deeper by the fact that while Yogesh’s lyrics celebrate life, the images demonstrate an implicit acknowledgement of the insignificance of human beings in the greater scheme of things.
‘Musafir Hoon Yaaron’, ‘Parichay’ (1972), featuring Jeetendra
The thoughtful, thin-moustached Jeetendra from Gulzar’s Parichay is an exception. It would later give way to a very different avatar – that of the Jumping Jack wooing southern heroines. In the hands of Gulzar, however, Jeetendra is a subdued actor with quieter roles. In this song from Parichay (inspired by Sound of Music), he is a wanderer with no home to call his own.
He is inexorably drawn to the road and seems to create his own path, equally comfortable travelling at all hours of the day and night. At the beginning of the song, he sets out on a mountain road in a tonga and journeys towards the plains. A unique fate awaits him there, to which this song gives absolutely no clue. “Musafir Hoon Yaaron” is one of the most popular collaborations between music composer RD Burman and singer Kishore Kumar. The imitation of the rhythm of the carriage adds a lively quality to what is essentially an introspective song.
‘Zindagi Aa Raha Hoon Main’, ‘Mashaal‘ (1984), featuring Anil Kapoor
Anil Kapoor exudes a boyish charm in this song from Yash Chopra’s Mashaal. There is no mistaking that he is fresh out of college. He has finished his education and intends to join his mentor, Dilip Kumar, who runs a daily newspaper with courage and idealism.
Compared to the anonymous sylvan surroundings of some of the songs described above, this track has a distinct and recognisable urban landscape as its background. Kapoor walks through the beautiful garden city of Bangalore, past stately structures, well-maintained parks and a football field up onto a highway, where he boards a bus almost filled to capacity. He is full of the confidence of youth, certain that he has the power to break all chains and, if need be, even change destiny.
‘Tanhai’, ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ (2001), featuring Aamir Khan
A young man from Mumbai lands up in Sydney to manage his father’s business. He falls in love with someone else’s fiancé and realises his feelings for her only after she’s gone. He is gripped by “tanhai” – loneliness. This is a special kind of loneliness, born of a separation that seems final. Hence, the piercing quality of pain in the song sung by Sonu Nigam.
Loneliness is not the same as being alone, but with Aamir Khan’s Akash, it is. Except for that one moment in the office, where he apologises for being momentarily inattentive in a meeting, we only see him alone or in the midst of an anonymous crowd. We see Sydney in all its aspects here. In a previous song, it has been portrayed as a friendly and fun city, but it has now suddenly turned strange, alien, robotic, and full of nameless faces rushing past Akash. What we see is not just a difference between Akash’s personal and professional lives, but how the same city can be two completely different places, depending on the context and whom one is with. Or without.
Akash comes into his own through the song – he discovers himself through love. This could have been romanticised, but it is not. While his emotion is given ample scope by Javed Akhtar’s lyrics, his brooding, intense “tanhai” is embedded in a larger context. We see him not as an individual, but merely as a cog in a mega-city powered by global capital. This is the neo-liberal world of the new millennium that is worlds away from the reality that Raj Kapoor’s Awara faced half-a-century ago in the mean streets of Mumbai in newly independent India.