Can I name five really great solos sung by Mumtaz, Hema Malini or Neetu Singh? Now, that’s much harder.
There’s a message here. Hindi film female solo songs came down to a trickle after 1970 or so. Why did this happen? I can think of three reasons: (a) Great solo composers like Naushad, Madan Mohan, Roshan, S D Burman and C Ramachandra faded away, (b) We had far fewer films with strong female characters because Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan ensured that the entire spotlight was on the leading man, and (c) Lata Mangeshkar’s ability came down by a few notches after 1970.
But, for now, we’ll return to the Lata Mangeshkar of the 1950s and 1960s when her singing offered the greatest joy and succour to a whole generation of Indians; Lata’s voice was both India’s delight and panacea.
We continue our pursuit of pairing the leading ladies with their best playback voice. It is no surprise that Lata Mangeshkar continues to overwhelmingly dominate, although Asha Bhosle and Geeta Dutt too make brief appearances to show that their luminiscence could not always be dimmed by this brightest shining star.
Let us start with Nargis. While Nargis had some excellent Asha songs picturized on her, especially in S D Burman’s Lajwanti — listen to gaa mere man ga and koi aaya dhadkan kehti hai — there can be little doubt that her finest solo songs have all been sung by Lata Mangeshkar. In particular, Nargis’s early films with Raj Kapoor and Shankar-Jaikishan (SJ) had the most enchanting Lata songs: mujhe kisise pyar ho gaya and meri aankhon mein bas gayaa from Barsaat, ghar aaya mera pardesi and ab raat guzarne wali hai from Awara and raja ki aayegi baraat and yeh shaam ki tanhaiyan from Aah. We also had Naushad’s uthaye ja unke sitam from Andaz, Salil Chowdhury’s memorable jago mohan pyare from Jagte Raho and Madan Mohan’s unko yeh shikayat hai from Adalat; jaana tha humse door from the same film was apparently withdrawn after the film’s premiere — such a pity because it must rate among Madan Mohan’s best all-time compositions.
As we move next to Meena Kumari, it is a delight to find Lata Mangeshkar still in divine form, and singing for practically every top composer of the time. Listen to mohe bhool gaye sanwariya and bachpan ki mohabbat from Naushad’s Baiju Bawra, na bole na bole from C Ramachandra’s Azad, jyoti kalash chhalke from Bhabhi Ki Chudiyan — composed by that peerless Marathi singer and composer Sudhir Phadke. Then there were four Roshan classics: Kabhi to milegi from Aarti, sansar se bhaage from Chitralekha, dil jo ne keh saka from Bheegi Raat (although Rafi’s version of this song is more popular, as was often the case when Lata and Rafi sang the same song, Lata has sung beautifully!) and duniya kare sawaal from Bahu Begum. As always, Shankar-Jaikishan too were in the mix with two lovely numbers from Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai: ajeeb dastaan hai yeh and mera dil ab tera o sajna.
Asha Bhosle too has sung wonderful songs for Meena Kumari: hum intezar karenge from Roshan’s Bahu Begum and tora man darpan kehlaye from Ravi’s Kaajal. And who can forget those mesmerizing Geeta Dutt songs from Hemant Kumar’s Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam: piya aiso jiya mein, koi door se awaaz de (where we barely see Meena Kumari) and of course na jao sainya? But my top pick for Meena Kumari is practically her last song from Pakeezah, composed by Ghulam Mohammed:
I have to admit that Asha Parekh isn’t my favourite actress; but when you look back at some of Hindi cinema’s best songs it is astonishing how often you see Asha Parekh enacting them on the screen. She has relatively fewer solo songs, but in duets she pops up amazingly often.
There are a large number of Asha Parekh songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar: zindagi kitni khubsoorat hai from Hemant Kumar’s Bin Badal Barsaat, koi matwala aaya mere dwaare from Shankar-Jaikishan’s Love in Tokyo, lo aa gayi unki yaad from Ravi’s Do Badan, suno sajna from Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s Aaye Din Bahaar Ke, teri aankhon ke siva from Madan Mohan’s Chirag and these three splendid R D Burman compositions: kya janu sajan from Baharon Ke Sapne, na ja mere humdum from Pyar Ka Mausam and na koi umang hai from Kati Patang.
It is however a pleasant surprise to note that Asha Bhosle too has sung a large number of very good songs for Asha Parekh. Think of aankhon se jo utri hai dil mein from O P Nayyar’s Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon, jab chali thandi hawa from Ravi’s Do Badan, parde mein rehne do from Shankar-Jaikishan’s Shikar, and this O P Nayyar song from Mere Sanam which is my pick as Asha Parekh’s best song:
Let us now look at some of the best solo songs picturized on Saira Banu. Saira Banu began her career in the early 1960s with Junglee … almost in a hurry to grow up as she sang ja ja ja mere bachpan with Lata Mangeshkar for Shankar-Jaikishan (SJ). Just a couple of years later, when she was still very young and beautiful, she sang tumko hamaari nazar lag jaye in SJ’s Aaye Milan Ki Bela! There was more nazar talk in unki pehli nazar kya asar kar gayi in SJ’s April Fool (although, with Biswajit, that was a bit of a surprise) and with unse mili nazar from SJ’s Jhuk Gaya Aasman. This was followed by the quaintly beautiful R D Burman composition sharm aati hai magar from Padosan, Towards the end of her career, Saira Banu sang one of Hindi cinema’s most seductive numbers, thoda sa thehro, with Lata Mangeshkar in Kalyanji-Anandji’s Victoria No 203.
But most would agree that this Lata Mangeshkar song with Saira Banu wearing a ‘half-sari’, composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal for Shagird, was her most memorable:
We will end this post by looking at some of Sharmila Tagore’s best solo songs. As always, Lata Mangeshkar turns out to be Sharmila’s most successful playback singer, although Asha Bhosle also suited her very well: recall yehi woh jagah hai from O P Nayyar’s Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi, zara haule haule chalo from O P Nayyar’s Sawan Ki Ghata and raat ke humsafar from SJ’s An Evening in Paris (this song also has Rafi singing, but it is Asha’s splendid voice that stays with you at the end).
But with Lata Mangeshkar the selection is much richer. Kuchh dil ne kaha from Hemant Kumar’s Anupama is a personal favorite, but we also have duniya mein aisa kahaan sab ka naseeb hai from Roshan’s Devar, gar tum bhula na doge from SJ’s Yakeen, chalo sajna from Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s Mere Hamdam Mere Dost, do din ki zindagi from Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s Satyakam, khai hai re hamne kasam from S D Burman’s Talash, hum the jinke sahare from Kalyanji-Anandji’s Safar, and ruke ruke se kadam from Madan Mohan’s Mausam. My top pick however is this R D Burman song from Amar Prem:
— The finest profiles I have read of Hindi film actors and actresses are by Dinesh Raheja on rediff.com. Read his profiles of Nargis, Meena Kumari, Asha Parekh, Saira Banu and Sharmila Tagore. You will enjoy them.