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When you hear a popular film song today the image that invades the eye is of the actor enacting the song, not of the playback singer.

bharat bhushanHalf a century ago things were different. We immediately identified Roshan’s zindagi bhar nahi bhulegi from Barsaat Ki Raat with Mohammed Rafi or S N Tripathi’s aa laut ke aaja mere meet from Rani Rupmati with Mukesh but hardly ever remembered that it was Bharat Bhushan who sang these songs on the screen.

Bharat Bhushan was a bit of an enigma. How did he get to sing so many outstanding songs while appearing deadpan, boring and dumb on the screen? (For instance see how he dampens the momentum of the greatest qawali that will ever be filmed with his appearance around 5:55.) Dinesh Raheja says it was because of “his ability to convey anguish”; others might think that he was just plain lucky.

But in the 1950s and early 1960s Bharat Bhushan sang some of Hindi cinema’s most memorable songs. Think of Naushad’s o duniya ke rakhwale from Baiju Bawra sung by Rafi, Madan Mohan’s phir wohi shaam from Jahan Ara sung by Talat Mehmood, Shankar-Jaikishan’s sur na saje from Basant Bahar sung by Manna Dey and duniya na bhaye sung by Rafi from the same film, Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s jab jab bahaar aayi from Taqdeer sung by Rafi or indeed R D Burman’s tum bin jaoon kahaan from Pyar Ka Mausam sung by Kishore Kumar. All these songs were picturized on Bharat Bhushan!

However my pick for the best song picturized on Bharat Bhushan has got to be this memorable Naushad-Rafi bhajan from Baiju Bawra:

biswajit

We will next direct our gaze at Biswajit. Biswajit was essentially a star of the 1960s, but during that decade he sang an incredibly large number of popular songs on screen, in most cases composed by Hemant Kumar and O P Nayyar. One might say that he was fortunate to run into Hemant Kumar in his best form as a singer and composer: listen to zara nazron se kehdo ji from Bees Saal Baad, zindagi kitni khubsoorat hai, jab jaag uthe armaan from Bin Badal Barsaat — which also had that charming duet ek bar zara phir kehdo (which failed to recreate the mesmerizing magic of its Bengali equivalent picturized on Uttam-Suchitra). And how is one to describe the music of Kohraa in rah bani khud manzil and yeh nayan dare dare?

But it wasn’t just Hemant. Rafi too sang some amazingly good songs for Biswajit. Ravi’s Shehnai had na jhatko zulf se pani, and Shankar-Jaikishan’s April Fool had meri mohabbat pak mohabbat and aa gale lag jaa (where Biswajit flirts with Saira Banu trying to be a synchronized swimmer). And then of course there was O P Nayyar’s Mere Sanam studded with compositions like humdum mera, hue hain tum pe aashiq hum, tukde hain mere dil ke and, above all, the evergreen pukarta chala hoon. There was more O P Nayyar melody with Rafi’s phir milogi kabhi from Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi and Mahendra Kapoor’s lakhon hai yahaan dil wale from Kismet, and Laxmikant-Pyarelal gave us bash o hawas and nazar na lag jaaye from Night in London.

But if asked to pick my favourite Biswajit song, I will return to Hemant Kumar singing this song:

 

joymukherjeeJoy Mukherjee must consider himself lucky that he was around in the 1960s: O P Nayyar was in astonishing form, Shankar-Jaikishan were having a second marvellous decade, Laxmikant-Pyarelal were beginning to find their wings … and, above all, there was Mohammed Rafi singing for him in the most wondrous vein! So Joy had many good reasons to thank Rafi …

 

Ek Musafir Ek Hasina had other O P Nayyar-Rafi gems: humko tumhare ishq ne and the duet aap yun hi agar. This singing team would work together again in Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon to produce equally memorable music: banda parwar, aanchal me sajaa lena kaliyan and — my personal favourite — lakhon hain nigahon mein. Then followed Shankar-Jaikishan’s Love in Tokyo with Rafi singing le gayi dil and aaja re aa zaraa and Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s Shagird with bade mian deewaane (where it is a pleasant surprise to hear a bit of Manna Dey). Joy’s swansong was again with O P Nayyar: dil ki awaaz bhi sun from his magnum opus Humsaya that crashed at the box office and devastated Joy’s joy.

manoj-kumarWhile Mahendra Kapoor sang Manoj Kumar’s more high-pitched patriotic numbers, and Rafi sang some slow numbers, the actor’s enduring association was always with Mukesh.

The Manoj-Mukesh partnership began with teri yaad dilse bhulane chala hoon from Shankar-Jaikishan’s Hariyali Aur Rasta and flourished with main to ek khwab hoon from Kalyanji-Anandji’s Himalay Ki Godmein, tum bin jeevan kaise beeta from Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s Anita, koi jab tumhara hriday from Kalyanji-Anandji’s Purab Aur Paschim, bas yahi apradh main har baar karta hoon from Shankar-Jaikishan’s Pehchan, and duniya ek numbri from Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s Dus Numbri (perhaps the last song of this duo before Mukesh died). Some popular Manoj-Mukesh duets were ek pyar ka nagma hai from Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s Shor, main na bhoolunga from Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s Roti Kapada Aur Makaan and chal sanyasi mandir mein from Shankar-Jaikishan’s Sanyasi.

Manoj Kumar’s most popular song with Mahendra Kapoor was mere desh ki dharti from Kalyanji-Anandji’s Upkar. But there were other gems like meri jaan tum pe from O P Nayyar’s Sawan Ki Ghata and kaisi haseen aaj, the controversial duet with Rafi in Naushad’s Aadmi where Manoj Kumar apparently asked Mahendra Kapoor to be his voice instead of Talat Mehmood (you judge which version is better).

With Rafi Manoj Kumar only had a handful of hits: raha gardishon mein hardam and bhari duniya mein from Ravi’s Do Badan, and a couple of good songs from Ravi’s Amaanat that had a delayed release: door reh kar na karo baat and matlab nikal gayaa hai to. But to pick my favourite Manoj Kumar song I have to return to Mukesh, and to this song (the story goes that Sunil Gavaskar played this song on his car stereo to propose to his future wife):

 

jeetendraThe early Jeetendra showed up as a sculptor singing the title song geet gaya pathar rone to Ramlal’s music. He seemed a handsome, sensitive actor; that’s why his new avatar wearing white shoes and dancing away to mast baharon ka main aashiq in Laxmikant-Pyarelal (LP)’s Farz was a complete surprise. There was more mad dancing in white shoes with ek bechara in R D Burman’s Waris (a song more suitable for Kishore Kumar) and in black shoes in agar tu ladki hoti from LP’s Himmat (although how Mumtaz could be mistaken for a ladka boggles the imagination).

The Jeetendra without white shoes (and occasionally with a moustache) did shine through in several excellent Rafi and Kishore songs. Listen to aane se uske from LP’s Jeene Ki Raah, gham uthane ke liye from Shankar-Jaikishan’s Mere Huzoor, jo tum hasogi to from Shankar-Jaikishan’s Kathputl, main jahaan chala jaaon from LP’s Banphooli, the attempted qawali haal kya hai from LP’s Anokhi Ada, o majhi re from R D Burman’s Khushboo and jaane kya soch kar from R D Burman’s Kinara.

Jeetendra also sang a large number of enchanting duets: aa mere humjoli aa from Jeene Ki Raah, kisi raah mein from Mere Humsafar (believed to be a favourite of Mohammed Azharuddin), haye re haye and dhal gaya din from Humjoli, rut bekaraar hai from Maa Aur Mamta, kitna pyara wada and chadhti jawani from Caravan, ab ke sawan from Jaise Ko Taisa, nahin nahin from Swarg Narak and his big comeback song nainon me sapna with Sridevi in Himmatwali.

But my best memories of Jeetendra are associated with this lovely tonga ride number from Parichay:

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