As I begin this compilation of the most popular (mostly solo) songs sung onscreen by Hindi film actresses of the 1970s, I start hearing Asha Bhosle’s voice more and more. Lata Mangeshkar was still in wonderful form, but the big difference in the 1970s was that music directors were now willing to use Asha’s voice for the film’s heroine; instead of just for the supporting actress or the cabaret dancer.
We’ll start with Mumtaz, and in the mid-1960s when Mumtaz still played supporting actress or vamp roles. But she was clearly evolving; as she sang yeh hai reshmi in Mere Sanam there were clear signs that a new heroine with oomph was emerging; an image reinforced with another O P Nayyar composition from Sawan Ki Ghata: aj koi pyar se. And when Mumtaz teamed up with Shammi Kapoor (and the look-alike twins) to sing aaj kal tere mere pyar ke charche with gay abandon in Shankar-Jaikishan’s Brahmachari it was clear that a new star was born.
There were other signals: Mumtaz’s role grew in Aadmi Aur Insaan (although a freak Saira Banu illness contributed to the situation), and she sang the film’s most popular song: Ravi’s zindagi ittefaq hai. Mumtaz’s early forays as a leading lady were with Jeetendra in Himmat and in Jigri Dost that featured the lovely raat suhani jaag rahi hai, but she catapulted to the top when she starred with Rajesh Khanna in Do Raaste. Do Raaste contained some memorable Laxmikant-Pyarelal (LP) tunes such as the duet chhup gaye saare nazaare.
Mumtaz’s best years as an actress followed: she received critical acclaim for her roles and got to sing some marvellous songs: sanam tu bewafaa in LP’s Khilona and jaise radha ne mala japi in Tere Mere Sapne, a film that also had two amazing S D Burman duets: jeevan ki bagiya and hey maine kasam li. Some Mumtaz films inevitably flopped, but we still remember their melodious music; for example these two really nice R D Burman tunes: jeene ka din from Gomti Ke Kinare and o majhi o majhi from the Amitabh starrer Bandhe Haath. But otherwise it was all about her pairing with Rajesh Khanna: maine dekha tune dekha from LP’s Dushman, duniya mein logon ko from R D Burman’s Apna Desh, as also chori chori chupke chupke and jai jai shiv shankar from R D Burman’s Aap Ki Kasam. But my top Mumtaz song has to be this magical number from Do Raaste:
Unlike Mumtaz, Hema Malini started her career as a leading lady. In her early films she only had to look pretty (which she undoubtedly was) and dance gracefully. So she was a dancing girl singing sharafat chhod di maine in LP’s Sharafat and rama rama gazab hui in S D Burman’s Naya Zamana, and a pretty actress doing aerobics and emerging from bathtubs as she sang o ghata sanwari in Abhinetri (Saira Banu however was always more enticing as she kicked legs and sent soap flakes flying in her many bathtub scenes).
Hema Malini looked stunningly beautiful in Johny Mera Naam and Andaz; even the cops tailing her couldn’t stop ogling as she sang o mere raja. She acted well in Andaz too as she discovered why zindagi ek safar hai suhana. She was the lover of the gora Rajendra Kumar in Gora Aur Kala singing a rather popular duet of its time: dheere dheere bol. But Hema Malini reached the top after her superlative performance in Seeta Aur Geeta in which she sang hawa ke saath saath.
Hema was now every leading actor’s favourite: with Dev Anand she acted in Chhupa Rustam, Shareef Badmaash (which had R D Burman’s pleasing neend churake raton mein) and Joshila (with more R D Burman tunes like sona rupa); with Dharmendra in a multitude of films including Jugnu where she sang S D Burman’s meri payaliya geet tere gayee and later Razia Sultan with Khayyam’s ae dil e nadaan; with Manoj Kumar she did Sanyasi (chal sanyasi mandir mein) and Dus Numbri; with Jeetendra she had Dulhan (she reportedly also nearly became his dulhan at that time), Khushboo featuring R D Burman’s do nainon mein, and as the blind dancer in Kinara who sang R D Burman’s abke na sawan barse; and with Rajesh Khanna in S D Burman’s Premnagar with the classical yeh kaisa sur mandir hai, and two R D Burman gems: baat purani hai in Mehbooba and, later, that truly melodious Kudrat number tune o rangeele.
But which would be that one song that truly paints the image of Hema Malini in front of your eyes? I know many readers won’t agree, but here is my pick:
Rekha entered Hindi films as a dusky siren; in one of her early films called Elaan she sang ang se ang laga le. She was more sprightly in Rampur Ka Lakshman where she waltzed in colourful dresses and even briefly turned into an accomplished song writer with gum hai kisike pyar mein. There was more of the same with Keemat, Kahani Kismet Ki (“maina aisa to nahin kaha tha“) and Khoon Pasina (tu mera ho gaya).
Suddenly, around 1978, Rekha reappeared in a new avatar. She was still glamorous, but now looked even more beautiful; Rediff’s Dinesh Raheja called it a ‘makeover miracle’ that turned her into a ‘divine diva’. It probably started with R D Burman’s aaj kal paoon zameen par in Ghar, quickly followed by Kalyanji-Anandji’s salaam e ishq in Muqaddar Ka Sikandar. There was more R D Burman melody in piya baawri in Khubsoorat and the sparks really flew as she teamed up with Mr Bachchan in Mr Natwarlal to sing tauba tauba to the pardesiya to Rajesh Roshan’s music.
Everyone sensed that Rekha’s best was just around the corner … and this happened after her marvellous portrayal of Umrao Jaan, embellished by Khayyam’s music. As she sang yeh kya jageh hain doston Rekha bewitched everyone with her wondrous looks and the magic in her eyes (in aankhon ki masti). Then followed Shiv-Hari’s Silsila with dekha ek khwab and neela aasman so gaya.
Rekha still looked fetching as she sang man kyun beheka from LP’s Ustav, and hame aur jeene ki from R D Burman’a Agar Tum Na Hote, but her best was now behind her. She wore spectacles in Ijaazat as she sang R D Burman’s katra katra milti hai, and appeared as a Plain Jane in Khoon Bhari Maang’s as she sang Rajesh Roshan’s hanste hanste. It was a joy to see her recently singing kaisi paheli in Parineeta, but the song we identify most with Rekha is this delicious Asha Bhosle song from Umrao Jaan:
For someone who was at the top for just over five years, Jaya Bhaduri sang a very large number of good songs on the silver screen. After Guddi featuring Vasant Desai’s bole re papihara one might have thought that Vani Jairam would become the voice of Jaya Bhaduri. But in the end it was Lata Mangeshkar who sang practically every Jaya hit song, be it sooni re nagariya from LP’s Uphaar, or two absolutely delightful Salil Chowdhury songs from Annadata: nis din nis din and raaton ke saaye.
Even a song like bahon mein chale aa from R D Burman’s Anamika, which suited Asha Bhosle more, was sung by Lata. In fact the only popular Asha songs sung onscreen by Jaya Bhaduri were from R D Burman’s Jawani Diwani and Dil Diwana, with the duet jaanejan dhundhta from Jawani Diwani being the top pick.
While most of Jaya’s popular songs were composed by the Burman family, Kalyanji-Anandji contributed their bit with banake kyun bigada re from Zanjeer and roothe roothe piya from Kora Kagaz (for which I can’t find the video) and Laxmikant-Pyarelal with songs notably in Uphaar, Piya Ka Ghar (yeh jeevan hai; a lovely Kishore background number featuring Jaya) and Ek Nazar (with the duet patta patta)
The best Jaya-Lata songs were beeti na bitai (a duet with Bhupender) from RDB’s Parichay, chupke chupke chal ri purwaiya from SDB’s Chupke Chupke, and maine kaha phoolon se from SDB’s Mili. But Jaya Bhaduri’s biggest musical, by a long mile, was SDB’s Abhimaan with two outstanding Lata duets (tere mere milan ki and teri bindiya re) and my pick for the best Jaya-Lata song:
We finally look at Zeenat Aman. Zeenat’s zest and zing (read her profile by Dinesh Raheja) began with R D Burman’s dam maro dam in Hare Rama Hare Krishna, sung beautifully by Asha Bhosle; there was more Asha as Zeenat sang Ravi’s tune uljhan suljhe na in the murder mystery Dhund. But the film that established Zeenat Aman as a top actress was R D Burman’s Yadoon Ki Baaraat with memorable Asha duets such as o meri soni and aap ke kamre mein.
Zeenat’s top years were 1973 and 1974, when she looked her best and delivered her biggest hits. With Dev Anand her best musical was R D Burman’s Heera Panna with the melodious panna ki tamanna hai. With Manoj Kumar she acted in the blockbuster Roti Kapada Aur Makaan featuring several hit Lata songs composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal including hai hai yeh majboori. With Sanjeev Kumar she did Manoranjan, an Indian version of Irma La Douce, and looked infinitely prettier than Shirley MacLaine (see R D Burman’s goyake chunanche), and with Rajesh Khanna in R D Burman’s Ajanabee (hum dono do premi).
While Zeenat continued to be a top star after 1975, and sang many good songs onscreen, some of her films weren’t proving to be such big box-office successes: there was R D Burman’s Shalimar in which Dharmendra was her co-star (aaina wohi rehta hai), and Raj Kapoor’s Satyam Shivam Sundaram with LP melodies such as satyam shivam sundaram and yashomati maiya. Even her The Great Gambler with Amitabh Bachchan wasn’t successful although it had great R D Burman tunes such as do lafzon ki hai; Zeenat’s Don with Amitabh was however a massive hit with songs by Kalyanji-Anandji such as jiska mujhe tha intezaar.
As the 1980s came in, Zeenat’s successes became more intermittent. Pukar with Amitabh had some nice R D Burman tunes, but her last big hit was Feroz Khan’s Qurbani with aap jaisa koi. There will truly not be another like Zeenat Aman; she was a true heart-stealer.