Friday, July 17, 2009

The enduring power of certain old Hindi film songs

This post first appeared in the PassionForCinema blog on July 15, 2009.

Raichand Boral

Of all the Raichand Boral (1903-1981) songs I have listened to—not that many, given how rare these songs are—my favorite has to be Binota Roy’s rendering of “Manwa kaahey phir tadpaayey” from Calcutta-based New Theatres’ Wapas (1943). The world of old Hindi films is full of so many beautiful songs that make it very difficult, if not plain impossible, to pick out favorites. Moreover, selecting favorites is purely an exercise in subjectivity and, indeed, self-expression; what appeals to me may not appeal to another.

To put it in a different way, I have noticed that certain songs have this unfailing power to make me feel completely in tune with myself, irrespective of when and where I listen to them, irrespective of my circumstances in life, irrespective of everything—and “Manwa kaahey phir tadpaayey,” with its charming Bangla intonation, simply has to be one of those songs. Here it is: Song 1:

I place these melodies in a category that I call “instant elevation.” My “instant elevation” songs are what I turn to when I feel weary of life, when I feel uninspired and lost, when I desperately need perspective, and even when I am a bit too smug for my own good. And I have never been let down. For this, I am extremely grateful—it is the one comforting thing in a world of here-today-gone-tomorrow. I hope I never lose this capacity to draw joy from this little well of mine.

The first time I heard this R. C. Boral composition, I was in standard X, feverishly mugging the “21 sets” preparation material (is it still around?) for the Maharashtra State Board exams. After every hour of mugging, I would reward myself with one “instant elevation” song, and then, inspired, return to mugging. Nearly two decades down the line, this literal interspersing of “instant elevation” songs with life’s many duties continues.

I also remember my habit (I still do it, much to the exasperation of my poor husband) of recording a single song repeatedly onto a whole side of an audiotape, sometimes even both sides, and listening to it non-stop. My one-song tapes would draw an irritated remark from my grandmother, “Why is the same song playing over and over again?”

Other culprits in the one-song tapes were, to name a few: Lata’s famous “Tum na jaaney kis jahaan mein kho gayey” from Sazaa (1951), composed by S. D. Burman; two Khemchand Prakash ditties from Ziddi (1948)—Lata’s lively “Chanda rey jaa rey jaa rey” and the delightful Lata-Kishore duet, “Yeh kaun aayaa”—the latter sounding very Pankaj Mullickesque; and M. S. Subbulakshmi’s “Main Haricharanan ki daasi” from her Hindi version of Meera (1947), composed by S.V. Venkatraman. (Incidentally, Binota Roy’s “Manwa kaahey phir tadpaayey” reminds me, in some subtle way, of M.S.’s songs in Meera—it could be the style of singing, the orchestration, the heartwrenching melody; I am unable to pinpoint it. It is just one of those things that strike me afresh every time I listen to it.)

I also have another name for my “instant elevation” songs: instant levelers. They elevate, and, by the same token, they level: during moments of hubris, when I revel in self-importance, nothing is more humbling than the majesty of my favorite music.

The years come and go, people come and go; even memories fade. As they say, nothing’s forever. But I find I am able to hold on to the beauty of a R. C. Boral song. On that note, I will leave you with (the quite literally not-to-be-forgotten) “Bhool na jaana aaj ki baaten” melody from Wapas, sung by actor-singer Ashit Baran, and Binota Roy. Here goes: Song 2:


  1. Manwa kahe has to be one of my favorites as well. Just absolutely adore this masterpiece by RCB.
    Shyamal Bhatia

  2. I really like this post you describe it very well and i hope so you will give more informative post regard these post like Old Hindi Movies

    1. I just saw your comment. Thank you for the appreciation.