Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Our ten favourite Balraj Sahni songs

Balraj Sahni is a name familiar to all the aficionados of Hindi Film Cinema, especially the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. He was a great actor, not particularly handsome but very personable. He was equally good as an urban gentleman, a solid householder and as an impoverished farmer trying to eke out a living.

But he did not lip sync to many songs.

This is a sad truth Harvey and I discovered just after we had co-authored a post on Ashok Kumar songs. As mentioned there, unlike Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor, who moved their beaks to plenty of songs, Ashok Kumar did not, despite being a decent singer. At the end of that exercise, we set ourselves a harder job. Writing a post on songs that Balraj Sahni lip-synced to.

Mind you, Balraj Sahni has been in some of most iconic films of Indian Cinema like Do Beegha Zameen (1953), Garam Hawa (1974), Seema (1955) (he did sing in that one, thank god), Lajwanti (1958), Anuradha (1960), Sone ki Chidiya (1958) (oh Balraj, why didn't you?), Dharti ke Lal (1946) etc.

Several of our kind readers like Madhulika and Anu rattled off four songs or so. Dear girls, thank you. But, do you realise they were all? We managed (I should say Harvey managed, as he did major part of research) to squeeze out of this dry lemon a few more drops. Exhausted, we even added a couple of songs that we WISHED Balraj had lip synched to. We will be eternally grateful to readers who list songs that Balraj 'sang'.

1.       tu pyaar kaa saagar hai Seema (1955)
MD: Shankar-Jaikishan; Lyrics: Shailendra; Singer: Manna Dey

Harvey: Balraj Sahni, in his urban role, plays the sensitive, suave and understanding mentor. Nutan, the wronged orphan, who is rebelling against the injustices of the society and distrusts everybody, is his protégé. Both gave marvellous performances under the capable direction of the veteran Amiya Chakravarty.

Ava: Balraj Sahni could carry off being a rustic peasant and an urban gentleman with elan.  Here, in his suited booted gentleman avatar,  he runs a shelter for destitute girls, Nutan being the latest entrant. She is unruly, having been buffeted by a hard life. Balraj takes to the piano to sing a song to calm her down. It is one of the best spiritual songs that does not address any particular deity, just a 'supreme being' who is a 'sea of love'.

      Manna Dey, you will soon notice, provided the voice for the most songs that Balraj lip-synched          to.

2.       so jaa re raj dulare Jawab (1955)
MD: Nashad; Lyrics: Khumar Barabankvi; Singer: Talat Mahmood

Harvey: Jawab (1955) cashes on the success of Do Bheega Zameen (1953) and is sort of a spin off of the same story and develops the father - son relationship angle ahead. What attracted both of us to the song was not only the male lori but also the dulcet tones of Talat Mahmood.

Ava: The dulcet tones of  Talat Mahmood's voice suit Balraj just as well as Manna Dey's voice does. Here he is singing a lullaby for his son. On looking at the IMDB entry on this movie, I guess it is a family melodrama where the father stakes his all for his son's education and gets nothing but ingratitude in return. Or maybe it's the son's wife who drags him away. (Think Do Raaste).

Harvey: No, dear Ava, Geeta Bali would never do such a thing. There sure will be conflicts and lots of rona-dhona and girl standing downstairs. If anybody wants to watch this melodrama, he/she can do it here.

Ava: It would be interesting to see if Geeta Bali was the 'vamp' here or not.

3.       manzil wahi hai pyaar ki raahen badal gaye Kathputli (1957)
MD: Shankar Jaikishan; Lyrics: Shailendra; Singer: Subir Sen

Harvey: I had two big misunderstandings about this song. One was that this was sung by Hemant Kumar. The second one was that this song celebrates the fact that the two protagonists have left their respective life-partners and are embarking on a journey with each other. No, although the lyrics would give one this idea, this is not the case and what do they really mean by ‘raahi badal gaye’ remains a mystery to me.

Ava: I saw this movie but remember nothing except that Balraj is the mentor of Vyjayantimala but she chooses another.  There is no mystery here Harvey dear, it means that the destination of love is the same but the travelers change. To expand, Love is sought by various people through ages. Call me if you still don't understand. 😇😇 It is a beautiful song and we thank Balraj for having sung it.

Harvey: If Ava explains, Harvey understands it. Thank you, Ava!

4.       tujh me ram, mujh me ramPardesi (1957)
MD: Anil Biswas; Lyrics: Prem Dhawan; Singer: Manna Dey

Harvey: From contemporary stories, we move on to a historical. I think this is the only historical in which Balraj Sahni acted. Pardesi or Khozhdenie Za Tri Moray (The Journey Beyond Three Seas) was the first Indo-Soviet co-production. The film is based on memoirs of XVth century Russian traveller Afanasy Nikitin of his journey through certain parts of India. Here he meets his friend Sakharam, who seeing that Afanasy is not allowed to enter a Hindu temple sings about god being in every person, regardless of caste, colour and creed.

Ava: Balraj sang not one, not two but three songs in this film. He plays a travelling performer who keeps bumping into Nikitin and helping him out or just talking to him.  This song was the best by far so we picked it.

The song we have chosen gives me goosebumps when I hear it. It has a powerful message which is, alas, still needed, six decades after it was sung. 'sabse kar le pyar jagat me koi nahi hai paraya re', so simple, yet so hard for people to follow.

Harvey: Just to clarify, I don't get any goosebumps. Well, to tell you the truth, I didn't even try.

Ava: I guess goosebumps are subjective. 😉

5.       naach re dharti ke pyaare Heera Moti (1958)
MD: Roshan; Lyrics: Shailendra; Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Hemant Kumar

Harvey: The plight of small farmers in the XVth century of Pardesi must have been similar to that of the XXth century although the agricultural tools might have changed. The plight of the rural people in India was a major theme in Munshi Premchand’s stories. Heera Moti is based on such a short story. If Premchand ever envisoned his farmers singing like they do in the Indian film industry is a different story altogether.

Ava: Rajia and Dhuri are poor but happy. They love their oxen called Heera and Moti. Alas, the evil zamindar covets Heera Moti and hounds Rajia and Dhuri out of the village. They are forced to go to the city to work and earn enough money to get back their oxen. Nirupa Roy was one of Balraj Sahni's frequent co-stars in films and they looked good together. Balraj surprisingly lip syncs to a few lines in this song, allowing us to post it here.

6.       dekhiyen yun na sharmaiyegaa Bindiya (1960)
MD: Iqbal Qureshi; Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan; Singers: Mukesh, Usha Khanna

Harvey: After letting him play all sorts of serious men with larger causes in mind than conjugal bliss, Balraj Sahni gets to romance a bit and gets a suhaag raat to boot. A consummate actor that he is, he absolves even this with aplomb.
Ava: Again, cannot pass up a chance to post a song sung by Mukesh where our usually gentlemanly Balraj, who barely ever even hugs his co-star, actually sings this foreplay-ish song. Ahem!

Harvey: Well, he was not always coy like that in every film. In Izzat (1968) he even played an evil zamindar and you know what evil filmi zamindars do.

Ava: Nahiiiiiiiin.

7.       ae meri zohra-jabeenWaqt (1965)
MD: Ravi;
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi; Singer: Manna Dey

Harvey: Romantic BS 2.0 wooing his lawfully wedded wife in front of everybody. Nice to see a song which gives a mature couple time and space to be romantic. I think, this must have been first of its kind. Ava: Time yes, space? In front of a full Mehfil?

Ava: Now this is classic and timeless.  This is a song worthy Balraj every bit. Here he unashamedly serenades his wife, a mother of three young boys. Balraj is dressed in a pathani suit and thumps himself on the chest and sings this beautiful beautiful qawwali which could only have been written by Sahir and sung by Manna Dey. There are several romantic songs in the film where a young and beautiful Sadhna cavorts with Sunil Dutt and Sharmila with Shashi, but this song takes the cake, icing and the cherry on top as Achala Sachdev blushes like crazy as her husband sings.
8.       maine pee sharab Naya Rasta (1970)
MD: N. Dutta; Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi; Singer: Mohd. Rafi

Harvey: A bewda (drunkard) Balraj and to top it he gets to criticise the society and its hypocrisy per Sahir's lyrics! He goes as far as to announce a revolution, which will avenge all the misdeeds (we are waiting...!). I totally agree with the general sentiment of the song but I just can't stop thinking, the VAT 69 guzzlers are at least not bothering random people on the street.

Ava: He is all overwrought, Harvey, not in his sane mind. Poor Balraj, always so oppressed. Either his land is snatched away by the evil landlord or his wife runs away or his evil daughter-in-law turns him out of the house. Bechara! He should drink his 'scriptwriter ka khoon'.

9.   main tumhi se poochati hoon — Black Cat (1959)
MD: N. Dutta; Lyrics: Jaan Nissar Akhtar; Singer: Lata Mangeshkar, Mohd. Rafi

Harvey: Here Balraj Sahni does get to hum some lines in the prelude to Rafi's voice, but then it is only the prelude. So it is neither here nor there, that is why we put it at the end. the song is lovely though, isn't it?

Ava: What a gorgeous song.  Thank you, thank you Balraj for lip syncing to a bit of this one and allowing us to sneak it in. How lovely is Minu Mumtaz and how melodious the song. 

One song we wished Balraj Sahni had sung:

Ava: There were times when Harvey and I were looking at all sorts of songs that we thought Balraj would have lip-synced to.  I would even sit through the entire song because often Balraj's face wasn't visible on the video. When I listened to the beautiful 'Ganga aaye kahan se' from Kabuliwala (1961). I felt so sad that we couldn't include the song as Balraj just looks around while the song plays in the background. Just like Eliza Doolittle I wanted to scream. 'Come on, Balraj, move your bloomin' lips'.
Dharti kahe pukaar ke is a glorious song from a glorious film that won accolades and brought honor to India. Too bad Balraj did not 'sing' it, we would have loved to include it.

Harvey: I think, Bimal Roy could have made Balraj Sahni and Nirupa Roy sing, 'haryala savan dhol bajata aaya'. For the record I must say, I might have had crazy ideas while making this list, but I never lost my restraint like Ava did. I just hummed, 'uthaaye jaa unke sitam aur jeeye jaa' to myself. I have forebearance, I do.

10.   ae mere pyaare watan Kabuliwala (1961)
MD: Salil Chowdhary; Lyrics: Prem Dhawan; Singer: Manna Dey

Harvey: This song stirs my heart all up. More than patriotism, I think, this song evokes up emotions of longing of a person, who has been living away from his beloved ones, feeling unwelcome in his new surroundings leading to a deep, deep sadness. This is an universal feeling with which everybody can relate to. We are living in times, where more and more people are on the move, are forced to move by war, conflict, strife, ecological upheavals and economic conditions. The recipient society sees them often as a burden and not the human being in that person. Rabindranath Tagore saw this situation hundred years back and hundred years later, the situation has not changed. In a globalised world, it seems, we are ready to accept global products but not the global consequences of our consumerism.
Ava: I ditto everything Harvey wrote. Such a beautiful song, that gets to the core of your heart and stays there.

So here ends our quest for Balraj Sahni songs. We would be happy to learn of any song that slipped off our radar. Dear reader, HELP.

Enjoy the playlist.