The best Hindi film songs of all time? We attempted the impossible by asking legends Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle to list their favourites out of the thousands of numbers they've sung. Then, we got 15 music stalwarts to pick the top 10 Bollywood songs of the last 100 years. Listen in on a century of great film music with us. We dare you to do it without humming...
Music and Bollywood are inseparable - lovers entwined in mad passion. There is no situation, no occasion, no emotion for which a Hindi film song hasn't been created. From sad, soulful numbers to ballads with ornate Urdu couplets; from high-brow poetry to the new trend of using English words as 'hook lines'; Bollywood music has changed tremendously over 100 years.
Brunch celebrates this unique treasure, this unparalleled legacy, by attempting to compile the best songs of all time. So we asked two playback legends - Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle - to share their favourites from the songs they have sung. And we got other industry hotshots to choose what they deem Bollywood's best. As the tunes poured in, some songs kept cropping up in list after list. They made it to our bumper compendium of classics - tunes that shine despite the passage of time. This one goes out to every music lover, especially you!
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Trying to get the legendary Lata Mangeshkar to pick the top 20 songs from her repertoire of an estimated 25,000-50,000 tracks is like attempting to look for the twenty brightest pebbles on an expansive beach! She has lent her voice to four generations of leading ladies in Bollywood: an unparalleled achievement for any singer anywhere at any point of human history!
"I have very beautiful memories attached with almost all my songs," says Mangeshkar, reclusive but still graceful at 84. "But there are a few which are personal favourites."
She didn't have to struggle much to recall those favourites even as she went through a list of about 100 of her best-known songs that I had got along to jog her memory. In fact, she pointed out that I hadn't listed many of her favourites!
Here are the best songs from the vast treasure-trove of outstanding songs, as chosen by the legend herself.
Lata Mangeshkar's top tunes
Of the many songs she lent her voice to, the legend picks her favourites
1. Tu jahan jahan chalega (Mera Saaya, 1966). Music: Madan Mohan. Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan
"It's a beautiful composition by Madan bhaiya about yearning for a loved one that you have lost. Exceptionally touching and close to my heart."
2. Lag jaa gale (Woh Kaun Thi, 1964). Music: Madan Mohan. Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan
"Sometimes a song is either lyrically heavy or melodically strong. At times, it's both but tends to lose impact when picturised. It also happens that a song is badly written and scored but is visually so stunning that it leaves an impression on our heart and mind. This song has all those three elements."
3. Aaja re pardesi (Madhumati, 1958) Music: Salil Chowdhury. Lyrics: Shailendra
"This was my first super-hit and it scores on lyrics, tune and acting."
4. Rahe na rahe hum (Mamta, 1966) Music: Roshan Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
"The music and lyrics make for a great composition."
5. Ja re ud jaare panchi (Maya, 1961) Music: Salil Chowdhury. Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
"The entire package (music, lyrics and my rendition) has a heart-touching quality. I love the use of the saxophone."
6. O sajna, barkha bahaar aayi (Parakh 1960). Music: Salil Chowdhury. Lyrics: Shailendra
"I'm in love with this song. Salilda composed it beautifully and blended it with the lyrics by Shailendraji, while Bimal Roy's camera-work (pictured on Sadhana), with close-ups of the rain, were outstanding. This melody is also unforgettable because of the contributions of people like Abdul Halim Jaffar Khan, who provided the accompanying instrumentation with the sitar beautifully."
7. Aaega aanewala (Mahal, 1949). Music: Khemchand Prakash. Lyrics: Nakhshab Jaaravchi
"It was one of my first major hits. The lip-syncing on screen by Madhubala added a special allure to the song and set the ball rolling for other hits."
8. Pyaar kiya toh darna kya (Mughal-e-Azam, 1960). Music: Naushad. Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
"I love the song's lyrics, music, choreography and the mood. Many rebellious emotions are conveyed through it."
9. Allah tero naam (Hum Dono, 1961). Music: Jaidev. Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
"Perhaps the most melodious and all-encompassing prayer for humanity. Gandhiji philosophy: 'sabko sanmati de bhagwan,' appeals to me. The lyrics touch your heart and the enchanting music fills my heart with hope."
10. Zara si aahat hoti (Haqeeqat, 1964). Music: Madan Mohan. Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi
"Kaifi saheb's lyrics are haunting. Madan bhaiya created some fine nuances even though the tune was simple. The melody stays with you long after you have heard the song."
11. Ae dil-e-nadaan (Razia Sultan, 1983). Music: Khayyam. Lyrics: Jan Nisar Akhtar
"Sometimes, the director's vision of a song adds great value to the composition. I loved the way it was explained to me by Kamal Amrohi. I just closed my eyes, rendered it and conveyed the emotions. One of my favourite Urdu ghazals!"
12. Thaare rahiyo (Pakeezah, 1972). Music: Gulam Mohammed. Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
"The Rajasthani folk tune attached to the song adds a special charm to it. The way Meena Kumari has enacted it is also memorable. I love this song!"
13. Ajeeb dastan hai yeh (Dil Apna Aur Preet Paraya, 1960). Music: Shankar-Jaikishan. Lyrics: Shailendra
"One of the most beautiful compositions by Shankar-Jaikishan and penned by Shailendra. I love the sound of the saxophone in this song as well."
14. Woh bhooli dastaan (Sanjog, 1961). Music: Madan Mohan. Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan
"I love the song, especially since its lyrics are so beautiful."
15. Tere bina zindagi (Aandhi, 1975). Music: RD Burman. Lyrics: Gulzar
"Stunning picturisation and such appealing lyrics! RD Burman's music and Sanjeev Kumar's dialogues add a wonderful dimension to the song. And of course, Kishoreda and I also rendered it with our heart and soul."
16. Dikhayee diyen (Bazaar, 1982). Music: Khayyam. Lyrics: Mir Taqi Mir
"This is one ghazal by Mir that is closest to my heart. Khayyam sahab's music only makes it better."
17. Bada natkhat hai (Amar Prem, 1972). Music: RD Burman. Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
"People say this is one of my most touching songs. I agree. The way it has been picturised brings out a mother's love for her son. And my voice suits Sharmila very well. Not to forget the music by RD Burman, my favourite."
18. O beqarar dil (Kohra, 1964). Music: Hemant Kumar. Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi
"There's an easy sense of suppleness in this number. It's penned by Kaifi saheb, and it's just beautiful."
19. Yeh kahaan aa gaye hum (Silsila, 1981). Music: Hariprasad Chaurasia and Shivkumar Sharma. Lyrics: Javed Akhtar
"The lyrics are beautiful! I sang this song with Bachchan saab and it was a challenge to blend my voice with his. I read somewhere that Javed saheb, who wrote the lyrics, felt the line, 'Huyi aur bhi mulayam, meri shyam dhalte dhalte,' couldn't be sung more meaningfully by any singer in the world but me. It's a huge compliment, because the song was very challenging for me to sing."
20. Is duniya mei jina hai toh (Gumnaam, 1965). Music: Shankar-Jaikishan. Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri
"I love this breezy carefree song picturised on Helen. I don't usually sing cabaret numbers, so this was interesting to render."
When Asha Bhosle sings, the nation listens. When she strikes an opening note, the whole country sings along.
Whether it's the flirtatious Aaiye meherbaan (Howrah Bridge), the romantic Aage bhi jaane na tu (Waqt), the haunting Mera kuch saamaan (Ijaazat) or even the music albums that she has been part of (the delightful Jaanam Samjha Karo for instance) she has mesmerised generations.
"It is very tough to choose 15-20 songs out of more than seven decades of singing," Bhosle says. "The songs I have chosen are not in any order of preference. For me every song I sing is always like my first song."
Her personal favourites cut across eras, but still evoke the same emotions.
Asha Bhosle's all-time favourites
The iconic singer lists favourite songs that feature her vocals
1. Yeh kya jageh hai doston and In aankhon ki masti ke (Umrao Jaan, 1981). Music: Khayyam. Lyrics: Shahryar
"Jaidevji was originally supposed to compose the music for this film, but later Khayyam saheb took over. Director Muzaffar Ali gave me a novel on Umrao Jaan to read to get into Umrao's frame of mind before we recorded. Everything about this song was so unique. It was sad, haunting and I sung it two notes lower than my usual pitch.
"For In aankhon ki masti ke... Khayyam tried an Indian classical style and we improvised each line with harkats. Rekha added such magic to it."
2. Jhoote naina bole saachi batiyaan (Lekin, 1991). Music: Hridaynath Mangeshkar. Lyrics: Gulzar
"My brother Hridaynath Mangeshkar is a tough taskmaster. He trips you and challenges you with his experimentation with form. We recorded this song late into the night. It is a classical tune beautifully composed and was a challenge to sing. It's also Hemaji's favourite."
3. Kaali ghata chhaye (Sujata, 1959). Music: SD Burman. Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
"It's a deceptively simple tune. But each line unravelled a new complexity as I discovered. Nutan's simplicity and longing for love heightened the mood of Bimalda's song."
4. Aaiye meherban (Howrah Bridge, 1958). Music: OP Nayyar. Lyrics: Qamar Jalalabadi
"Having the beautiful Madhubala as a diva crooner was half the battle won. OP Nayyar's score was inspired."
5. Shok nazar ki bijliyan (Woh Kaun Thi, 1964). Music: Madan Mohan. Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan
"One of the few chartbusters I had with Madan Mohan. I liked the fact that it was picturised at a skating rink."
6. Roz roz aankhon tale (Jeeva, 1986). Music: RD Burman. Lyrics: Gulzar
"Pancham's biggest misfortune was that his best songs never got their due or were only recognised after his time. I like this song's opening and middle notes."
7. Chain se humko kabhi (Pran Jaaye Par Vachan Na Jaaye, 1974). Music: OP Nayyar. Lyrics: SH Bihari
"In sad moments, this song is a balm. I'm always asked for this song at my shows. SH Bihari has told me that the song was a reflection of the pain and turbulence I was going through at that time."
8. Sajna hai mujhe (Saudagar, 1973). Music: Ravindra Jain. Lyrics: Ravindra Jain
"The composition was melodious and also picturised evocatively."
9. Katra katra; Chhoti si kahaani se and Mera kuch saamaan (Ijaazat, 1988). Music: RD Burman. Lyrics: Gulzar
"Pancham made me use the double voice effect - he made me sing Katra katra twice, one over the other, to get an echo effect. This was much before editing and new forms of dubbing evolved. It was a tough song. Those days, it was all one take. No cut, copy and paste.
At the recording of Mera kuch samaan, Pancham would quarrel with Gulzar over the esoteric lyrics. When I started humming the refrain 'Woh lauta do' Pancham caught on to that catchphrase and composed the tune."
10. Raaz ki baat hai (Dil Hi To Hai, 1963). Music: Roshan. Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
"One of my favourite qawwalis. If I'm not mistaken, Lata didi is also very fond of this song of mine."
11. Tu tu hai wohi (Yeh Waada Raha, 1982). Music: RD Burman. Lyrics: Gulshan Bawra
"Pancham, Ramesh Behl and I were all one group and we'd discuss music and songs over the choicest khaana-peena. The Yeh Waada Raha songs happened at one such magical moment. I miss those days."
12. Maang mein bharle rang (Mujhe Jeene Do, 1963). Music: Jaidev. Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
"It's a very difficult song to sing, plus it had a sweet tune by Jaidevji."
13. Rang de (Thakshak, 1999). Music: AR Rahman. Lyrics: Mehboob
"It was a difficult song that AR Rahman made me sing. I feel breathless as the lyrics and the tune coil and overlap."
14. Abhi na jao chhod kar (Hum Dono, 1961). Music: Jaidev. Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
"Jaidev's tunes were like him - simple and pure. The aching feeling and the Sadhana-Dev Anand magic only added to the song's appeal. Rafi saab's nuances helped me as a singer too."
15. Ae babua, yeh mahua (Sadma, 1983). Music: Ilayaraja. Lyrics: Gulzar
"I've always enjoyed singing for Ilayaraja for his unusual rhythm pattern. I didn't realise this would turn into such a sensual song. It's picturised with Kamal Haasan and Silk Smitha. It's just Wow!"
16. Ambar ki ek pakh surahi (Kadambari, 1976). Music: Vilayat Ali Khan. Lyrics: Amrita Pritam
"This song by Ustad Vilayat Khan was mellow and had a lot of harkats. It was emotionally enriching."
17. Dum maro dum (Hare Rama Hare Krishna, 1972). Music: RD Burman. Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
"Sachin Dev Burman didn't want to compose for this film because it dealt with drugs and hippies, so Pancham took over. He gave the iconic Dum maro dum some really enchanting bass and harkats."
18. Chura liya hai (Yaadon Ki Baraat, 1973). Music: RD Burman. Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
"One of the most requested songs at all my shows. There's something really tender and love-struck about Pancham's lilting tune."
19. Raat akeli hai (Jewel Thief, 1967). Music: SD Burman. Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
"Dada wanted me to sing seductively and end the song with the high note, almost like a child whispering into her mother's ears and then escalating the vocals to a high pitch at the last minute. Dada was thrilled to bits."
From HT Brunch, September 1
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