For the Hindustani classical music exponent, it is the season of the Malhar Raag, the singing of which is believed to bring torrential rain. For the village belles, it is time to sing a lilting Bhojpuri kajari with all its love and longing. For urban people like us there is no choice but to hum Hindi film songs, the older the better.
The library of Saranglok, a cultural centre in Mohali, teeming with books became the setting for a charming evening of old film songs designed by Punjabi writer Jasbir Bhullar. The three ladies invited to sing were all amateurs with writer Taran Gujral, all of 84, heading the trio. Following her was the younger Neelam Goel, a retired principal, and the youngest was painter Sadhna Sangar. The common factor of the three was rejoicing in the glory of old film songs when melody mattered.
With a whimsical microphone and no musical accompaniment, the three amateurs cast such a spell that the listeners were transported from the humdrum to the ecstatic. It is not to diminish their talent but the real star was this special unique genre called the Hindi film song. While the purists may scoff at this effort of re-singing the heard melodies, yet the power of these songs on the collective consciousness is amazing. It is not without reason that theatre and music director BV Karanth had described the film numbers as folk songs of the urban population of India.
Well, one could move a few steps ahead and call them folk songs of the urban population of the subcontinent. Some years ago, at a conference of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) women writers, Zahida Hina, a writer from Karachi, said: “During the day when papers are read there is a problem of communication but after dinner when we gather to sing film songs it is interesting to hear even the Sri Lankan delegates sing intricate Hindi numbers rendered in the original by a Hemant Kumar or a Lata Mangeshkar!”
How come one finds familiar songs on unfamiliar lips? Interestingly, this question was posed by lyricist Indivar in a vintage 1968 song from ‘Anokhi Raat’ with Mukesh singing: ‘Anjaane Hothon Par Kyon Pehchane Geet Hain!’ It is the combination of some of the finest poets and music composers coming together to create an emotive lingua franca or bridge language through the film songs. Coming back to our small but memorable gathering at Mohali, two songs that proved to be show-stealers were from the 1940s and that too by singers who are obscure in present times. Neelam picked a number from Kedar Sharma’s ‘Rattan’, the highest grosser of 1944. The song was the evergreen ‘Sawan Ke Badalo Unse Yeh Ja Kaho’, written by DN Madhok and composed by the maestro Naushad. The singers were Zohra Bai Ambalewali and Karan Dewan. Film lore has it that the songs of this film became such a rage that Naushad started getting a fee of `25,000 a film.
Taran sang a haunting melody that she could not trace to any singer or film. It was: ‘Sun Sun Neel Kamal Muskaye, Bhanwara Jhoothi Kasmein Khaye’. It then came to the mind that it was after this song that our city novelist Neel Kamal Puri had been named. So with a little effort one traced it to a 1941 Kedar Sharma film ‘Chitralekha’. The singer was a forgotten Ramdulari, Kedar himself penned the song and the music was by Ustad Jhande Khan. Even when the singer, the composer and the lyricist are long gone, the song lives.