Like most westerners discovering Hindi films and music, I fell in love quickly with the wonderful song form known as “qawwali.” People have many different interpretations on what a true qawwali is; I am just going to list my favorite film qawwalis, which I know have taken some liberties with the pure form. I like this particular article about qawwali and its history and development.
My personal criteria are that there be at least one singer with a chorus, and the song should build in rhythm, accompanied by clapping in addition to musical instruments and picturized in front of an audience which joins in. I also prefer the ones from older films which use more traditional instruments (e.g. dhola, harmonium, tabla, sarangi), and which usually begin with an alaap. If a “nautch-girl” is dancing, I consider that a mujra, not a qawwali. My definition and preferences might be too narrow for some, and too broad for some, but hey—it’s my blog!
I am keeping the list here to ones in films I’ve seen and which I remember vividly for their place in each film. So here they are, my favorites, in no particular order (because limiting them was hard enough without having to prioritize them).
1. “Shirde Wale Sai Baba” from Amar Akbar Anthony (1977): sung by Mohd Rafi; music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal
I **finally** understood Rishi Kapoor’s appeal as I watched him perform this song. The audience’s joy juxtaposed with poor hunted Nirupa Roy trying to hide from Ranjeet and Jeevan is just brilliant!
2. “Zalim Meri Sharaab Mein” from Reshma Aur Shera (1971): sung by Manna Dey; music by Jaidev
Sanju Baba’s first film appearance (below left), and a rollicking accompaniment to Waheeda Rehman peeping at Sunil Dutt as their romance begins. Plus, I love the hats.
3. “Hum Kisise Kum Nahin” from Hum Kisise Kum Nahin (1977): sung by Mohd Rafi and Asha Bhosle; music by R.D. Burman
Rishi Kapoor again, trying to woo Zeenat Aman away from her disapproving father Ajit:
and succeeding, of course!
4. “Aaj Kyon Humse Parda” from Sadhna (1958): sung by S. Balbir and Mohd Rafi; music by N. Dutta
Nautch-girl Vyjayanthimala’s dreams of becoming a respectable lady and wife are shattered when her customers and musicians laugh at her, and she hides in her room. They sing this song in an attempt to coax her into performing for them:
Their fondness for her is apparent, as is their inability to see her as a human being. Her suffering seen against their light-hearted fun is very poignant.
5. “Jo Yeh Dil Deewane” from Dharmputra (1961): sung by Mohd Rafi; music by N. Dutta
A performance to celebrate the birth of a baby boy whose real mother has had to give him up for adoption; once again sorrow (hers) is contrasted against the festive air of the qawwali.
6. “Chandi Ka Badan” from Taj Mahal (1963): sung by Asha Bhosle, Manna Dey, Mohd Rafi and Sudha Malhotra; music by Roshan
All the music from this film is great. If I absolutely had to pick one soundtrack to take with me to a deserted island, this would probably be it. You all know the story!
7. “Teri Mehfil Mein” from Mughal-e-Azam (1960): sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Shamshad Begum; music by Naushad
I’m pretty sure everyone knows all about this one too, so I need say no more!
8. “Chali Chali Kaisi Hawa” from Bluffmaster (1963): sung by Shamshad Begum and Usha Mangeshkar; music by Kalyanji-Anandji
I just can’t keep Shammi out of this as he hams it up as a woman (along with Mohan Choti behind him).
How such a beautiful man can be such a hideous woman is beyond me!
9. “Pal Do Pal Ka Saath Hamaara” from The Burning Train (1980): sung by Mohd Rafi and Asha Bhosle; music by R.D. Burman
A gaudily dressed troupe of musicians keeps passengers entertained as their doomed train hurtles towards its destruction. A great film with a great cast.
10. “Mere Dil Ke Andar” from Phool Aur Patthar (1966): sung by Rafi; music by Ravi
A thief escapes capture by singing this qawwali as his accomplices, all in drag, pick the audience’s pockets clean. Hilarious!
Other qawwalis that I particularly like but haven’t seen in movie context are “Jhoom Barabar Jhoom Sharaabi” from 5 Rifles (1973); all the ones from Barsaat Ki Raat (which I really really need to see); “Daag Na Lag Jaye” from Mera Naam Joker (which I just can’t bring myself to watch); and “Hamen To Loot Liya” from Bijlee (1972).
What are your favorite film qawwalis?