This post is dedicated to my dear friend and song blogger extraordinaire Atul, who tells hilarious and sweet stories about his own menagerie.
Most of you are familiar with the Memdogs (little scamps) and beloved Gemma before them; and many of you have animals in your own lives who are as precious to you as anyone. One of my very favorite things about Hindi movies is how so many of them contain anipals, as Todd puts it. Filmi animals are usually more intelligent and capable than the people around them (eg Khoon Bhari Maang‘s Raja the horse and Jumbo the dog, Dharam-Veer‘s Sheroo the Wonder Bird, etc.), but they generally speaking don’t have nearly their fair share of song time. I mean, have you ever seen a dacoit serenading his smart and loyal horse? (If you have, TELL ME.)
When I was a kid I dreaded the words “Let’s have a picnic!”. Picnics were nothing but an ordeal to get through: weather (the Beiges never let a little cold rain stop us), poison ivy, bugs, indifferent food. My father did not know or care to know how to barbecue so it was always sandwiches, which I could have just as easilyeaten indoors where ants weren’t crawling on them.
Little did I dream in those days that halfway across the world beautiful people were picnicking in STYLE—even at night!
A lot of westerners (although not me) are introduced to Hindi movies through the fantastic music of the 1960s and 1970s. There are a number of CD compilations out there: Bollywood Funk, Bollywood Funk Experience, Bombay Connection: Funk from Bollywood. You get the picture! If I knew anything about music I would ramble on here about how funk is what happens when you mix rock with Motown and James Brown and then drop too much acid before getting on stage. All I really know for sure is that during the 1970s while I listened to George Clinton and Parliament sing “We Want the Funk” I had no idea that a bunch of music composers in India were listening to them too and incorporating their sound into Indian film songs that I would one day also truly love.
I had no idea either that Indian costume designers were at least as sartorially adventurous as George Clinton, but there you have it!
Mumtaz simply cannot be contained in a list of ten songs only: she had the good fortune to work in an era—and in films—with such great music, that I just find it impossible. Not only that, but because she was often the heroine (first mostly in so-called B-movies of the sixties, then as an A-list star in the seventies) she usually had three or four songs per film, unlike women who were confined mostly to dances or small supporting roles.
As much as songs from films are part of everyday life in India, it seems to me that one often overlooked but beautiful element are the instrumental tunes: dances, background score, themes which recur throughout, and above all title music. I always notice the title music especially and discovered in writing this post that I have already uploaded at least ten title songs in the posts about the movies they belong to. It sets the tone for the film and if I like the opening music a lot I settle in more eagerly for the rest of it: I was hooked on Teesri Manzil immediately by the music and the visuals behind the opening credits:
(Yes, I also buy wine based on how pretty the labels are. I like pretty.)
I have covered her contemporaries (and frequent colleagues) Helen and Laxmi Chhaya; now it is beautiful Bela’s turn! Many of my favorite Bela musical moments are not part of an actual film song. CID 909, a film that makes Excellent Use of Bela, has a perfect example of that in a scene where she is teaching a dance class. Cha Cha Cha is another—she and Helen dance together in several scenes (one, two—can you spot a very young Mac Mohan grooving along?) but not to an actual song included in the movie’s official soundtrack. Those are often some of the best moments in her films, although she is no slouch at item numbers either. She clearly just loves to be moving and has a wonderfully natural sense of rhythm. Her beauty is exotic: high cheekbones to die for, slanting eyes and full lips, plus a figure to kill for make her unforgettable (she sometimes reminds me of Sophia Loren).
Yes: I am going there! I am putting a stake in the ground and saying that these ten films are the ones from 1970s Hindi cinema that I would take with me to a deserted island* (*subject to change without notice).
Several I have only seen two or three times (they are hard to watch although excellent); others I watch every other month or so when I need the equivalent of my mommy’s lap. The main thing they have in common is that they make my dil go *squish* and make my aankhen sparkle (or spill over with tears), my ears perk up and my feet start moving. They engage me fully and I love them like I made them, despite—or perhaps even because of—their flaws. For me, eye candy and heartfelt emotion trump more “arty” considerations like a tight script and flawless direction almost every time. (You’ve been warned.)
Most of you know that I’m always on the lookout for Ted Lyons & His Cubs in the background of any fabulous number in a mid-sixties film. Whenever I see that name on the drum kit, I know the music and dancing will be outstanding! Plus, the band members themselves perform so energetically that they always add an extra fillip to the organized chaos on the dance floor.
So you can imagine my glee when Ted’s son Steve contacted me here over the weekend. (*I was thrilled!*) He also very graciously sent me the above photograph of the band (Ted is on drums; you can enlarge the picture by clicking on it). Then yesterday I heard from The Man (Terence “Ted” Lyons) himself. He told me that he also had a small role in the Mehmood film Bhoot Bungla:
…you will see me [as] a leader of a bad gang…there [is] a blind old man playing a violin on the street begging for money…I get hold of it and Mehmood is with good gang going past and he orders me to return the violin to the old man…I [say] what [will you] do?…he [says] with action that he [will] break my hands, so as a bad lad I raise the violin and break it then throw it to the beggar, then Mehmood approaches me and raises his hand [which] starts a dance sequence.
Lately I’ve had my iPod repeating a playlist that I put together of songs from 1960s films that are just bubbling over with western charm: guitars, trumpets, double basses, and the odd ukelele or two are used in what still remain quintessentially Hindi film songs. These are songs that have gotten stuck in my head time after time: I quite simply love them! It’s hard to pin down what makes them a collection, but picture doing the twist on a picnic with chums, or curled up with a martini on pleather space-age furniture in Daddy’s mansion. If I had to categorize them, I would probably settle on “Bollywood Lounge” although I’m not sure that quite covers it.
As a gori mem who enjoys her gigantic icy-cold Kingfishers every day while in India (and “several” glasses of wine every other evening), I do love a good song about the devil’s potion! Inspired by Dusted Off’s post on the same subject, I have changed one of her rules: I’m including fake-pretend drinking because it’s a fascinating (to me anyway) artifact of Hindi movies. If you need to chase someone off, or get them to hate you—pretend to have a drink! (I would be lonely and unwanted indeed!) Of course some would point out that *most* movie drinking is “pretend” unless you are Dharmendra. I am only including songs from movies I’ve seen, where I loved the song and the performance and picturization of it. Liking the film is a plus too, but not strictly necessary.