My Favourite Music of 2009: Gulaal & Kaminey

December 30, 2009

This last post of the year is about two Hindi film albums released this year which I have enjoyed the most. “Gulaal” and “Kaminey”. The piece which follows is my take on these two albums and the reasons why I like them. If you read my blog you would know that I very rarely review music CDs or movies here. But I thought I must let you know about the music which has really excited me in 2009.


The contrasts could not have been starker.

One album is raw, unfinished, just like the movie. The other a gleaming, finished product complete with orchestral arrangements and great sound engineering. The former is rooted in the beats, tunes and silences of the Hindi heartland, the other revels (well, almost) in the pulsating beats of the metropolis of Mumbai.

A hitherto unknown music director versus someone who has unveiled the beauty of his craft in his earlier ventures too. A relatively unknown lyricist against an established doyen of Hindi film lyrics, and indeed, Hindi/Urdu/Hindustani poetry with published anthologies of his own.

The differences end here.

Both the albums break the stereotype of Hindi film music. Both have music which has not been heard before. The lyrics are a syncretic fusion of Hindi and Urdu (with some Sanskrit and Urdu/Arabic thrown in as well). Sheer poetry, nevertheless. Both use relatively lesser known singers And both these musicians create magic.



I knew of Piyush Mishra as a lyricist. The movie Black Friday is one example. But this effort of his straddles multiple facets; lyrics, music and voice. With verve, panache, a deep understanding of the “hinterland” psyche, and a supreme command over language. (And, as an aside, he has a fairly major on-screen role as well in this film.)

There is this famously famous mujra number “Ranaji” with references to global current affairs, seemingly flippant mentions of post-war Afghanistan, Iraq, 9/11?

Or the soulful number “Aisi hawa” which speaks of unspeakable sadness and longing. Sample this:

Aisi sazaa deti hawaa, tanhaai bhi tanha nahi

Neendein bhi ab soney gayeen, raaton ko bhi parwaah nahi.

Just some disjointed strums of a guitar, and some thunder and lightning, that is what accompanies Shilpa Rao as she explores the depths of desolation.

Can you visualize the punishing breeze, the desertion of solitude and slumber and the unrelenting nights?

Or would you rather prefer the other mujra? “Beedo” which talks about iliicit love? “Beedo doojey thali ka, lagey bada majedaar…”. The distinctive voice of Rekha Bharadwaj who seems to be enjoying herself completely.

Or would rather immerse yourself in the sheer poetry of “Duniya”? Piyush Mishra strong vocals accompanied by table playing the basic dadra matra as he sings about the hopelessness of it all.

“O, ri Duniya!

Surmayi aankhon ke pyaalon ki duniya,
Satrangi rangon gulaalon ki duniya,..o duniya!”

Duniya” is unabashedly based on the classic “Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye toh kya hai.” In fact it is a tribute to the shayars of yore.

Ghalib ke, Momin ke, khwaabon ki duniya
Majaazon ke un inqualaabon ki duniya
Faiz, Firaaq aur Saahir o Makhdoom
Mir ki, Zauk ki, Daagh ki duniya

The vigorous “Aarambh” is all vim and vigour with a supremely energetic- in fact warlike- feel to it while the doleful and brooding “Musafir” with just a guitar for accompaniment is sad, very sad.

Sheher”, a duet featuring Piyush Mishra and Swanand Kirkire is all about impending sense of danger, doom, and the utter futility. Sample some words:

“Kahin pe wo jooton ki khatkhat hai

Kahin pe alaavon ki chatpat hai
Kahin pe hai jhingoor ki aawaazein
Kahin pe wo nalke ki taptap hai
Kahin pe wo kaali si khidki hai
Kahin wo andheri si chimni hai
Kahin hilte pedon ka jattha hai
Kahin kuch munderon pe rakha hai”

A chill runs down your spine when the words “Kahin pe wo nalke ki taptap hai” come on. It is as if the tap is dripping ice-cold water on you naked back past midnight in the middle of the killer Rajasthan winter.

Thanks you Piyush Mishra for the lyrics, music and your singing. Thank you Rekha Bharadwaj for you two mujra pieces and thank you Anurag Kashyap to continue being the non-conformist you have always been. Ever since Black Friday and the quirky music of Dev D (“Emosanal Atyachar”) I have expected a lot from you movies and the music of your movies.

On a personal note, let me confess that I searched far-and-wide for a CD of Gulaal, but of no avail. And I was forced to, for the first time, to search the net for a download. This is what I listened to for months till the Gulaal CD was formally released which I bought with alacrity.



The polished and sophisticated track of Kaminey is a confluence of magicians.

The ever popular lyricist Gulzaar who weaves common Hindi words into a web of magic. Remember his earliest song: Bandini’s “Mora gora ang lai ley, mohe shyam rang dayi dey” to “Aa, ee, aa gayi chitthi” from the film Kitaab which he directed himself, to the soulful Asha Bhosle number “Mera kuchh saaman pada hai” to the recent “Beedi” from Omkaara. He does not let you down, one bit, in Kaminey. He transforms common day-to-day Hindi speak to sheer poetry, as only he can.

Vishal Bharadwaj began his Hindi cinema career as a composer with his big break in his mentor’s film, “Maachis”. Remember the hypnotic “Chappa, chappa, charkha chaley? He then went on to direct films which cut across several genres: His first film was “Makdi” for kids, then took a “U”-turn to do a couple of utterly Indian- and honest- adaptations of Shakespeare: Maqbool (based on Macbeth), Omkaara (Othello-based). Both were liked immensely by the average movie-goer and the critics. He also scored the music for these films. Soon after Omkaar followed a kid’s movie “The Blue Umbrella” based on a Ruskin Bond story. Kaminey is the latest offering from Vishal B., a complete departure from what he has done before. A film with the gritty and fast-paced feel of a Quentin Tarantino movie (Kill Bill I and II, Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs). Q.T., by the way, is a favourite director of mine.

The singer-duo of Kailash Kher and Sukhwinder Singh need no introduction. Kher’s dominating songs with a sufi feel to it, (remember “Allah ke Bande”?) while Sukhwinder had a big hand in spreading the popularity of the venerable A R Rahman in the Hindi heartland with his music in hits like “Taal”. Yes, he was the lead singer of the Oscar winner “Jai ho”.

The zingy “Dhan te Tan” was the first off the block on the popularity charts. The pre-release publicity of the movie even mentioned that this was one of the rare Hindi film songs to be played at the famed night club “Ministry of Sound” in London. I am not sure about that but I would not be surprised. The electrifying energy of the song would get any lay person to shake his leg or two. Never mind if he or she does not understand the magical lyrics of Gulzar:

“koyi chaal aisi chalo yaar ab ke,

samundar bhi pul pe chale.

phir tu chale uspey ya main chaloon,

shehar ho apane pairo tale.”

The only injustice to this number is the way it is written in English, “Dhan te tan”. Dhan-te-tan is essentially a sound which you use to preface your narration of a suspenseful piece of the story you are narrating. If you are an Indian you would know how you would actually pronounce it, that dhan-ta-dhan sound (impossible to write in English!). I wonder why this common sound was never employed in a song before!

Yes, and one more thing about this number. It is the way in which Vishal B. quirkily weaves in a completely unrelated string of words, probably in the Western UP dialect of Hindi (VB’s roots are in Meerut). I have been unable to catch the words clearly, but this little linguistic cameo adds to the charm of the song.

Talking about sounds, how about “Phataak”? That’s actually the name of another peppy number! Don’t you wonder again as why this very common sound-word has never been used before? The sharp, biting sound of phataak punctuating the voice of Sukhwinder Singh and Kailash Kher who sing about AIDS prevention, of all the things! And as only a Vishal B.+ Gulzar combo could do it, this song climaxes into a soulful, near saintly,

yeh ishq nahi aasaan, aji yeh isaka khatara hai

o patvaar pehan jaana, yeh aag ka dariya hai

ke naiyya dubey na, re bhawaraa kaate na

How about the utterly naughty “raat ke dhai baje”? The one which has gems like “ishq mein jaltey huye, saans tejaabi lage” and “ek hi latt suljhaaney mein, saari raat gujaari hai”. Coming back to the music director’s penchant for creating magic via mixing quirky, strange lyrics into a number,did you notice the western rap number inserted into this song?

And now for my favourite, the title song, “Kaminey”. Vishal Bhardawaj sings, that I knew. Gulzar writes well, we all know. But the confluence of these two gentlemen could create such magic out of the word “Kaminey”, I could never have guessed. To start with, Vishal B. was handed a set of words elegantly crafted by the maestro lyricist. Sample this:

kya kare, zindagi, isko hum jo mile,

iski jaan, kha gaye, raat din ke gile.

raat din gile.

meri aarzoo kamini, mere khwab bhi kaminey,

ik dil se dosti thi, ki hujur bhi kaminey.

The singer internalizes the angst inherent in the words and as the song progresses he carries it to the height of regret… and longing. A slow build-up leading to a heart-rending climax in the magical combination of words and voice:

“jiska bhi chehra chheela, andar se aur nikla.

Masoom saa kabootar, nacha toh mor nikla.

kabhi hum kaminey nikaley, kabhi doosarey kaminey.

kaminey, kaminey, kaminey, kaminey

meri dosti kamini, mere yaar bhi kaminey.

ik dil se dosti thi, ki hujur bhi kaminey.”

To my mind this one song alone is enough reason to possess this album.

By the way, I have not mentioned Mohit “Masakali” Chauhan’s “Pehli baar mohabbat ki hai”. It is good.

And the three remix versions of the numbers in the album, of which one is a sure winner. The pulsating “Go Charlie, go” which is a funky take on the word Kaminey. Furiously fast-paced, on-the-edge, it slows just for fractions of a second and then takes off again. A metaphor for life in Mumbai (the city in which the film is based)? Probably yes!

Those Elocution Contests!

December 27, 2009

The other day my elder son’s class was required by their Hindi teacher to recite/narrate some lines in Hindi. The students attempted both prose and poetry. Most did their versions of Hindi film dialogues and songs. Some of the adventurous ones even tried an excerpt from Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s “Agnipath”, the philosophical “Agnipath, Agnipath, Agnipath.” I persuaded Ved to recite something dear to me from my childhood days. “Khoob ladi mardani, woh toh Jhansi-waali rani thi”. I spent an entire evening rehearsing the poem with him, with full gestures, body movements and with the right intonations. Sample the fervor in the words “Singhasan hil uthey” (with the emphatic stress on “hil”) followed by the arched eyebrows in the subsequent string of words- “Rajwanshon ney bhrikuti taani thi”. Etc etc. You get the drift, right?

I was reliving my school days through Ved. And I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed it! (I am not too sure about Ved though)

Like most schools, ours too had this annual elocution contests, in English and in Hindi. There were some set favourite pieces. Mark Anthony’s speech from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “Friends, Roman and country men”. Enough scope to give full expressions to the range of one’s vocal chords. There were pieces from Reader’s Digest and some longer poems like Sir Walter Scott’s “Young Lochinvar”. Or this popular one from closer home, Nehru’s “Tryst with destiny” speech.

It was the Hindi pieces which were more interesting (to me, at least). I never had a great “elocutionist” voice- neither in English nor Hindi- but given my relative prowess in Hindi in school I was but an obvious claimant to the finals of the Hindi elocution contests. But I could never make it. (I actually would, nearly every year, but more about that in a bit.)

The Hindi pieces too were mostly the standard ones. Patriotic songs were pretty popular. For example, this one- now a rarity- was perhaps the most used. Dinkar’s “Mere nagpati mere vishal…”. I still remember most of this poem and it always gives me goose-pimples. “…. Vaishali ke bhagnavashesh sey tu pooch Lichhawi shaan kahan..”. This famous- and popular- poet, Ramdhari Singh “Dinkar” was by qualification a qualified historian. Those familiar with his vigorous poetry steeped in Indian history and cultural traditions would be surprised to know that even if he did not write one single poem he would still remain immortal as the author of a great book on Indian cultural history called “Sanskriti ke chaar adhyaya”.

Then there was Suryakant Tripathi “Nirala” with his poem titled Bhikshuk, “Who aata, pachhtata..” Enough pathos to tug the heart-strings of the toughest. There were poems by Sumitra Nandan Pant, Mahadevi Verma and Jaishankar Prasad. Remember the piece from Prasad’s Kamayani- “Tumul kolaahal kalah mein, mein hriday ki baat re man”?

For those who could not handle the gravity of the aforementioned poets there always was the (then) popular poet- Kaka Hathrasi. This old-ish, grey-bearded bard from Hathras (UP) would churn out best selling books with an amazing frequency. Books with pithy rhymes and with some socio-political messages. These sold like hot cakes at the A. H. Wheeler book-stalls at the North India railway stations. With very creative names like “Kaka-Cola”, “Kaka ke kartoos”. He would invoke Kaki- his wife- too, for some deeper insights into whatever he was trying to figure out for his readers. He had even published a book called “Kaka-Kaki ki Nok-jhonk”- Kaka and kaki’s banter!) I do not remember any of the stuff, but I do remember that each of the ditties would end with something like “Keh Kaka kavi-rai..” – says the great poet Kaka- and then going on to summarize the gist of the poem. Kaka’s was a hugely popular selection for the school elocution contests.

I have mentioned earlier in this piece that my “mellifluous” voice ensured that I never made it to the top of the heap and hence was never a finalist to the Annual Hindi Elocution Contest. But my Hindi skills- specially my ability to speak ad lib (May be I was one “andhon mein kaana Raja”??) ensured that I was the MC for the finals. And more often than not my father was the chief judge/chief guest for these contests. My father was an eminent Hindi professor and speaker in the city. So I had the privilege of riding pillion with the chief judge on his old Lambretta scooter, clambering onto the stage in my school dress and welcoming from the stage my father who sat in the audience as the chief guest/chief judge. “Ham manananiya Professor Satyadeo Ojha ka hardik swagat kartey hain…” etc., etc.

To end this piece I must tell you about the one piece which fetched me several awards in various competitions in my early years. The piece was called “Ek hi Hai”. This is how it started: “Bihar ki rajdhani Patna, wahaan ke hotel mein ho gayi ek ghatana….” The poem went on to narrate the tale of an aged couple who walks into a restaurant for a meal. The old lady fanned her husband as he ate his meal and after he was done she had her’s as the husband fanned her. The waiter watched them astonished. He was touched at this display of love between the oldies. And said as much to the old lady. The granny brushed this off. “Something insignificant, and wholly practical”, she said, “between the two of us have only one set of dentures and the solution of alternate lunching was one which was the most practical one!

I think I would have fly-wheeled on this poem for at least three years. Dressed as a clown in a holiday camp, in my school-dress and tie in the school competitions and in yet another contest dressed as a clown in a peaked-cap and rouge-tinted nose! Anything to evoke laughter and……. win prizes galore.

Even after some 35-40 years my mother has not forgotten this (she is in her 80’s now).In a moment of extreme tenderness she addresses me as “Ek hi hai!”

Who said elocution contests are drab and devoid of warm memories?

The Geography of Names

December 17, 2009

Here is a quick quiz: What is common to Arindam, Arunava and Anindya? Or Buddhadev, Biswadeep? Or Sushmita, Sucharita, Suparna and Sudeshna? All names you say? Or, the A names are men’s and the S’, females. Some of the more enlightened ones would say these are all Indian names. Those who are even more clued in would say they are all names of Bengali men and woman! You are all right, but the last observation regarding the names being Bengali names is spot-on.

Ok, here is one more question. What is common to Vikas, Viraat and Vipul? Sure they all start with a “V”, tell me more! Of course the geography! These are names from the North India, typically from around Delhi. And nearly all those you know bearing the aforementioned names are from the North! Right? As are the below-mentioned ladies : Sushma, Sapna, Manisha.

Try this one now: Where would you find these gents from; Dharmesh, Jayesh, Hemal or Keyur. Sure, all from Gujarat. Like this ladies, Bijal, Snehal, Minal, Parul, Amisha.

This last one, a sitter. Take this set of male names: Ramakrishnan, Gopalan, Balaraman, Karthikeyan. Or these names of females: Srividya, Soundarya, Sreedevi. All South Indian, right?

Ditto for these Maharashtrian names for men: Dattatreya, Ajinkya and Avadhoot.

This may not be of much surprise to you if I tell you if all these names are Sanskrit in origin, each one of them.

Why is it that despite being perfectly Sanskrit in origin, one set of names enjoys such importance in one region while the other set dominates the other? Have you heard of an Indian with these first names? Like Anindya Pandey? Or Buddhaadev Singh? Or Karthikeyan Yadav? Like you would find Abhijit Iyer, Anindya Iyengar and Buddhadev Gowda pretty uncommon. Or Vikas Wadekar, Viraat Patil and Vipul Desai uncommon too! Or for that matter uncommon are Keyur Chatterjee, Jayesh Ghosh and Dharmesh Sengupta.

I have no answer to this! And I would request you to help me with the why’s and why not’s.

I must apologize for generalizing my observations, but what I wrote above is the rough picture, sure you could find someone who does not conform to what I have mentioned earlier. I may have even mentioned some pretty obscure names, but those would pretty much belong to the state I indicated. So Sushma Raghavan, Karthikeyan Desai, Dattatreya Chaturvedi, please excuse me.

Sure there are names deeply rooted in a regional language. Like the Tamil names like Anbazhagan, Tamilrasan, Kanimozhi or Azhagiri. The current Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Thiru M. Karunanidhi has been concerned about the influence of Sanskrit (read Aryan) nomenclature in Tamilnadu and has announced a special incentive of a gold ring to any family which gives their baby a Tamil name. Never mind Karuna Nidhi is very much a Sanskrit expression. And the name of his influential younger son Stalin is far away from Sanskrit, or even Tamil. Not to mention the names of his grand nephews, Kala Nidhi and Daya Nidhi with whom he has a blow-hot, blow-cold relation. Sure enough, Karunanidhi gave one of his sons, Azhagiri, a typical Tamil name. But the poor soul had to modify it to Alagiri when he became a cabinet minister in Delhi as no non-South Indian babu, or a non South Indian favor seeker could ever pronounce his name; he has temporarily rechristened himself Alagiri.

But there is one set of names I can perhaps figure out.

You may all have heard of this sometime Hindi film actor and now a TV stand-up comedian (he also dabbled into politics recently), Shekhar Suman. But have you had someone you knew called Shashank Shekhar, Prasanna Raghav or Piyush Ranjan. If you have not, let me tell you; there are very high chances that these may be Biharis. Not that Suman, Shekhar, Raghav or Ranjan are Bihari surnames. In fact these are not even surnames, but just stand-alone proper nouns. Shekhar Sinha, Shashank Tiwari, Prasanna Roy and Piyush Singh could be their real names. But the surnames denote the caste (Sinha= kayastha or bhumihar, Tiwari= Brahmin, Roy= Bhumihar and Singh= Rajput or Bhumihar or a million other castes). An upwardly mobile family would like to hide the caste connotation in their kids’ name and hence reverts to this device. Bihar, if you do not know, is terribly, terribly, caste-conscious….. and caste-driven.

Something else now; now on the geographical commonality of names:

Think of the following names: Santosh, Kiran, and Pradeep. Which region do they belong to? I suspect, none in particular.

I, Santosh Ojha, a Bihari, have met a Santhosh Jacob Kuruvilla from Kerala (he was a classmate and a close friend), a Santokh Kaur from Punjab (never mind if she is a female) and a Santosh Divekar from Pune.

And lo and behold I am married to a Kiran (very much a Bihari), I know a neighbour who is very much a Kannadiga, Kiran Shetty. I know of the famous Kiran Bedi, a true-blue Amritsar origin female from Punjab. I have also heard about  Kiran Singh from Rajasthan. Also a Pradip Singh from UP, Prodeep  Chatterjee from Burdwan, West Bengal (notice the “o” replacing the “a” as the concession to the Bengali style of pronouncing) and KVST Pradhip from Vizag, Andhra Pradesh (notice the “h” following the “d” in the manner of South Indian pronunciation. (My name always gets spelt as “Santhosh” in the South.)

I am confused. Totally! Which names apply where? Which types of names are pan-Indian, which are geography-specific. I have not the faintest.


PS: Names have always fascinated me. There must be deep historical, sociological and economic significance to names. As would be the difference in time and space. I have explored the former (the time factor) in an earlier post of mine.  Find it here in Gulabo and Gulabchand etc.

“Paa”- A Review

December 13, 2009

For those of you who read this blog this piece will come as a surprise as I do not write film reviews here. But I am compelled to write this after seeing the movie this morning as I would like to urge you to watch this movie, in a theatre of course.

“Paa” is about a young kid, thirteen years old, who is suffering from a rare genetic disorder, progeria. This disease which is extremely rare ages its victim six to seven times faster than the physical age. Like, if one is ten years old, one has the looks of someone who is sixty five years old and would have ailments like cardiac and respiratory problems, quite common to those of that age.

Add to that the complication of this kid being born out of wedlock. No father to oversee his growing-up phase. Luckily for the kid, he has his mother and grandmother to nurture him though they both know that the kid will die really premature; not surviving beyond fifteen years. That is what progeria does to its victim. This kid dies in his fourteenth year.

The mother is Vidya Balan, a gynaecologist with a mind of her own. The grandmother is Arundhati Nag who supports her daughter (Vidya Balan) in her decision to have her baby unquestioningly. And the father of the kid is Abhishek Bachchan, a young upcoming politician out to prove to the world that there is something called a “good” politician.

And the kid is the 68 year old, ex angry-young-man, Amitabh Bachchan.


Watch the movie for those great acting performances. Vidya Balan nurturing a kid who she knows would die. With dignity and composure. Her mother, Arundhati Nag, the bulwark for her daughter to take on life at her own terms. And Abhishek Bachchan, the politician who wants to carve a niche for himself by proving to the world that politicians can be upright and honest too.

And the Big B, for acting as a kid as old as his grandson. Auro. This man keeps reinventing himself, with every passing year.  I have been a fan of Big B. Ever since his Reshma aur Shera days. Ek Nazar, Deewar, Sholay, Amar Akbar Anthony, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar right till Black. With this movie, he surpasses himself. Imagine a 68 year old man passing off as a 13 year old kid. Admirably. Complete with his scatological references (“bum”, “potty” etc.). His love for King Kong. Who he claims in a poignant sequence, King Long does not understand English, only Chinese. The graffiti on his bedroom door (“Knock, or I will knock your head off.”). The aversion to girls. Normal for his age. For a girl who he discovers in the end wants to say sorry to him for expressing her shock at seeing an “old man” at school.

Big B is BIG, even in this role as a pre-teen.


If I have a crib about the movie, it is about the role of the small B, Abhishek Bachchan. He has done a great job but I wish those live TV sequences had more meaning- and meat- to them.


With a story-line like that, I am amazed that the director steered the movie away from sentimentality, away from tear-jerkers. The focus ultimately is on the loving relationship between the mother and son, the mother and her mother and the grandmother and the grandson.


For me, the hero of the movie is Vidya B. I have not seen her in too many movies but she straddles it like the proverbial Colossus. And that is some act given the presence of Amitabh B. The immense dignity she gives her role, from right when she discovers she is pregnant to when her lover refuses to marry her till her discovery that her son has an incurable disease is breath-taking.


OK, now for the other reason why I write this post. This movie reminds me of my close friends, a couple battling with a similar life-threatening disease of their young child, now barely 9 years old. This disease is called Niemann-Pick disease which has so far been known to afflict only 500 kids worldwide. And as of information available now, the kid would die before he turns 17. The couple is grappling with this whole issue in such a dignified manner- and so valiantly.


May God give them courage to bear this utterly terrible thing with strength.


Go, watch the movie “Paa” with all you loved ones and celebrate life… and all its ironies.

A Bird’s-Eye View of Hindi Cinema

December 5, 2009

Hindi film songs are an ornithologist’s delight. Or shall we say a Hindi film is heavily dependant on birds.  Whatever it is, we can rest assured that no Hindi film is complete without the mandatory bird song. The song could range from joyous to melancholic, from love/reunion to separation, from the profound to the bizarre. The bird-songs span a spectrum of emotions, a range of situations in life.

Like, for example, the must-have situations of joy and sorrow between lovers in a movie. The ecstasy of togetherness and the woe of separation.  The birds tell it all.

But before that, we shall explore the aviation fixation in childhood. From the joyous “Chun, chun, chun-kar aayi chidiya” from Md Rafi in Jab Dilli Door Nahin to the melancholic “Naani teri teri morni ko mor le gaye” a song from the old film Masoom sung by Ranu Mukherjee, the daughter of Hemant Mukherjee.  That cute little kid prancing around in her frock hoping that the “choron wala dibba” of the train shows up in the jail. And that the corpulent thanedaar punishes the thieves appropriately.

The bird songs really take flight when romance blooms. Like in the teenagers’ crush: “Kabootar, jaa, jaa, jaa” from the Salman/Bhagyashree starrer super-super hit, Maine Pyaar Kiya. The kabootar (pigeon) being the purveyor of messages between the besotted lovers. Or when the lovers meet and sing together: “Koel boli, duniya doli” in Sargam. Never mind if only Rishi Kapoor is able to sing, Jaya Prada can too, on celluloid. So what if she is physiologically unable to considering she is mute and deaf and able only to respond to her lover’s dafli in real life. While this song exhults in the koel boli, this one likens the lover’s voice to a koel’s, “Koel si teri boli” from the Anil Kapoor, Madhuri Dikshit starrer, Beta. The lovers here are slightly more grown up. Madhuri D. in a pink lehenga and Anil K. in his white dhoti. Rural ornithology, what say?

It is not that only koels and kabootars symbolize love, other species too contribute their humble mites.

A key specimen participating in the romancing process is the sparrow, aka Maina, aka muniya. Sapney’s “Ik bagiya mein rahti hai ek maina”. Ooh, la, la, laa! Which brings us to more of the sparrows. Some with the tota (parrot) as well. Like “Tota-maina ki kahani toh purani, purani ho gayi” from Shashi Kapoor and Shabana starrer, Fakeera. (Yes, Shabana sang bird songs as well!) The maina is also called muniya in common-speak. Says Raj Kapoor’s Hiraman to Waheeda Rehman’s Hirabai, “Mahua key sab ras moh liya liya rey, pinjarey waali muniya.” in Teesri Kasam. How entrancing! The sparrow spiriting away all the juices from the flowers of the mahua tree.

By the way, the mor is not too far behind in these joyous moments. “Morni baga mein bole adhi raat ko” from Lamhe. The rather macho “Tu jungle ki morni main baagan da mor” (Raja Saab). Or Dharmendra’s and Hema’s duet in Pratigya: “ Morni re morni”.

(Talking about mor’s, here is one more, in a different vein though. I am reminded of an Ajit joke. Warning: This is an old joke so all those who have heard it earlier, excuse me, please. Ok? Here goes:

Ajit, goes on a hunting trip with his henchman Raabert (Robert) when he hears a rustle behind a thick bush. Ajit pulls the trigger and silences whatever rustling behind. He then goes behind the bush to check the rustler he has silenced and emerges from the bushes triumphantly. A smile on his face. Robert enquires anxiously, “Kya tha boss?”. Ajit replies, “Mor tha, ab woh “no-more” hai! Khatam ho gaya!”)

Even the very generic panchhi is a great romantic bird. Chori Chori’s playful “Panchhi banoon udti phiroon mast gagan mein”, Bandini’s soulful “Oh panchhi pyaare” and the reflective “ Do panchhi, do tinkey” from Tapasya.

And this nadir of Hindi film music from the 80’s, Bappi Lahiri’s abominable “Bol ri Kabootari, gootar-goon.”

After the romance follows the longing.  “Pankh hotey to udd aati rey , rasiya o balamaa”, Rishi Kapoor in Zehreela Insaan reminiscing his loved one with “O hansini, meri  hansini”, complete with “merey armanon key, pankh lagakey, kahaan udd chali”. Or naughty one sung by Rafi and Asha in Nau do Gyarah, “So jaa nindiya ki bela hai, aa ja panchhi akela hai.” What better expression of longing, and, more importantly, desire! The searing “Pankh hotey toh udd ati rey, rasiya, o balamaa”, from Sehra, or the nostalgic “Ek tha gul, aur ek thi bulbul, donon chaman mein rehtey the” from Shashi Kapoor-Nanda starre Jab Jab Phool Khile.

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After longing, can sadness be far behind? Like the Ganga Jamuna’s classic separation song “Do hanson ka joda, bichhad gayo rey”. (It so happened that a few years after this movie was released the Congress party underwent its first split and each of the new entities had to take on a new symbol, very distinct from the original “pair of oxen” symbol (bailon ka joda). The opposition parties had a field day taking a dig at this by creatiing the ditty “Do bailon ka joda bichhad gayo rey”.)

Or the songs based on our friend, the ubiquitous panchhi: “Pinjre Ke panchhi re tera dard na jane koi” from Nag Mani, Bhabhi’s haunting “Chal ud jaa re panchhi ke ab yeh des hua begana”, and my personal favourite from Toote Khilone, That very uncommon Kishore Kumar song, “Nanha sa panchhi re tu bahut bada pinjara tera”. Or “Jaa rey, ja rey udd ja oh panchhi”, from Maya. Kailesh Kher broke through into stardom with this bird classic “Toota, toota, ek parinda” from the rather recent film Waisa bhi hota hai.

Lest you assume that the birds are employed only for the romantic stuff, let me hasten to add that they serve other diverse aspects as well. Like sheer naughtiness.  Ab Dilli Doo Nahin’s “ Chun Chun Karti Aayi Chidiya”. “Cheel cheel chillakar,seeti bajaye” from the Kishore classic Half Ticket and the utterly raunchy “Rakhna apni murgi sambhal, yeh murga hai deewana”. Sung by, of all the people, Amitabh Bachchan, in Jadugar. Don’t you dare translate this song into English!

The birds signal patriotism too. Like “Ham panchhi ek daal ke” from the eponymous film for kids. To the 15th August/26th January/2nd October staple of Vividh Bharati, “Jahaan daal-daal pey soney-ki-chidiya karti hain basera” from Sikander-e-Azam.

Or philosophical sentiments masquerading as entertainment: “Naach meri bulbul toh paisa milega” sung by Rajesh Khanna in Roti to the inebriated Johnny Walker in MadhumatiJangal mein mor nacha kisi ne na dekha”.

Even a riddle. Mera Naam Joker’s “Teetar key do aage teetar, teetar ke do peechhey teetar. Bolo, bolo, kitney teetar?”.

You must be wondering how the Hindi film industry missed the ubiquitous crow, seen in every village and town. Not that the crows are considered auspicious or romantic. And that is precisely how the Hindi films have treated them. Sample these. “Jhooth boley, kauva katey” from Bobby and “Kauwa chaley hans ki chaal” from Around the World.

Kauas have nothing to crow about as far as Hindi films are concerned!


Acknowledgement: A big thank you to the following gentlemen for suggesting songs for this piece, Ashutosh Ojha (Chennai), Piyush Desai (California, USA), Sanjeev Kumar Roy (somewhere else in California, USA) and Anshu Tandon (Lucknow). Birds of the same feather flock together, you know!