The night before he was shabbily removed as editor of the Hindu, Siddharth Varadarajan sent me a link to to this tune by Zohra Bai from the 1944 film, Jeevan. It’s called My Dear, I Love You. As Siddharth noted, it’s “slightly weird but quite charming”. It got me thinking about Hindi film songs that had lyrics in English. Here’s an arbitrary selection.
Perhaps the first Hindi film song in English was this rendition of the Longfellow poem A Psalm of Life by Shanta Apte. It’s from the 1937 film Duniya Na Mane.
In 1975, Preeti Sagar sang My Heart Is Beating in Julie. The music was composed by Rajesh Roshan and the lyrics were by Harindranath Chattopadhyay.
This song by Mohammad Rafi never actually made it into a film — it was only released on record. It’s a version of Hum Kale Hai Tu Kya Huwa Dilwa Hai, from the 1965 thriller Gumnaam. The music is by Shankar-Jaikishan and the lyrics are by Harindranath Chattopadhyay.
A version of this piece first appeared in Time Out Mumbai.
The dulcet ring of the oud is impossible to miss on the soundtrack of Yahudi, Bimal Roy’s unlikely Bollywood historical made in 1958 about the persecution of Jews in ancient Rome. The background score, composed by Shankar and Jaikishan, has a vaguely Middle Eastern feel to it and as the plot twists and turns, it often falls to the versatile Arabian stringed instrument to signal the swirling emotions. As massacres are ordered, betrayals ensue and Dilip Kumar falls in love with Meena Kumari, the oud sobs, sighs and sings to enhance the mood on screen. It could easily have descended into kitsch. Perhaps the reason it didn’t was the fact that the man plucking the strings, Isaac David, was well acquainted with Middle Eastern music. David was Jewish himself and in the early years of the last century, he had polished his art by playing with an ensemble in Mumbai that recorded four discs of Iraqi Jewish tunes for the Hebrew Record label.
Some of those tunes can be heard on a collection called Shir Hodu: Jewish Song from Bombay of the ’30s, which offers a fascinating reminder of the city’s cosmopolitan heritage. The 15 archival tracks on the album have been painstakingly put together by Sara Manasseh, a Bombay-born Iraqi Jewish ethnomusicologist who now lives in London. During the 1930s, Bombay was “a musical kaleidoscope”, Manasseh says in her liner notes, and the pieces included music and Jewish prayer chants in Hebrew.
With the passing of the reedman Joe Pereira this morning, Bombay’s jazz age has truly come to an end. Jazzy Joe, as he was known fondly to three generations of Indian fans, was the last of the musicians from the swing era. He was 86.
Pereira started performing in 1941, aged only 14, in a band in Lahore’s Stiffle’s Hotel fronted by his cousin, the legendary Sebastian D’Souza. After spending much of his career in Lahore, Delhi and Calcutta, Pereira returned to Bombay in the 1980s and helped train a bunch of enthusiastic hornmen (and hornwomen) who performed occasionally as the Jazz Junkeys.
Visiting Pereira at his home in Victory Blocks, right behind Bandra police station, was always enlightening. Until a couple of years ago when his health began to fail, Pereira could be counted on to recall slightly risqué stories about his encounters with cabaret dancers and to tell, in mock horror, about his shyness at their routine state of dishabille, even off stage. He would tell about his musical journeys through India and his trips to Europe, his eyes lighting up with memories of musicians he’d jammed with and places he’d seen. more…
This Geeta Dutt tune from the 1956 film Bhai Bhai featured music composed by Madan Mohan. It was his first hit. The film ran for 24 weeks. It would have gone on to a silver jubilee run, but a dispute between the director and the producer scotched that hope.
I’m fairly certain that the Goan trumpet player Chic Chocolate was his assistant, even though he isn’t mentioned in the credits. That would explain why the melodic inspiration for the tune, and a direct quotation that starts from 1.51, are from this classic Portuguese fado, Coimbra, performed here by the diva Amalia Rodrigues as April in Portugal. It’s a tune that Chic Chocolate would most likely have heard in his home state, which was still a Portuguese colony when Bhai Bhai was made (and would remain one for five more years).
A few months ago, I wrote here about the singer Myrtle Watkins, who performed at the Taj in Bombay during the winter of 1935. She had made her reputation as a jazz singer in Europe but then, in a transformation I couldn’t quite track in the archives, seems by the late 1930s to have started performing Latin American music under the name Paquita, along with her husband, the Mexican violinist Sam Zarate.
Between November 1941 and December 1942, Paquita and Zarate cut more than a dozen discs in India, backed by the African-American pianist Teddy Weatherford, like the one above, South American Way. The confusion about the performer’s identify arose when a discography published in the jazz magazine Storyville said that Paquita was actually the stage name for Myrtle Watkins. But I wasn’t able to find other evidence for this, and the photos I had of Paquita and Watkins (reproduced above) were too indistinct to be able to make a clear identification either way.
Cuban songwriter Osvaldo Farres composed Quizas, Quizas, Quizas in 1947 and it took only a few years to become a hit all around the world, inspiring local versions in several countries. Nat King Cole recorded an English version called Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps in 1958 – four years after the melody had already found its way into a Hindi film.
Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo sing Quizas, Quizas, Quizas.
Geeta Dutt sings Babuji Dheere Chalna from Aar Paar. Music by OP Nayar, 1954.
The Lebanese diva Fairouz sings Torah, Torah, Torah.
Bollywood music directors have often been accused of plagiarising melodies from other traditions. Though some have had the temerity to pass off note-for-note copies as their own work, many others have used material gathered from a variety of sources as a springboard for their imaginations, transforming these base elements into something completely unique.
As a case in point, here’s Ay Dil Ab Kahin Le Jaa, from the 1963 film Bluff Master. The music was composed by Kalyanji Anandji and the tune is sung by Hemant Kumar. Below, the Sidney Bechet classic that inspired it, performed by Angelique Kidjo.
There are many reasons to watch Chetan Anand’s 1966 film Aakhri Khat, especially if you’re a Bombay nostalgist. The film uses a hand-held camera to follow at 15-month-old toddler lost in the city, dozing where he will and eating what he can.
For reasons that aren’t clear to me, large parts of the film are shot in Mahim, with sweeping vistas of the beach when it was still a vibrant fishing village. There are also shots of the old St Michael’s Church – which was built in 1534. The present structure came up in 1973, six years after the Aakhri Khat was shot.
From the jazz buff’s point of view, the film is noteworthy because the tune Rut Jawan Jawan, performed by Bhupinder, features the trumpet player Chic Chocolate squeezing off bluesy blasts onstage. He died shortly after this film was completed.
Amchem Noxib, released in 1963, was only the second Konkani film ever made. It was produced by the formidable trumpet player Frank Fernand, who features prominently in Taj Mahal Foxtrot, and he composed much of the music too. The soundtrack is like his musical autobiography, containing church music, village fiesta music, Goan folk and swing.
This doo wop tune is sung by Molly. The actors are C Alvarez and Rita Lobo.