Thursday, February 15, 2018

Ae ajnabi: a few of my favourite sad love songs (or break-up songs)

[Did this piece for Mint Lounge’s recent issue themed “love” – or “post-love”, I’m still not sure]

When I think of sad love songs from old Hindi cinema, my mind turns to two 1960s classics that, in different ways, mislead a viewer. Watching “Dost Dost na Raha” on Chitrahaar without having seen the film it was from, Raj Kapoor’s epic melodrama Sangam, I thought the song was about the hero Sundar (Kapoor) having been betrayed by his lover Radha (Vyjayanthimala) and his buddy Gopal (Rajendra Kumar). The visuals underlined this: here was Sundar singing at a piano, looking heartbroken and sardonic in turn; behind him, the other two squirmed, their flashback-memories suggesting perfidy.

This interpretation turned out to be wrong: Sundar isn’t indicting his loved ones, he is just relating another friend’s tragic story. And though the lyrics make Radha and Gopal feel sheepish, they are the story’s real romantic couple and have nothing to be ashamed of. (Except, perhaps, that they have spent so much time indulging a whiny, masochistic man.)

Vyjayanthimala shows up again in Jewel Thief as Shalu, singing the plaintive “Rula ke gaya sapna”. When you first see this beautifully filmed nighttime scene – Shalu in the moonlight, Vinay (Dev Anand) rowing a boat while listening intently – you’ll assume she is mourning the broken romance that has been mentioned earlier in the story. But this is a thriller and the scene turns out to be a red herring, a clever exercise in misdirection.

Watched together, these two sequences also point to a difference between the sad love song that centres on the hero’s pain versus the one that focuses on the heroine’s: the former mode tends to be self-righteous and accusatory (remember the soaring “Dil ke jharokhe mein” from Brahmachari, with Shammi Kapoor’s steely gaze directed at Rajshree), while the latter is gentler, more about immersing oneself in the pleasure-pain of loss than in blaming the duplicitous other. Even the title song of Barsaat, so effectively reprised in the film’s closing scene – over the funeral pyre of a young woman who was abandoned by a playboy – expresses regret, “mil na sake haaye, mil na sake hum”, instead of hitting out.

This is, of course, a generalization, and, as with everything else in Hindi cinema, there are exceptions: take the lovely “O Saathi Re” scene from Muqaddar ka Sikandar, in which Sikander (Amitabh Bachchan), instead of going on about his unrequited love, pays tribute to the girl who reached out to him – as a friend – when no one else would. Or other scenes that blur gender lines, such as three wonderful songs that are primarily about a woman’s inner world
but are sung in a male voice: “Tum bin jeevan” from Bawarchi (with Kaifi Azmi’s lyrics including the lines “Baante koi kyun dukh mera / Apne aansu, apna hee daaman”); “Kai baar yun bhi dekha hai” from Rajnigandha; and Khamoshi’s haunting “Woh shaam kuch ajeeb thi” in which the singing is done by the Rajesh Khanna character but the scene’s focus is the great Waheeda Rehman, lost in the memory of an earlier love that has emotionally drained her.

The post-love (or interrupted-love) song encompasses many other forms and themes. There are tragic songs performed in the exalted mode (“Aaja re pardesi” from Madhumati, “Beqas pe karam kijiye” from Mughal-e Azam). There is judaai in the name of duty or social propriety (“Chalo ek baar phir se” in Gumrah), or through death (“Lagi aaj sawaan ki” from Chandni). There are rousing compositions that transcend their contexts (it’s possible to be stirred by Ismail Darbari’s “Tadap tadap ke iss dil” from Hum Di De Chuke Sanam even if you can’t work up sympathy for Salman Khan or Aishwarya Rai), and other rousing compositions that work brilliantly alongside the film’s visuals (“Ae ajnabi” from Dil Se).

In the 1970s and 1980s, the high emotional registers of the mainstream were balanced by the more muted approach of the so-called Middle Cinema, which didn’t deal with concepts like eternal soulmates but with the matter-of-fact possibility that love can fade, people might simply grow apart because it’s the nature of the beast, not because of warring parents or glowering villains. However, grounded situations can still have ethereal music and lyrics – see Gulzar’s Aandhi (“Tere bina zindagi”) or Ijaazat (“Mera kuch saamaan”).” And even in today’s indie cinema, so self-conscious about “cheesy” love songs, there is room for something as raw and heartbreaking as “Bahut Dukha Mann” from Mukkabaaz, which plays in the background as the boxer Shravan searches for his kidnapped wife, his “aatma” (soul).

I have special fondness, though, for the deliberately funny-sad song that moves from one meter to the next within seconds. Decades before Dev D’s “Emosanal Atyachaar” offered a hilariously rude commentary on our many angst-filled Devdases (“Bol bol, why did you ditch me / Zindagi bhi lele yaar, kill me / Bol bol, why did you ditch me / Whore”), there was “Na jaiyyo pardes” from Karma, in which two separated lovers express themselves in very different tones. First Poonam Dhillon plays it dead straight, reaching longingly towards the van carrying her beloved away; then Anil Kapoor yodels in the voice of Kishore Kumar, singing words like “O my darling don’t cry […] me going to die, oh bye bye”. To evoke a classical theory of aesthetic expression, these songs combine shoka rasa (sorrow) and haasya (merriment) in one package – and that’s as good a monument as you’ll find for the exhausting tragi-comedy of the romantic condition. 

Here are videos of some of the songs mentioned here:

"O Saathi Re"

"Mera Kuch Saamaan"

"Beqas pe karam kijiye"

"Emosanal Atyachaar"

"Na Jaiyyo Pardes"


  1. I just recalled a couple of very plaintive songs from the 1964 romance, Zindagi, starring Rajendra Kumar and Vaijayanthimala.

    Two very very underrated songs, that ought to be heard more.

    Song 1 :

    Song 2 :

    The second song may not sound like a song of "post-love". But it is one. You got to watch the film for that.

  2. I guess for any category of hindi film song there are dozens of noteworthy inclusions. It can be difficult to make an near- exhaustive or even broadly representative list. Another exception to the resentful embittered male reproaching his beloved is this song from the movie 'Dil Diya Dard Liya'. The words are reproachful but he's saying them with affection, telling her she's worth all the suffering.

    A beautiful and plaintive song, where Nutan's character sings of her lover's neglect:

    A very gracious parting song where the heroine is telling her lover that separation is inevitable and that neither of them are to blame (though actually he is very much to blame):

    Of course loads more songs could be added, just a few that I am fond of above.

  3. Oh, nice, I love posts on favourite songs, makes me rediscover old loves too.
    Small quibble - your para seems like that quote is from the Rajnigandha song (Bawarchi; “Kai baar yun bhi dekha hai” from Rajnigandha (with Kaifi Azmi’s lyrics including the lines “Baante koi kyun dukh mera / Apne aansu, apna hee daaman”) - Kai baar yun bhi dekha hai is by Yogesh, that line is from the Bawarchi song. I also love Kai Baar because it talks of the dilemma in her mind : do I choose this love or that one. Not a theme that is very common in Hindi movies
    My favourite sad songs include
    "Din Dhal Jaaye" in Guide, and "Saathi Na Koi Manzil" from Bambai ka Babu, both with Rafi at his sublime best
    "Badi Sooni Sooni Hai" - was that Kishore's last song? – thought that’s not a post-love song, more like post-parents, pre-love
    “Chalo ik baar phir se” – with that great line by Sahir, “Wo afsaana jise anjaam tak laana na ho mumkin, use ik khubasurat mod de kar chhodna achchha”

  4. Thanks, Radhika -- just corrected that Bawarchi/Rajnigandhi mix-up. (See, this is what happens when one is doing multiple versions of the same piece, picking up and re-inserting a few lines that had been left out of the column version, and so on.)

  5. Hah, it's cool, it got me wondering when that line occurs, so I ended up humming the whole song in my head - which is always a nice thing to do.

  6. I loved your comment about the tragi-comedy of the romantic condition, off now to hear Anil Kapoor warble that

  7. Radhika: Some great songs u've mentioned. I also love 'Din Dhal Jaye' and 'Chalo Ek Baar Phir Se', and was thinking of them but was not sure as to whether to mention them as they're already pretty iconic. Two more well known post-love/sad/lover's quarrels sort of songs that I love:

    Both lovers are unhappy with each other in this searing song:

    An very emotive farewell song, also from 'Mughal e Azam'.

  8. Silverambrosia - thanks, hadn't heard the Pakeezah one in a while.

    It might be amusing to see how many of the post-love-sad-hero songs are sung with the hero looking tragic and pounding away reproachfully on a piano (never mind if he seemed to come from a background which wouldn't have ever seen one)

  9. Great post, Jai. In the last 4-5 years, I have started totally disliking songs from 90s and 2000s,which I used to like 7-8 years ago. The work of some musicians, particularly A R Rahman, sounds terrible. I think it's tough to name really great songs from 1980 onwards. Most great songs were composed before 1980.

  10. Shrikanth: 'Muskuraa laadle' is a lovely song, but I like it more as a parent child song. Brings to mind other parent child songs in the vein of 'juhi ki kali meri laadli' and 'chanda hai tu, mera suraj hai tu'.

  11. One of the misleading love songs that still surprises me is: "Ek Roz main tadap kar" from Bemisaal.

  12. Jai, your observation about the accusatory tone of male sad songs is close to mine of such ‘party songs’ - i.e. there being an adundance of such songs where the dejected hero is hell bent on publicly humiliating his love interest. The entire setup, although oft repeated, is an extent of how unreal bollywood could get. The male protagonist just about stops short of calling names to his so called love. The female is generally taking the higher ground - maybe either sacrificing for greater good or under some misunderstanding (Tu pyar hai kisi aur ka - dil hai ki maanta nahin comes to mind). In most of these songs its almost always fun to watch the clueless, featureless template guests - either just standing in a neat oval shape around the pair or inaudibly conversing just inches away from the guy singing without a michrophone - always with a glass in hands. The Men are mostly wearing coats from a decade ago, the ladies with a similarly poor fashion sense. More often than not, while the herione might secretly cry , the song doesnt move the narrative by virtue of the song pulling at the strings of anyone’s heart. Its just a lame excuse to drag the drama.

    Kya hua tera vaada being another such example

    1. The entire setup, although oft repeated, is an extent of how unreal bollywood could get.

      Ranjan: not sure why it's so "unreal". Obviously the mode of expression in such scenes is that of melodrama (which is as valid as any other mode), but I think there's often a great deal of emotional realism when a wounded lover expresses himself in that sullen, resentful way. Most of us do that at some point or the other in our relationships - even if we only do it in our heads.

    2. The fakeness of the setup was what I was referring to though. No one, except the pair at verge of breakup , seems to get the lyrics, the mood or the glances being exchanged during the song. They are happily treating it as just someone singing, pretending its in-keeping with the happy occassion, even gyrating at times with the music.
      I take your point about melodrama and emotional realism though. After all thats why those songs are still big amongst the broken hearted.

  13. Agree about specific criticisms such as template guests who sometimes don't even bother to look like a credible part of the scene, or the casualness in the costume and sound design. We see plenty of that in many 60s and 70s films in particular.

  14. I'm a few months late here, but fantastic post, Jai!
    I love Emosonal Atyachar, and your comment on funny-sad songs reminded me of Badra Bahaar from Queen ( The song itself is neither sad nor funny, it's rather detached from the situation. I feel like there's a push-pull effect here: the music is cool and kind of funky and cues us into the hilarity of watching Kangana being haunted by romantic Paris sites. On the other hand, her performance, and to a smaller extent the homesick lyrics , makes us empathize and feel bad for her.
    This also seems like a great place to bring up two falling-in-love songs that sound a little sad, or at least less than happy, to me. In both cases, knowing that things end badly for the couple has probably colored how I see them. Still, I think a tinge of sadness is built into the music and lyrics of both. In Kaise Mujhe Tum, even the visuals are quiet and contemplative. It really surprised me how, in a movie not exactly known for its subtlety, this song gently looks at how new relationships can bring out feelings of confusion, even insecurity, and you can feel those things while being happy in a general sense. I'm less sure about what I'm picking up on (or imagining) in Tu Kisi Rail Si. The video is almost all about excitement but the imagery of the lyrics (pul sa thartharata hoon) reminds me of times when liking someone felt like having a constant stomachache. There's also something about Swanand Kirkire's voice (a little reminiscent of SD Burman) that sounds bittersweet.