Morning and evening without fail, the asian koel calls out loudly at my window. This is the breeding season for the asian koel, and it is louder than usual, as it calls out to its fledglings.
In technical terms, the asian koel is called a brood parasite. It lays its eggs in the nests of other species, usually in a crow’s nest. The unfortunate crow hatches and brings up the koel’s chicks while the koel takes it easy. As soon as the chicks hatch, the koel perches on a nearby branch and calls out loudly, especially in the morning and evening. It does this so that the young chicks learn to identify their own species, even as they are being fed and reared by the crows. Once the chicks are old enough to fly, they abandon the crow’s nest and rejoin their own kind. Sometimes, the growing chicks even chuck out the crow’s own chicks!
The Asian Koel belongs to the cuckoo family. Cuckoos are very popular in Hindi film music. Many classic numbers in Bollywood music are dedicated to various species from the cuckoo family.
The constant cooing of the koel outside my window reminds me of the timeless ‘Kuhu kuhu bole koyaliya’ from the mega-hit movie of the 1950’s, Suvarna Sundari.
Released in 1957, Suvarna Sundari was originally made in Telugu. In an era when South Indian films would copy Hindi films, Suvarna Sundari was the first southern movie that was remade in Hindi. It was remade in Hindi and Tamil with the same lead pair of Akkineni Nageswara Rao and Anjali Devi.
All the songs of Suvarna Sundari were hits. ‘Kuhu kuhu bole koyaliya’ was the best of the lot. The music director, P Adinarayana Rao, was also the movie’s producer and Anjali Devi’s husband. Rao took the unusual ragamaalika approach, by composing each verse of ‘Kuhu kuhu’ in a different raga. In all, he used four ragas for the song. The result was a complicated but uniquely melodious classic that remains popular more than half a century later.
Only Mohammad Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar could perform the Hindi version of this exceptionally difficult composition. The Telugu and Tamil versions was performed by another pair of playback geniuses, Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao and PJ Krishnaveni.
I saw and enjoyed all three versions of Suvarna Sundari – that’s the advantage of being a polyglot!
You can enjoy the Hindi version here. I rate ‘Kuhu kuhu’ as Rafi and Lata’s best duet performance.
The cuckoo outside my window would be pleased to know that!
Cheers … Srini.