Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko …

zeenatShe was a cardiovascular risk factor for men of all ages. Blood pressures would hit the roof, hearts would palpitate, tongues would hang out, grown men would drool as she swayed across Indian screens displaying almost everything she had.

Once upon a time, the Bollywood heroine was a goody-goody Bharatiya type, clad in a demure saree or a salwar-kameez, happy to play second fiddle to the manly hero, content to cook for him and sew buttons on his shirt, sing bhajans for the hero’s mother whenever required and bear as many children as deemed necessary or politely allow her man to marry another woman in case she was incapable. Anything remotely erotic was forbidden. At best, she would be permitted a dance or two in a wet saree. Any ‘bad’ behaviour like wearing short dresses, dancing in clubs, talking to strange men, drinking and smoking, was left to vamps like Helen, Bindu and the like.

And then in 1970, Zeenat Aman burst upon Indian screens and made the vamp unnecessary. With her first appearance in Dev Anand’s Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Zeenat Aman blew apart the very concept of a Bharatiya naari. Her debut song in the movie, ‘Dum maro dum’, introduced her to Indian audiences with a chillum in her hand, smoking pot with hippies, getting stoned out of her mind.
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‘Dum maro dum’ became a cult classic. Kishore Kumar once said that ‘Dum maro dum’ was powerful enough to bring a dead man back to life. Although Mumtaz was the leading lady of Hare Rama Hare Krishna, nineteen-year old Zeenat Aman stole the show with that single song. And she won a Filmfare award for her role.

Zeenat Aman was born in Bombay, graduated from St Xavier’s college, moved to Germany with her mother and studied in the US, before returning to India. She briefly worked for Femina as a reporter and then got into professional modeling. People from my generation will remember her as the brand ambassador for Taj Mahal tea.

Hare Rama Hare Krishna made a cultural icon out of Zeenat Aman. After that movie, she went from one successful role to another, even as she became typecast as an unconventional, Westernised heroine. Where other heroines wore sarees and salwars, she sported slit skirts and tight shorts. Other heroines would take diction lessons to deliver their dialogs in a pure Northie accent, she spoke in a breezy convent accent. Other heroines were happy to give TV interviews in their homes or in a demure studio setting, she took her interviewer, Bikram Vohra out to a night club and danced the night away with him.

And where other heroines dared to display a small hint of cleavage, Zeenat Aman did not hesitate to drop all her clothes and leave very little to the imagination. The nation watched her in Satyam Shivam Sundaram in stunned fascination, as she went through the movie with hardly a stitch on her curvaceous body.

With Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1977), Zeenat Aman truly broke all the traditional norms, became India’s official sex-symbol and set the trend for other heroines to shed their inhibitions. Tina Munim, Parveen Babi, Reena Roy, Mandakini and Kimi Katkar followed in her footsteps – much to the delight of men across India.

With the song ‘Aap jaisa koi‘ in Qurbani, Zeenat Aman became an international name, and with her role in Don, she became an action-heroine as well. But it was her role as a rape victim in Insaaf ka Taraazu that earned her the respect that she truly deserved for her talent.

Personally, I liked her best in Manoranjan, a naughty comedy made in 1974, in which she played the lead role as a cheerful hooker, happily sleeping with other men in addition to the hero, played by Sanjeev Kumar. Manoranjan made light of the prostitution business, instead of ranting against it, unlike other movies on this theme. No wonder it didn’t do well, but Zeenat Aman was fun to watch.

Zeenat Aman won a Lifetime Achievement award in 1980.  She lives in Bombay now, and is still as active, and as attractive, as ever.

Aap jaisa koi meri zindagi mein aaye, Zeenatji.  Ah well, one can but dream!

Cheers … Srini.

Bakkamma bakkamma! Bollywood songs with wacky lyrics.

Trishul_1978_film_posterMan, it’s hot! The former Garden City is now officially the hottest city in south India.

Stuck indoors due to the heat, one decides to indulge in some filmi nostalgia.

The first song in my collection is one of Kishore Kumar’s wacky numbers from Half Ticket. And that motivates me to compile a list of Hindi songs with wacky lyrics. Considering that I compiled this list from largely from memory, I think I haven’t done too badly.

1) Lara lappa lara lappa layi rakhda … Ek Thi Ladki, 1949.  This timeless hit from the late 1940’s is one of the very few songs that features Mohammad Rafi with his idol, GM Durrani. You can hear Rafi in the chorus. GM Durrani was India’s first male professional playback singer. Rafi modeled his voice after him, in his early days. The female lead voice is that of Lata Mangeshkar.

manoranjan2) Goyake chunanche … Manoranjan, 1974.  Inspired by Irma La Douce, a novel and rom-com from the 1960’s, and directed by Shammi Kapoor, Manoranjan was a spicy comedy with Zeenat Aman and Sanjeev Kumar in the lead. Unlike other Indian movies, Manoranjan depicted prostitution as a fun activity, with the heroine openly enjoying herself with several men. No wonder the movie was generally panned by serious film critics. But the lay public (like me) enjoyed watching it all the same, and this wacky item song topped the charts.

The lyrics were penned by Anand Bakshi. Apparently, the phrase Goyake chunanche is from Urdu, and it roughly means ‘although therefore’. It is the wrong way to use Urdu, which explains Shammi Kapoor’s horrified expressions in the song.

3) Taka taka dum dum … Do Aankhen Barah Haath, 1957.  Widely accepted as one of Indian cinema’s all-time classics, V Shantaram’s bold movie on prisoner rehabilitation won several awards. All the songs of the film were hits, especially ‘Ae maalik tere bande hum’, at the end, rendered by Lata Mangeshkar.

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Lata Mangeshkar also sang this off-beat dance number, performed quite vigorously by Shantaram’s wife, Sandhya.

4) Bakkamma bakkama yekada pathoda … Shatranj, 1969.  Rendered by Rafi and Sharada, this wacky dance number performed by Mehmood (who else?) and Helen was the highlight of an otherwise forgettable spy thriller.

I’m not sure why Hasrat Jaipuri used Telugu words when he wrote the song, but Shankar Jaikishan did a pretty decent job of composing a dance number with such weird lyrics.

5) Ramaya vastavayya … Shree 420, 1955.  Another classic from the black-and-white era, Shree 420 dealt with the chronic issue of corruption in our society. The movie was a runaway success and each song in it was a hit.

The lyrics were by Shailendra, regarded as one of the finest song-writers of his time. He heard the Telugu phrase ‘Ramaya vastavayya’ in the folk songs of migrant laborers in his neighbourhood, and used it in this evergreen hit.

6) Gapuchi gapuchi gamgam … Trishul, 1978.  Admittedly, I remember this song because of Poonam Dhillon in a wet, tight, green monokini, rather than its lyrics! Poonam Dhillon was a Yash Chopra discovery and Trishul, directed by him, was her debut film. She made quite an impression with this one song, written by Sahir Ludhianvi. That led to her lead role in Chopra’s very next venture, Noorie, the movie that made her a big-time star.

7) Muthu kodi kavadi hara … Do Phool, 1973.  Another wacky number featuring Mehmood. Do Phool had Mehmood in a double role and at his comic best. This particular song was performed by Mehmood himself, along with Asha Bhonsle. Mehmood’s co-star in the song is Rama Prabha, a prolific Telugu character actor who appeared in more than 1400 movies. Rama Prabha acted in two Hindi movies, and Do Phool was her sole performance as female lead.

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8) Eena meena deeka … Aasha, 1957.   Without question, this is the wackiest of the wacky numbers. Only Kishore Kumar could pull off a weird number like this – although Asha Bhonsle sang a version as well.

Eena meena deeka has an interesting history. The music director for Aasha was C. Ramchandar. He was asked to create a fun song. While he was scratching his head trying to figure out a suitable tune, he was distracted by some kids outside, constantly chanting Eeny, meeny, miny, mo. That inspired him to create the song. His assistant John Gomes was a Goan, and he added a Konkani touch, with the words ‘Maka naka, maka naka’.  And Kishore Kumar performed and enacted the song in his characteristic style.

Fifty five years later, Eena meena deeka still makes people break out into a wild dance, no matter which generation they belong to.

9) My heart is beating … Julie, 1975.   It’s not a wacky song, strictly speaking. I added it to this list, because to my knowledge, ‘My heart is beating…’ is the only fully English song to feature in any Indian movie.Julie_1975_film_poster.jpg

And what a lovely song it is. Composed by Rajesh Roshan, and superbly rendered by Preeti Sagar on her debut performance, the song is one of the all-time Bollywood hits, although it is entirely in English. Preeti Sagar received a special Filmfare award for this song, and rightly so.

Did you know, that the lyrics of ‘My heart is beating…’ were written by Harindranath Chattopadhyaya? If you don’t know who he is, Google him. And shame on you.

Cheers … Srini.

Queen of the Nautch Girls …

There was a time in Bollywood when crazed fans would wait for hours to buy a ticket, not to see the hero or heroine of the movie – but to see the vamp! And she was not just any vamp. One five-minute cabaret number by her was enough to guarantee a movie’s success.

When ‘Caravan’ was released in 1970 with an Adults only rating, I was too young to be allowed into the theater. I had to wait fourteen long years for Caravan to be re-run in 1984, at Rupam Talkies, Sion. And fourteen years later, I still couldn’t enter the theater, because of the huge crowd! I paid the princely sum of Rs 20/- for a black ticket, just to see her famous cabaret number, ‘Monica, o my darling‘. And boy, she was worth waiting fourteen years for.

Such was the allure of Helen Jairaj Richardson. She was sensuous without being sleazy, voluptuous without being vulgar, erotic but not obscene, and she brought grace to a much-maligned dance form in Indian cinema, the cabaret.

Born to an Anglo-Indian father and a Burmese mother, Helen’s family migrated to Bombay in the early 1940’s to escape World War 2. At the young age of 13, she was obliged to drop out of school and look for work. Helen was trained in Kathak and so her friend Cuckoo took charge of her career and got her a job as a chorus dancer.

Helen made her debut in 1951, at an age when other girls were still playing with dolls. She appeared in several songs as a chorus dancer, and did some dance numbers with her friend and mentor Cuckoo. Helen got her big solo break in Howrah Bridge in 1957, with the mega-hit item number, ‘Mera naam Chinchin choo‘.chinchinchu

After that, Helen did not look back, as she rapidly became the top dancer of her time. Her dancing skills were not restricted to skimpy cabaret numbers alone. She shone in classical dance numbers too, as in ‘Tora man bada paapi’, from the movie Ganga Jumna.

It was an era of rigid social mores in India, as the country still had a strong hangover from the British Raj. The heroine in Indian cinema was typically portrayed as a Bharatiya naari, a nice and homely type, who would be happy to cook and wash clothes and wait patiently for her hero to come home. The heroine would never do anything ‘bad’ like smoking, drinking, driving a car, wearing T-shirts and trousers (although ultra-tight salwars and wet sarees were allowed), or worst of all, dancing in public with other men. That was the role of the vamp.

Helen’s westernised looks made her an automatic choice for these roles, since only ‘western’ women were like ‘that’. Unfortunately, Helen got typecast in these roles. She usually was the ‘other’ woman in many movies of the sixties and seventies, the dancing vamp with the golden heart and an Anglo name like Monica or Susie, who’s madly in love with the hero, but gets rejected by him since she is not a ‘Hindustani’ ladki, and she conveniently dies at the climax of the movie so that the hero and heroine can live happily ever after.

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Even so, Helen could steal the show from the lead heroine, as she did in films like Teesri Manzil, Woh kaun thi, Caravan, Gumnaam, Mere Jeevan Sathi, and Inkaar (in which her single item number ‘Mungla, mungla‘ made the movie a silver jubilee hit).

Helen is not only the best item girl ever, but she has had the longest career as well. She began at the age of 13 and when she finally retired as a cabaret artiste she was close to her fiftieth birthday. Her sizzling cabaret numbers in Sholay (1975), Inkaar (1978) and Don (1978) were all performed when she was in her late thirties and early forties.

I’d say her best cabaret number was ‘Yeh mera dil‘ in Don. Helen was forty at the time, and still set the screen on fire. In comparison, Kareena Kapoor’s remixed version of the same number in SRK’s 2006 remake of Don was anemic.

After an incredible thirty year career, Helen finally retired as a dance artiste in 1984, but then went on to shine in character roles in modern films like Khamoshi and Mohabbatein.

Merchant-Ivory made a long documentary called “Helen, Queen of the Nautch Girls”, and film journalist Jerry Pinto wrote an award winning book on her life, “Helen -The life and times of an H-bomb”.

Here’s to Helen!

 

Cheers … Srini.