hindi film music

What has changed in the emotional landscape of the happy-sad song in Hindi film music?

A short history of upbeat and downbeat versions of the same song reveals that the subset of Hindi film music has kept pace with the times.

In the recent release Sultan, the song Jag ghoomeya ( I have roamed the world) has two versions. One is sung robustly by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan with a cheery disposition despite its melancholic lilt. This is called the happy version, lip-synced by the hero Sultan (Salman Khan) to an appreciative nightclub audience. The sad version is sung by Neha Bhasin, featuring fewer upbeat instruments and emphasising her vocals. In contrast to its context, the song is filmed on Aarfa (Anushka Sharma) who lip-syncs exuberantly and looks happy in her pining for a missing lover, a surge of fond memories clouding her thoughts. The song also sounds infinitely happier than truly sad.

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‘Jag ghoomeya’.

In the long established tradition of Hindi film music, the happy and sad versions are side A and side B of the same song. The sad song is designed to remind listeners of the effect of its happier twin. A dependable example of this trope is Rote rote hansna seekho (Learn to laugh when crying), from the film Andhaa Kaanoon (1983). Anand Bakshi’s lyrics do a double take. How does one laugh when sobbing interminably?

The proof lies in the music. Composers Laxmikant-Pyarelal whip up a blissful version in which playback singer Kishore Kumar’s enthusiastic voice is deployed on Amitabh Bachchan. The actor is shown entertaining his little daughter, and is backed by rhythmic drums, flutes and stringed instruments. In the sad version, Kumar’s voice deepens as the boisterous instruments are pared down to elegiac notes. The song is filmed on the actor burying his daughter’s body, trying to smile as he caresses her still face and offers her a bar of chocolate. Viewers instantly choke up with memories of happier times.

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‘Rote rote hansna seekho’.

Male singers usually get to sing the happy versions. In the popular Aye malik tere bande hum (Do Ankhen Barah Haath, 1957), Lata Mangeshkar sulks in the downbeat track.

Sometimes, the same singer does double duty, as did Mangeshkar for the upbeat and lamentful versions of Yeh zindagi ussi ki hai (Anarkali, 1953), which are set to music by C Ramachandra. In Solva Saal (1958), Hemant Kumar sings both versions of Hai apna dil toh awara. The cheerful version is filmed on a flirty Dev Anand and a flustered Waheeda Rehman inside a train. Sachin Dev Burman composed the swinging tune, which included Rahul Dev Burman’s infectious use of the mouth organ. In the sad version, the flamboyant hero is back in the train but he is alone this time, and his voice has a forlorn ache.

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‘Hai apna dil toh awara’.

It is also common to see two women in love with the same man express their feelings through different iterations of the track. In Najma (1943), actress Sitara Devi sings Fasle bahar gaaye jaa in a whirligig of ecstasy as her co-playback singer Parul Ghosh (for actress Veena) calls out to the bekasi (helplessness) in her life through the lyrics of Anjum Pilibhiti. The music is by Rafiq Ghaznavi.

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‘Fasle bahaar gaye jaa’.

The trend of featuring two women bringing both emotions into one song is echoed in Kavi Kalidas (1959). Sabita Bannerji and Usha Mangeshkar sing the duet Aaj ki raat for their on-screen heroines Anita Guha and Nirupa Roy. Bannerji sings the sad bits and Mangeshkar handles the happy portions. The camera flits between the two actresses as SN Tripathi’s music soars and dips. Even more unusual, perhaps, is to find Nirupa Roy prancing around in a fit of joy, unlike the pained mother figure she later came to embody.

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‘Aaj ki raat’.

A further twist to the formula is the triplet version. In Gazal (1964), Madan Mohan’s tune remains the same for three songs by lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi that swing between happy, sad and poignant emotions. Mohammed Rafi sings Ishq ki garmi e jazbaat kisse pesh karoon (happy) and Rang aur noor ki baraat kisse pesh karoon (heart-wrenchingly sad), while Mangeshkar sings Naghma o sher ki saugaat kisse pesh karoon (pensive).

A more popular example of this unique style, in which the lyrics change according to the emotions but the tune is constant, is presented in Guide (1965). Mangeshkar gets the happy dance number Mose chhal kiye jaaye for a change, as Rafi laments in Kya se kya ho gaya right after it.

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‘Mose chhal kiye jaaye’.

The happy-sad lovers’ duet, in which they sing a joyous song together and are later left to nurse a broken heart with a weepy solo has innumerable examples, right from Bachpan ke din bhula na dena (Deedar, 1951), to Do deewane sheher mein/Ek akela is sheher mein (Gharaonda, 1977), to the title track of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998).

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‘Ek akela is sheher mein’.

Barfi! (2012) evokes saudade through its three versions of the ghazal Phir le aaya dil, written by Sayeed Quadri and composed by Pritam. These songs are not categorised as happy or sad. Instead, for an age in which songs are remixed, reprised and reduxed, each of the versions has a distinctly new flavour. The ghazal blurs the line between the two polarised states of mind, finding a meeting point to coexist as one. It makes us happy and sad, both at the same time.

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‘Phir le aaya dil’.
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