By Arnab Chakladar
Kishore Kumar may not be the first name that comes to mind when thinking of sexy songs from Hindi cinema. In the ’50s and ’60s he was associated mostly with light-hearted fare — the heavy crooning being Rafi’s forte — and in the ’70s and ’80s many of his songs were picturised on a dancing Amitabh Bachchan, which is nobody’s idea of a sexy sight. But sexy does not have to mean sultry or seductive in the stereotypical sense. Kishore was the master of the flirtatious song and the “give and take”, conversational, playful nature of his duets, especially with Asha Bhosle, in the ’50s and early ’60s embody much of the transgressive nature of the comedies of the period (in the big banner dramas no one was having any fun). Let us begin there.
1. “Sa Sa Sa Re” Naughty Boy (1962)
Kishore (singing for himself) and Asha (singing for Kalpana Mohan) carry on a love affair right under the nose of a censorious relative. What could be sexier? The musicians, unaware of the romance around them, are themselves transported to the heights of ecstasy.
2. “Rimjhim Gire Saawan”, Manzil (1979)
Okay, I said rude things about Amitabh Bachchan’s dancing but in this song, he remains seated and remains oblivious to the fact that as he is singing everybody in the room is falling in love with him. “Rimjhim Gire Saawan” is sensual without at first being about love at all. The brooding mind is aroused by the rain and then opens out to the world; Kishore’s soaring vocal seems to fill all of existence. Every time I hear this song I feel like my heart will explode.
3. “Ek Ladki Bheegi Bhaagi Si”, Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958)
Speaking of rain, let us go back in time to perhaps the quintessential Kishore Kumar film, Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi. S.D. Burman may have “borrowed” the tune but it is Kishore (singing for himself) who steals everybody’s heart with his teasing of Madhubala.
4. “De Bhi Chuke Ham Dil Nazrana”, Jaal (1952)
And while we’re going back in time let’s go all the way back to 1952 and Jaal. Is “De Bhi Chuke Ham Dil Nazrana” the only time Kishore Kumar sang in a Guru Dutt movie? I’m not sure but I do know it’s one of very few duets he ever sang with Geeta Dutt and may even be my favourite – though “Aankhon Mein Tum” from Half-Ticket is a strong contender. It also competes strongly with the conversational duets that would follow in the 1950s with Asha Bhosle. The lovers jab and parry, the camera follows them as closely as they follow each other; in the end the song refuses to resolve the tension.
5. “Ami Chini Go Chini Tomare”, Charulata (1964)
Up a decade to the 1960s, here is Kishore singing in Bengali in Ray’s Charulata. It is easy to forget given his stature in Bombay cinema, but Kishore sang in other languages too. Charulata is a film about female desire and we see it kindling here as Madhabi Mukherjee’s Charulata listens to and watches Soumitra Chatterjee’s carefree Amal who does not know the effect his rendition of Tagore’s song is having. Ray’s camera and Kishore’s voice pull us in and we watch him as she does.
6. “Khilte Hain Gul Yahan” Sharmeelee (1971)
In this song, Kishore comes as close as he ever does to the honeyed Rafi mode. But here too a playful quality suffuses the song. Does the seduction work without young Shashi Kapoor smiling and serving everyone garam chai? Yes, it does. (By the way, I’ve always suspected that SDB left the music direction here to his son—it sounds more like a RDB song, doesn’t it? And Neeraj seems to have been told to update Sahir’s lyrics for “Sun Ja Dil Ki Dastaan” from Jaal.)
7. “Yeh Raatein, Yeh Mausam, Yeh Nadi Ka Kinara”, Dilli Ka Thug (1958)
Back to Kishore and Asha, this time in a less flirtatious mode. Dilli Ka Thug is filled with wonderful playful duets but in this song, we see the consummation of flirtation and the swoony orchestration makes short work of the distinction between text and subtext: “Yeh baahon mein baahen, yeh behaki nigaahen, lo aane laga zindagi ka mazaa.” Indeed.
8. “O Mere Dil Ke Chain”, Mere Jeevan Saathi (1972)
Kishore singing for Rajesh Khanna: the jazzy “Roop Tera Mastana” is an obvious choice but it’s never done it fully for me. I will select the far less steamily staged but no less erotic “O Mere Dil Ke Chain” from Mere Jeevan Saathi. The song is sung by the man and the lyrics are wonderfully romantic in that over-the-top Bombay way but the real sexual tension in the song is in Tanuja’s face as she follows Khanna and the song’s insistent melody from room to room. I don’t think there’s much doubt about where they end up.
9. “Aankhon Mein Kya Ji?” Nau Do Gyarah (1957)
Let’s end with another Kishore-Asha duet. Oh, that killer combo of Kishore, Asha, Majrooh and S.D. Burman! One of the things I love about duets of this kind from this period is how they vocalise female desire on par with male desire (compare with Tanuja’s silence above). Dev Anand makes the recognition here that so many comedies of the era made of their heroines: “Dekhne mein bholi ho, lekin ho bari chanchal”. Add the percussion, the whistling and the undulating rhythm and there’s not much mystery about what they’re upto in the bale of hay they disappear into for 10 seconds.
Arnab Chakladar teaches classes on Indian and other postcolonial literatures and on Bombay cinema at Carleton College in Minnesota. He is currently plotting ways to indoctrinate his young American children into Golden Age Hindi film music. He is also rumoured to blog about food and whisky in his spare time.