An adjective is an odd part of grammar. Unlike a verb or a noun, it can have different connotations for different people. Strawberry or exhale — or thousands of other nouns and verbs—mean the same thing to me or you. But beautiful? Adorable? Erotic? Subjective, completely and utterly subjective, because what may be your cup of tea may be disgusting for me. What makes me tick may leave you utterly cold.
When it comes to ‘erotic’, I tend to think that less is more. Suggestion, a whisper of a husky voice, soft music, words that hint at intimacy. The sarkaayi lyo khatiya jaada lage raunchiness of 1990s Hindi cinema (or, to quote a more visual example from the same decade, the heaving bosoms and rain-drenched saris) arouse in me nothing more than uncontrollable laughter or repulsion, sometimes both. My reaction to the other extreme that was the norm in the cinema of the 50s and 60s is similar: bobbing flowers or budgerigars rubbing their beaks together make me roll my eyes.
So what do I find sexy? Which songs make me sigh in ecstasy? These, a mix of Hindi and Western songs, all of them a few decades old.
Aaja Re Aa Zara Aa (Love in Tokyo; Mohammad Rafi)
Hindi cinema in the 50s and 60s didn’t have too many come-hither songs picturized on leads (Helen and other vamps tended to get those, and that too as staged performances—cabarets in a club). Of the few ‘genuine’ come-hither songs that are there, almost all are sung by women. Aaja Re Aa Zara Aa Is, therefore, an unusual song. Unusual, because it’s sung by a man (the inimitable and very versatile Mohammad Rafi). Unusual, too, because it’s bold: the hero sings it to the heroine. Because it’s sung in public, amidst dancing couples. Because the combination of lyrics, music, softly aching voice and visual create an effect of intimacy in the middle of a crowd. Mostly, though, because the combined package makes me wonder what follows when our lead couple escapes the outdoor party, drenched to the skin.
Sway (Dean Martin)
From one dance floor to another. Sway has been sung by numerous singers (including, in recent years, the very talented Michael Bublé), but my favourite is the classic rendition by the ‘King of Cool’, Dean Martin. The song turns a dance into an act of near-lovemaking: Like a flower bending in the breeze, bend with me, sway with me... The lyrics aren’t spectacular, but Martin’s voice is luscious, that stereotypically ‘amorous Italian’ blood showing through in every syllable, every note.
Play Me (Neil Diamond)
You are the sun, I am the moon/You are the words, I am the tune/Play me. The emotion in this Neil Diamond classic is vivid and deep: a song of two people who complete and complement each other, without whom the other is just a half of a whole. I find it also a very seductive song: a song not just about a meeting of souls, but of hearts, minds, bodies. And the tragedy that ends it—the reference to a parting of ways, of the singer going his own way, the woman he loves left behind—adds another layer to the song, making it a little bit more enigmatic, a little more mysterious.
Mile, Mile Do Badan (Blackmail; Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar)
Another Hindi film song, and one that’s surprisingly bold for its time.
Dharmendra and Raakhee play a couple, husband and wife, whose marriage starts off on the wrong note because on the wedding night, she is summoned by her ex-lover, who begins to blackmail her. This, in the midst of a complicated plot involving a secret formula and various villains, results in an estranged lead couple finally having to flee a bunch of heavily armed goons—who follow them into the woods. The hero and heroine take refuge in a wood pile, and there, forced into close bodily contact, the fear suddenly takes on more than a hint of the erotic.
The music of Mile, mile do badan is not what appeals to me: what makes this song so sexy for me is the combination of words, the acting of Dharmendra and Raakhee, the camera work—and the situation itself.
It's Now or Never (Elvis Presley)
Elvis conjures up, in too many minds, an image of rock and roll—with valid reason, of course. One should remember, however, that this iconic singer was far more versatile, his repertoire ranging from gospel music to some of the most soulful love songs ever. And this, which uses the tune of the famous O Sole Mio and puts English lyrics to them. The words occasionally slip into the realm of romance, but there’s plenty here that is unabashedly an invitation to more than mere gazing into each other’s eyes. Your lips excite me, let your arms invite me/For who knows when, we’ll meet again this way...
Of course, there’s the fact that it’s Elvis singing. That gloriously full voice that could go from a husky and seductive murmur to a very high note, yet still perfectly in control. Elvis could probably seduce while singing out a shopping list.
Ab Ke Sajan Sawan Mein (Chupke Chupke)
Chupke-Chupke is pretty much the epitome of the classic Hrishikesh Mukherjee comedy: delightfully funny in a wholesome, ‘family-friendly’ way. There is, however, in the farce that its hero (Dharmendra) plays out along with his new bride (Sharmila Tagore), a hefty element of clandestine lovemaking. This song is an interesting example of innuendo.On the face of it, it’s perfectly innocent: a young woman, at home with her sister and brother-in-law, sings a song to entertain a visitor—but that song is meant, not for entertainment, but to pass on a message to the lovelorn husband in disguise, who is on the other side of the curtain. That ‘aaglagegibadanmein’ and ‘raat bharjagaayegi yeh mast-mast pawan’ is more than the merely restlessness brought on a chaste and platonic love. The element of danger here—in the quick caresses that could blow the hero’s cover—is what makes Ab Ke Sajan Saawan Mein even more charged with sexual tension.
Tune in to the playlist of all of Madhulika Liddle's Sexy Saturday Songs here.
Madhulika Liddle is a novelist and writer of short stories. She is best known for the Muzaffar Jang series, featuring a 17th-century Mughal detective. She also blogs about classic cinema, at www.madhulikaliddle.com.