1. "Piya Aiso Jiya Mein Samaye Gayo Re” - Saheb Bibi Aur Ghulam 1962
This song evokes our long tradition of shringara as both adornment and erotic love. That plait, that trailing palla, that self-scrutiny in the mirror - some of the earliest images we have of our mothers dressing to go out, evoke the rasa, the joy of life itself. I find Shakeel Badayuni’s suggestive lyrics (the breeze blowing open the door), so in tune with folk and classical literature, much more erotic than the explicit lyrics of songs in later years.
2. “Reshmi Salwaar Kurta Jaali Ka” - Naya Daur 1957
The best of the many film songs over the decades that are performed by (barely) cross-dressed girls. What bubbly flirtatiousness, both in the dance and in Shamshad and Asha singing together! Evokes for me the many young women who run away together, one of whom often dresses in a boyish way, and Sahir’s lyrics inadvertently address real issues: “Karunga tera peechha, chahe lag jaye hathkariyaan.”
3. “Diye jalte hain”- Namak Haraam 1973
The youthful charm of Rajesh and Amitabh! I love the way Rajesh makes all his usual romantic moves, the intensity, the playfulness, the way they look into each other's eyes, feed each other, light a cigarette, the photo on the wall of them both together, the wonderful ambiguity of the word “yaar” (both friend and lover), and the truth of the words.
4. “Rang Barse Bheege Chunarwaali” - Silsila 1981
Others have already listed some of the all-time great erotic songs, like “Aaj rapat jaaye” (Smita’s awkward sensuality is so touching in that one) and “Roop tera mastana.” This is surely near the top of the list - such a spectacular combination of Holi’s folksy sexuality with upper-middle-class pleasures. I’m so thankful kisses were not shown on screen because a kiss could never equal the sexiness of that last verse where they lower themselves to the flower-strewn grass or he lowers her head towards his, to the beat of the drums, and the imagination intervenes. It is an unforgettable evocation of love’s intoxication and also the inevitable cruelty of its self-absorption that makes it indifferent to others’ pain.
5. “Phoolon Ke Rang Se” - Prem Pujari 1970
This song has personal associations for me, and perfectly creates the ambience of erotic obsession, where one sees only the beloved all around, and others are drawn to love’s glow while its secret remains unfathomable to them (embodied here in the Swiss people who don’t understand his words). Dev Anand perfectly enacts the simultaneous inward-looking dreaminess and extra-vivid pleasure in life that is the state of being in love.
6. "Summer Wine” - Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra
This haunting modern take on Keats’ “La belle dame sans merci," taps into the universal experience of waking up to find that erotic love was a dream, and yet a dream more intensely real than waking life.
Tune in to the playlist of all of Ruth Vanita's Sexy Saturday Songs here.
Ruth Vanita taught for 20 years at Delhi University. She is the author of many books; her new book Dancing with the Nation: Courtesans in Bombay Cinema, will appear this year.