1. Na Na Karte Pyar, from Dhadkan (Alka Yagnik and Udit Narayan)
This song is number one on my list because Dhadkan was my first real Hindi cinema experience. It was the summer of 2000 and I was doing research in Mauritius. I went by myself one afternoon to watch Dhadkan and on that day was born my love of Hindi cinema. And this song epitomized to me the sexiness of Hindi film music. I’m usually not a huge fan of songs set in Europe, but here, you don’t even notice the scenery because the chemistry between Akshay Kumar and Shilpa Shetty is so intense. Since 2000, I have watched hundreds of Hindi films, but this song still holds a special place in my heart.
2. Kabhi Kabhie, from Kabhi Kabhie (Lata Mangeshkar and Mukesh)
Not only is this a beautiful song, but this scene gets me every time. Pooja is married to Vijay, one of the most handsome men in the world (played by Shashi Kapoor), who on her wedding night gently and lovingly undresses her, one piece of jewelry at a time. But far from being seduced by his charm, all she can think of is Amit (played by Amitabh Bachchan), her first love. The song starts as a lament for the loss of Amit but then, two-thirds of the way into the song, Amit actually appears in Vijay’s place, and thus the lovers play out their unfinished story in the space of fantasy, suggesting that while she is making love to her husband, it is her desire for Amit that is being consommated. The few male lines come from Amit, leaving Shashi Kapoor entirely mute the whole song. A wedding night song that is the female lead’s fantasy!
3. Hamesha Tumko Chaha, from Devdas (Kavita Krishnamurty and Udit Narayan)
While we’re on the topic of wanting what you can’t have, this is another song that picturizes what palpitating desire looks like when it is channeled through loss. Paro is marrying someone else, which is partly Devdas’s fault, but in true sacrificial style he forces himself to not only attend the wedding, but lead her by the hand to her groom. This results in 6 minutes of intense emotional engagement between them, felt by way of intense grief at the loss of the possibility for their union. The repetition of “chaha, chaha, chaha” in the first solo lines of the song represents the intensity of their passion. The fact that this song isn’t lipsynched by Paro but still conveys her feelings only underlines the sense that a look, and a touch, and a tear can convey more about desire than words, even the most beautiful ones. Like Kabhi Kabhie, this is mostly about her desire, with his perspective coming in only at the end. But in Udit Narayan’s stunning vocals, Devdas’s lines cannot be overlooked: “O pritam, o pritam, bin tere mere is jeevan mein kuch bhi nahin, nahin, nahin.” Swoon.
4. Afreen Afreen, from Coke Studio Pakistan Season 9 (Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Momina Mustehan)
This is a song about when you love or desire someone so much that you can’t put it into words, but because you’re human, you try anyway. It is a song driven by its lyrics, its pursuit of describing a woman who is so beautiful that no words can never be enough, so it has to be evoked through the other senses, as a naghma (song), or a khushboo (scent), or as impossibility itself (husn-i-jaanaan ki tarif mumkin nahin). But the fact that it is arranged here without the throbbing beat of the Nusrat version, so that Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s voice becomes the center, and with the stunning addition of Momina Mustehan, elevates this song to something verging on the divine. Khan’s voice is both sensual and throbbing with passion, and when he sings, “Chehra jaisa ke chehra kahin bhi nahin”… I rarely get through it without tears in my eyes.
5. Rang Barse, from Silsila (Amitabh Bachchan)
Silsila is a movie pulsating with non-normative desire, not only between Amitabh and Rekha but even, in the early scenes, between Amitabh and Shashi Kapoor. But it is also a film about restraint, about those rules we make for ourselves that keep sensuality from bubbling up to the surface. Rang Barse is the only space where that closed lid of restraint comes off. From the duelling dhols of Amit and Dr. Anand at the beginning, to Amit slipping underneath Chandni’s dupatta to give her a kiss at the end, Bachchan gives an amazing performance in this song, and it is difficult to take your eyes off him. The fact that it is his own voice, not pitch perfect and rough around the edges, only makes it better.
6. Jhoot Bole Kauwa Kate, from Bobby (Lata Mangeshkar and Shailendra Singh)
This song is all about Dimple Kapadia. The rest of the movie seems to be about innocence and young romance, but in this song we see the other side of that romance: Dimple is not so simple but has a fiery undercurrent as well. Her poise, her direct gaze, the way she moves her body all suggest a confidence around her sexuality that hides behind her sweetness in other parts of the movie. Her dancing brims with excess. In this scene, she is in control.
7. Aga Bai, from Aiyya (Shalmali Kholgade and Monali Thakur)
If Jhoot Bola Kauwa Kate is about the sexuality of young women, Aga Bai is about the sexuality of middle-age women – or more specifically, middle-age actors (since the character Rani Mukherjee is playing is half her age). In this song we see the confident sensuality of someone who isn’t interested in competing with the bony athleticism of many younger stars, who simply doesn’t give a damn. Playing a protagonist who refuses to be content with a sexless, joyless existence, or to ruminate over loss like so many female characters before her, Mukherjee wears her body like someone who has danced, grown up, had a kid, and continues to dance.
Tune in to the playlist of all of Ulka Anjaria's Sexy Saturday Songs here.
Ulka Anjaria teaches Indian literature and film at Brandeis University.