National Award winning director Srijit Mukherji chooses his 12 favourite Hindi film albums
Film-maker Srijit Mukherji speaks to Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri about his favourite Hindi film scores.
Eighty years of the talkie. Thousands and thousands of films. Hundreds of chart-busting songs. Only someone foolhardy enough would venture to select twelve among these in a list. To say it’s a tough call would be an understatement, so obviously it goes without saying that every comma, every sentence in this entire exercise is subjective. But then that’s the thing about lists – you may love them, you may hate them, you will definitely not agree with them, but you will most probably have one of your own! I have mine too – lists of every conceivable kind.
The song is the one component that has for the longest time set Indian films apart. There’s nothing like it in any cinema anywhere. And the Hindi film song has not only been a great national unifier, it is also the one cultural artefact from India that the world has embraced.
The song is the one component that has for the longest time set Indian films apart. There’s nothing like it in any cinema anywhere. And the Hindi film song has not only been a great national unifier, it is also the one cultural artefact from India that the world has embraced. However, beyond all that, I think the Hindi film song’s greatest quality is the personal experience it offers. Each one of us will most likely have our own memories or experience vis-à-vis a song. Falling in love, heartbreaks, friend and family get-togethers – every lover of the Hindi film song will have a distinct song for every occasion. That is what informs my choices too. Many of these albums and their songs have been indelible part of my evolution as a person.
The one conscious decision I took is to not repeat a composer, howsoever great the temptation. That and the fact that we are not talking great songs here, we’re talking great albums … it’s like a cricket team. You know, you have one Brian Lara or one Sachin Tendulkar or one Virat Kohli or one Steve Smith, as against, say, a team which does not have a Kohli, but maybe a Ross Taylor, possibly not a Sachin, but a Mark Waugh, and other above-average cricketers. So, that is better as a team for me. Similarly, for an album, there maybe a brilliant song, while the other songs are good, without being great. Then there’s an album where all the songs are consistently good, so that would score more for me.
On that note, here goes…
1. PYAASA (1957)
I guess it’s an album for posterity, for eternity, it’s an album forever. In terms of the union of music and lyrics, I don’t think it gets better than Pyaasa.
Pyaasa epitomizes the coming together of the finest music with the finest lyrics and represents the pinnacle of film music scoring and lyric writing. It does not have any weak link. Despite the words being unadulterated poetry, they fit beautifully vis-à-vis the compositions. I cannot think of music or lyrics separately when it comes to Pyaasa. I think it was also a bone of contention between the two maestros, Sahir and SD, in terms of whose album would it be. But I guess it’s an album for posterity, for eternity, it’s an album forever. In terms of the union of the two, I don’t think it gets better than Pyaasa. Obviously, Guru Dutt and his narrative are largely responsible for that. From ‘Yeh mahlon, ye takhton’ to ‘Jaane woh kaise log the jinke’, to ‘Hum aapke aankhon mein’, to ‘Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo’, every song of Pyaasa is a classic.
I can go on and on and on about Pyaasa, I mean, what about ‘Jaane kya tune kahi’? What a song … Geeta Dutt in blazing form, incredibly pristine, and yet mischievous, coquettish … brilliantly sung, brilliantly written and brilliantly scored. What about ‘Ye kuche, ye neelam ghar dilkashi ke’? What about ‘Jinhe naaz hai Hind par woh kahan hai’? What lyrics, what singing by Rafi saab … ‘Sar jo tera chakraaye’ … What amazing lightness, the unbearable lightness of singing, it’s an instant mood lifter. And it’s not flippant, if you listen to the lyrics, it’s not flippant.
There are other albums composed by S.D. Burman that made my life miserable while selecting Pyaasa. Tere Ghar Ke Samne, Paying Guest … Guide is a huge challenger for Pyaasa … Jewel Thief, another brilliant album. What variety! From ‘Rula ke gaya sapna’ to ‘Yeh dil na hota bechara’, to ‘Raat akeli hai’ – a stunning solo each from Lata, Kishore and Asha – and then you have two gorgeous duets, ‘Dil pukaare’ (Lata-Rafi) and ‘Aasmaan ke neeche’ (Lata-Kishore), and of course ‘Honthon pe aisi baat’ … In later years possibly Gambler and Abhimaan. The latter of course is heavily tilted in favour of one female voice, the voice of the nightingale, the voice of Goddess Saraswati. But overall, in terms of the balance between music and lyrics, I would plump for Pyaasa. I feel miserable about leaving out these other albums, but…
2. HUM DONO (1961)
With Hum Dono, I think the album chose itself. This is possibly one of the most versatile albums on the list.
With Hum Dono, I think the album chose itself. As you correctly pointed out, this is possibly one of the most versatile albums on the list. It has a love ballad, it has a philosophical song, a ghazal, a bhajan, and Rafi saab, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle in prime form. Jaidev’s a very underrated composer, and I don’t think he ever came up with anything like Hum Dono … and he did some incredibly good ones. He was an assistant of SD, but despite that, he kind of broke away and established a signature style, which was a huge thing because of the stature of S.D. Burman. I think this album is near close to perfection when it comes to the variety and the quality.
3. WOH KAUN THI? (1964)
You cannot have any top Hindi film music list without ‘Lag ja gale’. It’s a huge personal bias … it’s equivalent to three very good or brilliant songs.
I was torn between Woh Kaun Thi? and Haqeeqat. If you ask me, it’s very subjective. I think Hanste Zakhm, Dastak, Mera Saaya, Heer Ranjha are superlative albums, especially Dastak, though it has a ghazal bias. Mera Saaya has a spectacular title song, also ‘Aapke pehlu mein aakar ro diye’, but again, there are weak links. Ditto for Hanste Zakhm … ‘Tum jo mil gaye ho’ is legendary stuff… But it’s not just about one great song; I am looking at the album in its entirety.
Woh Kaun Thi? makes the cut for me … ‘Naina barse rimjhim rimjhim’, ‘Jo maine dastaan apni sunaayi’, and obviously, one of the finest Hindi film songs ever, ‘Lag ja gale’. These three songs would take on ‘Zara si aahat’, ‘Khelo na mere dil se’ and ‘Main ye sochkar uske dar se utha tha’. If you line up these three songs from each film head to head and then look at the rest of the albums, you will see that Woh Kaun Thi? is a much stronger album. Apart from the songs listed above, Woh Kaun Thi? has a tremendous Asha Bhonsle number, ‘Shok nazar ki bijliyaan’, which also underlines the versatility of the album, because of the orchestration, the progression and the mood. Then there’s the duet between Mahendra Kapoor and Lata-ji, ‘Chhor kar tera pyaar ka daaman’ … These make it a much more rounded score. In any case, you cannot have any top Hindi film music list without ‘Lag ja gale’. It’s a huge personal bias … it’s equivalent to three very good or brilliant songs.
4. KHAMOSHI (1970)
Khamoshi is by far the most complete album.
I don’t think people will debate the inclusion of Khamoshi. We keep referring to Hemant Kumar as a great singer. Salil Chowdhury once said that if God had a voice, he would sing in the voice of Hemant Kumar. That kind of overshadows his work as an incredible composer. His Hindi and Bengali output put together, he is one of my favourite composers. And Khamoshi, obviously, as you agree, is by far the most complete album. A truly successful album has to have a balance of great music, great arrangement, orchestration and great writing. Gulzar saab just takes the album to another level. Kishore Kumar’s ‘Woh sham kuchh ajeeb thi’, Hemant Kumar’s ‘Tum pukaar lo’, Manna Dey’s ‘Dost kahaan koi tumsa’ and Lata-ji’s ‘Humne dekhi hai in aankhon ki mehakti khushbu’. So first of all, it has three solos of my three favourite male singers … Rafi saab is not there, unfortunately. If there had been Mohammed Rafi on this album, it would have been the album… But what takes Khamoshi to another league is also the writing. Humne dekhi hai un aankhon ki mehakti khushbu, haath se chhuke isey rishton ka ilzaam na do, ek ehsaas hai yeh rooh se mehsoos karo, pyaar ko pyaar hi rehne do koi naam na do. It doesn’t get more evocative, sensitive or subtle than these four lines. Especially when it’s such a difficult terrain, you know, you’re talking about an unresolved relationship … so difficult to manoeuvre, and yet so accessible. A lot of people accuse Gulzar saab of not being accessible, for his imagery or choice of words. Sometimes he gets too abstruse, but look at these lines! So simply and beautifully he captures the essence of unresolved love and a relationship which defies labels. Ditto for ‘Tum pukaar lo’ … how evocatively it conveys the essence of waiting … of unrequited love … the orchestration is memorable … the kind of song you would instantly recall the moment it starts playing.
5. ANAND (1971)
Overall, lyrically and composition-wise, there’s not a single weak link in Anand.
Salil Chowdhury is one of my favourite composers, so he has to be here. He had a number of brilliant albums. But in those brilliant albums, there were, let’s say, again, the same thing of having a mix of great and good songs. In Anand, all the four songs are outstanding, though the Kishore fan in me has always fantasized about ‘Maine tere liye’ and ‘Kahin door’ being sung by Kishore. In fact, Manna Dey is supposed to have said in an interview that maybe that would have been a great scenario. Nothing to take away from the brilliant rendition by Mukesh, but it’s just a bias. But overall, lyrically and composition-wise, there’s not a single weak link in the album. ‘Na jiya jaaye na’, ‘Zindagi kaisi yeh paheli’, ‘Kahin door’ and ‘Maine tere liye’ – superb writing by Gulzar and Yogesh, profound, yet simple. It touches a chord whenever you hear it, especially some lines in ‘Kahin door’ and ‘Zindagi’.
Which possibly tilts the scale in favour of Anand as opposed to Madhumati, which has six breathtakingly beautiful songs. I can again go on and on about ‘Aa ja re’, ‘Ghadi ghadi’, ‘Zulmi sang aankh ladi’, ‘Chadh gayo papi bichhua’, ‘Suhaana safar’ and ‘Dil tadap tadap ke’. But then again, after these six songs, in my view, the album average kind of falls. Same with Chhaya, you have ‘Itna na mujhse tu pyaar badha’, you have ‘Aansoo samajh ke kyun mujhe’, but then it dips slightly in the other songs. Maya too … you have the fantastic ‘Ae dil kahaan teri manzil’, ‘Koi sone ka dilwala’, ‘Tasveer teri dil pe’ and obviously, the pristine, the immaculate ‘Jaa re, jaa re udd ja re panchhi’. These are stunning songs, but the other songs kind of pull down the average of the album. This is where I think Anand stays ahead as my Salil Chowdhury representative in the list.
6. ANUBHAV (1971)
Anubhav, again, shows up my bias for Geeta Dutt and Manna Dey. This has possibly the three greatest Geeta Dutt solos in one film.
One thing about this list is that it is not a top 12 composers list. That will be a different list for me. That will definitely have Shankar-Jaikishan. Can’t think of composers in Hindi film music without Shankar-Jaikishan. Absolute masters, nothing short of genius. Their orchestration, their fusion, their use of Western style and Western progressions, Indian classical and Indian folk. But having said that … I have noticed that when you have albums with ten to eleven songs, it’s very difficult to maintain the same level of brilliance across the songs. This is something I have noticed in most Shankar-Jaikishan albums, be it Shree 420, be it Chori Chori, Aah … ‘Ye sham ki tanhaiyan’, wow, what a number. A classic example would be Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai. It has ‘Ajeeb dastaan hai yeh’, one of the best Hindi film songs I have ever heard, but look at the rest of the album. This happened a lot with Shankar-Jaikishan. In a top composers list they would just walk in.
But when it comes to an album, my parameters are slightly different. There you have the opportunity of having a rank outsider in terms of success and adulation, a dark horse, an outlier … like Kanu Roy. And Anubhav, again, shows up my bias for Geeta Dutt and Manna Dey. This has possibly the three greatest Geeta Dutt solos in one film: ‘Mera dil jo mera hota’, ‘Koi chupke se aake’, and the ethereal ‘Meri jaan, mujhe jaan na kaho, meri jaan’. And a song which is very close to me because my father used to sing it; it has a lot of special memories for me … ‘Phir kahin koi phool khila’. Anubhav definitely has to be there in my list of top film albums.
7. AMAR PREM (1971)
The album that represented Pancham had to have at least three Kishore Kumar solos because they were like Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, Satyajit Ray and Soumitra Chatterjee.
I thought I would have a tough time deciding which Pancham album to include. I did not, surprisingly, because of two reasons. One, obviously, personal memories, because though a lot of people believe that Amar Prem was Pancham’s greatest, for me more than those opinions, I have indelible and strong memories associated with each of the three Kishore solos, ‘Chingaari koi bhadke’, ‘Yeh kya hua’ and ‘Kuchh toh log kahenge’. Heartbreak in love is something everyone goes through, and I’m sure each one of us has their own song … these three were mine. And they are so heart-wrenchingly delivered, they come from the deepest core of the singer and the composer and the lyricist, and they reach the deepest core of the listener. And that journey is in my opinion the most uncomplicated and direct in case of Amar Prem. If these three Kishore solos aren’t enough, you also have ‘Raina beeti jaaye’. Only the genius of a R.D. Burman could have moulded an early-morning raag, Lalit, in a late-night scenario … hits it absolutely out of the stadium. And then you have ‘Doli mein bithai ke’, the ultimate folk voice of S.D. Burman, and the incredibly affectionate ‘Bada natkha’. It’s such a rich album.
The second reason that made the choice of Amar Prem so easy is the partnership between R.D. Burman and Kishore Kumar. The album that represented Pancham had to have at least three Kishore Kumar solos because they were like Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, Satyajit Ray and Soumitra Chatterjee. There were other albums, with the same criteria … Mere Jeevan Saathi had stunning Kishore numbers … Kati Patang too … But I will any day go for Amar Prem.
One might argue that the singer is just one element, but I look at it this way. Pancham’s orchestration or his ability to shift between genres, his experimentation, his fusion, his genius with percussion – all that is present in most of Pancham’s albums, be it Yaadon Ki Baaraat, Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Teesri Manzil, some rare ones, Heera Panna. Pancham gave his versatility, his musical spectrum to even the most nondescript films that flopped miserably at the box office, but his albums bore his signature. So, that is kind of a given with Pancham. Since that is his signature, the tipping factor that decides everything is the singer, which is why I thought that let the voice, the singer, be the deciding criteria. And who better than Kishore Kumar … R.D. Burman and Kishore Kumar – a combination to die for.
8. ANURODH (1977)
This one is an immensely underrated album – seldom spoken about when great songs shot on Rajesh Khanna are discussed.
As you know, this was a late addition to the list, after we went through quite a few others. This one is an immensely underrated album – seldom spoken about when great songs shot on Rajesh Khanna are discussed. Again, the yardstick by which I include this is that as an album, I don’t find any weak links in it. It has four stunning Kishore Kumar solos and one very good Manna Dey number, both in happy and sad version. Obviously, there are other albums I considered. From LP’s own repertoire, I thought of Dosti, the first film that came to my mind. Then there were more recent albums and composers. Like Anu Malik’s Phir Teri Kahaani Yaad Aaye, Refugee and Asoka. Jatin-Lalit, a favourite composer of mine, so Khamoshi, Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, Yes Boss, Chalte Chalte, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na. Hridaynath Mangeshkar’s Lekin and Bhupen Hazarika’s Rudaali. At the end of the day, I went with Anurodh because – how should I put this – this is an album with a universal appeal. You can tune in to the songs independent of the visuals. And of course, the magic of the man called Kishore Kumar.
9. UMRAO JAAN (1981)
Umrao Jaan is possibly one of the greatest Hindi film ghazal albums.
Yes, as you mention, when it comes to Khayyam, Kabhi Kabhie was a strong contender. More than Footpath, I’d say … Two absolute gems in Kabhi Kabhie, but then the rest are popular, peppy without being top-notch … There’s of course Phir Subah Hogi and Bazaar, especially the latter. But I opt for Umrao Jaan. It is probably less versatile than Bazaar in terms of genre and singers … Umrao Jaan is primarily ghazal, possibly one of the greatest Hindi film ghazal albums … And it has only two singers – Asha Bhonsle and Talat Aziz (for one song, ‘Zindagi jab bhi tere bazm mein’). But the sheer weight of the songs carries Umrao Jaan through … the opening strains of ‘Dil cheez kya hai’, ‘Justaju’, ‘Yeh kya jagah hai doston’ … I don’t think it has any weak link. Also, interestingly, the scale at which Khayyam made Asha sing, the slightly lower scale than her natural one. That created magic, it tugs at your heartstrings … The album has an aura, a charm that makes it overcome the fact that it’s all ghazal.
10. ARTH (1982)
Arth is a spectacular album. When it comes to the number of singers, it is only Jagjit Singh. But if you consider ‘Koi yeh kaise batae’, ‘Jhuki jhuki si nazar’ and ‘Tum itne jo muskuraa rahe ho’, it doesn’t get any better.
Here’s something I have noticed when it comes to Hindi film music … from childhood I’ve seen one cassette combination in most households … Arth–Saath Saath. Arth is a spectacular album. When it comes to the number of singers, it is only Jagjit Singh. But if you consider ‘Koi yeh kaise batae’, ‘Jhuki jhuki si nazar’ and ‘Tum itne jo muskuraarahe ho’, it doesn’t get any better. What writing by Kaifi Azmi! This again is an album which, like Pyaasa, shares the honour between the music and the lyrics. The lyricist is equally responsible for the eternal appeal of Arth. It’s an iconic album. It’s rare for such niche and poignant lyrics to have the kind of popular appeal Arth has. It has something to do with Jagjit Singh’s voice too, apart from Kaifi Azmi’s lyrics.
11. DIL SE (1998)
To have one album representing A.R. Rahman is painful. I was miserable making this choice.
It’s not fair to have to pick one album of a composer who should probably have ten albums in any list. To have one album representing A.R. Rahman is painful. I was miserable making this choice. I simply did not know which one to pick between Dil Se, Lagaan, Taal, Saathiya and Swades. I didn’t even go into Sapnay or the usual suspects Roja and Bombay. Dil Se eventually made it to the list for a variety of reasons. No. 1, Gulzar. Lyrics-wise, Dil Se is up there, a monumental achievement. I don’t think there’s a more powerful love song than ‘Chhaiya chhaiya’. A more evocative sad song than ‘Aye ajnabee’ in the post-2000 era. There are no weak links in the album. Each song is a gem. It’s like a precious stone, you know, dazzling, spectacular … and look at the spread of singers in there. You have an extraordinary Sukhwinder Singh – what other adjectives can I use for a rendition like ‘Chhaiya chhaiya’, captivating, iconic, historic. A very soulful Udit Narayan in ‘Aye ajnabee’. You have a very enigmatic and sung with incredible flair, ‘Satrangi’, from Sonu Nigam. And obviously you have ‘Jiya jale’, possibly Lata Mangeshkar’s best song in her latter years. There’s more … how can one forget the song of the album, ‘Dil se re’ by A.R. Rahman. With ‘Dil se re’, Rahman’s vocal prowess came into prominence, specially to a pan-Indian listenership.
My logic for elimination went something like this: Lagaan had fantastic music, but a lot of it was situational, songs you couldn’t really go back to for repeat listenings. They are not as universal as Dil Se. Taal was a very strong contender … possibly would be the finalist with Dil Se. But the overall lyrical impact of Dil Se tilted the scale. Saathiya, again Gulzar saab in sublime form, but a couple of songs were not that great … but here again I need to provide that disclaimer: the choices here are subjective, a personal preference. That probably accounts for why I feel the overall weight of Dil Se songs would be slightly more than that of Saathiya. Swades has a couple of songs I am incredibly fond of, but I would not go back to them again and again. Which I would with Dil Se … It’s an album I turn to very often. It kind of lifts me.
12. DIL CHAHTA HAI (2001)
This was a relatively easy choice because in many ways Dil Chahta Hai is a milestone in Hindi films. Both as an album as well as the film.
This was a relatively easy choice because in many ways Dil Chahta Hai is a milestone in Hindi films. Both as an album as well as the film. It changed the language of Hindi films … a mainstream film with all its trappings and tropes but fiercely indie in spirit. That’s a really difficult balance to achieve. Even in the album, the sound was new. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy have done some great work … including Kal Ho Na Ho. But in terms of sheer versatility, variety of singers, sound, the range of songs … you have a classic sad song in ‘Tanhaai’, you have very unconventional love duets in ‘Jaane kyon’ and ‘Woh ladki hai kahaan’. You have the friendship song in ‘Dil chahta hai’, you have the disco, the dance number in ‘Koi kahe’, you have a mellifluous falling-in-love number in ‘Kaisi hai ye rut’. You have a Shaan, KK, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Udit Narayan, Alka Yagnik, Sonu Nigam, Shankar Mahadevan, the crème de la crème of the 1990s and the new millennium. Dil Chahta Hai was really a no-brainer – it kind of selected itself.
Bio: Srijit Mukherji is a National Award winning filmmaker. He made his debut with Autograph and has made critically acclaimed box office successes like Baishey Shrabon, Chotushkone and Jaatishwar. He tweets at @srijitspeaketh
Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is either an 'accidental' editor who strayed into publishing from a career in finance and accounts or an 'accidental' finance person who found his calling in publishing. He studied commerce and after about a decade in finance and accounts, he left it for good. He did a course in film, television and journalism from the Xavier's Institute of Mass Communication, Mumbai, after which he launched a film magazine of his own called Lights Camera Action. As executive editor at HarperCollins Publishers India, he helped launch what came to be regarded as the go-to cinema, music and culture list in Indian publishing. Books commissioned and edited by him have won the National Award for Best Book on Cinema and the MAMI (Mumbai Academy of Moving Images) Award for Best Writing on Cinema. He also commissioned and edited some of India's leading authors like Gulzar, Manu Joseph, Kiran Nagarkar, Arun Shourie and worked out co-pub arrangements with the Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Archives, apart from publishing a number of first-time authors in cinema whose books went on to become best-sellers. In 2017, he was named Editor of the Year by the apex publishing body, Publishing Next. He has been a regular contributor to Anupama Chopra's online magazine Film Companion. He is also a published author, with two books to his credit: Whims – A Book of Poems (published by Writers Workshop) and Icons from Bollywood (published by Penguin Books).