21 comments on “Strangely enough, I think that my favorite Asha song is from the 1980s!

  1. Richard,
    I wonder whether you can write sometime about what contributes to making some of these good songs. It seems to me that any of the good singers could have sung some of the popular songs, the tune, rhythm, improvisations etc are such. Sometimes, singers seem to carry the songs just by their voice without much tune or music. I am more familiar with Telugu songs where Rao Balasaraswati Devi, Ghantasala could do that and I think Asha is one such. It is possible that songs that we heard when we were young remain memorable. But I listened to many songs only in the nineties and some a few months back and like them very much. Knowing the meaning does not seem to matter that much. Many of Talat, Mukhesh, Saigal Geeta Roy songs stayed with me even though I do not understand. Sometimes, even songs that one does not like seem to keep ringing in the ear; I was completely turned off Mukesh after the song ‘Bol Radha bol’ but it kept bugging me. I am wondering about songs that one feels that probably no one else could have sung this song this well. Possibly songs like ‘ptrretam anmilo’ etc come to mind. any thoughts?

  2. Swarup, interesting thoughts – in fact, this is more stuff to deal with than I might have time or energy to do right now. :) Asha is not one of my absolute favorite singers (though, certainly, she is and was better than many), and I do not feel that her voice usually stands out enough that it could not be replaced with another. (In many cases, I think I would like Geeta more – and Geeta has turned out to do better performances of some of the same songs and, especially, for many similar roles). I think that Upperstall had it right at the beginning of their bio, that Asha’s greatest asset has been versatility. However, as pointed out in this article and others, it was the music director Khayyam who brought out a unique quality in Asha’s voice by getting her to sing “two notes lower.” I think that as a result of Khayyam’s direction, Asha really does become irreplaceable in “Dil Cheez” and other songs in Umrao Jaan.

    I guess the most obvious ingredients for the quality of these good songs are the music director and the singer(s). It is great to find out the meanings of many songs, and even through subtitles, which often aren’t perfect, it is usually possible to get a sense of why certain songs sung in classic Hindi or Urdu movies are considered to be great poetry. But, on the other hand, I have to agree with you that knowing the meaning often doesn’t matter much. Certainly, I have been attracted to a huge number of classic Indian film songs, and counted many among my favorites, without knowing the meaning of the words. Sometimes Hindi speakers within our “Bolly blogging” circuit have wondered why or how a song could appeal to me or hook me so much when I don’t know the meaning. Bollyviewer once pointed out that she usually develops the urge to play a song over an over (as it becomes what she called an “ear worm”) specifically because of a heavily repeated lyrical refrain. She seemed to wonder how a song could become an “ear worm” for me when I don’t know the meaning of the words. And that’s one instance when I pointed out that the meaning often doesn’t really matter.

  3. May I butt in on this conversation, Richard?

    I too don’t agree with bollyviewer that a song can become an ‘earworm’ only if you understand the lyrics. For me, more often than not, a song gets stuck in my head because of its music. Occasionally, of course (as in a lot of Sahir Ludhianvi’s songs), the lyrics play a part – last weekend, I was stuck on Tang aa chuke hain kashmakash-e-zindagi se hum – but eventually, if the music doesn’t turn me on, the lyrics are unlikely to. As an example, I like a lot of Rabindrasangeet – even though I can understand only those words in Bengali that are similar enough to their Hindi equivalents. It’s the music, not the words…

  4. While the popularity of Hindi songs all over, including with people like me who do not know Hindi except for a few words, indicates understanding the meaning may not be that important, there is a related phenomenon. Often Hindi tunes are copied completely (not just adopted) and the reverse also happened. For some reasons, some of the copied songs are not as popular or loose popularity quickly. Compare Samsaram (Telugu, Tamil) and the Hindi version Sansar, or Jaisimha (Telugu) and the Hindi version Jai Singh. The Telugu, Tamil songs are still popular but the Hindi versions do not seem to be. I wonder whether some tunes suit some languages or whether some themes in music are more in the popular memory in some regions.This is not always the case. Anarkali tunes are copied from Hindi and are still popular in Telugu. Similarly Suvarna Sundari tunes tunes went the other way and are popular in both languages. I am not sure what is happening here.

  5. Madhu, feel free to butt in at any time, especially when you agree with me! :)

    Swarup, more interesting points, thanks. Re. Anarkali tunes, I assume you mean the 1953 Hindi film by that title? I would guess that the most popular, well known version of that story, for the film as well as the songs, is Mughal-E-Azam. Personally, my favorite Anarkali songs are from the Urdu film of that name made in 1958, starring Noor Jehan.

  6. Richard,
    Sorry, I should have mentioned the years. I meant Anarkali (1953) in Hindi and Anarkali (1955) in Telugu.
    Subarna Sundari (1957) in Telugu, horrible movie and wonderful songs. Same year in Hindi and Adinarayana Rao was the music director for both. I think that he won the Filmfare award for the Hindi version of Suvarna Sundari.
    Jaisimha, Telugu version in 1955, Jai Singh (1959) in Telugu. Strangely different music directors but the same tune. One sample

    Missama *1955) in Telugu and Miss Mary (1957) in Hindi. Different music directors with Saluri Rajeshwara Rao in Telugu and Hemantha Kumar. Hemantha Kumar might have realized the regional nature of the tunes and adopted only one tune and it is popular in both languages. Both films, not songs adopted from a Bengali film.
    Strangely a very old folk tune from Telugu was used in Rojulu Marayi (1955). Surprisingly S.D. Burman adoptrd it in Bambai Ka Baboo in the song
    Dekhne Mein Bhola Hai Dil Ka Salona – Asha Bhosle
    and I think both are still popular.
    As you can see, despite Atul’s blog, I mostly remember the songs fron the fifties and earlier.

  7. Agree with you and with Madhu (ha! surprise!) that one does not have to understand the lyrics to have a particular song stick in your consciousness (until you are sick of it!). Sorry, I hate the phrase ‘earworm’.:) Asha is not my favourite singer, but I think there were songs that only she could have sung (the way she did). I love the songs from Umrao Jaan though, and I think Khayyam resurrected her at that point.

  8. Swarup, I am really going to have to take some time to catch up with all of this! :) I have seen songs from Missama as well as Miss Mary (and possibly some from the Tamil version, Missiyama, as well as a Malayalam version!). Comparing Missama and Miss Mary, the music is often quite different, as is the dancing. One element that these versions have in common is Jamuna, who is equally funny and charming in both. (While the cast is very different for some of the other roles, as you know.)

    Anu, I see that you agree regarding the “earworm,” and I agree in that I don’t love that term, either. And yes, I agree with you on all points regarding Asha.

  9. Richard,
    No worries. Mine are only temporary impressions and not based on any quantitative studies like polls. May be such things are done in India now but I am not aware of them. Thanks for even considering my queries.

  10. Hi All,
    Two thoughts. You need an anchor song which has become popular in its original language. Then you relate immediately to its versions in other languages. Here knowing the ‘other’ language becomes irrelevant. But it is more because you have a reference song in your mind. What happens if you do not have a reference song in the language you know? Theoretically you may still fall for a song in another language. But it depends how distant it is from your own language.

    That takes me to the second point. Taking Madhu’s point about Rabindrasangeet, I have myself been moved by several Rabindrasangeet songs deeply to the extent of remebering their tune instantly on the first hearing, just as it had happened with several Hindi songs. But one subtle reason is that for a Hindi speaking person, Bengalee is less alien than other regional languages such as Tamil or Telugu. I am not sure if a Telugu or Tamil film song would embed in me in the same manner without its Hindi reference.

    Several of Salil Chaudhry’s famous compositions in Hindi (O sajna, barkha bahar ayi) also have Bengalee equivalent sung by Lata Mangeshkar herself. We like the Bengalee versions equally, perhaps because of relating to a reference (I do not know which came first, but that is beside the point).

    This theory does not hold good for someone like Richard for whom any Indian language (I presume) is equally alien. I would answer this with my own feelings when it comes to classical music. Two Ragas whcih move me beyond words are Durga and Bhimpalasi. Their Carnatic equivalents Shudh Saveri and Abheri have identical impact on me without understanding a word of it (if it is a vocal piece). This is not because of any reference to the Hindustani ragas. I would like Shudh Saveri and Abheri per se.


  11. AK,
    Sounds very plausible. But many of the anchor songs for me and many others in my area were in Hindi which most of us did not understand(my mother used to sing songs from Rattan and also some Tamil songs even though she did not know either language). May be something to do with the intrinsic merit(?)of the songs and the film medium, entertainment avenues available at that time played a part.

  12. Also early films were made in Calcutta,Kolhapur,Lahore and a few such places and I think the film makers were familiar with the diversity and English films as well. Many of them were also consciously trying for some sort of national integration. Such themes come in the films of Shantaram, Rajkapoor and others. And then there is the market and experimenting with what worked. Finally all these combined in Bomay, I think. I am not sure, just speculating.

  13. AK, not all Indian languages are equally alien to me at this point, because I have learned some rudimentary Hindi (and Urdu) in the past year or two. (Actually, I knew more about six months ago, but I stopped studying, so I have forgotten some.) It is true that this was not the case several years ago, and that might be one reason I was actually nearly equally interested in classic Tamil films as in Hindi ones back then. (Though a much bigger reason was my discovery of Padmini – and a strong interest in related dancing and dancers, which has given way a little, for me, to a stronger interest in classic Hindi film singers and North Indian-style dancing instead – I tend to look at Kathak more than Bharatanatyam now.) And, of course, that leads to further thoughts about other “entertainment avenues,” as Swarup puts it. BUT… I do think that I have also been drawn to song lyrics and meanings via subtitles (which are sometimes fairly decent for Hindi and Urdu films, more often absurd for South Indian ones). So, it’s not as though I have always been attracted to songs without having any idea what they mean…

  14. There are some forms of music which are universal. I mentioned classical. That would explain appeal of tarana or thilland. On the other end folk also has universal appeal regardless of culture or language. For the rest, I agree words are important, or ‘reference’ as I suggested.

  15. This is evolving into an increasingly interesting discussion. :-)

    Oddly, just as I was leaving this page, thinking I had nothing more to add, I remembered something in support of my theory that a song can become an ‘earworm’ even if you don’t understand a word… when my sister was in college, she was in the college choir. For their Christmas concert, among the other hymns they learnt, were two hymns in Latin. A language which was (at that time) completely alien to me. Despite that, because I used to hear my sister practise at home, I so fell in love with those two hymns that I memorised them – and can still sing them, 25 years later. (Okay, i do understand a couple of words here and there, now, but still…)

  16. Dusetoff,
    Your comment made me go back to a book which I only partly read some time ago “This is your brain on music” by Daniel Levitin. He says that “To me, records were no longer just about songs any more, but about the sound”. He quotes Paul Simon saying some thing similar “The way I listen to my own records is for the sound of them; not chords or lyrics..”The jacket blurb quotes Sting “Music seems to have an almost wilful evasive quality, defying simple explanation, so that the more we find out, the more there is to know…David Levitin’s book is a poetic exploration of this paradox”. May be, I will start reading the book again.

  17. Gaddeswarup: Thank you – that sounds like an interesting book, though I’ve never come across it. That quote about records being about the sound rings so true…

  18. The discussion has taken us far from the main them of the post. May be we should end with a few of Asha songs. Here is one from me though not from ythe eighties ( I seem to recall quickly the early songs though I enjoy new one ones too from blogs like Atull’s):

  19. Dustedoff,
    There are a couple of other books that I read and more or less forgotten, children keep borrowing the books and do not return them. I vaguely remember some by Oliver Sachs, one of them Musicophilia which was nice but I do not remember much of it now. There are others by Steve Mithen and Robin Dunbar which suggest that music may be prior to speech. Regards,

  20. Thanks to all for turning this into an interesting discussion, indeed! Swarup, I have looked at This Is Your Brain on Music in the bookstore a couple of times. You may have provided me with more incentive to pick up a copy.

    Regarding Asha songs, I posted a few more on her last birthday. I did include the one in this post (as this blog is not without its reruns now and then), but also others going back to the 1940s. (Unfortunately, I see that a couple of the clips disappeared, but there are few left.) Other people contributed some nice clips to the comments section there, so it made for a good selection of Asha songs overall.

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