I generally avoid posting notes like this when I fix things up in my blog, but sometimes I feel that one is warranted. So, here’s a note about a few things that I am doing:
1. On the sidebar, I have added a WordPress widget listing “Top Posts.” As I understand it, “Top Posts” means posts most visited in the last 24 to 48 hours. (Though I will have to double-check on that – I found the wording of the description at WordPress to be a bit confusing.) I thought that this would be a nice way to alert blog readers to stuff that I have done in the past (or to alert those blog readers who even look at the sidebar, at any rate). Sometimes most of the “Top Posts” generally rank among my own favorite posts or those that I would most like people to see. It doesn’t always happen that way, but since the rotation is so frequent, I kind of like the variety that ends up being listed anyway.
I am checking the links in that list fairly frequently, and once in a while, I land on a post from the past that is missing things – video clips, mainly. I will try to fix that one up, but if I can’t find replacement clips and there’s too much missing now and /or I don’t care all that much about the post anyway, I’ll delete it. So, this function provides a nice incentive for me to look back at old posts and gradually fix the blog in general.
2. In the top bar, where the “About” pages are, I’ve added a new link for the “15th Anniversary Update.” That page is simply a copy of the post “15 Years!” which I wrote in July. I thought that it would be good to provide an update to the “About” pages in some way, since the last “About” page that I had up was already a decade old. And then I figured that this 15th anniversary post was as good an update as any new one that I might come up with.
3. I am adding a new link to the blogrolls now and then. I might update the categories sometime soon and do a more thorough check/edit of those lists, though I am not sure when; I might wait until the year number changes.
With this post, I think Roshan Kumari is now pretty close to the top of the list of the dancers whom I have written about most in this blog. Among those who have not appeared in all that many films, she is definitely at the top. (For those who don’t know about the several other posts that I have written which were about her or included her, please go here, here, and here. But for reasons I will get back to another time, the most recent one, showing seven dances, will have to be revised.) One of the reasons she appears here so often is, of course, because she is so great, but another is that I keep finding new incentives to post about her.
I would guess that most people who know about Roshan Kumari at all know only that she was the dancer in Satyajit Ray’s film Jalsaghar (and many people who saw that film don’t even know the dancer’s name – even though it was a phenomenal dance scene). But when you get a little curious about her and look around every so often, it seems that new information keeps emerging. What’s even better is that it sometimes is actually information that was just published. Thankfully she is still very much with us (now age 84), and a couple of weeks ago, I even found an interview with her that had appeared in TheIndian Express just one month earlier – that is, as recently as August 21, 2022!
The article is entitled The Story of a Reclusive Dancer: Roshan Kumari, who once lit up the world of Kathak, and the subtitle tells us, “In a rare interview, Roshan Kumari, part of the feted Kathak trinity with Sitara Devi and Damayanti Joshi, speaks of her devotion to dance, the iconic performance in Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar, and what her journey steeped in Kathak has given her.” Unfortunately, when you follow the link to the article, you will find only a beginning piece of it, because you cannot get access to the whole article without registering with TheIndian Express. But I would say that it’s certainly worth taking that small step of registering. (You are not obligated to pay anything or subscribe – although you should, of course, if you find that the publication, in general, interests you enough.) Given the agreement that one makes when registering, I would not feel comfortable sharing the whole article, as some people encouraged me to do on Facebook. But trusting that it is perfectly OK to quote from it and refer to it in some detail, there are a few things that I wanted to point out here.
The article is very nicely written by Suanshu Khurana, and some of the best parts of it actually come from her descriptions, narrative, and quotes from other people, rather than from Roshan Kumari, herself. Roshan Kumari does not give all that extensive an interview because, as she puts it, she doesn’t like being asked questions. So, Ms. Khurana managed to get information out of Dr. Kumari (as she is referred to by many) by skillfully making an interview seem as little as possible like an interview. And given the limits involved, I am impressed at how successful she was!
One thing that this article told me that I had not known before is how thoroughly Roshan Kumari’s whole dancing career was linked to the mentorship and encouragement of her father. Here on this blog, there has been some discussion about the fact that Dr. Kumari’s mother was the great film singer Zohrabai Ambalewali, and the fact that her mother put a lot of energy into encouraging her in her dance endeavors. In other places, too, Zohrabai is mentioned for her devotion to her daughter’s dance career, and one source that I saw even said that Zohrabai gave up singing in great part to devote more time to helping and encouraging her daughter. But we learn from the article here that Roshan Kumari’s work as a dancer is much more closely linked to the tutelage and devotion of her father, Fakir Mohammed. This makes sense, since Fakir Mohammed was a renowned percussionist. He played tabla very often as a session musician in the film industry, and apparently, he was also very versed at playing the pakhawaj, the original traditional instrument for accompanying kathak.
In the interview, Roshan Kumari says, “My relationship with my father was very different. Baoji and I had some kind of soul connection. I was also his gandabandh shagird (disciple for life). I have loved dance because of his passion for rhythm. Whatever I could do was because of my father, his riyaaz. I could play in the complex world of rhythms because of him.”
A little later, she goes on to say, “I was very sharp and could very quickly pick up what my gurus taught me. During the long riyaaz sessions with my father, it was as if I would drink up that piece. He worked as hard as me. His life was completely devoted to my dance.”
Unfortunately, the connection between her dance and her father was so strong that when he died, she could not bring herself to perform anymore. This is what we are told near the end of the article:
In 1994, Fakir Mohammed passed away. “I have not touched my ghungroos since then,” says Kumari, welling up looking at her father’s portrait. “It’s difficult to speak about my dance because it’s tied to him. I plunge into a dark space, which is why I do not do interviews,” says Kumari, who never married, “It is quiet and lonely but my students are wonderful and keep visiting.”
However, it was also made clear that she’d had a very good run as a performer up until that fateful moment in the mid ‘90s. In the past, I have found that detailed information about her performing career was very hard to come by, and that is one reason I really appreciated this article.
Not long ago, it was very difficult even to find out her true age, about which there has also been a good amount of speculation in this blog. (If you check Wikipedia, it won’t help much – it tells you, “year of birth uncertain.”) But now we know definitely from this article that she was 84 at the time of this interview, and given that it was published in August 2022 and she was born on December 24, this would mean her year of birth was 1938. (Actually, I believe we had concluded as much at this blog before, but it took some convoluted research and calculations.) And as the article confirms, this means that – like a few other dance stars in old Indian films – she met some of her greatest successes at a very early age. She was still only 15 when she made her film debut in Parineeta (1953) – alongside Gopi Krishna who was, himself, only 17 or 18. And she was only 19 when she starred in the kathak scene in Jalsaghar, which many of us consider to be the greatest dance scene in the history of Indian cinema.
By the way, there is an excellent description of this dance in the article, too, along with a good number of words telling why her performance of the dance was so amazing. But I am not going to quote from that here, because I am finding it difficult to pick out one choice sentence vs. another, and if I quote everything, that will come very close to reproducing the article. Anyway, my intention here is to give you more information about Roshan Kumari, not to write a whole new post about that dance scene, magnificent though it may be. But I do think that everyone should read all the things that this article in The Indian Express says about it, which is one more reason to recommend that people register so that they can see the article in its entirety.
[Note: the following paragraph was revised on October 24.] Incidentally, in this post, I had originally linked to a YouTube post by Tom Daniel of the entire film Jalsaghar, but apparently, it has been taken down. But the song and dance scenes on his songs channel still remain – including the famous dance. Or, to see other copies of that dance, you can simply search for “Jalsaghar” on this blog, because I have posted it a few times before. In fact, I am not going to embed that dance in this post exactly because I have already posted it so often! But I would like to share a couple of other videos, of other Roshan Kumari dances, that I discovered right around the same time that I saw the article.
These videos come from a channel called Classic Dance, which has some very interesting videos of famous dancers – mostly kathak dancers – who have also appeared in at least some films here and there. This YouTube user obviously does not go out of his way to make sure that the videos look clean and sparkling – and it may very well be that the sources, themselves, are in such bad shape that it would be impossible to try to improve them anyway. Nonetheless, I certainly appreciate the fact that he has included apparently rare clips of Roshan Kumari dances that I have never scene before.
The first one I wanted to point out is a scene of Roshan Kumari dancing in a documentary, “The Classic Dance of India,” from Prakash Jha Productions, in the part unsurprisingly labeled “Part I – Kathak.” This film was obviously made quite a few years later than the Films Division documentary that has been referred to so often in different places (and mentioned in this blog before). Roshan Kumari is considerably older here than in any of the other dances that I have seen her perform on film. Another interesting thing about this clip is that it shows Fakir Mohammed doing the padhant (reciting the bols). Judging by the obviously mature age of Roshan Kumari in this one and the fact that her father looks quite old, I am guessing this to be from some time in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s. But Dr. Kumari’s performance is still great!
And the other video that I wanted to include in this post is labeled as being from a Doordashan (Indian government television) documentary on Samta Prasad. As some people might know, Samta Prasad – also known as Gudai Maharaj – was a famous tabla player who, like Fakir Mohammed, worked as a musician for a lot of Indian films. Curiously, I have learned also – at least going by a YouTube comment – that he played the tablas in a classical piece in Jalsaghar, Raag Miyan Ki Malhar. (I presume that he was not just playing for someone else but was also the tabla player on screen. He looks markedly different there from in the other performance clips that I’ve seen, but maybe that was just the result of very good costuming.) I am guessing that this scene below was filmed a bit earlier than the one in the video above, maybe from the 1980s – probably the earlier part of that decade – but I can’t say that I am certain of that. (If anyone has a date that is accurate, please do let me know!)
I should mention that there is also another clip that I found on this cannel (and had not seen before) entitled PadmaShri Dr Roshan Kumari & Desciple [sic], Kathak, but it is over an hour long and the visual quality is so poor that for much of the video, I can’t even recognize the faces. (I think some of it shows Roshan Kumari but maybe more of it shows the disciple – or multiple disciples.) So, I am not going to embed it or even try to discuss it. But for those who are curious, this is the link.
In any event, I hope that there are other people reading this post who were as delighted as I was to see newly posted Roshan Kumari dance videos and a newly written article about her. Obviously, she is one of my favorites among the talents that I have found out about during so many years of exploring old Indian films. These new discoveries – the article and the two videos – were more than sufficient to inspire me to do a new blog post after a long-ish dormant phase. (I know that an increasing number of people out there were wondering if my 15th anniversary post at the end of July was my last.) If and whenever I find new videos or articles related to Roshan Kumari, that will certainly be enough to wake me into doing another post!
[Note: This post is also being stored as the “15th Anniversary Update” among the “About” pages at the top of the blog.]
Yesterday marked fifteen years since I started this blog. I did my first post on this blog (that is, an announcement about it) on July 30, 2007. I planned to write a short post announcing this blog’s fifteenth anniversary on the actual anniversary, but forgot that the date was July 30 and kept thinking July 31. Well, it has been 15 years…
In a way, it’s hard to believe all that time went by. But in another way, when I take a good look at the time when I started this blog, I think, yeah, it makes a lot of sense that fifteen years have passed since then.
When I made my announcement of the blog on July 30, 2007, I said that this would be a blog about “new music (and culture and some politics).” Obviously, it didn’t end up being a blog just about new music – far from it. As people know, most of the music in this blog is very old.
My original idea for this blog was to focus on global fusion music with South Asian influences. It was just a kind of fusion that I happened to like a lot at the time. But as the months progressed, I started to include more Indian film music. One reason for that change was that I was tracing the sample sources and influences for some of that global fusion music. A lot of people who like old Indian film music and/or classical Indian music and/or Indian folk music knock fusion music, but they don’t realize that fusion can offer a great window into those older kinds of music and that some people (though maybe not enough) have sufficient curiosity to explore those older kinds of music further after they’ve caught some brief glimpses of them. My fondness for different kinds of Indian and Pakistani music is actually rooted in other things, too (relationships, experiences, exposure to the old kinds of music that happened completely separately from my exposure to fusion music), but I have to give the fusion music a lot of credit also.
Another reason for the change in my blog – that is, into what it became for most of the next 15 years – was the fact that I moved to Jackson Heights, Queens, NY in the summer of 2007, and at the time, there were several stores selling tons of DVDs of old Indian films as well as several more selling at least a few here and there. It was incredibly easy to find DVDs of old Indian films in Jackson Heights in 2007; in fact, some people said that they found them in that neighborhood much more easily than they could find them in India. Unfortunately, those days are long over – all those stores are gone (or have turned into something else or have simply gotten rid of their DVD sections), because nobody sells DVDs anymore. And I really miss them too. I don’t live in Jackson Heights anymore (though I often think of moving back there – not too happy being back in the Bronx right now), but if the DVD stores were still around, I’d still be going to them anyway. I used to spend so much time in the “Bollywood DVD” stores when I lived in that neighborhood, in 2007 to 2010! And I did visit the area to do film shopping a number of times for a few years afterward…
A third reason why this blog changed – and found its main subject matter/theme for much of the next decade and a half – was the fact that shortly after I started the blog, I started to find other blogs that specialized in classic Indian films (and/or film music), and these turned out to be a great source of education for me. I’ve talked about those blogs and bloggers before and there are posts from the past where you can find more details about their contribution to my education at this blog. But for now, I will just say those other blogs – as well as some YouTube channels – were invaluable in terms of how they helped me to create and develop Dances on the Footpath.
A little while ago, while thinking about this blog’s 15th anniversary, I decided to go to some of the early posts to see how they were doing. A number of them included clips that had been taken down from YouTube, so I decided to delete them rather than try to replace them, especially considering that they sometimes had very little in common with the material that would be included in this blog for most of the next 15 years. So, you might say that I have done a little trimming, especially among the older posts. But most of the old posts still stand, and there certainly are enough still up to give a sense of what I was doing back then.
Looking back at my old posts, I see that I started posting scenes straight from Indian films in November of 2007. The film scenes (and writing related to film scenes) gradually increased in number over the next few months, but I didn’t completely fall into my love affair with classic Indian films – which in turn caused this blog to begin transforming almost completely into an Indian film blog – until the end of April 2008, when I watched and reviewed Shree 420. For some months after that, I posted about a somewhat eclectic selection of Indian films, but I ended up doing more and more about Golden Age and Vintage Hindi films – and related music and dance – and, as many of you know, that is where Dances on the Footpath ended up being focused for quite a long time.
But I suppose things have started to go full circle, in a way… As you can see, in the past few years and especially in recent months, I have been writing a lot more about fusion again, although it is fusion originating from India or Pakistan rather than the Western-originated fusion that I started out with. I have (again) become much more dedicated to writing about music and dance apart from films, too. (Actually I have been more interested in focusing on dance – especially classical dance – in the past few years than I ever was before. I have also gone completely crazy about kathak, which is a pretty big change from the past. As some of you might have noticed, during the first few years of this blog, I was posting a lot more about bharatanatyam, particularly because that is what Padmini and Vyjayanthimala and Kamala all did, for the most part. But I wouldn’t do that now. Not that I don’t like bharatanatyam anymore, but, as I was saying, I have become just so crazy about kathak!)
I rarely review films anymore, because I’ve simply gotten a little tired of doing that. If I do a film writeup, it usually has to be from a somewhat different angle, not just a straight review with plot outline, etc. I know that a lot of people liked the film reviews and would have liked to see me do more of them (and I appreciate that), but unfortunately, I can only enjoy writing when I write what I really want to write, without all that much consideration for what people might actually want to read. (This has been a problem in my long writing non-career all along. Oh, well.)
So, as this blog moves along after all these years, I think people can expect to see more about music and dance, less about films…unless I get into the mood to write more about films again. We’ll see.
I do wish that I could speed things up a little here again. Sometimes, the posting becomes so slow and sporadic that I wonder if the blog is starting to suffer the symptoms of old age (something that also might be starting to happen to its creator, who just turned 60 last October). But I think that maybe I might make some changes in my approach to the blog that will help to increase the speed and momentum. One thing I might do is to stop feeling every time as though a post has to be a mini-book. I used to toss up shorter and more simple posts much more easily.
I still write short, quick posts about this and that almost every day, but I do that on Facebook. I think that my involvement in Facebook may have contributed greatly to the decline in frequency of my posts here. I wasn’t even on Facebook until the middle of August of 2012, and I didn’t even start that account by myself; rather, it was set up for me by a woman whom I was spending a lot of time with that summer. She left me a Facebook account and then she dumped me! (I like to think that at least she left me a nice parting gift, but sometimes I wonder. No, just kidding – I like my Facebook acquaintances a lot, especially because quite a few of them were originally acquaintances at this blog. But maybe a greater balance in my use of different social media might be in order at this point.)
And those are the thoughts that I will leave you readers with as I finish marking this blog’s 15th anniversary. I may do a “real” post fairly soon, but I felt that I really had to do a little something quickly here just to observe this momentous occasion. (Of course, I am a day late. But I don’t want to be much later than that. I also have to go back to my job tomorrow… For many stretches in this blog’s history, I was actually not working full-time. I suppose that is another obstacle that I have to deal with. Time has become all too precious!)
I know that fifteen years is a long time to be doing a blog! But I am not ready to call it quits just yet (I don’t think)…
For the past few months (as I partially hinted all the way back in April), my obsession for the music of the Indian Subcontinent/South Asia has really been focused on singers from Pakistan. Some of these singers have been around for quite a while and/or have drawn upon very old traditions. But the artists whom I am going to focus on here are still very much with us, actively doing performances and appearing in broadcasts or streaming videos in the present day.
I’ve said before in this blog that when it comes to contemporary musical performers – especially those who extend themselves into the world of pop music – I tend to be more impressed in general by the ones I’ve seen from Pakistan than those that I’ve seen from India. Especially when it comes to the context of “global” pop music, Pakistan simply seems to have produced a much better scene in recent years. I might say more, but I have realized that I already said more in this blog a decade ago. Quoting myself from my 2012 “About” page:
I still do like looking at and posting contemporary folk/pop/dance music from the whole Subcontinental region, just as I did at the very beginning of this blog. But my tastes tend most often to lean toward the north. I have developed a great fondness for contemporary Pakistani pop, and it seems to me that Pakistan is producing excellent pop, rock, and dance music (much of it based on more traditional stuff, such as folk music or spiritual music). I actually had some exposure to Pakistani music (and inspiration to explore it) long before my obsession with Indian films, and I developed a particular fondness for the music of the Sufis. Along the same lines, I have realized that I love a whole range of music that has Punjabi or Sindhi origins….
Since I wrote that “About” page, my attitude about this matter hasn’t changed. (In fact, not much has changed regarding the things that I mentioned in that “About” page – except, maybe, the fact that I have developed an enormous fondness for kathak over other dances – which actually helped to increase my fondness for North Indian and Pakistani music, classical as well as folk and pop. Come to think of it, that might be a good enough reason to write a new “About” page.) Anyway, during the years since that time, I have found a lot of good sources agreeing with my thoughts about the obvious proportional superiority of Pakistani pop (including popular forms of folk or classical/devotional fusion). (By the way, just to be clear, by “proportional superiority,” I mean that Pakistan seems to be producing so many great musical outfits that we get to see (or hear, especially if we have YouTube), which is very impressive vs. the number that we might find from India, especially because of the difference in population.)
Most readers of this blog probably know that Coke Studio is a very interesting musical performance show that has been showcasing contemporary Pakistani music acts. It’s been broadcasting for close to 15 years, and I have been viewing much of the show via clips on YouTube for at least a decade. (Incidentally, if you don’t know about Coke Studio, that’s perfectly all right, but I would strongly recommend that you take a look at it one of these days.) In the past few years, we have also seen Coke Studio programs spring up in India and Bangladesh, but these still are like minor offshoots, relatively speaking. It’s still the case that if people talk about Coke Studio, they’re very likely going to be referring to the Pakistani version.
Coke Studio was initiated in 2008 due to the efforts of its first producer, a Pakistani musician named Robin Hyatt, who, as Ms. Mateen tells us in the article, was inspired to launch into a “a dizzying musical journey, experimenting with fusion and eclecticism.” (Of course, he could not have done this without the assistance of sponsors Coca Cola, who don’t let you forget their presence – but thanks to the quality of the music, it’s easy to stop being bothered by the Coke bottles that are so often flashed before our eyes.) After Hyatt produced 14 episodes, other producers took over, who only helped to increase the eclecticism of that fusion.
In this article it’s made clear from the beginning that Indians just love Pakistani Coke Studio (the main reason that it’s helping to “defeat hate” between the countries), and it’s suggested that one reason for this is that Indians are so used to fusion, given how much (and how long) they’ve been exposed to it by the Indian film industry.
That point is made nicely via a quote from the singer Zeb Bangash (a name that you are going to see pop up more than a few times in this post):
Indians are no strangers to fusion music. You look at songs composed by [Indian music director] RDBurman – he constantly brought jazz and Afro-funk beats, tunes and interludes and married them into traditional sounds.
I would add, though, that, as many readers of this blog no doubt know, RD Burman’s work comprises only a fraction of the fusion music that can be found in Hindi cinema, stretching back to an era well before he was born,
Similarly, while I was reflecting upon the statement that forms the core of this article’s title – “How Coke Studio is defeating hate between India and Pakistan” – I instantly recalled reading quite a few references to how Hindi/Bollywood cinema once did the same thing. For example, I have read accounts about a time during and right after Partition when the world of cinema was the place where politically inflamed hatred between the two then-newly formed nations was surprisingly absent or at least temporarily forgotten.
Unfortunately, it seems that in more recent times, cinema has not provided such a refuge. As Zoya Mateen mentions, “when political hostilities migrated to the cultural arena, Bollywood dropped Pakistani actors and Pakistan banned Indian movies.” I have also noticed – and have seen confirmed elsewhere – the fact that Bollywood in recent years has increasingly featured stereotypes of Muslims acting as terrorists and has asserted jingoistic attitudes about India. (There are some good explanations to be found regarding why this change happened, related to the domination in India in recent years by a certain right-wing Hindu-nationalist party and its prime minister, but that is a discussion that we need not delve into too much in the present post.) In any event, even if the popular cinema can no longer really serve as such a great refuge, there are bound to be other places that will. And at least according to this BBC article, Coke Studio is one.
Curiously, although the song “Pasoori” is named right in the title of the article, this song isn’t really discussed much afterwards. “Pasoori” is singled out because, as the brief description at the beginning of the article says, “This song breaks barriers of language, religion, nationality and touches the heart.” But after these few words, accompanied by a nice picture of the duet who performs it (Ali Sethi and Shae Gill), that subject simply gets dropped.
The next picture we see is a nice shot of Abida Parveen (someone who really has to be included in any comprehensive article about Coke Studio or Pakistani music), but for most of the rest of the article, Zeb Bangash seems to be the person most prominently featured – through a picture, descriptions of her music, and interview excerpts. And speaking for myself, I think that was a good choice. Zeb is one of the “divas” whom I also am going to feature prominently, in the next part of this post.
3. A Few Divas
I don’t know if “divas” is the best word for all of these female Pakistani singers. In some cases, they might not fit that definition, nor want it. (Remember that this word is often used as an insult too!) But I like it as a light and somewhat humorous way to refer to a group of great female singers, and I’ve seen it used in reference to at least a couple of these singers too. (It’s an Italian word, of course, but sometimes I think it might seem fitting for South Asians because it sounds bit like “devi.” Though that would probably not be so appropriate in the present post, considering that most of these women are Mulsim.)
I’m also quite aware that there are great male singers in the Pakistani scene, but I tend to notice the female singers first, and I think that they are actually getting more of the attention these days. In another, future post, I may write a little about those male singers, too. I also may want to write about more female singers. But I only intended to single out a few women this time so that I can commit enough wordage to adequately describe them and a couple of each singer’s most impressive clips.
In any event, enough of the tangential discussion about what I would like to do here. Right now, I would like to go back to writing about Zeb!
It occurred to me that maybe Zoya Mateen chose to focus a lot on Zeb Bangash because Zeb has done so much to cross the cultural boundaries, placing herself in the middle of a very diverse range of projects. (Though that is just one explanation… It could also be that Zeb made herself very available to be interviewed.) Zeb has sung in a number of Bollywood films as well as in a variety of arrangements at Coke Studio – solo, in a few different combinations and, especially in the earlier episodes, as half of the duet Zeb and Haniya (which actually were my favorite of her performances there). She’s also been featured in other Pakistani forums and in independent videos (one of which I will get to soon). And Zeb has also performed regularly in my own home town across the ocean, New York City, in the fascinating group Sandaraa (whom I will also get back to shortly). It may be that Zeb is one of the most innovative/versatile global fusion pop singers whom you could find anywhere.
Below is a stunning Zeb and Haniya video for the song “Dadra,” which I found somewhat randomly. I don’t know anything about how the project developed or where it’s generally appeared (other than on YouTube). But when I watched this (and heard it), I thought this was even better than the appearances they’ve made on Coke Studio. (And that, of course, is why I decided that this would be the Zeb and Haniya video that I would include on the list here. For those who are curious about seeing what they did on Coke Studio, I encourage you to search for them there – because nothing you find will disappoint you.)
I would like to have come up with some great words on my own to describe this video, but I looked at the YouTube comments and found other people’s descriptions to be perfect: “Beautiful,” “dark,” “haunting…” Yes, it is all of these things! There is also an interesting social message in the lyrics (which are comprised of words from Zehra Nigah, one of very few female poets who became prominent in Pakistan during the 1950s). Although subtle, the song actually seems to hint at a coming revolution, with lines like “The world so quiet and sleeping will surely come alight” and, a little later on, “These wild gusts of wind are here to let you know that.” (Of course, I am reading from the English subtitles; the Urdu might be even more interesting in this regard. But, unfortunately, my ability to understand Urdu or Hindi is still pretty limited, though I have learned some words here and there.)
But as I started to say above, Zeb’s American incarnation is really unique and interesting, too. Apparently, Zeb also has been a resident in Brooklyn, NY, where she joined up with Michael Winograd, a clarinetist and composer specializing in the Jewish/Yiddish/Eastern European musical tradition known as klezmer. And the group that they formed is Sandaraa (“Song” in Pashto)… Essentially, she sings Pakistani and Afghani folk songs and poetry to a slightly experimental version of klezmer. (There also are a number of other styles thrown in – but I think to most ears, the most evident styles in these songs are Zeb’s kind of folk music and the klezmer.)
“Farz Karo” might be their best-known number. And by the way, the lyrics here come from another famous Pakistani Urdu poet, Ibn-e-Insha. There are no subtitles in this video but I have actually found an English translation at Urduwallahs. (And I will say that it is amusing and interesting – and end any attempt at interpretation there.)
Zeb and many other Pakistani singers who can claim a diverse audience come from Punjab. (Actually, she was born in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but she is known mainly as a singer from Punjab – specifically, Lahore.) Punjab, I imagine, has contributed more singers to Pakistan’s popular music of the past several decades than any other region. But recently – as I mentioned a couple of months ago – I’ve been finding a lot of delightful singers hailing from Sindh. Of course, this is not the first time I’ve enjoyed the music of singers from Sindh. As I mentioned in my 2012 “About” page, I was enjoying Sindhi singers even then and I was actually going through an infatuation with the folk singer who once was considered one of Sindh’s greatest cultural representatives, Shazia Khushk. (Unfortunately, Shazia has long since then quit music, claiming a contradiction with the serious pursuit of her religion. That is a shame, especially considering that she made some of her best music in service to Islam via Sufi classics.) In general, it’s clear that Sindh can claim to have been the source of a lot of great music in the heritage of Pakistan and the Subcontinent, and it’s probably also the place that contains the most ancient musical roots.
One of the Sindhi singers whose work I have enjoyed a lot lately is Mai Dhai. I actually found out about her in a trailer for a documentary film that I would also highly recommend (now that I’ve seen all of it), Indus Blues. Some of the musical instruments that this film features – if not the actual styles – probably date back to the Indus civilization, hence the very appropriate title of the film. (The “Indus” part of the title most overtly refers to the Indus River, which enters into the many different areas of Pakistan where the film takes place, but I get the impression that the other reference is just as significant.) A big theme in this movie is the struggle between ancient musical traditions and the challenges of contemporary Pakistan. And these challenges do not just consist of having to face modern tastes and technology but also having to deal with harsh economics and reactionary political forces that are opposed to music altogether (as well as dance, of course). The film overall might be considered depressing, though the musical scenes, themselves, can inspire a lot of joy. And, conversely, the joy in the music just makes it more depressing that there are forces aiming to eliminate all of this.
Mai Dhai’s scene in the film is actually centered on the instrument called the murli (aka the been – the ancient instrument of snake charmers), and that is what the song is about, too. And there is an excellent murli player in this scene, Sattar Jogi. But it seems to me that the main star in this scene clearly is Mai Dhal. She has a fantastically compelling voice, and her style of singing is not like anything you are going to find in most videos or films. That style and this scene might not be something you would normally expect to come out of Pakistan, either; if it brings any place to mind, it’s Rajasthan. But that makes perfect sense when you read about Mai Dhai’s background. Mai Dhai is from the Manganhar, which is a Muslim community centered in Rajasthan – but some of its members did migrate right across the border to nearby Tharparkar, Sindh, Pakistan. That is Mai Dhai’s home village, and this video probably does an excellent job of letting the world know about their traditional music.
Mai Dhai is apparently known for giving performances on Coke Studio. On YouTube, I noticed one interview clip for which she was labeled “the Coke Studio sensation.” But since I am including only two clips from every artist on this list, I wanted to post something by her that I like much more. The Coke Studio clips involve her in a little more fusion than I like in this case, almost making her seem like a jazz singer. I actually really like seeing her performance clips that are more traditional and less elaborately produced.
I love this clip of her singing a song entitled “Laila Makno Banayo To,” which I found on the channel of the Department of Culture, Government of Sindh. Because it is considerably longer than the Indus Blues scene/trailer, I think it gives us a better opportunity to fully enjoy her intense voice. I also love her dhol playing here! And there is something else that I found interesting about this clip. Maybe it is just my own perception, but the vocal melody to this song reminds me a lot of a Punjabi song that I hard previously, “Chitta Kukkad.” (You can hear a version of “Chitta Kukkad” in one of the videos in my post about India’s Neha Bhasin.) As to whether there are any lyrical similarities, I could not claim to be able to tell with Sindhi vs. Punjabi, and no translations are available. (I am kind of guessing, though, that the “Laila” in the song involves the familiar Laila of legends.) I suspect that the lyrics are not very similar but that this case is just an interesting illustration of how folk melodies often drift from one region/culture into others (especially if the others are virtually next door).
Now, someone might be inclined to ask, if none of my favorite clips from these performers actually are from Coke Studio – even though they are known for playing on that show – then why did I spend so much of this post praising the show? Well, I might say that the show deserves praise for giving these performers a forum where the world can see them even if their appearances on Coke Studio aren’t always my absolute favorites. But now I am going to get more into performances that actually did come from that show. And I am going to begin a with a video that comes from Coke Studio’s special “Explorer” series, where I first got to see another performer from southern Sindh, named Shamu Bai.
When seeing Shamu Bai, I thought of Mai Dhai because I noticed a few similarities. For one thing – which is not actually a product of the singers’ talents or voices – the clip from Coke Studio reminded me a lot of the clip of Mai Dhai from Indus Blues. In both clips, you’ll see lots of children, grazing animals, and scenes from within southern Sindh’s beautiful rural countryside. (Apparently, this was shot far from Coke Studios’ studios. I guess that is why it is labeled one of their “Explorer” videos? They traveled all the way to – what village, exactly? I have seen a couple of different answers to that question, neither of which I could find labeled on any map. But I know that it is definitely in the same part of the same province as Mai Dhai.)
Both Shamu Bai and Mai Dhai wear very traditional clothing with head coverings (by the way, in Mai Dhai’s case, that’s a Rajasthani ghoongat), though they are of different religions, with Mai Dhai being Muslim and Shamu Bai a Hindu. Those familiar with Rajasthani heritage might expect Mai Dhai to be a Hindu, but she comes form a group who were a religious minority back when they lived in India. Meanwhile, an interview with Shamu Bai reveals that she is devout and she loves singing bhajans, but she also is happy to sing about the Sufi saints who are popular among most of the traditional communities in Sindh. As I see it, both women in their own ways blur distinctions between traditional Muslim and Hindu cultures, which is something that Sufis in the region are historically famous for. Of course, the Sufi leaders/philosophers/saints also famously worked to “defeat hate.”
To a Westerner like myself, there is also some similarity to their singing styles, though someone closer to their homes might tell you that they are very different. Shamu Bai does have a much younger voice (she is only 21, actually – and in this Coke Studio debut, she duets with her brother, who is 14). Her singing also is probably a bit lighter in a way that has nothing to do with the difference in age.
The Coke Studio song is entitled “Faqeera,” which means “hermit” or “wanderer,” and it’s based on a words by the Sufi poet Bulleh Shah about wandering Sufi saints. Normally, it might sound very old/traditional, but it turns out to be a really catchy pop number, thanks to the use of addictive electronic beats. This is a kind of fusion that I tend to take to much more than, say, the kind that jazzes someone’s music up and throws in a lot of different instruments and heavy production. It’s a number that, in my opinion, really gets stuck in your head. And, as I’m sure was intended, it’s all pretty cute sometimes too.
The next song, “Saagar Na Motee,” is of a somewhat more traditional musical vein, although it was produced by the Sketches, who are known as a “Sufi rock” band (who, by the way, have also appeared on Coke Studio, with Mai Dhai). In this song, Shamu Bai is able to show the true power of her own voice more extensively than in “Faqeera, in part because she sings solo here and also because she is allowed much more time. For those who want to get a good perspective of her talents, it complements “Faqeera” well.
Speaking of singers from Sindh, is any female singer from Sindh better known than Abida Parveen? In this case, it wouldn’t be strange at all to refer to her as a diva, as I have heard people do before. She is the queen of Sufi music and qawwalis. And, incidentally, she has been quite a groundbreaker because she is a woman who became famous for singing qawwalis, which have been such an exclusively all-male form, at least in her traditional circles in Pakistan. (Let’s remember, these are spiritual/devotional qawwalis that get sung at shrines, etc., in Pakistan. They are not the secular qawwalis that have been sung by women in Hindi films since 1945.)
Abida also has a broadly recognized kind of passion in her voice that has helped her to gain a following among Westerners. In fact, I am such a Westerner, who took to her music more than 25 years ago, when my knowledge of Sufi music and music from the Indian subcontinent was fairly insignificant compared to what it is today.
It’s also been quite a while – 15 years, maybe – since I first heard the singer Naseebo Lal. But he context in which I heard her is quite amusing (at least to me) since it happened while I was indulging in the sometimes-raunchy Pakistani stage “mujra” videos that are so abundant on YouTube. Naseebo Lal also developed a reputation for singing in Pakistani films (probably, that came first). In fact, at the beginning of her rise as a singer, she was known as the “new Noor Jehan.” She does sound a little like Noor Jehan, although I would say that the similarity exists with Noor Jehan’s somewhat later incarnation, not the young Noor Jehan who appeared in films as a singing star.
Based on what I’ve known, Naseebo Lal’s background is not one that I would associate closely in my mind with Abida Parveen’s. To me, they seem to have earned their acclaim by going down very different paths. On the other hand, Naseebo Lal has sung some Sufi spiritual numbers and did playback for some good dhamal scenes. More significantly, they are both Pakistani singing superstars, and they probably have both sung most of their best-known songs in Punjabi. (By the way, although Abida is Sindhi, she has sung fluently in several different languages.) So, it is not a big surprise that when they finally collaborated for the first time, they ended up creating Coke Studio’s greatest hit.
“Tu Jhoom” fits well into a genre that I have seen referred to as “orchestral qawwali,” exemplified in the UK by Abi Sampa. Abi Sampa’s videos are great, but “Tu Jhoom” is even better strictly by virtue of the voices singing it. At the same time, “Tu Jhoom” hardly depends on the two divas’ voices alone, because Coke Studio throws everything into it, including a church choir chorus, rock drums, and sophisticated electronics.
Meanwhile, at least judging by the subtitles, it seems to me that the lyrics are designed to have as broad and universal an appeal as possible. I think there is a hint here of the Sufi theme of looking into yourself to find the path to God, but that spiritualism is very subtle. The more obvious message that reaches everyone is: learn to accept yourself and the limitations that fate has given you because this will help you to enjoy what life has to offer despite the difficulties that it presents. Although I am an agnostic, I admit that find the more spiritual messages of a real Sufi song to be more interesting and I think the real Sufi songs can offer more for the intellect to process too. But going by what I have seen in terms of comments about these lyrics, I understand that a lot of people have found them to be very moving, and I would say that there is certainly no reason to knock them.
One thing you can definitely say about “Tu Jhoom” is that even though it may have been designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, there’s nothing either meandering or diluted-sounding about this song. It’s actually far less meandering than some other Coke Studio numbers that I have seen that include lots of different genres and instruments, etc. From beginning to end, this song never loses its impact.
I would guess that “Tu Jhoom” has mainstream appeal even in the U.S. because I’ve seen an unusual number of American “reaction” videos listed for it. The YouTube ratings, especially on the Coke Studio channel, are also huge. I wonder if it has “charted” anywhere. If there is a world music chart anywhere that actually includes listenership from around the world, I could imagine this one topping it. It would be nice to see this recognized as a global Number 1!
I thought of closing this post with “Tu Jhoom” (given that it is Coke Studio’s greatest hit), but on the other hand, since I have been including second clips from everyone else, I thought it would be fun to include nice ones of these two divas singing solo in other places and maybe a little back in time.
For Abida Parveen, I am going to go back a little further than I have with the other singers in this post and show the classic clip of her singing “Tere Ishq Nachaya,” a poem by Bulleh Shah that does more explicitly encourage people to find God by looking into themselves. (Incidentally, I know I mentioned before that Shamu Bai’s song was also attributed to Bulleh Shah, but I think that the lyrics that Abida Parveen sings in this song are more substantial in terms of giving you a vivid glimpse of the Sufi saint’s core philosophy.) This song clip is probably from the 1990s, the decade when I first actually started listening to Abida Parveen. It’s also still probably my favorite.
With regard to Nasebo Lal, I don’t really have any points of reference to figure out which performances might be the best in her long history or which songs she is best known for, so I looked through a variety of videos of her on YouTube and merely decided which ones I liked the most. For this post, I wanted to include something from her film history that also might show that she was good at singing Sufi numbers, especially since that would be relevant to her collaboration with Abida Parveen. That’s why I’m including the following clip, which I happened to find very enjoyable. The scene for this “Ali Ali Dam Qalandar” song – which is officially entitled “Main Gawan Aayi” – actually includes Naseebo in the scene (she was one of the stars in this film), along with the popular dancer-actress known as Saima. Saima is the taller one, with the slightly lighter, straighter hair, who does more of the dancing (of course). I believe Naseebo Lal is singing for both of them. This actually reminds me of a few dhamal scenes from movies made in the late ’60s and ‘70s in which Noor Jehan did the playback, so it also kind of reinforces the idea that Naseebo Lal became the new Noor Jehan.
I don’t think that Pakistani films from Naseebo Lal’s times – I believe she rose to stardom in the ‘90s and 2000s – could ever have gained the status and recognition of those from Noor Jehan’s time, whether that would be from the ‘70s or, more so, the ‘60s and ‘50s (not to mention Noor Jehan’s legendary Indian films of the ‘40s). Pakistani films notoriously declined in the ‘80s, thanks in great part to the society that developed around the right-wing dictator Zia-ul-Haq. (One gets the impression, after a while, that oppressive right-wing regimes just aren’t good for film industries anywhere.)
In terms of popularizing music, Pakistani films never really had the power to do so (especially not for an international audience) the way Indian films did. They may have done so to some extent in the peak days of Noor Jehan and Zubaida Khanum, etc. (once again, meaning the ’50s to the ’70s), but those days seem long gone. On the other hand, it may not be far-fetched to say that Pakistan has entered a sort of golden age for popularizing its music via the broadcast of performances. Not only do we have the astoundingly successful Coke Studio, but there are other shows such as Nescafe Basement, which has gained quite a reputation, too. (By the way, I have watched a number of clips on YouTube from that show, and while it may not be as impressive as Coke Studio, it certainly is worth checking out now and then.) Although, if these shows are a representation of a current golden age in Pakistani music, it seems a little odd that they seemingly always have to include the names of sponsoring Western food-and-drink corporations in their titles. But that’s a minor quibble. Speaking for myself, I’m going to be cheering on any further developments in this area. I intend to watch these contemporary Pakistani music performances more frequently also (via whatever clips I can find on YouTube), and I hope that I’ll have the chance to write quite a few more blog posts about them in the future.
I have been aiming for at least the past month to finish a post about singers from Sindh. This is because of various things that I’ve encountered – videos that I’ve seen, a book that I read, etc. – that brought me back to that incredibly musical province in Pakistan. But the post was becoming pretty elaborate, and I realized that it would take much longer to finish than I first thought. Then I thought, maybe I will do a few different posts on singers from Sindh. I had in mind, maybe one post on a Sufi/spiritual singer, another on a Sindhi folk singer, etc. And then I was reminded that there was another singer who’d been born in Sindh who had a birth anniversary right at that moment (having been born on April 3, 1965). But rather than being a singer focused on these very traditional genres, her great musical talents went in the opposite direction, because she was a pioneer in terms of putting Pakistan on the map in the world of contemporary dance music and pop. (By the way, I don’t know if she ever sang in Sindhi, but she certainly sang plenty in Hindi/Urdu, as well as English.) She also spent a lot of her life in the UK and some of the latter part of her life (which unfortunately was cut far too short) in the U.S. But she was born in Sindh’s capital city, Karachi, and she never forgot her attachment to that town. So, for my current post, I have decided to put my thoughts about other Sindhi singers off a little in order to pay a special tribute to Nazia Hasaan.
Here are a few favorite clips of Nazia (seven songs, as I usually like to do), along with a few words about her great repertoire and legacy.
Most Hindi film fans were introduced to Naizia’s most famous song, “Aap Jaisa Koi” when it was picturized on Zeenat Aman in Qurbani (1981) . But there are also quite a few videos of Nazia, herself, performing it live. Maybe the best circulated version is this delightful one recorded in the early ‘80s at the BBC.
There are a number of other Nazia Hasaan hits very much of the “disco era” that are well worth recommending. such as “Disco Deewane” the title song to her first album. (And by the way, I actually posted an English version of this song video in a very brief Nazia Hassan birthday post that I did way back in 2008.)
Even better – and more significant, in my opinion – is the very bouncy disco song called “Boom Boom.” Many Hindi film fans probably know that one from from the version that appeared in the 1982 film Star (where she did playback singing for Rati Agnihotri). But once again, for the video that I want to feature in this post, I would like to show a charming live clip of Nazia, herself:
And by the way, there were also remixes of “Boom Boom” that showed up a few years later, courtesy of Biddu, the producer responsible for most of Nazia Hassan’s hits, who also composed the music for many of those songs. (Although I don’t think he had much of a part in the lyrics… Going by the song credits, I can see that she wrote many of the lyrics, herself, or co-wrote them with her brother Zoheb Hassan.) But I think it’s really always Nazia’s voice that carries these songs. On YouTube, you can find a 1995 remix of “Boom Boom” with some interesting reggae dancehall-style toasting/rapping (which I am assuming was done by Biddu, himself), but the high point of the song, by far, is still Nazia’s voice. And even though Zoheb Hassan was an inseparable partner for her all throughout her musical career, I think I can safely say – having heard some duets that he did with her as well as songs that he sang by himself – that his vocals had nothing close to the appeal of his sister’s.
Some of Nazia Hassan’s best songs also had a major Caribbean influence (maybe because that is where Biddu wanted to go too). One example from as early as 1981 (also on the album Disco Deewane – and broadcast on that early ’80s BBC show) is this quite catchy number, “Aao Na Pyar Karain”:
Several years later, she did this nice number that had a heavy reggae beat, which also conveyed other influences in a fairly sophisticated mix. This song, “Kariye Pyar Diyan Galan,” was on her last album, Camera Camera, which came out in 1992.
And somewhere in between, she sang the song, “Kabhi Zindagani Jaisa,“ which I would say has a more Calypso kind of flavor. The performance below aired on PTV in 1989. I would like to add that it is really nice to look at her in this performance, too. (A lot of people talk about how she was a great beauty, but I don’t see it that much in her early ‘80s videos, when she was still a teenager (although you might say that she was kind of a cutie in those). But in her later performances – yes, indeed.)
It’s clear from some of her later songs that Nazia Hassan’s voice worked just as well on a mellower plane as it did with the heavy disco beats. Another example of that, very far afield from her disco hits, is this beautiful folk-rock kind of ballad, “Dil Ki Lagi.” I don’t know that much about it, but when I found it on YouTube, I was stunned; you can really hear the pure quality of her voice in this. The guitar is very pretty, too; it actually sounds a bit classical sometimes. The whole number sounds kind of cinematic. I guess this was never used as a film number, but it should have been – though, of course, in a very different setting from what we saw in the films that featured her early hits.
But this is not to say that I exclusively prefer the mellower/subtler songs that she did. I like all the kinds of songs that she did. There is one song that I’ll end this post with which has been a standard on my own personal playlist for a few years. This song is by Saffron, a group that Nazia formed with Meera Syal (a well-known Indian-British actress, comedian, writer, etc.) and Rita Wolf (who became quite famous as an actress in the 1985 British film My Beautiful Laundrette). This cover of the Crystals’ classic girl group pop number, “Then He Kissed Me,” is a real cutting-edge new wave dance track – actually a fine example of electronic modern-day Bhangra; one might even say it was a bit ahead of its time. (You can bet that Biddu had something to do with that, too, but Nazia’s voice once again just works so well in this number, as it does in all of her other songs – and the two actresses sound pretty good here, too, I have to say.)
The mid-’80s were actually mid-career for Nazia, because she really didn’t sing for all that long. She ended her own music career several years before she died. In 1992, per Wikipedia, she said that she wanted to devote more time to her personal life. Unfortunately, her personal life turned out to be something of a disaster, as she ended up contending with a very troubled arranged marriage, with a husband who she said cheated on her lots of times. (Isn’t it ironic how often the world’s most beautiful and talented women end up in doomed marriages during which their husbands go off to have affairs?) But Nazia’s life at this time was hardly limited to her troubled domestic situation. She also earned a law degree and ended up working for the United Nations Security Council, as well as being an activist for UNICEF. In addition, she did a lot of social work and activism to benefit the poor people back in Karachi (which is why I mentioned before that she never forgot about the city where she came from).
So Nazia Hassan had established a whole new kind of life for herself years before her tragic death from cancer (on August 13, 2000 – at the terribly young age of 35). But I somehow suspect that if she had lived longer, she would have entered the world of music again at some point. I understand that even without her participation, there actually has been a revival of interest in her music within the past decade or so. (Again per Wikipedia, I see that her music was used in a 2012 film called Miss Lovely, and there was a Google Doodle put up in her honor a few years later, in 2018.) A real Nazia Hassan comeback would have been something, and I can’t help but wonder what direction she would have taken today. Ultimately, she was so eclectic… Would she have delved back into the area of cutting-edge electronic dance music (working again with Biddu or someone like him – as well as Zoheb, maybe?), or would she have gone completely in that acoustic/folk rock direction now? She could have done so much more had she not died so young. I think a lot of people realize that and that’s one reason why, when you see a Nazia Hassan clip on YouTube, you’ll often find people in comments talking about how they burst into tears.
I’m sure many people would like to imagine Nazia Hassan living and responding to the world as it exists today, and it would have been great to see her celebrating her 57th birthday right now.
Happy birthday, Nazia. Rest in peace – and power too.
Here is my promised and much-delayed tribute to Lata Mangeshkar, in the form of seven outstanding songs. These are not all necessarily songs that I prefer to all others – most of these could be interchangeable on the list with other songs that are out there, considering that it is just impossible to pick out a small number of “best” songs from someone who has contributed so many songs to Indian films – especially Hindi films – with so many of those other songs also being well-recognized greats. Some of the songs on my list (especially nos. 1 and 6) might appear on a lot of people’s best-of lists, too, but I don’t know about the rest. I just know that I really like them, myself.
I did apply some criteria while putting together this list that went beyond just (possibly) liking these particular songs the most… I wanted to include songs (even if just one song) from every decade from the ‘40s to the ‘80s, since I think that a lot of people would consider that entire stretch of time to be her heyday (if not later decades) and I felt that if I did not stick exclusively to, say, the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, it would also make the list more interesting. But I would not include the later songs in this list if I did not enjoy them a whole lot, too.
In fact all of these songs – and her performance in them – are so good, I don’t know if I have been able to do them justice. But I have tried my best, in my small descriptions, to communicate the qualities that I think make them unique.
1.“Ayega Aanewala” from Mahal (1949)
I will start with Lata’s big breakthrough song, one that probably goes on anybody’s best-of list, “Ayega Aanewala.” This is a remarkable song in a remarkable soundtrack. The ethereal quality of Lata’s voice is truly otherworldly, best befitting what I like to call the most Goth film ever made. By the way, I have shared the soundtrack for Mahal with people who have next to no knowledge of Indian films, and every one was blown away by it. Naturally, composer Kehmachand Prakash deserves a lot of credit also; he was a fantastic music director.
2. “Apni Ada Par Main Hoon Fida” from Teen Batti Char Raasta (1953)
If there is any song in which Lata’s voice ideally matches an actress’s visual presentation and vice-versa, it’s “Apni Ada Par Main Hoon Fida” from Teen Batti Char Raasta. That’s partly because the film’s director, V. Shantaram, arranged for Sandhya to mimic Lata’s visual presentation, with her distinct braid and dresses. Sandhya was also asked to wear dark makeup because lighter skin was so commonly associated with beauty and Sandhya’s character was meant to be the opposite of beautiful – at least by conventional standards of the time (though while watching this film, we can see all along that such a perception was wrong – well, I know I could see it was wrong, certainly). But when this character sings, she sounds more beautiful than anyone. And that is why, when the other people in the film hear her singing, they run to the radio, crowd around the studio, and/or close their eyes while smiling as though in the middle of a wonderful dream. Sandhya does a great job on camera, but Lata’s sweet-sounding voice is what makes those listeners’ joyous reactions in the scene totally credible.
Incidentally, I don’t think that the music director for Teen Batti Char Raasta is nearly as famous as any of the others on this list. In fact, the name Shivram Krishna just doesn’t ring any bells for me. Maybe other people know a little more about him, but if he isn’t well known, I think that he definitely should be.
[Note: It is unfortunate that I can’t embed the video into this blog, but it is the only watchable version available, and it’s well worth the extra trip to YouTube!]
3.“Hamaare Dil Se Na Jaana” from Uran Khatola (1955)
Lata’s vocals in this song mesh very nicely with the variety of styles that Naushad brought together. As often is the case with Naushad, it contains both Eastern and Western classical influences, but it is eminently danceable, too. (It’s kind of waltz-like, I think, though I don’t have the technical knowledge to determine instantly how much of a waltz this is. Does this song go by “waltz time”? Maybe someone would like to tell me – or maybe I’ll answer my own question by doing a little more research into that matter – but not right now.)
In addition to the charming and unique musical qualities, another thing that sets this song apart is the mood. The song is quite foreboding (which I could tell pretty quickly, thanks to the English subtitles), like a couple of other songs in this film, too. That’s not a very common quality among most of the songs that Lata was given (as far as I know), and it’s a unique quality in this list. And that’s a good reason to include it here – in addition to the fact that I simply love listening to it. (Not to mention that I love looking at Nimmi, who served as another excellent – and very frequent – on-screen face for Lata’s voice.)
4. “Na Dir Dim” from Pardesi/Journey Beyond Three Seas (1957)
Padmini’s dance in Pardesi/Journey Beyond Three Seas (1957) was certainly dramatic, complementing the character’s desperate pleas with this man from a strange land not to walk away from her. And, not surprisingly, Lata’s voice supplied all of the drama that was required. With Anil Biswas composing the music, the result was what I consider to be one of the most stunning classical-influenced dance numbers in Hindi cinema. Needless to say, I’ve watched this song and listened to it many times.
5. “Tumhen Yaad Karte Karte” from Amrapali (1966)
There is a different kind of dramatic quality to this slow and sophisticated song that, for me, captures a feeling specific to music of the 1960s – not only in India, but in Western films, too. It’s difficult for me to describe what that quality is, but I don’t think that this kind of film music could have been created at any other time. That’s why, if I am including only one song from the 1960s (which was not my original intention, but just how it’s turning out), “Tumhen Yaad Karte Karte” seems like the perfect choice.
Throughout the song, Lata’s voice also seems a little different from what I hear in most of the ‘50s songs – for instance, it seems to be gliding along at a slightly lower pitch – but her singing here is at least as outstanding in quality as anywhere else. I should add that this song is also quite different from a lot of Shankar-Jaikishan numbers that I can think of, but their repertoire was very diverse, and Lata could be counted on to do equally superbly with most of the wide range songs that they gave her over the years. (By the way, since I am so crazy about dance, it might be surprising that out of all the songs in Vyjayanthimala’s great dance show-off film of the ‘60s, I have picked one that doesn’t actually contain any dance. But I simply feel that “Tumhen Yaad Karte Karte” contains the best, most moving vocal performance by Lata – which is not to say that the other, dancier numbers don’t sound great, too.)
6. “Inhi Logon Ne” from Pakeezah (1972)
Any one of the songs behind the great Meena Kumari (and/or Padma Khanna) dance scenes in Pakeezah could be on this list; I consider them all about equally great (with much credit to music director Ghulam Mohammed). But for this list, I’ve decided to pick the one that is probably the biggest hit, too. The song is catchy as hell, and I love the exuberance of the music – which is fully matched by both Meena’s dance and Lata’s vocals. It’s a song that really gets stuck in my head!
7. “Jalta Hai Badan” from Razia Sultan (1983)
The song “Jalta Hai Badan” is interesting for a number of reasons. It makes sense that this is a Khayyam-composed song from the early ‘80s, because it bears some musical resemblance to the songs in Umrao Jaan. Interestingly, though, the courtesan played by Rekha in Umrao Jaan with playback by Asha Bhosle is a bit more highbrow, with a much more classical quality to her performances, than the dancer is in this scene. The dancer here is good (that’s Aarti Chopra), but – as some commenters also pointed out on YouTube – this scene is a racy kind of sequence that we would normally sooner expect to receive playback singing from Asha Bhosle. (Did the two sisters make an agreement to switch roles a little in the ‘80s? I wonder.) Of course, it’s no surprise that Lata gives it a more ethereal quality with her vocals than Asha might have, and that beautiful, ethereal voice also creates a great contrast with the ugliness of the violent slapping scene at the end. (That whole scene at the end isn’t included in all the videos of this song on YouTube, but I think it should be.)
I am sure there are numerous other songs that different people might want to put on a best-of-Lata list – hundreds, maybe even thousands! I wanted to put my own list together merely as a personal tribute, to show that I, too, have appreciated much of her singing, and I certainly realize that she made an enormous contribution to Indian film music history.
It’s been a long time since I added a little “preview” or “coming attractions” post to my blog, but this time I feel it is necessary, because I don’t want anyone to think for a moment that this is a passing that I can ignore. But unfortunately, due to time-consuming obligations, it may take another couple of days (though possibly less time but maybe more) before my real tribute post appears.
I can’t claim that I have any childhood memories linked to Lata or can connect her to parents or grandparents or anyone like that. But she certainly has been a prominent voice for me during this period of nearly 15 years when I have been obsessively devoted to exploring old Indian films and film songs (especially those from the ’40s into the early ’60s – and, naturally, the era of my favorite Lata songs overlaps a lot with that time period, beginning in 1949).
My tribute will simply be a list of favorite songs, with a few comments or descriptions. Maybe, more specifically, it will be favorite dances (to songs sung by Lata). (That is a decision yet to be made.)
But, as some may have noticed, I have already dropped a reference to one of my favorite Lata songs in general – and a whole lot of other people’s, too. That one is “Aayega Anewala,” screen capped (from the corresponding scene in Mahal (1949)) in the present image header at the top of the blog. It was the first image that popped into my mind when I read of her death. (Or you might say when, alas, her boat had just left our shores.)
By the way, it is quite sad, and also disturbing, that her life was ultimately ended by COVID. (End of an era, certainly – and far too much a symptom of the present one, too.)
RIP, Lata Mangeshkar. To use another cliche, your voice certainly will live on forever!
For quite a good number of years now, I have been aware that the day when many people observe Christmas Eve is also Mohammed Rafi’s birth anniversary. I have also known about a couple of other Golden Age/Vintage Hindi film music star anniversaries surrounding that: Noor Jehan’s death anniversary (December 23) and Naushad’s birth anniversary (December 25 or the 26th, depending on what source you go to). And I have mentioned and observed all of these anniversaries at some point in this blog’s past. So, obviously, this chunk of a few days can be very significant for people who love Golden Age Indian film music. But it’s only very recently that I found out that December 24 can also be seen as a very significant day for people who love Golden Age Indian film dance – and kathak dance and dance in general. That’s because Roshan Kumari was also born on Christmas Eve! There have been varying opinions regarding what year Roshan Kumari was born, but I think it’s fairly safe to say, based on some articles that I have seen, that she was born in 1937. This means that today, Roshan Kumari turns 84. (And yes, she still is with us, and no, I am not feeling too superstitious about typing that.) And so, it’s about time that I posted a Roshan Kumari birthday tribute.
Of course, I have written a few posts about Roshan Kumari before. If you include the comments under the post, then I think the most comprehensive one is something that I posted 11 years ago, Finally, A Little More Info About Roshan Kumari. But I’m going to keep this post pretty simple, providing clips of seven Roshan Kumari dances, with just a little text for each one. (Although if people would like to complicate things a little in comments again, I am also fine with that.) More than half of these dances have also appeared in this blog before, but since I posted them in a scattered way over a long time period (and also a long time back), I thought it would be especially nice to show them all collected together now. On top of that, just to do something a little different this time, I’m going to rank them. (I don’t know if everyone will agree with the ranks, though I don’t think anyone will disagree with number 1.) But the rank doesn’t matter all that much, because every single one of these dances is very enjoyable.
I should add one more point before I start this list: Because the first two dances below were not as fully confirmed to be Roshan Kumari dances as the higher-ranking ones, there is a very slight chance that the dancer in one of these is not Roshan Kumari. I’ll explain within the description how it was that I/we came to the conclusion that she was in this dance, and how there could be any doubt. But in the slight chance that someone sees that I have misidentified the dancer, please speak up! And in such event, congratulations to the dancer who managed so well to resemble Rosahan Kumari and dance so well on top of that.
7. Jhansi Ki Rani (1953) [revised since this post originally went up]: In comments to my blog from eleven years ago, Cassidy Minai of Cinema Nritya pointed out that Roshan Kumari had been in Jhansi Ki Rani. A conversation ensued in which we were trying to figure out whether she appeared in both of two dances – the only dances in the film, actually, at least in the abbreviated English-language version, The Tiger and the Flame.
When I first put the present post up, I picked out one of the two dances to claim as my choice number 7 on this list. Unfortunately, more recently, I have been alerted to evidence that the lead dancer in the clip that I posted probably wasn’t Roshan Kumari. (This evidence came in the form of a comment below Tom Daniel’s post on YouTube, saying that the dancer was actually someone else.)
So now, I am posting the other dance. I believe there is still a chance that one star of this dance is Roshan Kumari, because I think that a prominent dancer here does look like her (starting at about 2:13). It is also a really nice dance (though I actually do like the next six on this list even more). If anyone knows that this is not Roshan Kumari, please pass that information along. It would be disappointing to find out that this dancer isn’t her either, but it wouldn’t be too terrible, given that this post would still contain six delightful dances by Roshan Kumari.
6. Waris (1954): It took me a little bit of time to feel definite about her presence in the dance in Waris (1954). That’s mostly because the film’s a bit blurry here and she isn’t on the screen for all that long. But the quality of the dance makes it more clear to me that this is Roshan Kumari, and multiple sources confirm that she was in Waris. By the way, the scene in general is a lot of fun, and the music is great. (The music in the whole film is great – which is not surprising since the music director is Anil Biswas.)
5. Basant Bahar (1957): Roshan Kumari does some sweet kathak dancing in this scene in Basant Bahar, but note that I am referring to the Bengali film from 1957, not the Hindi Basant Bahar that we usually refer to (which came out in 1956). I haven’t seen the rest of this film and I don’t know the context of this scene (maybe it’s part of opening credits?), but there are a few tricks being pulled in the visuals here, especially involving the superimposition of images. The clip is not all that clear technically, but it’s certainly interesting to look at. There is a nice emphasis on Roshan Kumari’s chakkars (spins) and then on her footwork at the end, which segues amusingly into a pair of feet with shoes on them walking as the camera tracks them from the front. It’s certainly unique! (By the way, apparently, the video won’t embed, so you are going to have to go to YouTube for this one – but it’s well worth the extra click!)
4. Mirza Ghalib (1954): Roshan Kumari’s dance scene in Mirza Ghalib feels a little like a small dress rehearsal for the scene that I’m giving the number one spot. It certainly does remind me of the dance in Jalsaghar in ways, though Mirza Ghalib was made a few years earlier. I think part of the reason is the music. In both scenes there is a heavy emphasis on that classical Indian drone. And the moves in her kathak dance here kind of match some of her moves in Jalsaghar. But this is just a short performance – it really feels like a snippet – and I would say that it seems relatively light.
3. Kathak (documentary from Films Division) (1970): Of course, this clip is different from the others in that it is from a different time (since all the others that I’m including are from the ‘50s) and is of a different nature, too. It is the Roshan Kumari segment of a kathak documentary put out in 1970 by Films Division, the state-owned/run film and broadcast company. But it’s still as good a clip of Roshan Kumari as almost any, clearly showing her doing the pure kathak dance that she is best known for (and which would also serve her well as a kathak guru later in life).
2. Parineeta (1953): By all indications (at least in searches that I have done), this is the first film dance that Roshan Kumari performed in, when she was barely 15 years old. But it is fantastic. Probably, part of the reason it seems so great is that she’s in a duet with Gopi Krishna, who was, himself, only 18 years old at the time. I could say that it’s just amazing for these dancers to have been so good at such a young age, except that that was not so unusual for the great film dancers of the Golden Age. Anyway, this scene is both fun and funny, but at the same time, it shows some serious skills. How could someone not love the part of the dance that zeros in on both dancers’ footwork? Oh, and look at those spins after that! I’ve watched Parineeta only twice – and it was a pretty good film. But I’ve watched this dance many more times than that.
1. Jalsaghar (1958): It almost seems unnecessary to say anything about Roshan Kumari’s dance in Jalsaghar. I have said a lot before, as have many others. This is the film dance that she’s known for. Her kathak dancing is close to perfection, and it is filmed in the most enchanting way. The camera angles are very unique but also so natural-seeming, and I love the remarkable use of the mirror in the back. Then there is the deliberately mesmerizing footwork close-up near the end… It’s obvious that in addition to performing with such great skill, Roshan Kumari was very lucky to be filmed by the cinematographer named Subrata Mitra in a film directed by Satyajit Ray.
And now that I have finished the list, let me say that it feels very good to have written a birthday tribute to Roshan Kumari that was long overdue. I have been writing about her in this blog for so long; I wish I had known about her birthday years earlier. And I wish that other people did, too. Happy birthday, Roshan Kumari!
I. The similarities between kathak and tap dance – based on what I’ve seen and enjoyed
As I’ve mentioned before, there is a certain special reason why I like both kathak and tap dances so much: the sound of the feet hitting the floor is actually part of the music. In both dances, the music would simply not exist were it not for the footwork, and the footwork or dances in general would not be as enjoyable even just to watch if for some reason you had to do so without hearing any of the sounds specifically made by the feet (even if all the other parts of the music were audible). Additionally, the complexity of the music naturally increases (or decreases) with the complexity of the dance and vice-versa. Of course, there are a number of dances that fit this special category: flamenco (which is most often historically linked to kathak), Irish clog dancing (which has been linked historically to tap dance), etc. But kathak and tap are the two dances fitting this description that I know best, have seen in films most often, and love the most.
Other things are done in a kathak and tap dances that help to make this link between the music and footwork even more significant. In tap dances, special shoes are worn; in kathak, the dance is done with bare feet, but ghungroos (lots of bells) are wrapped around the ankles. Ghungroos are also worn in other Indian dances, but I don’t think they have as much prominence in helping to create the music for those dances. Between the sounds of the feet hitting the floor and the jangling rhythms made by the ghungroos, it could be that the feet create at least half the sound of the music in a kathak dance.
Some people have said there are also similarities to be found in the respective histories of kathak and tap dance. According to a statement from the Leela Dance Collective (whom I will get back to later in this post), both have histories of “struggle and perseverance.” Now, I am sure that it would be very interesting to explore that line of thought further, but when I came up with the idea of writing this post, I was inspired strictly by the similarities that hit my eyes and ears. In addition, a quick search reveals that most people who connect the two dances in their minds do so for the same reasons that I have – it is all about the footwork! So, for now, I would like to sidestep (so to speak) that kind of comparison; maybe we can get back to it in a future post.
II. Looking for influences between the dances (and dancers) in old films
As someone who has spent his life in the U.S. (mostly in New York City), I have been somewhat familiar with tap dances in old films for as far back as I can remember. But I didn’t come to fully appreciate the dances in old Hollywood movies until I got addicted to watching old Indian movies and the dances that they featured. After immersing myself in old Indian films for a few years, I returned to old Hollywood films to realize what a special aesthetic connection the dances in the cinema of both nations had with each other, especially during their film industries’ respective Golden Ages. (To be a little more specific, I would say the 30s into the ’50s for Hollywood and the ‘40s into the ‘60s for what we might loosely call “Bollywood.”)
But were there kathak dancers in old Indian films who were directly influenced by tap dancers in Hollywood – or vice versa? Well, when I think about that possibility, there is one great kathak dancer who springs into my mind, and her name is Sitara Devi. Sitara was very fond of old American films, as she mentioned in her conversations with her student Antonia Minnecola. (By the way, Antonia – or Toni – is also the wife of tabla master Zakir Hussain. I delved into that relationship as well as her recollections about Sitara Devi last February.)
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times (and posted back in April 2014) there was a dance by Eleanor Powell – who was probably the greatest female tap dancer in the Golden Age of Hollywood – that obviously influenced a famous Sitara Devi dance in Roti (1942). And I think Sitara probably had a lot to do with making the decision to draw upon that influence. Eleanor’s dance actually turned into quite a tap dance toward the end, but that was not the part that influenced Sitara’s dance, and Sitara’s version did not focus on kathak footwork. So, while you might say that there was definite influence here by a tap dancer on a kathak dancer, this wasn’t really an example of tap influencing kathak. (Curiously, in both cases, there is a much stronger reference being made to a Hawaiian dance known as the hula.)
Outside of the case of Sitara, the best example that I can think of of a dancer in Indian films who performed numbers influenced by tap dances in American films was Helen, who did two dances that strongly resembled earlier dances by the famous American tap dancer Ruby Keeler. But again, here, the influence did not come specifically from the tap dancer’s footwork, and there was certainly no kathak in the dances by Helen (who was hardly any kind of a kathak dancer in general – though she may have dabbled in the form a little bit at some point). Plus, I would say that it is probably unlikely that Helen, herself, had much to do with selecting those Ruby Keeler influences.
Meanwhile, there isn’t even anything close when it comes to Indian film or Indian dances in general influencing American film dances (never mind kathak influencing tap). There are bad examples in American films of dancers doing what is supposedly “Indian dance,” but they were way off the mark. Ruth St. Denis got some dances into American silent films and she claimed a strong influence by India’s “nautch dancers,” but that is a whole other story – and a somewhat complicated one at that. (Priya Srinivasan had some interesting things to say about Ruth St. Denis’ Indian “nautch dance” influences in her book Sweating Saris, which I once wrote a little about, but there would be no point even in scratching the surface of that story here.)
III. In more current times, the dances finally meet – literally – in duets and quartets
Things look very different when we start to explore all the connections that have been made between American and Indian dances in the present millennium. This is because of both the fact that it is so easy now for people to see (and be influenced by) the cultural products of other countries, and that a big Indian classical dance industry sprung up in the U.S. due to major increases in immigration from South Asia (and changes in corresponding immigration laws). (That is actually another subject that is discussed – very extensively – in the book by Priya Srinivasan. Her focus was bharatanatyam, not kathak, but these changes affected all kinds of classical Indian dance as it has existed (increasingly) in America.)
One great aspect about the connections that have been made between kathak and tap dance in recent times is that they have been realized in actual kathak-tap dance combinations – duets (or jugalbandies) and more! This has not been done all that much in films (in fact, there is only one fictional film that I can think of as well as one film documentary – both of which I will get to soon), but it has been done a lot in live collaborations, many of which have been captured on video and shared via YouTube or Vimeo. And for that reason, in this final part of the post, I will be able to include several very good videos.
The fictional film in which we get to see a kathak-tap dance fusion is American Blend (2006). The actors doing the dance are David Oyelowo and Amrapali Ambegaokar (an award-winning dancer who is also the choreographer – hence why the camera focuses more on her feet than his). The kathak teacher whom you see in this scene is played by Dee Wallace (most known, curiously, for her performance in the science fiction film ET and a number of horror movies). As is pointed out somewhat overtly in another scene in the film, some people definitely notice that the kathak teacher is “white.” The mixing of races and cultures in the U.S. – and the need to be open to that – is one of the main themes of the film, hence the title. Admittedly, the message could have been delivered a bit more subtly, but in any event, it provides a great excuse for showing a mixture of tap dance and kathak. Plus, the film gives some interesting glimpses of Los Angeles. (That should be helpful for a lot of viewers who do not see LA so often, since this film was released mainly in India. And by the way, the actor who plays the Kathak teacher’s husband in the film is Anupam Kher, who has been in lots of other Indian films.)
Speaking of California, now I’d like to delve into a live-dance collaboration that originated there. The dancer whom I know about in this presentation is Rachna Nivas, who actually is in New York City now, having come to my town to be part of the new New York City branch of Leela Dance (which began in San Francisco). (I believe that their projects started with the Leela Dance Collective, but now they have an Institute that includes the Collective, the Academy, Foundation, etc. It gets a bit confusing, but they do provide informative links to all of these things on their web site.)
I just saw Rachna Nivas in a live performance about a month ago, and it was a great experience. Thanks in part to certain problems that affected all of us globally, I had not actually been to any live performance in a theater since 2019 and had not been to a live kathak performance for two and a half years, since I went to the April 2019 New York Kathak Festival (and mentioned that experience in a blog post, of course). So, I had reasons to be very happy about going to this show, but on the other hand, I think I would have loved the performance just as much had I been going to live shows every week.
But the dance last month was not all that pertinent to this post (although she did briefly mention tap dancers at one point during the evening). The show that Rachna Nivas has been involved in that is apparently very pertinent is a project called SPEAK, which she has performed in combination with another kathak dancer (Rena Mehta) and two tap dancers. (Usually, those tap dancers have been Michelle Dorrance and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, though in the first video that I’m including here, Ms. Dorrance has been temporarily replaced by Star Dixon.) And by, the way, although there is some duet dancing in their shows, sometimes all four dancers join together, making this a quartet.
As shown in the video below (a compilation of a few scenes from the performance), SPEAK makes it very clear that kathak and tap dance have tangible things in common, obvious to the eyes and the ears. But the text below this particular video (at Vimeo) is also the place where I found the assertion that “Indian kathak dance and American tap dance, continents and ages apart, share parallel stories of struggle and perseverance.” And as I’ve said, that may be worth looking into it at another time. For now, though, we need only watch the dance, itself, to see why it’s a very nice idea to put kathak and tap dance together.
I should add that this SPEAK performance apparently has been done on different tours, during different years. While the sample above was from a few years ago, the performance in the clip below, from YouTube, is a little more recent, being from 2019. And though the Vimeo clip gives a larger sample, I think I find this shorter clip to be even more enjoyable. In prior posts, I have also mentioned how much I like the verbal recitation of rhythms in kathak – that is the padhants. Here, the dancers enter into a conversation between padhant and jazz scatting. It’s very amusing, although there is obviously also a lot of skill involved.
The Leela Dance Collective is actually an outgrowth of The Chitresh Das Dance Company. Chitresh Das was Rachna Nivas’ teacher/guru and he was obviously the source of the concept of combining tap with dance, at least where the Leela dancers are concerned. Several years ago, there was a documentary made about Chitresh Das’ collaboration with a tap dancer named Jason Samuels Smith. As you can see in the following excerpt, the tap dance and the kathak are both quite impressive. As the title says, this is fierce!
The clips above are all related to projects that I know something about, to one degree or another. But there are quite a few kathak-tap duets that can be found simply from searching on YouTube. I will add a couple here that caught my eye, but for those who want to find more, it is quite easy to do so.
The first thing I noticed about the dance excerpted in the next clip is that it takes place in Canada (at the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre, in Vancouver, in 2013). The announcer who appears before the clip says that he doesn’t think this combination has ever taken place before, which is obviously not true. But it may be true that this is the first time this kind of duet was tried in Canada (which is something that was asserted in the text accompanying another clip of this event). The announcer says that this is like a conversation through rhythm instead of words – which I gather is the same idea that the Leela people wanted to convey when they called their project SPEAK. (Unfortunately, an actual announcement of this fact feels a bit like a statement of the obvious – at least to me.) The duet is certainly appealing, although I felt that the tap dancer (Susan Nase) seems to be given more prominence than the kathak dancer (Amika Kushwaha). To even that balance out, maybe the kathak dance could have been a little more active and dramatic. But those are just quibbles – these people deserve a lot of credit, especially if this was the first time a kathak-tap dance duet was put together in Canada.
The final clip that I’m going to include comes from a dance academy based in Mumbai (Sumeet Nagdev Dance Arts). Here, I also noticed a bit of imbalance between the two sides of the dance. For one thing, either the tap dancer (Cia) was preferred by the audience, or it’s just that the people who supported her were much louder than those who supported the kathak dancer (Snehal). The tap dancer is also dressed in a much more flamboyant and revealing way than the kathak dancer – the difference between costumes is greater, I think, than in other video clips. Plus, I see less rhythmic “conversation” here than outright competition. Putting all that together, I could not help but think of the Vyjayanthmiala vs. Helen dance off in the 1969 film Prince. (Actually, now that I think about it, that scene contains a nice snippet of flamenco vs. kathak.) In any event, this clip below is obviously from a very studently kind of affair; it doesn’t have the more professional look of performances by Chitresh Das or his Leela Dance disciples. It’s good for what it is, though, and I would like to see many more such performances coming out of this school.
In the future, when I watch these kathak/tap dance duets, I think that I would rather not see dances where there is a whole lot of competition between the styles. I would also like to see the blending (so to speak) of the dances develop in some way. Right now, I get the feeling, mostly, that when people put on these kinds of shows, they strongly have in mind the idea that they are showing the audience a combination that didn’t exist before – which means there is a big air of novelty surrounding these events. If this kind of duet (or quartet, etc.) is going to become more common, it would probably be appropriate to see the emphasis on novelty toned down a little. Additionally, maybe there should be less emphasis (in most of these performances) on the fact that the dances come from different cultures. I would actually love it if I never again had to hear or see the phrase “East Meets West”!
Maybe there should be more fictional films that bring kathak-and-tap combinations in as part of the plot. It would be nice if American Blend were not the only fictional film (that I know of) which did this. Maybe it would also be good if the two different dance styles were combined specifically for the purpose of relating story (rather than a duet appearing as a moment in a story). It’s not that I necessarily prefer it when the dance is relating a story – in fact, as I have watched more kathak in recent years, I have developed more of an appreciation for the non-story-telling kind of kathak – the nritta or pure dance. But in the case of these duets (and quartets, etc.), maybe the addition of a strong story-telling component might encourage dancers to mix things up in ways that they have not done before. In any event, I hope that I do get to see more developments in this kathak-tap dance relationship in the future. If that happens, I definitely will do another post on the subject.
Minoo Mumtaz has been adored on this blog from very early on. In other words, she’s been one of my favorites ever since I first became obsessed with classic Indian films. She is featured in numerous songs that I’ve shown here, though many were in posts focused on someone or something else. But there is one old post in this blog that is sufficiently devoted just to Minoo Mumtaz, and that is the one from back in 2009 where I wrote about Tom Daniel’s DVD compilation, describing it as A Whole (Beautiful, Crisp, Clear) DVD of Minoo Mumtaz! I would like to recommend that post most of all because it includes a list of the contents of Tom’s DVD, which is the best place to look if you want the names of the best songs that she appeared in. (Plus, I think you can still download the DVD’s files if you go to the site linked there and follow the directions.) But I’m also happy to recommend this old post because of the insights and opinions that it contains. I said some very glowing things about Minoo Mumtaz nearly a dozen years ago, and I would say the exact same things now.
I also pointed out some very interesting things that Tom had written about her. For example, there is the fact that he actually prefers to watch a mujra by Minoo Mumtaz than one by Vyjayanthimala. And he is not the only one who has said such a thing. Just today, another friend mentioned on Facebook that she generally prefers Minoo Mumtaz to Vyjayanthimala. And if you ask me about which one I find more relatable and adorable on the screen (as well as often being the greatest mood-lifter), I think I might say that, in general, it is Minoo Mumtaz (which I think is pretty close to the point that Tom had made). But if you want to ask me which one I prefer to watch dancing a mujra…well, please understand that it doesn’t mean I don’t also love Minoo Mumtaz! (I am always a sucker for dazzling and technically superb dancing, and I don’t think anyone can deny that Vyjayanthimala had the edge in that sense. In his comments, Tom also admitted that Vyjayanthimala was a greater dancer.) But, of course, there is no need to compare… The Golden Age was Golden in part because it made room for so many unique and brilliant talents, and Minoo Mumtaz was a mujra queen in her own right – in addition to being a hilarious comedienne, which seems to me like a very unusual combination.
It’s obvious that Minoo’s brother Mehmood is the more famous comedian, and he seems to be much better known in general by a wide audience. This is what I gather because the vast majority of times when I’ve seen Minoo Mumtaz mentioned in a review or an article, she was defined as the “sister of Mehmood.” I always found that to be a little odd because, though I do like Mehmood, if I am asked to define one sibling in relation to the other, I am much more inclined to say that he was the brother of Minoo Mumtaz. It also seems to me that she was the one who took most after their father, Mumtaz Ali – at least in terms of talents – considering that he was a legendary dancer.
Then there is a younger brother to those siblings, Anwar Ali, who acted in films ranging from Seema (as a child actor, performing next to his father) to Bombay to Goa (which I confess I have yet to see in its entirety). Anwar Ali was the one whom I actually corresponded with, a little over eleven years ago, when I was aware of the blog that he had at the time. And under a post that I made about that blog, there was a conversation in the comments section in which several of us wondered whatever had happened to Minoo Mumtaz. Then I received a comment from Anwar Ali’s wife, Mona Mathur Ali, saying that Minoo was doing well and living in Canada. That was so nice to see!
Just a couple of years later, in 2013, an old blogging friend, AK, wrote a post over at Songs of Yore, In Conversation with Minoo Mumtaz, which included an interview that he had done with her as well as one with her son, Ajaz Ali. (He also provided a couple of small clips of both of them speaking – although in Hindi, without English subtitles, so it would take me a while to figure out even a small portion of what either of them are saying – but they should be clear to most of the fans.) If there had been a lot of mysteries about Minoo Mumtaz and her whereabouts that some of us were still trying to figure out, this post certainly solved them. AK’s post also includes a nice collection of videos of songs that were picturized on Minoo Mumtaz, some of which he says were actually recommended by her. Plus, there are a ton more videos recommended in the comments.
AK’s interview revealed that Minoo had been diagnosed with a brain tumor ten years earlier – which had actually been in her head for fifteen years prior – and she had also developed some debilitating symptoms, but after some surgeries, she seemed to be rid of it and recovered nicely. The news stories that I have seen as of this post say that a few days ago she was diagnosed with cancer again (whether related or not, I am not certain) but had been suffering from other “health issues” also. Much of the reporting was based on information from Anwar Ali and Mona Mathur Ali – that is, the same people who made me and a few others happy with the news that Minoo Mumtaz was alive and well back when we wondered if it was even possible to find any recent news about her. I have not had any communications with them directly in recent years, but I understand that they sent other people the information about her death as soon as they could, and they deserve appreciation for their conscientiousness.
I suppose the fact that information about Minoo Mumtaz had once been scarce for so long – at least for many of us – combined, of course, with the fact that she is constantly referred to as the “sister of Mehmood,” shows that she hasn’t really gotten the full recognition that she deserves, at least compared to other greats of the Golden Age. But I get a different sense when I look around our little blogging world, where so many people have had the chance to watch many of the great song-and-dance sequences that she has starred in and even a couple films in which she played major roles. Once people get a good sense of who she was, as I wrote back in 2009… Who doesn’t love Minoo Mumtaz?
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