In Mythological Frames

We all know about Indian mythological films and songs from such films, but consider where mythological comes from. It’s from the word myth, which itself is from the Greek word mythos, meaning a narrative in which no distinction can be made about truth or falsehood. Something whose veracity can neither be confirmed nor denied. The Greeks milked the idea on the stage to explain the reasons behind natural wonders and disasters, as also God’s role in the universe. From myth we get both mythical and mythological, the former referring to strange and powerful creatures, while the latter has to do with a collection of myths put together.

It’s interesting though that over time the word myth has made up its unsure mind. It has in fact moved away to now convey something that is a commonly-held false notion, a collective belief that is patently untrue. That is why we often hear phrases such as “Myth or Reality?” and “Myth or Fact?” The other interesting thing is, when a collective of myths journey into the mythological, they almost always take a plunge into the domain of religion. Thus these may be seen emerging as religious narratives that are not true. It is for this reason that some people get furious when you treat their gods or prophets as mythological, ie, not just in the grey area, but definitely untrue. Rupa Ganguly was Draupadi only in BR Chopra’s TV serial Mahabharata, but for some people she will remain Draupadi, never mind that she turned into a politician or often showed up in jeans in later years. Nitish Bhardwaj was Lord Krishna in the same serial; it took him a long time to get resigned to being unshakably revered as Krishna incarnate, with people touching his feet even at places such as airport terminals.

Such beliefs hold true for films as well. Remember Shobhana Samarth as Sita in Ram Rajya (1943)? People bought her photos and started worshipping them in their homes. Still a teenager, Nirupa Roy was cast as Parvati in Har Har Mahadev (1950), only for people to accept her as the goddess herself. The same thing happened to Anita Guha after Jai Santoshi Ma (1975); people started worshipping the lady in terms that can hardly be described today.

Not that this holds true only for one religion. All faiths have their myths—taken in the classic sense of unprovable—and brought into the frames of mythological cinema. The opening up of the seas, the healing of lepers, waters miraculously coming up in arid deserts, the control of thunder and lightning, all these and more have been the cornerstone of faiths down the centuries.

Interestingly, it turns out that when it comes to mythological films, songs found in them tend to be so much fun to hear on a repeat basis. Without in any way meaning disrespect to any faith, and looking at the genre just academically, here are a few songs from mythologicals, even if not all of them are religious:

  • Beena madhur madhur kachhu bol (Saraswati Rane/Ram Rajya, 1943)
  • Murli bajaane waale kitne badal gaye (Shanta Apte/Subhadra, 1946)
  • Mane chaakar raakho ji (MS Subbulakshmi/Meera, 1947)
  • Madhur Ram ka naam jag mein (Rafi/Shri Ram Bhakt Hanuman, 1948)
  • Charan tumhaare phool hamaare (Lata/Narsinh Avtar, 1949)
  • Dhanya dhanya hai Awadhpuri (Geeta Roy, Manna Dey/Ram Vivah, 1949)
  • Sandesh mera pa ke mujhe daras dikhaana (Mohantara, Rafi/Veer Ghatotkach, 1949)
  • Kankar kankar se main poochhoon Shankar mera kahaan hai (Geeta Roy/Har Har Mahadev, 1950)
  • Kyoon rootth gayi mujhse kya maine bigaada (Geeta Roy/Hanuman Paatal Vijay, 1951)
  • Basa le man mandir mein Ram (Talat Mahmood/Lanka Dehen, 1952)
  • Chaayi birha ki raat mora tadpe jiya (Geeta Roy/Nav Durga, 1953)
  • Sar pe gagariya tirchhi najariya (Lata/Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, 1953)
  • Kaahe ko bisaara satnaam (Talat Mahmood/Mahapooja, 1954)
  • Jheeni jheeni re bheeni chadariya (Manna Dey/Mahatma Kabir, 1954)
  • Hai dhanya suhaagan wo jisne (Rafi/Tulsidas, 1954)
  • Pehchaan sake to pehchaan (Rafi/Jagatguru Shankaracharya, 1955)
  • Parwardigar-e-aalam tera hi hai sahaara (Rafi/Hatimtai, 1956)
  • Bade pyaar se milna sab se (Rafi/Sati Anusuya, 1956)
  • Zara saamne to aao chhaliye (Rafi, Lata/Janam Janam Ke Phere, 1957)
  • O Krishna bigdi bana de (Lata/Krishna Sudama, 1957)
  • Darshan do Ghanshyamnath mori akhiyaan pyaasi re (Manna Dey, Sudha Malhotra, Hemant Kumar/Narsi Bhagat, 1957)
  • Humen to loot liya mil ke husn waalon ne (Ismail Azad/Al-Hilal, 1958)
  • Shyam bhayi Ghanshyam na aaye (Lata/Kavi Kalidas, 1959)
  • Manmohan Madhusudan Keshava (Lata/Keechak Vadh, 1959)
  • Baadalo barso nayan ki kor se (Lata/Sampoorna Ramayan, 1961)
  • Aaj madhuvaataas dole (Lata, Mahendra/Stree, 1961)
  • O nirdayi preetam (Lata/Stree, 1961)
  • Chale bhole baba byaah rachaane ko (Rafi/Kailashpati, 1962)
  • Taaron ki thandi chhaiyaan (Suman, Mukesh/Naag Devta, 1962)
  • Sab ko naach nachaata phir bhi nazar naheen jo aata (Manna Dey/Kan Kan Mein Bhagwan, 1963)
  • Chamke chaand poonam ka (Suman, Mukesh/Mahasati Behula, 1964)
  • Jeevan dor tumhi sang baandhi (Lata/Sati Savitri, 1964)
  • Chandrama ja unse keh de (Lata, Mahendra/Bharat Milap, 1965)
  • Teri muraliya meri paayaliya (Suman/Gopal Krishna, 1965)
  • Dar laage garje badariya (Lata/Ram Rajya, 1967)
  • Madad karo Santoshi maata (Usha Mangeshkar/Jai Santoshi Mata, 1975)
  • Took-took tha dharti ka tan (Mahendra, Suman/Lav Kush, 1977)
  • Mere to Girdhar Gopal (Vani Jairam/Meera, 1979)

The above songs were from films that had mythology as the central push; the list would be larger if we also included songs dealing with mythological names in films that were themselves clearly not mythological. For instance, Main Raavan Lanka Naresh (Manna Dey, Rafi/Insaniyat, 1955), Mother Mary maa hum tere dulaare hain (Lata/Bachpan, 1970) and Ye naatak kavi likh gaye Kalidas (Manna Dey, Lata/Khilona, 1970). Also, many of the songs above are devotionals, of which a great deal more can be found in films that are not principally mythological.

Folklores and Fables

Incidentally, as seen earlier, Nirupa Roy was Parvati in Har Har Mahadev, a mythological film. The same lady was also a Greek Princess named Helen in Samrat Chandragupta (1958), but since this film was about humans, it becomes part of our folklore. Stories of such kind have been there too, again orally handed down generations, and then made into films such as Raja Bhartari (1944. Bhiksha de de maiya Pingala/Surendra Nath, Amirbai Karnataki), Adl-e-Jahangir (1955. Apna hi ghar lutaane deewaana ja raha hai/Rafi), Nausherwan-e-Adil (1957. Bhool jaayen saare gham/Rafi, Lata), Angulimal (1960. Buddham sharanam gachchaami/Manna Dey), Sangeet Samrat Tansen (1962. Badli badli duniya hai meri (Mahendra, Lata), Harishchandra Taramati (1963. Main ik nanha sa, main ik chhota sa bachcha hoon/Lata), and Umrao Jaan (1981. Dil cheez kya hai aap meri jaan leejiye/Asha Bhosle).

There’s another orally-transmitted sub-genre too, called fables. These take the help of animals to tell a story, most often with a moral. The Hare and the Tortoise is one we all know. The Fox and the Crow is another. An excellent example of this kind is found in our films also: Suno suno re kahaani ik bahut puraani jise kehti thi naani ho (Shamshad, Asha, Suman, Usha/Hum Panchhi Ek Daal Ke, 1957).

The mythology genre has all but gone away now, along with filmmakers who made such films, though it seems to be doing fine on television. But without musical accompaniment, it’s not so much fun. As for the new generation of filmgoers, they are watching what the west chooses to call mythological films. Features such as Hercules (1997) and Clash of the Titans (2010). Cheers!


Featured image: Kanan Kaushal in Madad karo Santoshi maata

Originally published on page 13 in DNA Jaipur on 8 July 2108,

18 thoughts on “In Mythological Frames

  1. A late response. After reading the comments by my friends, I have nothing to add. Manekji, you are tops!!!

  2. Sir-ji, Sorry to come in a little late. I had been rendered physically and mentally unresponsive to anything because of Mumbai’s deluge, which was nothing short of the ‘pralay’, that they show in mythological films.

    Your take on Hindu Hindi mythologicals has kindled enough my own nostalgia. I realize that I have’nt seen any of them. In fact, I had’nt seen too many Hindi films when I was a kid, because the nearest theatre to home (‘Aurora’) used to hardly screen any Hindi films that time. My father, not an avid cine-goer, believed that there were hardly any Hindi films that were worth seeing, and even if there were one or two, they were hardly worth ‘going to see’, ‘all the way’ by catching a bus. Even religious sentiments did’nt spur him enough to take us kids to a single Hindi mythological film. He would hand over a ‘Bhavan’s Journal’ magazine (by K.M.Munshi) to us for ‘inculcating good values’ and ask us to read at an age, when we could’nt differentiate between a K.M.Munshi and Morarji Desai, leave alone between the all-alike looking characters of the epics. So, as a kid, rather than ‘Bhavan’s Journal’, I used to enjoy more going through all the Hindi film releases ads in Entertainment column in TOI. Coming to the point, I used to pay special attention to the ‘mythologicals’ ads and had observed a common pattern in all those ‘Har Har —- ‘, ‘Sati (somebody)’ and other epic films, much before Ramanand Sagar and B.R.Chopra took it a different level altogether on TV.

    Firstly, you could guess the star-cast of most of the Hindi mythological films without even reading the ad. For eg. Mahipal, Anita Guha, Trilok Kapoor etc. Probably these actors moved from one film set to another, attired in divine clothing, like say Rama or Shiva’s outfit with a bow and arrow or Trishul in hand. Others in the cast would be Dara Singh, if the story requires a burly character like ‘Hanuman’ in ‘Mahabharata’ or ‘Bheem’ in ‘Ramayana’. (Now don’t blame me if I get any facts wrong. I told you I have’nt seen any Hindi mythological films). Of course, there had to be Jeevan Saab as Narad Muni, irrespective of whether it is Ramayana or Mahabharata or any ‘Sati so-and-so’ films. I knew Narad Saint was a clever character, but not sure whether he was crooked enough to deserve a crooked-nosed Jeevan to play his role always. Anyway, the ‘package’ also used to include S.N.Tripathi as the music director, and Bharat Vyas as lyricist. Talking of songs in mythologicals, one has to be careful with the lyrics. The words had to be in ‘Shhuddh Hindi’, you see. For eg., you can’t refer perfume as ‘Khushboo’, as Sahir or Majrooh would tend to do. So it had to Bharat Vyas Saab, who would use the right word as ‘Sugandh’ as Gods would have said it. As for the singers, the male singer had to be either Manna Dey or better Mahendra Kapoor who could raise a pitch or two, worthy of the demi-gods. The female singer had to be, who else but Usha Mangeshkar. I think she must have been the most blessed sibling out of all the sisters, because she was the one who got to sing for most of the ‘Devi’s and ‘Sati’s. Also how could you expect Lata Mangeshkar to lend her voice to any Non-‘A’ Grade heroine?

    Last but not least, any mythological film had to be released at one ‘Central’ Theatre, mind you. In fact, when passing past ‘Central’ Theatre in BEST bus once, I reverently prayed as I would do passing past ‘Siddhi Vinayak’ temple. I don’t know whether this temple of a theatre still exists. Not to forget the colour choice for these films. No, No Eastmancolor please. That was for frivolous romantic movies. A mythological film has to be in a sort of garish colour for more visual effects. Did they call it ‘Geva Colour’ or something? Probably ‘Geva’ was ‘Holier-than-thou’ colour than ‘Eastman’.

    All said and done, I would love to sit and watch a mythological film, especially the war scenes in which ‘asthra’s fly in both directions, some turning into fire-ball, some into snake and what-not. I wonder why they don’t take a cue from ‘Bahubali’’s success and make grand Hindu mythological films any more. May be the film-makers will get branded as ‘communal’ in today’s divisive political scenario.

    1. Nathan, I am more late than you are, no issues. My late arrival is I couldn’t sign in to this, my own site, as me. I could come in as a guest no problem. Some glitch, which is sorted thank God!

      This line of yours left me smiling a ton: “Firstly, you could guess the star-cast of most of the Hindi mythological films without even reading the ad. For eg. Mahipal, Anita Guha, Trilok Kapoor etc. Probably these actors moved from one film set to another, attired in divine clothing, like say Rama or Shiva’s outfit with a bow and arrow or Trishul in hand.” 🙂

      Achha you offer so many observations…which touch a chord…just one thing that I could add. Manna Dey and Mahendra were the singers of choice Nathan, of course, in mythologicals, but I was very pleasantly surprised to see Rafi in the race. Now I haven’t got a proper survey in place, but I think he may have the most male solos in such films…just a strong observation…

    2. Nathan Saab, your writing style is hilarious and your description of your Dad’s preferences whilst you were still of an impressionable age was hilarious. I bet you have not touched a Bhavan’s Journal again.

      As for the temple you mention, it has now jutted into the road – with the divine blessings I suppose – and the permission of the wordly authorities who probably want to save their souls after all that wrong doing on a daily basis. Never mind the traffic snarls there on a daily and hourly basis. We cannot take a chance to antoganise the Gods.

  3. Sorry Manek for this late response to your brilliant and thought provoking article. Just could not sit in my Study ( without an AC ), it was so sultry, so oppressive.
    My humble submission on the point.
    Reality versus myth…. every myth, I guess, originates from some reality. It may sound paradoxical. But the irrationality in human beings – and no human being is completely free of it as it essentially owes itself to his / her existential vulnerability – so easily sees the ‘unreal’ – the myth – in an apparent reality. It is this vulnerability that the religions have taken advantage of, to strengthen their grip on the people at large. The myths have been internalized in religions and elevated as gospels, as doctrines.

    Resurrection for instance. It has, for its roots, the body of thoughts that asserts the indestructibility of the soul and its incessant journey in many forms. As a doctrine it holds a huge appeal – that I shall still be there even when gone ! The Christianity was quick to capitalize on this as it created a myth out of the death of Jesus – that he came back to life though briefly on the third day. It strengthened even if subconsciously the man’s belief in his immortality. Jesus was real, his crucifixion and consequent death were also real but the myth of resurrection that took off from these realities is as central to Christianity as the crucifixion of Jesus itself. Myths grow overtime. Resurrection could just be a hearsay at that critical moment but it suited Jesus’ followers as they spread out in their mission.

    Resurrection – another instance. Adi Shankaracharya was real and so was his debate with Pandit Mandan Mishra. This happened during Shankar’s mission to reform sanatan dharma and reconvert Bharatvarsh to advaitvad. Mishra was beaten but his brilliant wife Bharati intervened at that point – asserting that she was ardhangini of Mishra and could rightfully partake in the debate – and she asked sex related questions. Shankar being a celibate had no answers. Bharati a fair lady gave Sankar time to learn the subject. And these realities gave rise to a popular myth which is as follows. . . Shankar through his yogic powers came to know of a certain king who was about to die. He instructed his disciples to preserve his body, which he temporarily left to enter the dying king’s body. The dead king thus came back to life. Shankar, in the form of king, experienced the queen and thereafter left the king dead and reentered his own form. Thus there were two resurrections : first of the king and then of Shankara himself. This myth that originated from certain realities helped Shankar advance his cause.

    Resurrection – the Burari case. The gory and ghastly incident of Burari – 11 human beings hanging themselves with the faith that they would be resurrected ! But they were neither Jesus nor Shankaracharya ! But, then, who knows ? The place is rife with rumours and hearsay which, I guess, will concretize in a myth over time – to idolize the the ones dead and their suicide ( hanging), akin to the crucifixion of Jesus – that they did it to resurrect spirituality in Bharatvarsh !

    The stoning of Devil at Mina as part of the Haj ritual. Abraham was real yet his stoning the devil was a hearsay that overtime became more than a myth – it is an article of faith for muslims ! If however Devil is to be taken for real, then he periodically returns to Mina to take revenge on the stone pelters, killing them in good numbers every now and then !

    However, I have never been able to understand the phenomenon – apparently a myth – of Lord Ganesha accepting and drinking milk offered by his bhakatas.

    Your paper Manek is so informative on mythology as shown on celluloid. The mythology in films has often succeeded in strengthening / creating religious fervour. However, a film where fiction and reality fuse even if inadvertently becomes a powerful narrative, The fiction of choti bahu ( Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam ) finds a connect in the realities of Meena Kumari. Similarly the realities of Sahir has its echo the fiction of Pyasa. And both the films have a timelessness about then.


    1. I do not know how many reads it will take for me to go beneath the veneer of so much that you offer Vijay. My story in fact pales before your thoughts, frankly. Just how and where did you learn so much, observe so much, to offer thoughts on comparative theology and mythology? I can only salute you and thank you for a range of extraordinary thoughts _()_ _()_ _()_ 🙂 I did love that story of Shankaracharya getting into the King’s body and “experience” the queen, as you put it 🙂

      1. As always I wonder how Manek thinks of a subject week after week which is original in thought. And your dissection Vijay Ji on it takes it to another level altogether.

  4. A subject close to my heart! As anyone in my family would tell you I would watch ‘mythological’ films unblinkingly – in case I missed a miracle! 🙂 Your essay made me more aware, once more, of how we just take some words for granted without ever trying to dissect why we use them the way we do! Of course, the word ‘myth’ has nothing to do with religion! Except that every Krishna and Shiva that ever walked across our screens became a ‘mythological’ hero!
    Fabulous dissection, Manek! The hat remains doffed at you. Now, you’ve made me curious – how would the 2 Bahubali movies be classified? Mythology? (They draw heavily from our ‘mythological’ tales) Folklore? Fable? or just Superhero?
    What do you think?

    1. You would know better Monica, coz I have not watched Bahubali. I run away from this huge surge to do what everyone else is doing in a wave. My shortcoming _()_ 🙂

      1. Manek, your comment reminds me of a joke where a man was saved from dying because he had not joined the crowds enjoying an event. As the only survivor later, he was asked the reason why he did not join at that time? HIs retort was that he was instructed by his wife not to go where there are crowds.

        You too following some similar instructions?? 🙂

  5. manekbhai

    remember ” Benhur ” – healing of Lepers
    nitish bhardwaj and arun govil had a touch time infact harrowing time when they were caught smoking in local trains in Mumbai. Imagine God’s seen smoking. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    as usual a unique subject

    1. Talking of caught smoking, I once had Anup Jalota on a flight on the sector LonNyc. At that time I only knew of him as a Bhajan singer. I was a little taken aback when whilst doing a round of drinks, he preferred to have a Gin & Tonic. Very much standard fare but in my mind at that time, I could not relate to a Bhajan singer having alcohol. So much for being naive.

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