Racing To The Finish

As you very likely know, in Hindustani classical singing, compositions run typically between 20 and 40 minutes. The singer starts his performance slowly, without accompaniment, and then moves on to be supported by a slow tempo, in what is called vilambit laya. He gradually builds up this tempo, going into madhya laya (medium pace), and towards the end, he goes into a fast tempo called drut laya. The idea of these transitions is not just to allow the singer to present his case in as many shades of meaning as possible, but, in the faster section at the end, to showcase his ability as a vocalist. The mastery that the singer has over the medium is often accompanied by taans, which are fast-paced vocal techniques using the aa sound. Hear classical renditions on a stage, or in a recording, and you may find much the same progressions in place.

But since the classical music genre has always been elitist, it has not touched as many listeners as popular cinema music has. Hindi film music is eclectic, taking from everywhere, and so, classical singing—or more correctly, semi-classical singing—has had hundreds of outings in Hindi cinema too. Semi-classical has many of the characteristics of out-and-out classical, but since it is made to end in a much shorter time (3 to 7 minutes typically), some features like tempo changes, and the repeated returns over chosen phrases are often skipped.

This is not to say that classical music has never been miniaturized in our films. A hearing of Lata Mangeshkar’s Raag Jaijaiwanti based Manmohana bade jhootthe from Seema (1955) abundantly exposes classical singing, with all its elements, in a bonsai of just four and a quarter minutes. Earlier, Miss Mangeshkar had teamed up with classical exponent Saraswati Rane to record their bandish in raag mishr-Jaunpuri, Jab dil ko sataave gham (Sargam, 1950), which too had the elements of Hindustani classical vocal. But such examples are rare. Most of the time, something or the other is sacrificed from proper classical.

Sprint runs at the end

Sometimes, semi-classical film songs follow the idea of the drut laya finales—the sprint runs at the end, even if it’s sometimes the instruments that race away to the finish. But what explains film songs that are not rendered in classical fashion, and yet sprint at the end? Let’s first look at such songs that are sung in semi-classical fashion, and later we consider the non-classical kind, with the reasons why the latter are planned that way. Singers and composers are mentioned:

  • Lapak jhapak tu aa re (Manna Dey/Shankar-Jaikishan/Boot Polish, 1953)
  • Ketaki gulaab juhi champak (Bhimsen Joshi, Manna Dey/Shankar-Jaikishan/Basant Bahaar, 1956)
  • Chhed diye mere dil ke taar (Amanat Ali, Fateh Ali/OP Nayyar/Raagini, 1958)
  • Ud ja bhanwar maaya kamal ka (Manna Dey/SN Tripathi/Rani Rupmati, 1959)
  • Madhuban mein Radhika (Rafi/Naushad/Kohinoor, 1960)
  • Basant hai aaya rangeela (Mahendra, Asha/C. Ramchandra/Stree, 1961)
  • Deepak jalao jyoti jagao (Rafi/SN Tripathi/Sangeet Samrat Tansen, 1962)
  • Meha aao re (Lata, Asha/Manna/SN Tripathi/Sangeet Samrat Tansen, 1962)
  • Gori tore nainwa (Rafi, Asha/Lachhiram/Main Suhagan Hoon, 1964)
  • Tu chanda main chaandni (Lata/Jaidev/Reshma Aur Shera, 1971)
  • Kaali ghodi dwaar khadi (Yesudas, Hemanti Shukla/Rajkamal/Chashm-e-Baddoor, 1981)


Western musicians call it accelerando, for when they want to gradually increase the speed of the song, from say 80 beats per minute to 160. On the notation sheets, the word accel. is used over the bars whose tempo has to be increased. Here at home, we just write drut over the notes that need to run fast.

As for why some songs speed up near the end, in spite of not being clearly classical, much of the time the idea is to create a kind of frenzied atmosphere to galvanize people into action. This action may be to break the earthen pot on Janamashtmi days, when the boys need a last big push to go for it (as in Govinda aala re/Bluff Master, 1963), or when a concerted rebellion is called for through a collective charge, as in Har zubaan ruki-ruki (with Geeta Bali, a prisoner of the Portuguese, exhorting other prisoners to strike in Baaz, 1953).

In Deedar (1951), the dramatic, fast-paced end of the Rafi-on-Dilip solo Bachpan ke din bhula na dena was designed to shake up Nargis vigorously. It did; she lost control of the horse she was steering. The music of Deedar was made by Naushad, who used the same horse and carriage percussion and speeded up the end for the same Rafi on Dilip combine in Dil mein chhupa ke pyaar ka toofaan le chale next year, in Aan (1952). This time, the finale was to dramatize that even as things were trotting along well for the hero, towards the end of this song Nimmi was being assaulted by Premnath elsewhere. But was Naushad done with such an idea? Nah! The delighted maestro used it again for the same Rafi-Shakeel-Dilip combo in Madhuban mein Radhika in Kohinoor (1960). Now this is a classical bandish in raag Hameer, and so is listed above, but it is also a song and dance competition between Dilip Kumar and Kumkum, a situation that needs help in climaxing at high speed. This musician had also accelerated the speed in Man tadpat Hari darshan ko aaj (Baiju Bawra, 1952), the Malkauns bhajan structured to invoke the gods with its presto end.

Apart from these cinematically relevant situations, speeding up a song near the end may sometimes be to just sprinkle some charm over it. Whatever the reason, such songs do manage to create a sense of drama, an urgency if you will, injecting so much charge into a tune. Think of these that fit the bill:

  • Man tadpat Hari darshan (Rafi/Naushad/Baiju Bawra, 1952)
  • Zor laga ke pair jama ke (Geeta/SD Burman/Jaal, 1952)
  • Jaati hai aaj naiyya mori (Manna Dey/Timir Baran, SK Pal/Baadbaan, 1954)
  • Babul mora (Manna Dey/Anil Biswas/Mahatma Kabir, 1954)
  • Mera dildaar na milaaya (Suraiya/Husnlal-Bhagatram/Shama Parwana, 1954)
  • Chaahe koi khush ho chaahe (Kishore, Johnny Walker/SD Burman/Taxi Driver, 1954)
  • Suno suno suno ji more rasiya (Lata/Vasant Desai/Jhanak Jhanak Paayal Baaje, 1955)
  • Zindagi hai zinda (Geeta/SD Burman/Munimji, 1955)
  • Senorita…Kabhi aaj kabhi kal (SD Batish, Uma Devi/Roshan/Taksaal, 1956)
  • Moohn se mat laga cheez hai buri (Manna Dey, Rafi/OP Nayyar/Johnny Walker, 1957)
  • Maang ke saath tumhaara (Asha, Rafi/OP Nayyar/Naya Daur, 1957)
  • Mere gore-gore gaal (Shamshad, Rafi/Ravi/Dulhan, 1958)
  • Mera naam chin chin choo (Geeta/OP Nayyar/Howrah Bridge, 1958)
  • Arre ja re hat natkhat (Asha, Mahendra, Chitalkar/C. Ramchandra/Navrang, 1959)
  • Tum saiyaan gulaab ke phool (Asha/C. Ramchandra/Navrang, 1959)
  • Ittihaas agar likhna chaaho (Usha Mangeshkar/SN Tripathi/Rani Rupmati, 1959)
  • Jhoomta mausam mast maheena (Manna, Lata/Shankar-Jaikishan/Ujala, 1959)
  • Saathi na koi manzil (Rafi/SD Burman/Bambai Ka Babu, 1960)
  • Ho raasa saayaang re (Rafi, Lata/Shankar-Jaikishan/Singapore, 1960)
  • Ho re ho re…jhanan ghunghar baaje (Lata, Rafi/Naushad/Ganga Jamuna, 1961)
  • Ye duniya usi ki jo pyaar kar le (Asha/Ravi/Gharana, 1961)
  • Yamma yamma yamma (Rafi, Asha/Ravi/China Town, 1962)
  • Chali jaaye re jeevan ki gaadi (Suman, Badri Pawar/Avinash Vyas/Royal Mail, 1963)
  • Humen dum daike (Mubarak Begum, Asha Bhosle/Iqbal Quereshi/Ye Dil Kisko Doon, 1963)
  • Kya hua maine agar ishq ka izhaar kiya (Asha, Rafi/Iqbal Quereshi/Ye Dil Kisko Doon, 1963)
  • Ye chaand sa roshan chehra (Rafi/OP Nayyar/Kashmir Ki Kali, 1964)
  • Dim dim dim dim digo (Asha/Vasant Desai/Rahul, 1964)
  • Teri aankhon ne in aankhon se (Asha, Kamal Barot, Mahendra/OP Nayyar/Nasihat, 1973)
  • Yaari hai imaan mera (Manna Dey/Kalyanji-Anandji/Zanjeer, 1973)

The art of changing speeds has almost disappeared now, because going slow is considered silly these days. Everyone wants to be on a high all the time. And films do mirror life. Or is the other way more true, cinema influences life?


Photo on top: Ameeta in Zindagi hai zinda

(Written substantially as above on 31.07.17. Minor updates have since been made)

23 thoughts on “Racing To The Finish

  1. A great study once again. Your “pitaara” of permutations and combinations of HFM songs has opened once again with fabulous results. The songs you have listed have some unfamiliar and unheard songs. But the others are such great examples of the race to the finish and well-appreciated too.

    I had one song that I thought of couple of days ago, but it has gone poof. But, would “jaane kya dhoondhti rehti hain” figure in your grouping?

    I have to catch up on a lot of reading. I am wondering what I have been missing! All power to your pen.. and if the headlights are on, just ensure not to look into them, but sneak away..

  2. Sure will not pretend, to understand all, very interesting though, Manek…Before you share new DNA, finally finished reading few times..Thanks.

  3. So much to learn about the nuances of classical singing from your article Manek. ..the basics of vilambit, madhya, drut laya, to quote a small example. …”in a bonsai of just four and a quarter minutes”…lovely line!
    Had a closer look at the semi-classical and non-classical numbers in the light of your analysis and information. Now I know why they sprint at the end – to create the much needed drama!
    Nargis was shaken up so vigorously “she lost control of the horse she was steering” – brilliantly tongue-in-cheek!
    So much charm sprinkled all over, this Sunday ?

  4. This article sends one thinking about and visualizing songs where acceleration towards the end happened. I am not sure where to put the songs which accelerate parabolically towards the end though concluding without descending – a kind of horizontal and vertical drut at the same time. For instance, na to karavan ke talash hai… which towards the end seems to achieve both. In ga mere man ga… the end is a very short but charged spurt…. where the word ga almost attains an escape velocity on a parabolic path !

    Thanks for this brilliant article which apparently renders technical details into such such enjoyable simplicity and education.

  5. Well I can only say that who does not love the sprint. Even at Olympics we all eagerly wait for the 100 metres and 200 metres race. Why Bolt, Carl Lewis etc are the most celebrated athletes, Why we love cheetah chasing the deer more than a pack of wolves executing a kill is perhaps it is our innate desire to follow speed that’s why we have more hindi film music lovers than the classical music followers. May be the apprehension in minds of Music directors that to have songs exclusively in classical mould may not enthuse the listeners and they decided to add that element of speed at the end of the song.
    But that is a perspective of layman like me. I loved your write up Sir. The songs included in the list are great too.

  6. Absolutely. The words are all heard and known but we do not know the meaning. Very crisply and lucidly explained by Manek as usual. Lots of value of reading these articles …….

  7. Superb article, information and insights. As always, your article is one for the books – teaching, enlightening and opening up new vistas.

    You have helped me freshly understand the changing layas within a song, from the classical to the popular and how it has been used in the Hindi film song – all those songs I thought I knew so well and now I find I almost didn’t know at all 🙂

    Simply fantastic!

    1. Sahi kaha, Anatara! I’m having to hear these well-loved songs again and again! Each week I think I know them, and then, like rabbits from a hat, Manek produces a totally fresh way to hear them! Thanks, Manek!

      1. Rabbits from a hat ha ha ha 🙂 Monica, truth is, I myself feel like a trapped rabbit…you know with a car’s headlights blinding him? Happens to me every week, when planning a story 🙂

    2. I try to follow many of your ideas Antara…your huge sense of imagery is admirable! Thanks for enjoying this essay _()_ 🙂

  8. Thank you for this educative, well researched article, Manek ji ?
    Quite a few new songs got introduced with the article and of course yet another new perspective to look at the songs 🙂
    I’ll be reading it again and go through the song list once again!!
    Thanks again 🙂

  9. A lot of knowledge, research and learning to be found here, Manek. A lot of clarity too. I found some very unusual, a few unknown songs in your lists above. Will need to hear them all very carefully now. Could the faster beat at the end of a song also be to introduce a ‘situation’ or a climax? Like the snake that enters the room at the end of ‘madhuban mein Radhika’?
    The article will definitely need another read and those songs will definitely need to be heard! Without ‘racing to the finish’, if possible. ? Thank you for presenting yet another fascinating detail of HFM with such clarity!

    1. Thanks Monica. yes absolutely, in the case of Madhuban mein Radhika, a backing up of imminent danger from a fast approaching snake. Clever work, Naushad!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *