Singing in a Funny Way

Tony Ryman, my British colleague in Dubai several decades back, had no idea of Hindi film music. One evening, before going on a month’s vacation, he dropped in unannounced at my home to say goodbye. I was in my shorts listening to music on my cassette player at the time, so I made an excuse and went away to wear something more presentable while he waited.

Upon my return, he asked why I was listening to sad music. After all, things were going just so fine for me, so wasn’t all well? I told him all was good, that I loved sad songs for they made me feel better in a way that I couldn’t explain. But wait, where did he hear a sad song now? It turns out that the song he meant was Hum aaj kaheen dil kho baitthe, yoon samjho kisi ke ho baitthe, from Andaz (1949). I told him that was in fact a romantic song. In the film, Dilip Kumar has just fallen in love, and while some people would go yahoo about it, perhaps this actor was being understated since he had a sober kind of personality. “Really?’ asked my colleague, “I heard hints of pathos, both in the voice and the violins. In fact even in the song’s tempo”. He may have had a point; the lyrics were telling us of incipient love, and the visuals were showing Nargis and Dilip Kumar smiling as the latter sang. But to someone who was denied the visual experience and had no idea of the language, the composition and voice were as if headed the other way.

It is in fact for just such a situation that music becomes a universal language, when people cannot see the song and don’t understand the language of words. At such times, the instruments and vocal expressions take greater responsibility of communicating.

The Andaaz song is not the only one in which all the elements of a song were not sending us a common message clearly. It’s possible many music makers may have even thought that every element was not needed to do so, for fear of overkill. And yet it is true that on the flip side, there have been vocal elements of songs that have been milked by composers beautifully, so much so that people like Tony Ryman can tell what’s up right away. This becomes particularly clear in comedy songs if the singer is made to sing a passage playfully. The musical description of such a passage is Scherzando, which is Italian. It comes from scherzare, to joke, and in music, it’s an instruction to the singer to render a passage in a funny way.

We look at a few comic songs from Hindi cinema and identify at least one sung passage where the vocalist gave it the funny touch. The composer is mentioned along with the singer, and if the funny passage is not the start itself, it is mentioned in brackets. We leave out songs with yodelling since that is so predictable.

  • Qusoor aap ka huzoor aap ka (left-right, left-right about turn) (Shamshad/Kishore/Bahaar, 1951)
  • Kabhi na bigde kisi ki motorrr raste mein (Suraiya/Hansraj Behl/Moti Mahal, 1952)
  • Khaali peeli kaahe ko akkha din baitth ke bom maarta hai (Kishore/Manna Dey/Tamasha, 1952)
  • Chaahe koi khush ho chaahe gaaliyaan hazaar de (Pi ke dhandhli karoon to mujhko jail bhej do) (Kishore, Johnny Walker/SD Burman/Taxi Driver, 1954)
  • Daal kaise gale (Aise shaadi se hum to kunwaare bhale) (Kishore/C Ramchandra/Baap Re Baap, 1955)
  • Dil ki umangen hain jawaan (the Pran part) (Hemant, Geeta, Thakur/SD Burman/Munimji, 1955)
  • Dekh tere Bhagwan ki haalat kya ho gayi insaan (Sun kar is paapi ko taano) (Rafi, SD Batish, Manmohan Krishna/Madan Mohan/Railway Platform, 1955)
  • Aal line kiliar (Papa! Are dhat teri ki) (Rafi/Shankar-Jaikishan/Chori Chori, 1956)
  • Humko haste dekh zamaana jalta hai (Jalta hai jale koi yahaan hai fikar kise) (Rafi, Durrani/OP Nayyar/Hum Sab Chor Hain, 1956)
  • Are bhai nikal ke aa ghar se (Kem oonghe chhe bhai Ghanshyam ji) (Kishore/Shankar-Jaikishan/New Delhi, 1956)
  • Yaar tum shaadi mat karna (Chai pilaoon ke thanda mangaoon, ke murghi ke ande ki bhurji banaoon) (Kishore/Salil Chowdhury/Parivaar, 1956)
  • Main ik shola aag babola (Baraf ka gola) (Shamshad, Uma devi/Rangeen Raaten, 1956)
  • Aaj na jaane paagal manwa kaahe ko ghabraaye (Tabiyat bichki bichki jaaye) (Kishore/Shankar-Jaikishan/Begunah, 1957)
  • Ye ho kar rahega (Abba ae abba!) (Rafi/Hansraj Behl/Changez Khan, 1957)
  • Dekhta chala gaya main zindagi ki raah mein (Naheen hoti) (Rafi, Lata, Johnny Walker/Madan Mohan/ Gateway Of India, 1957)
  • Main hoon Mr. Johnny (Tum poochhoge kyoon? Main abhi bataata hoon) (Rafi/OP Nayyar/Mai Baap, 1957)
  • Gaana na aaya bajaana na aaya (Kaheen ga ma pa dha ni hai) (Kishore/Rajinder Krishan/Hemant Kumar/Miss Mary, 1957)
  • Tel maalish champi…sar jo tera chakraaye (Rafi/SD Burman/Pyaasa, 1957)
  • Main sitaaron ka taraana (Dheere se jaana bagiyan mein) (Asha, Kishore/SD Burman/Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, 1958)
  • Zulf ke phande phas gayi jaan (Is dil ke armaan) (Rafi/Mujrim, 1958)
  • Main Bangaali chhokra (Mur jaaye mur jaaye) (Kishore, Asha/OP Nayyar/Raagini, 1958)
  • Kaise Diwali manaayen hum Lala (Daata teri akal ku he kaaye jhaala) (Rafi/C Ramchandra/Paigham, 1959)
  • Aankhon se aankhon ka tu jaam liye ja (Manna Dey, Kishore/SD Burman/Bewaqoof, 1960)
  • Ye duniya gol hai (Ek photo ka sawaal hai baba) (Rafi/Ravi/Chaudhvin Ka Chand, 1960)
  • Hum tum jise kehta hai shaadi (Mr Iyer, are you there?) (Rafi/SD Burman/Kaagaz Ke Phool, 1960)
  • Ye hai jeevan ki rail, ye hai toofaan mail (Mote-mote dil ke khote, Grand Hotel ke double rote) (Kishore/S Mohinder/Mehlon Ke Khwaab, 1960)
  • Aake seedhi lagi dil pe jaise katariya (Kishore/Kishore/Half Ticket, 1962)
  • Aashiq hoon apne pyaar ke jauhar dikhaoonga (Apan to ghar ka aadmi hai na, aa?) (Rafi/Ravi/Kaun Apna Kaun Paraya, 1963)
  • Duniya banaane waale…pyaar ki aag mein tan badan jal gaya (Manna Dey/SD Burman/Ziddi, 1964)
  • Lori suna suna ke…muskura laadle muskura (Mehmood/Kalyanji-Anandji/Purnima, 1965)
  • Yahaan bhi to naheen hai (Kamaal ho gaya) (Kamal Barot, Rafi/Kalyanji-Anandji/Preet Na Jaane Reet, 1966)
  • Ek chatur naar (Aiyo ghoda bola) (Kishore, Manna Dey, Mehmood/RD Burman/Padosan, 1968)

Want to think of some comic songs in which the vocals didn’t carry the idea of fun? How about Mere piya gaye Rangoon? This was from Patanga (1949), with the singing by Chitalkar and Shamshad Begum for maestro C Ramchandra. Next year, in Meena Bazaar, the brothers Husnlal and Bhagatram composed for Ram Kamlani to sing Suno buzurgon ka ye kehna, without humour in the vocals. Jaane kahaan mera jigar gaya ji is another example. Tuned by OP Nayyar, it was duetted by Geeta and Rafi in Mr & Mrs 55 (1955). Do akalmand hue fikarmand from Akalmand (1966) is another instance of non-humorous singing. This last ditty was sung by Rafi and Kishore for OP Nayyar.

As we saw, humour, when heard in a singing voice, is denoted by the Italian word Scherzando. Italians have contributed so much to the world in so many ways, in astronomy and gastronomy. In language, literature, and painting. In music and fashion. Many love the country for its tourist spots. They have done fairly in sports too, for instance finishing at no. 9 at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Sadly, it’s the first time in 60 years they have not qualified for the football World Cup underway in Russia. Wonder if they are able to manage humour in their voice and sing away their ignominious absence from this game. Luciano Pavarotti would have managed that easily, but the world’s most famous Opera star passed away over a decade ago.


Originally published on 1 July 2018 in DNA Jaipur page 13,

Featured image: from Main sitaaron ka taraana

12 thoughts on “Singing in a Funny Way

  1. That music is a universal language is proved by no other genre as beautifully as by the Opera. As I read along, I wondered if you would tie that in – and was happy to have the essay end on the legendary Pavarotti! But to bring the World Cup in there too – now that’s especially MP-esque!
    This seems a topic for a Ph.D. dissertation on how music can be and how it is used in Hindi Films. Comic songs based on sad music; sad songs woven into carefree-sounding music – there are so many such disparate combinations in our films!
    Just wondering if the KK-sung ‘kamaata hun bahut kuchh par’ fits into the first group of songs that your essay highlights.
    An absolutely fascinating topic for further research – I read your comment above that MM’s music has a lot of comedy? Wow!
    Enjoyed the above comments too – like, mouth-agape-enjoyment!
    🙂 Thanks, Manek!

    1. Monica, thank you 🙂 Kamaata hoon bahut lekin is very funny, and is scherzando of course _()_ Kishore was the clear winner in this king of singing na…

  2. What an amazing topic bringing in a recognition of humour with or without visuals for a song. Whereas, Mehmood, JW ruled the roost, occasionally people like Ashok Kumar and Pran also jumped into the fray with ‘Do bechare Hi na sahare’ from Victoria No. 303, was a good one. Also ‘Sun lo sunata hum tumkp kahani’ was also great with the instrumental meanderings.

    Always a pleasure to read the flow of your thoughts following different creeks each week. Hats off to your dedication and breadth of topics that you cover!

    1. Humbled Sneh _()_ That flow through different creeks is so evocative 🙂 And yes, Sun lo sunaata hoon with its funny-sounding instruments also 🙂

  3. Sirji, I am getting more kicks out of your articles than from World Cup. The way you turn the topic in an unexpected direction and kick, is simply exciting. So pardon me if I tend to go on and on.

    Firstly, your friend Tony was’nt the only one confused by ‘Hum aaj kahin dil kho bhaite’. When as a kid, I saw ‘Andaz’ in a private colony screening, I wondered why Dilip Kumar and Nargis were smiling over such a sad-sounding song. Raj Kapoor used to smile through a sad song like ‘Mere toote hue dilse’, and so did Rajesh Khanna (‘Ye kya huwa, kaise huwa’), but those smiles indicated resignation to Fate and accentuated the pathos.

    No wonder, your cover photo and a whole list of songs feature Kishore Kumar. There was nobody to surpass him in vocal antics. The bizarre sounds that he made and the way he delivered his lines in his long line-up of funny songs, never failed to evoke a bellyful of laughter. I remember laughing my guts out when I heard for the first time, a particularly funny song from “Badhti Ka Naam Gaadi’, the one that he sings for K.N.Singh, ‘Gori tu maan zara, maan zara’, in which he suddenly breaks into a mock-Kathak recital going, ‘Jamuna ke that par kanhaiyya bansi bajaaye’ or something like that. But my favorite KK funnies are from ‘Half Ticket’ – ‘Cheel cheel chillake’ and ‘Aake seedhi lagi dilpe’, in which he is funny enough even without the visuals, but when you see him enacting them, you can’t but applaud his crazy sense of humour. God bless his soul!

    Rafi Saab jelled well with Johnny Walker, and Manna De with Mehmood. My respective favourites are ‘Jangal mein mor nacha’ (‘Madhumati’) and ‘Pyar ki aag mein tan badan jal gaya’ (‘Ziddi’). Great singing in both with a perfect sense of comic timing, but what makes these songs more hilarious is the composition by the otherwise ‘sober’ maestros Salil-da and SDB resp. While the former song sounded absolutely ‘tipsy’ in instrumentals, in line with JW’s drunken act and Rafi’s matching vocals, the latter one was an outrageously funny musical build-up to Mehmood’s shirt-tearing Majnu drama. BTW, I could’nt believe first that Salil da had composed for ‘Half Ticket’. The music was delightfully crazy, something that you would expect from more fun-oriented composers like S-J, OPN, CR, K-A, RDB etc. RDB was of course a marvel in comic music, as amply demonstrated in ‘Padosan’. While ‘Ek chatur naar’ took all the cake, my favourite is ‘Aao Aao Sanwariya’, which was nothing short of a brilliant take-off on ‘Carnatic music’, converted to ‘Carnaatak music’, set to whatever taala and mixing some pop and bhangra and what-you-have, and the whole thing perfectly co-ordinated between Manna De and Mehmood. Truly rip-roaring stuff still, when you watch on screen.

    As for other composers, I can’t think of any funny song composed by Naushad Saab. ‘Nain lad gayi hain to’ (‘Gunga Jamuna’) was at the most amusing. SDB used more punch with Dilip Saab and KK in ‘Saala main to saab ban gaya’ (‘Sagina’). Madan Mohan, the true ‘Melancholy Maestro’ that he was, was another music director who probably did’nt believe in ‘funny music’, even for a light KK number like ‘Zaroorat hai, Zaroorat hai’ (‘Manmauji’). Yes, there was this Mohan Chhoti song, ‘Sikandar ne Porus se kee jo ladaai’ (‘Anpadh’), which brought out some chuckles. BTW it was I think sung by Mahendra Kapoor, who had his own modest share of few comedy songs. Come to think of it, has Lata Mangeshkar ever sung any really mad-cap song, like say Kavita Krishnamurthi’s ‘Hawa Hawaai’ (‘Mr. India’). Asha Bhosle would have, thanks to her team-up with KK or Rafi for the comedy numbers. I love the way she has sung ‘Daiyya ye main kahan aa phansi’ (‘Caravan’)

    That brings us to two singers, who got themselves branded themselves as ‘Sad Songs Specialists’ – Mukesh and Talat Mehmood. Not that Mukesh did’nt sing any funnies. I remember ‘Bina badra ke bijuria’ (‘Bandhan’), ‘Taash ke baawan patte’ (‘Tamanna’) etc. He sounded quite amusing in a zany number ‘Wo pari kahan se laoon’ (‘Pehchhan’), where a bunch of girls tease Manoj Kumar suggesting various kinds of brides for him evoking apt rejoinders from Mukesh. Why Mukesh did’nt get to sing more of such songs, ye Gangaram ki samajh mein na aaye.

    As for Talat Saab, who will always a special position in the list of singers, I think he was better off with the delicate songs that he sang. I do wonder how he would have handled a funny song of those times, like say ‘Sar jo tera chakraye’. May be people would have mistook it for some Ghazal and applauded with the customary ‘Wah Wah’!

    So, Thanks again for your delightful Sunday dose, which was truly a ‘Scherzando’ all the way … whatever that means!

    1. You have said so much, and so beautifully Nathan, that I am left tongue-tied. Pardon me foa for the delayed reply. So much happening the last few days. crowned by watching the Russia-Spain thriller! I am sure of one thing. That you know a whale of info. That you write beautifully, and that the world deserves a book from you. Not just your parodies, at which you cannot be beaten. But film and music info. You write so well! Vijay too, uff! And our friend Dilip Apte, who can be a national resource of so much knowledge 🙂 There’s just one thing. I have been seeing a lot of comedy in Madan Mohan’s music too. That surprises me. But look at Gateway of India, Anpadh, Chacha Zindabad (so many songs)…Aankhen his first film…Railway Platform, Bawarchi…strong streak of humour. Just thought of adding to your list above. But I am humbled 🙂

    1. Absolutely does, Dilip, only things is I chose Paachh rupaiya baarah aana, for the visuals. I mean the photo. And I avoid taking two songs from the same film, if there’s a problem of plenty, like here 🙂

  4. Once again a wonderful subject for a weekend blog, which brings out the funny streak of our actors ,lyricists and more importantly Music Directors. Isn’t it surprising that ,despite having a large population of actors in our country, most of the songs are devoted to Kishore Kumar and Johnny Walker, with Mehmood and Dev Anand thrown in to break the monopoly, lest the intolerant screech of intolerance.
    I though think Manek that = Sikandar ne Porus se ki thi ladai [ Madan Mohan- Mahendra Kapoor-Anpadh-1962 -may make the grade.
    Cannot end this , without acknowledging your vast repertoire of knowledge ,over music of other countries [ Scherzando-heard this word for the first time ].

    Would just say ‘ Wow ‘ – Manek

    1. Wow to you as well Dilip, what a storehouse of songs you are _()_ 🙂 Sikandar ne Porus is valid of course 🙂

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