In Hindi films and songs, like in many other things, there are the popular, there are the highly regarded and lauded, and then there are all the rest, some of whom grow in status over time and come to be recognised as ignored gems. While the song Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam had its share of popularity when it was first released in 1959, the movie it was from, Kaagaz Ke Phool, and its singer Geeta Dutt can be considered to be among those few that we can now think of as gems in retrospect, and were mostly ignored in their time.
There isn’t enough that can be said about SD Burman‘s talent as a music director. He brought to it an old-school class and memories of folk music and classical music, while also imparting it with a surprising modernity. What he also did on occasion was to sing his own songs for films, with a voice that sounded ancient and timeless and had a rustic tone than none of the professional singers he always had access to could possibly have brought to it. One such classic song with Burman’s voice and music is Mera saajan hai us paar from the 1963 film Bandini.
The girl at the window or the balcony is a classic romantic trope, probably tracing back to ancient theatre, lost in the mists of time. In Hindi cinema, with the majority of the audience living in an increasingly crowded urban environment, that quickly turned into lovers at windows in adjacent houses or apartments, forever separated by the insignificant but fathomless divide between buildings. Many a romantic tale, some serious, some light-hearted, have been woven across that gap over the decades. Being Indian cinema, inevitably, songs were sung across the abyss, and Aise to na dekho from the film Teen Devian is a wonderful example of the genre.
Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi is the first Hindi film I remember seeing in its entirety. I’m sure there were others before then, but this one made an impact as a film, something separate and different from all that other stuff on TV. That effect was in no small part because of the songs.
As an Indian kid, film songs are a reality that you are exposed to from the day you’re born, but watching Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi and seeing this, the first song in the film, flow in from the unfolding story, was when it all seemed to fall into place. At last, a film song made sense as something with a story behind it and a story in it, rather than as random music and lyrics on the radio.
Beyond my personal reasons for loving this song, however, it is a song worthy of being remembered and enjoyed. It was in many ways ahead of its time, or at least it captured a perfect intermingling with the story of the film, which Hindi film music as often lost and gained and lost again over the decades.