Ajeeb daastaan hai yeh

Songs stick in our memory and become important to us for various reasons, often coloured by our associations with them, rather than the songs themselves. In my case, there are a whole range of old Hindi songs that have childhood memories for me, to do with when I first heard them or how. from the 1960 film Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai is one of these songs. Not only is the song itself about memories and how things have changed in some ways, but to me the song will always be associated with memories of my Mother singing it, either to herself, which she did often, or on stage on quite a few occasions.

Considering I’ve heard this song on and off through most of my life, it is strange that it was only recently that I finally saw the film picturisation of it. This first visual introduction to a Hindi film song you’ve been hearing for a long time can often be a jarring experience. You will find some of the strangest videos for some of the most exquisite songs and vice-versa. With this song, however, it was a pleasant discovery rather than a shock.

Starring Meena Kumari, Raaj Kumar and Nadira, the whole thing is set on a decorated boat floating down, what I assume are, some backwaters. It looks like a wedding party, with girls on guitars providing the on-screen accompaniment. All very idyllic, but Meena Kumari sings this song to the happy couple, steeped in more than a little melancholy. The setup would have been shot on a set with an indoor tank, I’m guessing, and I imagine the shoot itself would have been either extremely interesting or harrowing, all those hours going around in circles in a boat pretending to be happy and sad. In spite of its unusual setting, most of this song focuses on the actor’s faces in close up, and they do admirably at displaying varied and changing emotions as the song progresses.

The music by RD Burman is his usual brand of eclectic and upbeat. The lazy guitar riff that starts the song and forms a strong spine throughout gives this song an almost South Pacific feel, which fits with the mood of the song and the visuals. There is also an excellent use of the accordion and also of a chorus of ethereal sounding women. In spite of all that beautiful instrumentation, ultimately hinges on the voice of Lata Mangeshkar’s, who was at her prime at this time, and remains one of those songs that can as effectively be presented without the instrumental accompaniment. That’s quite a rare achievement. The ever dependable Majrooh Sultanpuri brings the right amount of romantic gravity to the lyrics, to balance the happy music with verses such as:

Mubaarakein tumhe ke tum
Kisi ke noor ho gaye
Kisi ke itne paas ho
Ke sab se door ho gaye


Congratulations to you are due
For into their life a light you’ve lifted
So close have you grown to them
That away from us all you’ve drifted

My memories of it notwithstanding, remains one of those truly timeless songs that ages extremely well, and will continue to do so in years to some. It is a wonderful piece of simple aural beauty.

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