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.
Ek ladki bheegi bhagi si starts with a very clear setting and story behind it, in a wonderfully dramatic auto-garage at night, and while the actors go about their scenes during the song, the plot is also moved forward. Quite an achievement for a song that’s less than 4 minutes long, tiny by later Hindi film standards.
Then there is the visual beauty. Beyond the obvious charms of Madhubala and the effervescent on-screen antics of Kishore Kumar, this song is quite beautifully photographed. There’s the classic 3-point lighting to etch the actors against the dark backgrounds, and there’s a great attention to detail, like the actors still being visibly wet from the rain they’ve both just pushed a car through. While Mabhubala floats magically across the set, framed perfectly in car windows, and Kishore Kumar acts in ways that would have been completely un-hero-like and completely entertaining in any era, it actually seems like he knows what he’s doing and is in fact fixing a car. In today’s world of perfectly manicured protagonists who are involved in undefined ‘business’ or ‘IT’, this seems like lost magic.
Above all else, Ek ladki bheegi bhagi si is a good song. Not just melodious and funny and kind on the ears, but truly good. As if not satisfied with regaling us with visuals, Kishore Kumar is even more playful with his voice, and SD Burman‘s music is deceptively simple, while still leaving me little details to discover layered into the song every time I hear it, even after all these decades. The song is over quickly, but in that short span it manages to surprise you with it’s alternating changes of pace from slow and mischievous, to a double-beat dash into the next stanza.
As the song says:
Tan bheega hai sar geela hai
Uska koi pench bhi dheela hai
She’s soaking wet from head to toe
And also out of her mind
So it seemed like a fitting first step into the often mad world of Hindi film songs and Indian music.