Raj Kapoor is most often remembered for working on and in his sometimes lavish, opus-like home productions, but he did plenty of other films in his time, like any other star at the prime of their career. Laga chunari mein daag is a song from Dil hi to hai, one such movie, released in 1963. It is not often associated with Raj Kapoor, perhaps because he is wearing a sort of joke beard throughout the song, quite contrary to his regular image, or perhaps it is because not much attention is paid to what is going on screen as compared to the absolute magic wrought upon the listener by Manna Dey with his singing.
Dil hi to hai is not a film I’ve seen, as far as I remember, but it appears to be your standard romantic masala movie, with a good dose of drama and comedy. Part of the comedy is supplied by Raj Kapoor, a young and talented singer, play-acting as an older experienced maestro within the plot of the film. Probably for practical benefits, romantic benefits, or both. As his bearded older alter ego, he sings this song to show off his prowess. The whole things is done with tongue firmly in cheek, fake beard on face, and plenty of over the top classical singing, which is all perfectly valid and serious, made comedic by the context.
Raj Kapoor is sufficiently camp on screen, overdoing his role as old classical singer to the hilt. It’s very interesting to see a foreshadowing of many similar stunts his brother Shammi Kapoor would pull on screen when he began acting years later. And their resemblance to each other with the fake beard is quite clear. The classical dancer on stage is Padmini Priyadarshini a dancer from the South of India who did a few films there as well, around the same years as this one. She is energetic and theatrical in the typically classical-dance way, although she strains to bring grace to the very energetic vocal performance and orchestration of the song.
The song ultimately belongs whole and soul to Manna Dey. There is a reason he remains possibly the most talented and versatile singer to ever grace Hindi cinema. This song is part of the reason. The sheer flexibility of it all, without ever losing a cue, and also making it mildly comedic is something no one else could pull of with such maturity. The appropriately traditional music by Roshan supports him well, while the lyrics by Sahir Ludhyanivi are sublime in their classical tongue and their profound poetry. Such bizarrely philosophical lines as:
Kori chunariya aatma mori
Maiil hai maaya jaal
The clean veil is my immortal soul
The dirt on it, the illusion of being
… flow in and out of the song with ease, weaving in with more earthly concerns. And Manna Dey sings it all with an ease and finesse that is truly one of the great performances of Hindi film music.