Baradwaj Rangan’s Love Song List: Ten from the heart

In which I use a hi-tech method (okay, not so much) to come up with a list of love songs for Valentine’s Day.
Baradwaj Rangan’s Love Song List: Ten from the heart

Being asked to make a list (of songs, of films) for an occasion is one of the more nerve-wracking aspects of pop-culture writing. How do you pick a finite (yet somehow representative) set? Do you go with popular choices and risk eye-rolls from "connoisseurs"? Do you select obscure songs and scare away the regular folks? Do you get "logical" about it, say, with a "decade-wise" compilation? Instead, I felt, why not get all digital about it (given that you are reading this on a digital platform), and let YouTube dictate my list? After all, Big Brother does keep his electronic eye on every music video I've clicked on in the past, and he does keep nudging me towards recommendations along those lines. Why not bring that element of algorithmic calculation into a random exercise like this one? In that spirit, I plunged in, clicking on a song, and then clicking on something YouTube recommended on the sidebar, and wash, rinse, repeat. This is what I ended up with.

  1. Tum jo mil gaye ho (Hanste Zakhm, 1973):  An uncharacteristic (though characteristically brilliant) Madan Mohan composition, with languorous, bluesy beginnings and a hysterical closing section (see-sawing violins, bongos going crazy) more apt for a Bachchan-era car chase. Mohammad Rafi grounds this apparent bipolarity with his phrasing. The opening lines go: Now that I've got you, it's like I've got the world. The word "jahaan" is elongated, held over several beats – it suggests the expanse of the world, which, here, is really the expanse of love.

2. Kitne bhi tu kar le sitam (Sanam Teri Kasam, 1982): There's a rambunctious Kishore Kumar version of this RD Burman hit, but in the hands of Asha Bhosle, the song turns into a sensuous plea for forgiveness. (Let's just skip the obnoxious opening lines, shall we? However much you ill-treat me, I'll bear it all smilingly. Whatever!) I love everything about this song. I love the insistent synth, the percussive equivalent of a spoilt child clamouring for attention. I love the surprising ascent to a high note in "yeh pyaar na hoga kam." I love Asha's silken caress of the words "sanammmmm teri kasam," which sounds like the most heavenly chocolate dissolving on the tongue. That's a lot like love, no?

3. Jalte hain jiske liye (Sujata, 1959): SD Burman and Talat Mahmood conjure up a long-distance serenade for the ages, but it's really about Majrooh Sultanpuri's lyrics. Just a little earlier, we've seen Adhir (Sunil Dutt) hum a tune to Sujata (Nutan), but when she asks him to sing, he says not yet. He still has to find the words. Soon, he does, and over a telephone line, he gives Sujata the song she wanted: the song her eyes burned bright for, the song that stayed in his heart like an ache, the song that's now settling in her eyes like magic, the song that he implores her to safeguard in her heart lest it slip away, the song that's more fragile than glass, the song that will wander around her tresses aimlessly unless it touches her lips… It's as much a love song as about love for song.

4. Channa mereya (Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, 2016): Another love song made as much by the composer (Pritam) as by the wordsmith, Amitabh Bhattacharya. This is the essence: You may be marrying someone else, but I'll always remain with you, my deeds locked up in the boxes of your heart, the taste of my name on your tongue, and my heart's desires near your pillow. These vaguely stalkery feelings transcend to the realm of #lovegoals, thanks to Arijit Singh, whose pain-soaked voice hurtles across the octaves like an untethered astronaut, which is the situation the film's shattered protagonist finds himself in.

5. Tum mere main teri (Navrang, 1959): C Ramchandra tunes this love song like a lullaby, and for good reason: the protagonist, a poet, awaits news of the birth of his first child. But there's another possible reading, and it rises from this poet's character. He's frustrated by his prosaic, conservative wife, and he transforms her, in his dreams, to a muse who cooks, cleans, fans him while he eats (see the song Shyamal shyamal baran), sings and dances for him (Kaari kaari andhiyari thi raat), romances him, and, here, says she just wants to lie at his lotus feet. Indefensible politically, but completely understandable as a certain kind of male fantasy belonging to a certain time when men were just big, spoilt babies. Hence this exquisite love song/lullaby, half-sung-half-whispered by Asha Bhosle and sweetened by a plethora of string instruments.

6. Do dil toote (Heer Ranjha, 1970): One of the numerous jewels from the Lata Mangeshkar-Madan Mohan treasure chest, this heart-wrenching ballad is Hindi cinema's haunting riposte to Auden's Funeral Blues. The poet laments love's loss by ordering everything to cease. Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone… Silence the pianos… Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun… Heer is similarly inconsolable. How will it rain again / How can there be swings in the gardens anymore / No longer will the mustard flower bloom / No longer will henna redden my feet / No more will the moon and stars rise. The song ends with a curse: You will writhe with me. But before that comes the accusation: Pyar tumhara dekha… Lata's voice rises, as only hers could, and despite her earthly moorings, the effect is like Zeus hurling a thunderbolt. Every time I listen to it, the song leaves a scar.

7. Hue hain tumpe aashiq hum (Mere Sanam, 1965): Some might argue – perhaps rightly – that Pukaarta chala hoon main, from the same film, is the better love song, with Rafi doing that thing he does, finding the human approximation for incense wafting from a joss stick. (It's as much music as meditation; play the same tune over lyrics for a bhajan, and it wouldn't sound out of place). But Hue hain is just pure joy, stuffed with high-pitched flute trills and qawwali claps and the reminder that life would be so dull without heroes in boats belting out bouncy OP Nayyar songs that seem to have been composed not so much in a studio as on a trampoline.

8. Paas nahin aana (Aap Ki Kasam, 1974): Maybe not the greatest song in terms of musical composition per se (though I love the way the tune turns at aaj mohabbat bandh hai), but it's such fun listening to a horny husband plead with his wife for some, you know, action. (They're newlyweds. The doctor has advised a bit of abstinence on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday, which is when this situation unfolds.) A playful Lata and Kishore, um, rise to the occasion, but the reason I keep returning to this song is the Rajesh Khanna-Mumtaz pairing, who've always vibed wonderfully off one another.  She looks like a pink macaroon and he looks like he'd do anything for a bite.

9. Tere bina zindgai se koi (Aandhi, 1975): Amidst the ruins of the Martand Sun Temple in Kashmir, a long-separated couple ruminate over the ruins of their marriage. Gulzar sums up their feelings thus: I have no complaints about the life I lead without you, but then, without you, life isn't much of a life either. Time heals, sure, but it doesn't take much for the old what-ifs to make their presence felt again, and that's the wistfulness  RD Burman imbues this number with. Lata begins the song. It appears to be the woman's song, about her regrets, but just as we begin to wonder if this is another instance of a power-hungry wife being made to feel bad for the breakup of a marriage, Kishore steps in and we get the man's feelings, which run even deeper. You have so much power, why don't you stop the night in its tracks? Is he mocking her? No. Because, as the next line suggests, he's in pain too. As he says, they're old, there isn't much time left. The slow tempo makes sense now. He doesn't want the night to end. We don't want the song to end either.

10. Aaja re aa zara (Love in Tokyo, 1966): I realise there's been a fair bit of doom and gloom in this list, so I kept clicking till I got a pick-me-up and landed on this Shankar-Jaikishan beauty. The number opens with casual-seeming piano runs, a casual-seeming guitar –all very cool and sophisticated and befitting the club setting. And then, we sit up. A wash of high-pitched violins ups the romantic stakes, and Rafi steps in. I'm not so crazy about the spoken words he begins with, but the minute he begins to sing, he soars. Aaja re aa zara! The sentiment could be sung in a number of ways. Like a command. ("Hey, you, come here!") Like a dance-floor request. ("Hi there, come be with me awhile.") Rafi makes it sound like: "I'm burning up with love, and you're the only cure, so please come to me and make me well again." He makes us see why so many of today's love songs seem so anaemic. There's no swoon anymore.

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