“La vie en rose” was the signature song of French singer Édith Piaf. La vie en rose literally means, “Life in Pink”, but the meaning is ‘Life in happy hues’ or ‘Life Through Rose-Colored Glasses’.
The song was written by Edith herself, with music by Louis Guglielmi (known as Louiguy), a Spanish-born French musician of Italian extraction. Piaf’s songwriting team did not think the song would be successful, finding it weaker than the rest of her repertoire. So Piaf offered it to another singer/musician, Marianne Michel, to record. Michel modified the lyrics (changing “les choses” or “things” for “la vie” or “life”) and released a version of the song in 1945. Piaf performed the song live in a concert for the first time in 1946, and recorded it as a single through Columbia House in 1947. It became a favorite with audiences in the aftermath of World War II, since most war-wary listeners were ready to view their lives through “rose-colored glasses”.
As an aside, Piaf’s war-time affiliations make for interesting reading, looking almost like a film script. She had fans among the occupying forces. German soldiers attended her cabaret shows, and officers requested that she play at exclusive gatherings. For these and other reasons, some deemed Piaf’s relationship with the Nazi occupiers as too close. And yet, it might have been this very closeness that allowed her to assist in an audacious scheme by the French Resistance to help free prisoners of war being held at Stalag III-D, a camp just outside of Berlin. Piaf played at Stalag III-D twice. On her first visit, she somehow talked the camp commander into posing for photographs with her and all of the POWs. The photos were then cropped and used to create false credentials identifying the captives as free French workers living in Germany. When Piaf returned to Stalag III-D for a second performance, the new identities were secretly distributed to the POWs!
Getting back to “La vie en rose”, the song was a massive success, selling a million copies in its original version by Piaf.
The song has spawned countless cover versions and adaptations.
Here is Louis Armstrong’s version:
And Bing Crosby’s English version that Piaf herself first sang:
And here’s Jamaican singer Grace Jones’ bossa nova variant of the same original song:
As for the Indian connection, there are 2 instances… rather 3, if you count a composer’s dual versions for the same film!
The first Indian inspiration of the song is outstanding given how well the source material has been utilized and presented in a completely different and unique Indian format. That level of finesse is possible in the mind only one Indian composer – R.D.Burman!
Pancham used the original to create “Kahin na jaa” for the 1983 Hindi film Bade Dilwala. Listen to the original closely again before listening to this Hindi version. You’d find traces of the original’s flow after careful listening since Pancham has worked on the tune considerably well. This is a masterful adaptation, something so good that it is diminished only by the fact that it is done without seeking permission from the original’s owners.
The 2nd Indian version of the song is a lot more direct. It is by Anu Malik, for the 2000 film Hum To Mohabbat Karega. Anu had composed 2 versions of his own song, possibly besotted with the original. The first version was, “Yeh Khushi Ki Mehfil”, sung by Kumar Sanu and Alka Yagnik, while the second version, “Churalo Dil” was sung by Anu Malik himself along with Shradha Pandit.
Both versions use the original’s tune almost as is to build the entirety of the mukhda.