Old Hindi songs and the subtle Punjabi touch

Listen to old songs from Indian Hindi movies (now called Bollywood movies), you will notice two things:
1. A lot of songs are written in pure Urdu,
2. There is a clear influence of Punjabi language/wording on a lot of old Hindi (or Urdu) songs.
To understand this influence, you have look at the history of Indian Cinema in early 1900s. Before the Indian Partition in 1947, even though the movie production was concentrated in Bombay, north India was a prime spot for shooting the actual film scenes. Lahore and Delhi were commonly used for urban settings; the Kashmir valley and the Himalayan foothills were the key spots for natural scenery and natural beauty.
The political and religious unrest in Punjab in 1940s played into the Punjabi infusion into Hindi cinema. Many Lahore based actors, directors and singers moved to Bombay to avoid living amongst the riots and the social divisions. The likes of B.R. Chopra, Mohammed Rafi, Sahir Ludhianvi, Verma Malik… were impacted by the Punjab Partition and all of them made their name in Bombay film industry sooner or later. Pran, our favorite ‘Villain of the Millennium’, started in Lahore in Punjabi cinema in 19040, his first film was Yamla Jat. After acting in several movies in Lahore, he moved to Bombay after 1947 partition of India.
In early 1900s, Punjab was one of the most prosperous region of India and Punjabi actors were preferred for the lead/main roles because of their fair complexion and taller/stronger stature. Starting with Prithviraj Kapoor (Kapoor family), Rajesh Khanna, Sunil Dutt, Dharmendra… Punjabi dominance in Bombay film industry was very noticeable and they brought Punjabi culture with them. Even more is true about poets and song writers.
For example, if you listen to ‘Roti Kapda Aurr Makaan’ movie’s songs, there is a clear Punjabi influence. The song ‘Mehangai Maar Gayi’ starts with a mixture Urdu and Punjabi:
‘Usne kahaa tu kaun hain, maine kahaa ulfat teri
usne kahaa takta hai kya, maine kahaa surat teri
usne puchhaa chaahata hai kya, maine kahaa chaahat teri
maine kahaa samjhaa nahi, usne kahaa kismat teri…’

The ‘comic Punjabi’ effect probably adds to all this. The Punjabi comedy, the bhangra dance or a funny sardar in the mix… these are a part filmy comedy. A light-hearted dance number by a sardar can never go wrong, right? And this is not a new thing. The movie ‘Roti Kapada Aurr Makaan’ was not the first one to pioneer this. Take a look at 1956 Raj Kapoor Movie ‘Jagte Raho’; ‘Main Koi Jhoot Boleya’ sung by Mohammed Rafi is a prime example. You can never go wrong with a Sardar dancing. You can listen to only so many sad songs! 🙂

The Punjabi touch on old Hindi songs is everywhere, not just in a comic way. This goes beyond typical Punjabi dance songs. If you listen to the Hindi songs from old movies, you get a clear Punjabi tone and Punjabi feel in a lot of them. Some are more obvious than others, such as:
‘Yeh Desh Hai Veer Jawanon Ka’ – Mohammed Rafi in Naya Daur [1957]
‘Saathi Haath Badhana’ by Asha Bhosle and Mohammed Rafi in Naya Daur (1957)
‘Bindiya chamkegi’ by Lata in ‘Do Raaste'(1969)
‘Hai Sharmaaon’, by Lata in ‘Mera Gaon Mera Desh; (1971)
‘Ni Main Yaar Manana Ni’ by Lata in ‘Daag’ (1973)
‘Hai hai yeh majboori’ by Lata in ‘Roti Kapada Aur Makaan’ (1974)
And, so on…
There are hundreds and hundreds of old Hindi songs with clear Punjabi bias. This subtle Punjabi touch on old Hindi songs creates a very impressionable appeal. The natural Punjabi touch most likely comes from the poets who wrote in Urdu or were exposed to the Punjabi lifestyle. Sahir Ludhianvi, for example, wrote his poetry in Urdu and he grew up in Punjab. If you listen to his compositions in movie ‘Kabhi Kabhie’ you will know what I am talking about!

And, let us make sure that we do not confuse this subtle Punjabi influence with the Punjabi songs in Hindi movies. The typical Punjabi songs are purposely introduced in the movies, as a part of the storyline or the movie direction, such as:
‘Beshak Mandir Masjid Todo’ by Narendra Chanchal, film ‘Bobby’
‘Lambi Judai’ – by Reshama in ‘Hero’
‘Chithi Aayi Hai Aayi Hai’ in ‘Naam’ by Pankaj Udhas
‘Kaava Kaava (Aaj Mera Jee Karda)’ in ‘Monsoon Wedding’
These are songs sung by Punjabi singers in Hindi movies, this is something by plan. Don’t confuse this with subtle Punjabi influence on Hindi music, especially in old days.

This trend of introducing Punjabi numbers in Hindi movies is even more popular in new Bollywood films:
‘Sade Naal Rahoo Ge’ by ‘Daler Mehdi’ in ‘Mrityudaata’ (1997)
‘Mahi Mahi Mahi Mainu Challa’ by Sunidhi Chauhan in ‘Kismat'(2004)
‘Layi Ve Na Gaye’/’Teri Meri Yun Tut Gayi Soniye’ by Sukhwinder Singh in ‘Chalte Chalte’ (2003)
‘Nagara Baja’ and ‘Mauja Hi Mauja’ in ‘Jab We Met’ (2007)

The Punjabi influence on old hind songs is somewhat universal, apart of pure Punjabi songs. It is the Hindi/Urdu music that has a subtle Punjabi bias; it is present in Hindi music of 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Starting with late 1980s and early 1990s, the Punjabi influence on Hindi film music starts to die down. If you listen to the modern Bollywood music, the Punjabi (or even the Urdu) touch on typical Hindi movie songs is mostly faded away. That is probably because the Urdu and Punjabi poets of yesteryears have been replaced by the Pure Hindi lyrics writers.
Some recent composers have used Punjabi Sufi style in Hindi movies songs, but that is by design. You don’t see the same subtle Punjabi touch on Hindi movie songs in today’s Bollywood films, not anymore! A golden era of rich and distinct poetry style has quietly passed by; it has quietly been gulped by the changing times! And, nobody noticed!!

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