Someday I hope to make it to Lahore. Once there, before I go to visit the Red Fort, the Badshahi Mosque, the tombs of Jahangir and Nurjahan, and Aitchison College, I will go to Anarkali Bazaar and see the tomb of Anarkali. It is one of the most fascinating legends of Mughal history. Though probably without much historical basis, it is entirely believable, for the Mughals, as in all kings of Indian and world history, were capable of the most barbaric cruelty.

I saw Filmistan’s Anarkali (1953) sometime in the 1980s, in a theatre in Calcutta. Was it Bina or Basusree I wonder. I had heard the songs of this film so many times at my uncle’s place that I knew most of them by heart. What music by C Ramchandra and such lovely lyrics by Rajendra Kishan. And all sung so beautifully by Lata Mangeshkar mainly, with Hemant Kumar joining in in one duet and singing one solo, and Geeta Dutt having a song to herself. Interestingly both Geeta and Lata sang for the same person on screen – Bina Rai,and the audience of the 1950s apparently did not mind. Geeta’s song was very good but then, Lata, who is not my favourite, is Lata – she excels.

My favourite was Jaag Dard-e-Ishq, sung so beautifully by Lata and Hemant Kumar. The scene is so beautifully composed and the song, set to such lovely Bhageshri! If at all there are any disappointments, they are Bina Rai and Pradeep Kumar.The latter was a zombie who made it through countless films. In later years, he was the perennial-dressing-gowned-and-pipe-smoking-rich-father-who-hates-the-penniless-suitor. Someone, maybe Devyani Choubal, wrote that he had played the king and rich man in so many films that if he ever played a beggar, you would think he was a king in disguise, out to snoop on his subjects. As for Bina Rai, I was so keyed up to see the second-most beautiful face of Hindi cinema (that was how she was referred to, the first being Madhubala) and yet came away disappointed, chiefly because of her poor acting talent. She had a habit of drooping perennially and you can see that in plenty in Jaag Dard-e-Ishq. Old Mubarak was fabulous as Akbar and as for Sulochana (Ruby Myers) who played Jodha Bai, she was just as if you had asked your Anglo-Indian telephone operator to step in to play the queen in an office play. The same intonation of Hellooo, Bristol & Cobalt Limited, Good Morning!

Anarkali had fabulous songs and the film was fast-paced for its time and if you forgave the studio bulb officiating for a full moon etc, you really liked the movie, Pradeep Kumar and Bina Rai notwithstanding. Far grander and less impactful was Mughal-e-Azam chiefly because of its twisted ending.

But of late, I have come to harbour great curiosity about the Tamil/Telugu Anarkali, made in 1955 by P Adinarayana Rao, starring Anjali Devi, A Nageswara Rao, SV Ranga Rao (Akbar) and Kannamba (who else, as Jodha Bai). I should have said Telugu/Tamil Anarkali, for it was made in Telugu and dubbed for Tamil. I have seen most of the songs on Youtube and I think the film is a straight lift from the 1953 Hindi one. Jeevitame Saphalamu (Jikki) is a very faithful copy of Yeh Zindagi Usi Ki Hai (Lata). The great wonder is Rajasekara – what a song!!!!!! I first saw it in a Malarum Ninivugal programme featuring Jikki, in old Doordarshan,and the song has remained with me. I keep going back to listen to it.

Firstly, Anjali Devi brings an energy that old Bina Rai, with her chronic fatigue syndrome, lacks. Secondly, Ghantasala in place of Hemant Kumar is full of life. That deep voice in place of Hemant’s rather anaemic intonation…and of course Lata, while being excellent, has a tendency to drain all emotion out of any song. Jikki just out sings Lata. There is one point where she sings Vega Ra Ra (Anbe Vaa Vaa in Tamil), ayyo, what Shringaaram in that one line! And of course anybody can act better than Pradeep Kumar.

Unlike many songs I feature in this column, Rajasekara has a tune quite different from Jaag Dard-e-Ishq. Music was by Adinarayana Rao. The lyrics in Tamil were by Thanjai Ramiah Das and in Telugu by Samudrala Raghavacharya. Do see Rajasekara and form your own opinions.

This article is part of a series I write on old film songs, chiefly in Tamil and Hindi.The earlier ones can read here.