Among my favourite categories of music, within the film song genre, the night club song usually ranks the highest. Ok, what are my other favourites? Here goes – classical dance numbers, the theatre scenes in a film (Pathanga had so many), romantic songs, and I usually have a great weakness for the nonsense chorus (you know the kind – haiyyahoo haiyya re haiyya or nakey mukhey chookali tongali ho tongali). I suspect one reason for my liking the club songs was of course that it gave me respite from the Lata perfection. I really need some more human voice to associate with. It is possibly why I have always preferred MLV over MS. The night club songs featured Shamshad Begum (oh that voice!!), Geeta Dutt and Asha Bhonsle. The Tamil equivalent would have been Jikki followed by LR Iswari but then, my favourite Tamil song is by P Susheela.

As for the women who acted on screen, some of were unforgettable. The early ones were I am told Begum Akhtar and Lalita Pawar (can you believe it?) in Hindi and of course in Tamil we did have Lalitha of the Travancore Sisters fame who was often the villi as vamps were known in Kodambakkam. Later we had Cuckoo, Nadira, Helen, Kumkum, Sashikala and others of the kind. In Tamil we have not had any regulars but I would any day vote Sowcar as the best, especially in Puthiya Paravai.

The heroines were always Sati Savitris while these were the bad ones who smoked, drank, and probably fornicated, in short had all the fun before they got shot and the hero married the boring heroine and went off into a life of eternal ennui. But some heroines have shown a flair for the role as well.

I am giving below some of my favourites –

  1. My list begins with Samshad Begum singing Ek Do Teen Aaja Mausam Hai Rangeen. This is from Awara (1951) and features Cuckoo. The setting is more of a gambling den than an elite club and of course we have KN Singh – the man who lifted one eyebrow and indicated a wealth of menace.
  2. My second is Asha Bhonsle, Manna De and chorus in Mud Mudke Na Dekh from Shri 420 (1955). It is not strictly a night club and is in fact a new year’s eve party at some top notch hotel. Raj Kapoor is there, but the scene is all Nadira’s
  3. Yet another Asha Bhonsle song, this from Howrah Bridge (1958) and which features Madhubala, the heroine who is enjoying being in a night club for a change. And there is KN Singh of course.
  4. The same movie has the immortal Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu by Geeta Dutt, sung for Helen. I just love the costume changes and the pace of the song.
  5. 1958 had yet another hit song of Geeta’s – Oh Babu Oh Lala, sung for Kumkum, in the movie Dilli Ka Thug. In my view Kumkum was the best dancer and what’s more, VAK Ranga Rao has it that Helen agreed to this assessment. According to her, Kumkum trained in the Bhagwan stable (he of Albela fame) and so had dance movements for every syllable of a song.
  6. Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi (1960) has Helen in just one song, but what a song – Itni Badi Mehfil Aur Ek Dil. It has Nadira seated and listening. A rather unique occurrence.
  7. Waqt (1964) has Agay Bhi Janey Na Thu featuring Erica Lal, a  one song wonder who clearly could not act. The song, by Asha, is an all time hit, and it has Sashikala in it.
  8. I am unable to come up with many Tamil songs that feature such scenes from the 1950s and 1960s. The later ones with Jayamalini etc I dismiss with a wave. Horrible. But then we did have Waheeda Rehman in Ali Babavum 40 Thirudargalum (1956). Of course it is a night club of sorts set in the 1001 nights.
  9. And lastly, P Suseela, who sang for so many heroines, cracked the code when it came to the best club song – Anru Partha Gnyabagam Illaiyo, from Puthiya Paravai (1964). Viswanathan Ramamurthy at their best, Kannadasan at his best, and Sowcar, as only Sowcar could have done it.
  10. This is really a post script, for I am adding it after the post went live. How could I have not included a Guru Dutt song? and so here it is, Tadbeer se bigdi hui from Baazi (1951), sung by Geeta Dutt and pictured on the one and only Geeta Bali, and sadly, that arch ham, Dev Anand.

Now let me sit back and read mails that begin with Oh but how could you have left out this song or that.

This article is part of a series I do on old film songs, chiefly Hindi and Tamil. You can read the earlier parts here

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