You could have knocked me down with a feather. But hang on – let me begin at the beginning. Among my earliest memories is of my mother humming this song. In a house full of singing sensations, or at least they thought themselves so, Amma was one of the lesser talents – and what was more she liked film music which was anathema to my paternal grandmother, that was at least until her younger son took to it and entertained all of us as only he could. But Amma could and probably can still hum O Bak Bak Bak Bakum Bakum Mada Pura quite well.
The song is from the award-winning film Annai (AVM 1962), which had P Bhanumathi in the title role, with Sower Janaki providing the second and no-less powerful character. I have seen sections of it. Azahgiya Mithilai Nagarinile (Azhagiya Mithilai) is a song about which I have written on this blog and I have asked identifying the various heritage buildings in it as a quiz question several times. Today much of Annai is quite ham-handed. But in its time it was a big, big hit. Not so its Hindi version Ladla, about which Randor Guy used to relate a hilarious but unprintable story. The relatable one of course is that the Hindi film was dubbed Dalda by most viewers.
The Song O Bak Bak Bak
There are some great songs in the film. P Bhanumathi (she appears rather alarmingly regularly in this blog I notice) sang Poovagi Kaayaagi which was probably the best song in the film. And then there is Azhagiya Mithilai (PBS/P Susheela), and Buddhiyulla Manitharellam (Chandrababu). But I simply love O Bak Bak Bak Bakum Bakum Mada Pura. The sprightly Sacchu, that unimpressive hero Haranath and his unconvincing twirling around of the Karlakattai, Chandrababu doing a completely unconnected but delectable dance, and of course the doves. There are many more aspects to delight in this scene – the old bungalow with its terrace in multiple levels, the neighbourhood which is full of stately mansions and then one angle in which you can see a multi-storied building under construction – an ominous indicator of things to come. I am told that is the RBI quarters though I don’t know which one. But the clip shows a Madras and a way of life that is long gone. You can see the song here – https://youtu.be/yoXveQSfvzs
O Bok Bok Bok – the original of O Bak Bak Bak
I had always assumed that this song was an absolute original though I often used to reflect on how ‘bak bak’ is a very Bengali expression – or to say it as we Bongs do – Bok Bok – Kano Bok Bok Korchish (why do you spout nonsense) is commonly heard in Calcutta. And sure enough, last Friday evening, a time of the week when my brain is usually done with work, I logged on to YouTube to listen to O Bak Bak Bak Bakum Bakum Mada Pura and what do I find but a Bengali version – O Bak Bak Bakum Bakum Payra sung by Sandhya Mukherjee. You could have knocked me down with a feather. An excellent audio recording can be heard here – https://youtu.be/5cSZCDubmHM
The Bengali Song
And that led me down a long and delightful search. The original, and let me refer to it as O Bok Bok as against O Bak Bak, was from the 1959 Bengali film Maya Mriga. And it transpires that this was the original for Annai itself. You could have knocked me down yet again. And O Bok Bok is a second by second original for O Bak Bak. There is no Chandrababu equivalent but the rest are all there. And there is an absolute dumb hero by way of Biswajit, just like we have an equivalent in Annai. And he is lifting weights the same way! The heroine stands and sings – the Bengali actresses rarely moved much unlike their South Indian dancing equivalents. You can see a bad print of the song here – https://youtu.be/zSsmHLxaxtY
Commonality of Lyric and Sentiment
The lyrics of the two songs by the way have the same import – exhorting the pigeons to fly away to the vast wide world and not seek comfort in a groove. It is amazing that the Tamil producers had taken the pains to have the Bengali original explained to them and got the lyricist (Kannadasan/Kothamangalam Subbu) to pen the equivalent. The music is completely different in the two songs though the tune is the same. The Tamil version has extensive orchestration and that is a complete original by R Sudarsanam. And of course, P Susheela brings a completely different texture to the song as compared to Sandhya Mukherjee. Both are excellent in their own way.
You can O Bak Bak or O Bok Bok depending on your choice. As we in Calcutta like to say often – Ki Nonsense Bolchen – Bok Bok is best translated as Nonsense too, something that pigeons keep doing all the time.
This article is a part of a series I write on old Tamil/Hind/Telugu and other film songs that take my fancy. You can read the rest here – https://sriramv.com/2018/02/23/musing-on-some-film-songs-1/
My book on Chennai can be bought from this link – https://sriramv.com/2021/12/27/how-to-buy-autographed-copies-of-chennai-a-biography-from-outstation/