Most Hindi movie songs are love songs. There’s no escaping it. Even a dark and gritty gangster movie finds a place for someone crooning the word pyaar or mohobbat soulfully. This really isn’t news to anyone; most pop songs (and Hindi movie songs are popular songs) everywhere are about love. And there’s a great many of them that will be featured on this very site every Sunday.
But every so often comes a song that is a little different. 1968 may be four decades ago, but even today Jyoti Swaroop’s Padosan is an odd beast. A screwball comedy with a romance at its crux, the film eschews all the traditional tropes of Hindi romcoms in favour of… er, musical fights?
Country bumpkin Bhola (Sunil Dutt) moves to the city, and quickly falls for his next-door neighbour Bindu (Saira Banu). She takes music lessons from Master Pillai (Mehmood), who also has the hots for her. Bhola thinks he can impress her by singing, but alas his voice is about as melodic as a braying donkey. Enter his roommates, led by Vidyapathi (Kishore Kumar), who acts as the voice of Bhola as while the latter lip-synchs.
Things come to a head in the song Ek chatur naar, today’s Song on Sunday, where Bhola & co. attempt to hijack Master Pillai’s afternoon music lesson through song and song alone.
There’s many reasons why Ek chatur naar is one of Hindi cinema’s most memorable songs, but probably chief among them is, simply, that it’s funny. From the broad slapstick to the insult-trading lyrics (lyrics by Rajendra Krishan), it’s a treat to watch what starts off as a dry classical song go off the rails. And the cast certainly sells it, which is kind of a given with Mehmood and Kishore Kumar involved, but it’s nice to see that both Sunil Dutt and Saira Banu have their comic timing right.
And the music itself, by R.D. Burman never drops its quality in the name of comedy. Ek chatur naar is still a good tune, one that you might find yourself humming bits of long after. It’s certainly ingrained in the minds of film fans even now, and once you get going it’s hard not to play the whole tune out in your head or in a group, every last comedic barb and piece of dialogue. While Mehmood speaks his dialogue (in a sumptuously camp South Indian accent), the singing is handed over to Manna Dey, possibly the only man — in my opinion, anyway — who could match Kishore Kumar.
And speaking of Kishore Kumar, his entire role in this is a bundle of meta jokes. There’s the fact that Kishore Kumar, renowned singer & actor who had and would continue to be the singing voice of countless movie heroes, was here doing exactly that for Sunil Dutt, only sitting behind his back. That by 1968 he was no longer the main lead in most movies, but was passing the mantle to people like Dutt. That taking a dusty classical songs and contorting it into something fresh, rude and funny was the kind of shenanigans he and R.D. Burman’s dad built their careers on.
Ek chatur naar itself, while seemingly a chimera of styles, is still essentially a jugal-bandi, a very traditional style of song for two ‘opposing’ singers. They reinvented it while still keeping it within a musical tradition.
And that is why it’s worth a hundred other love songs.
Watch the full movie!
Rajshri have kindly put up the entire Padosan on youtube for you to watch, for free. It’s certainly of its time & place, but is well worth a watch (see it on youtube’s site and press the CC button for English subtitles.)
A Song on Sunday is our new weekly feature, in which we cast our eyes and ears on songs from Indian films. Arguably, songs are some of the most important parts of Indian cinema, their most identifiable unique trait, and we wanted to give them the attention they deserve. Good songs, bad songs, strange songs, significant songs — but each and every one of them, memorable songs.