Songs of Sensuality

After about a month of the cold from hell, I thought I might as well jumpstart my blogging habit again with a bit of scandal. Well, it's at least scandal by degrees. Given the limitations set by censors and tradition, Indian song sequences have to work overtime on the metaphor front, and I'm not complaining. After all, who really needs explicit content when you can have the charm of the unseen ... the imagined ... and the forbidden? Inspired by Conversations Over Chai's great post on the same topic, here's my own list of classic Hindi and Bengali songs that explore sensuality, physical affection, and longing.

1. Udhar Tum Haseen Ho (Mr. and Mrs. '55, 1955)

This song marks the point in the film where Madhubala's character finally falls for her soon-to-be-divorced "husband" (Guru Dutt). I don't think Madhubala was ever more alluring than in this scene, in a dark, romantically cut skirt and upturned face, gliding along a balcony under the moon and heavy breeze. And Guru Dutt, casually walking in his rolled-up sleeves out from the shadows of the garden ... Well, it all screams "Gothic romance." (I suppose the de facto abduction supports this reading as well, but don't bother me with the facts.) Yet the overall effect is not of power struggles or helpless heroines or personal manipulation. It's just a hypnotic suspension of time and space and reason, the coming together of two souls who can finally see each other clearly in the moonlight.

2. Jodi Bhabo (Chaowa Paowa, 1959, w. English subs)

Possibly the most beautiful Bengali song I've ever heard, it plays a crucial role during this retelling of It Happened One Night. As you probably know, the haughty heiress has to face her own prejudices and her attraction to the working class reporter eventually, and in this version, it is the reporter's ability to shed his middle-class vulgarity and sing (what ho, a working man poet?!) a socially critical piece of poetry that does the trick. Unlike in Chori Chori's version of the tale (which papers over the classism), the heiress's painful shift from pride to shame to a sort of desperate attraction is documented in Suchitra Sen's face during this song. It's a beautiful knife to the heart.

3. Jhakhon Bhanglo Milan o Mela (Barnali, 1963 w. English subs)

Sharmila Tagore and Soumitro Chatterjee star as misfits thrown together for the day. She's a poor student, he's the listless heir of a rich family. He tries to delay her from the realization that her fiancee is currently getting married to someone else (i.e. someone richer) at his uncle's home, while she works through different stages of grief and anger and abandonment. Eventually, the two head to the harbor in Kolkata, and charter a small boat. She sings heartbreaking rabindra sangeet, and he tries to set his growing interest in her aside to let her mourn.

4. Song from Surjasikha (1963 w, English subs)

This song makes me laugh if I think about it too much. Uttam Kumar and Supriya Devi are a doctor and nurse, respectively, in a sexless marriage of convenience. Well, convenient for him, at least, as it serves the doctor's ascetic-inspired values of single-minded community service and that other value of yeah, let's have a clean house with a supper on the table. Nurse is way ahead of him, and has to play her cards right to turn her marriage around. In this song, Uttam spends the majority of the shots staring at Supriya with the most comical adolescent look on his face, like, "Hai Ram, you're a girl." Shabash, great diagnosis, doctor sahib. Notable: neither of the protagonists sings the song (it's on the radio), but rather do a sort of complicated dance of avoiding and staring and porch-traversing as they contemplate the straightforward message, "You're my beloved companion."

5. Haseena Dilruba (Roop Tera Mastana, 1972)

You really have to be on board with the Jeetendra factor to like this one, but hey, between 1969-73, no problem for me. And Mumtaz is stunning here; glowing and playful and masterfully coordinated with the decor. The song runs the gamut of funny (maybe unintentionally), sexy, and that peculiar 1970s idea of glamour ... you know, chiffon curtains everywhere, shaggy round floor rugs, fancy dressing gowns. It's notable for being a rare example of a positive female character getting married and consummating said marriage under false pretenses without any display of guilt, and the rather un-subtle climax of the scene, where the hero dives for the heroine's choli hooks with much determination. Good luck my friend ...

6. Aaj Rapat Jaye To (Namak Halal, 1982)

This script was really just an excuse to accommodate fabulous songs, and Aaj Rapat could fight Parveen Babi's golden death stage for the sexiest of the lot. The magic is helped along by brilliant choreography and controlled flooding, but you can't manufacture chemistry. Smita Patil often seems unapproachable to me in other films, but she's certainly obliging here, and I think gives Zeenat Aman a run for her usual title: Most Believable Enjoyment of Wet Sari. (I mean, it can't be that great, you guys.)

7. Kate Nahin Kat Te (Mr. India, 1987)

Not sure how I feel about Anil Kapoor starring in a song of sensuality, but lez be honest, Sridevi is almost a couple all to herself in this piece. By the end, she's so worked up she doesn't need much of anyone for a good time. Notable: Let's acknowledge the sheer genius in shooting an intimate scene where the naughtiness is definitely happening right before everyone's eyes, yet is still completely inaccessible to the censors.

Note on my choices: For the most part, I tried to pick sequences that were absent from other people's "sexiest thing evah" lists. Everyone has beaten the Anamika, Fakira, Kabhi Kabhie, Sharmilee, and Blackmail horses to death (which explains the dearth of 70s films on the list), so those were out. The songs above all involve potential couples, which removed songs of solo longing; eliminated the odd genre of domestic voyeurism songs, such as this one from Abhinetri, or this one from Manoranjan (which make me uncomfortable anyway, as my American horror film upbringing always tells me that someone is about to be murdered at the end of these songs); and also disqualified vamp seductions and item songs. I realize now that most of my picks either fall into the "unintentionally funny" or "finally emerges from long-held prejudice" categories, but that seems quite like life, so I won't mess with a good thing.

Let me know what funny or socially conscious sensual songs you would have picked in the comments!


  1. Thanks for the shout out. :)

    I loved your list - especially Aaj rapat jaaye (which made an appearance in my rainsongs list) and Kate nahin kat-the. Sri is awesome. :) She is incredibly shy, and very reserved in real life, so just seeing her metamorphise once the camera is turned on, is sheer magic. Someone (I forget who) once remarked that Sri made love to the camera. So, so true. It was like seeing a switch turn on.

    I agree with you about Madhubala in Idhar tum haseen ho. She lights up the screen, doesn't she?

    The Bengali songs were all new to me, so it was fun listening to them. Thank you for the introductions. :)

    I will come back with some of my choices from more recent films.

    1. Thank you, Anu. You're right about Sridevi/the screen as the perfect jodi. I have an inkling that she didn't need good onscreen pairings to drawn anyone in ... it's magic.

      The Bengali songs are all from good films, you should check them out! Chaowa Paowa is the easiest to appreciate and digest, I think ... that or Barnali (which seems like a story that would have done well in Malayalam cinema, too, FYI).

  2. I find that my idea of sensuality is all from the older films. :(
    This one, for instance, from Tarana.
    And how can I not have a Shammi song?
    I will, however, put in a plug for this one from the late 60s.
    I do like this one very much - the film was also very, very good.

    1. That original post of yours led me to a number of good films, and still has some of the songs I still consider most iconically sensual. So much so, that I'm a little annoyed at how many good ones you claimed ;) Dastak's sequence in the rained-in apartment, that scene from Bheegi Raat, and obviously Roop Tera Mastana are hauntingly suggestive. But you're right, when I think of sensual songs, it's so much easier to find things pre-70s. After that, a different adjective generally is in play. There's more things that are outright sexual or voyeuristic. Not to say that can't be good in it's way (after all, I love a good Zeenat Aman wet sari song that leaves almost nothing to the imagination), but it works so hard to tell you EXACTLY what is going on, that it loses the older charm factor.

      I'm glad you added that song from Tarana ... it almost ended up on my list, but I didn't want both my 50s songs to star Madhubala.

      I generally don't need a Shammi song, but that one was adorbs.

      I have yet to see Hey Ram ... maybe I should make that more of a priority.

    2. >>>>So much so, that I'm a little annoyed at how many good ones you claimed ;) >>>

      Heh heh.

      Do watch 'Hey Ram'. The Tamil version was better than even the Hindi one, and that's saying a lot. But if you're depending on sub-titles, then either one is fine. I want to review it one of these days, but I flinch from watching it again - it's a very demanding film.

  3. Hello. Miranda, I enjoyed the songs on both your list and Anu's lists (here and on the other blog). I guess if I were to post such a list, it would have more in common with Anu's lists, but that's partly because I know those songs better... I will have to look at some of yours again, especially the Bengali numbers.

    But in the meantime, here are a few that occurred to me:

    There is this from Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje. I think this is truly wonderful:

    The sensuality in this scene from Mirza Sahiban (1947) is very nice - especially for the sense called hearing - even if there is lurking danger. (And Miranda, you would not be far off in thinking that someone is about to be murdered...)

    Anu, I like your suggestion from Tarana. But I wonder if our knowledge about what went on behind the scenes also might influence our picks for this topic. Maybe that's partly why I am perceiving a special chemistry in this scene from Vidya:

    And, Miranda, I was trying to think of a Bengali number... I wonder if this one from Mukti (1935) might count... I think the dynamic between Kanan Devi and the guy here reveals some intimacy anyway, even if it is a bit offbeat and arty. :)

    1. Richard,

      Thank you for the additions. I have to say, the song from Vidya is adorable and I totally see what you're saying without actually knowing much about the behind the scenes gossip.

      I don't feel the vibe in Jhanak Jhanak, but that's probably because I'm not well versed in the the classical dancing styles, and the subtleties are lost on me.

      The Mukti one is quite cute. I think we could maybe add another category of "dressing other people" songs as a sly and sometimes sensual way of nodding to the reverse process!

    2. Richard, I think the song from Tarana would work even without our knowledge of the reel and real merging. It is stunningly erotic. That Dilip and Madhubala were in love during this film just happens to gild that lily.

      It's the same effect that I get with Dum bhar jo idhar munh phere. Particularly the scene before the song where she smiles and tells him 'Doob jaane do'. Ah. If only film-makes knew how to portray eroticism today!

  4. Talking about Shammi songs (sorry Miranda!) , the same movie mentioned in the comment, Rajkumar, had another song which *sounds* more sensual than the visual depiction

  5. Thanks for bringing to light some songs off the beaten track on this topic. I particularly liked the Mumtaz-Jeetendra one from 'Roop tera mastana' which I hadn't come across before.

    A few favorite ones of mine relate to longing, all from the leading man's perspective. And are not much known of given said leading man :-)

    The first is an unusual one in that it is 'after the fact' where the man begs the woman to stay 'aur kuch der theher'.

    The second 'Yeh raat hai pyasi pyasi' is self-explanatory.

    The third 'Saath mein pyara saathi ho' has a twist!

    1. "Yeh raat hai pyaasi pyaasi" is self explanatory ... Suhan, that cracked me up. I enjoyed your list, and then completely forgot to respond! P.S., is Dil Daulat Duniya (what a title...) worth seeing? Btw, have you seen the profile of Akhri Khat on scroll-in recently?

  6. Hi Miranda! Good to see you active again :-) Hope all's well?

    Memsaab's written on 'Dil Daulat Duniya'. That could nudge you into watching? I rather love a young, non tragic Rajesh though it really is all about Ashok Kumar and Om Prakash. I did read the 'Aakhri Khat' piece, thanks. I think though that most of these people cannibalize from Greta's site! And I do have a beef with Chintamani's incredibly lazy book on Kaka.

    1. It's been a long time since I've read anything that wasn't, well, from you or Memsaab, that was new on Rajesh. People are so awkward when they talk about him--either they sound completely clinical and call it the "phenomenon" or sound completely ashamed of themselves (as if India had a collective adolescent crush), or they are just fanatics. There are plenty of other stars who have risen and fallen in the public's estimations very quickly, without generating the same rigidity of analysis. Scroll-in has cannibalized photos from my site before, lol ... it's annoying to have your content just repackaged without your consent.

      My best friend and my brother got married in the last two months, and I went to South Africa, so life has been slightly crazy. But I've got a lot of books and films that I've seen that I plan to write about. I'm in a Hindi film desert at the moment, tho. I probably need to commit to a classic with wine to break the slump.


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