Harjap Singh Aujla

South Asia Post - June 30, 2007

I am experiencing mixed feelings of immense pleasure and deep sadness in compiling this article. The pleasure is born out of the satisfaction that I am experiencing the nostalgia of a treasure of unparalleled Punjabi music that once flowed from the God given vocal chords of Lata Mangeshkar. The sorrow is due to the Punjabi nature of callous indifference that leads to virtual extinction of this kind of treasure trove. To me writing of this article amounts to salvaging of some of the treasures buried under deep seas after the sinking of Titanic. As I dig deep into what Lata Mangeshkar has sung in Punjabi in her younger years (1948 to 1950), I wonder at these marvels in Punjabi language. She is simply the most brilliant singer that India has produced during the twentieth century. Her voice is most feminine that can be imagined and her effortless modulation and range of notes from the highest to the lowest, do amaze the top notch critics of music.  

All of us have heard her best in Hindi/Urdu films, but most of us have missed out on what gems she has given us in Punjabi films. She sang in only half a dozen Punjabi films dating way back from 1948 to 1950 and 1953-54. She, in all created about two dozen songs, but she gave us superb melodies that may never be replicated. In her songs, she appears to have mastered the sweet Lahori Punjabi.  

In my childhood I had heard the best of Lata Mangeshkar in Punjabi films, thanks to All India Radio Jalandhar-Amritsar and Radio Pakistan Lahore. But the irony is that All India Radio has lost, perhaps for ever, its best film music in Punjabi and Radio Pakistan has banned playing of Indian Music, also perhaps for ever. For the historians and connoisseurs of Punjabi music, this tragedy is unforgettable. 

This story starts with the independence of India and the destruction of Punjab. Overnight hundreds of thousands of people were given marching orders, against their will, to go to new unknown abodes. One such person was music director Vinod, a Christian by faith. He moved from Lahore to Amritsar and then to the film city of Bombay. He had obtained lessons in composing film music from Late Pandit Amar Nath, had studied to the music of Master Inayat Hussain and learnt as to how Ghulam Haider was composing the preludes and interludes for his tunes. Vinod loved Lahore, its narrow lanes and its Central Punjabi culture, he did not want to leave this city, but the reality of communal frenzy frightened him into packing up. He never felt at home in Bombay and his yearning for the bazars and folks of Lahore was never subsiding. His deep sense of sadness found a unique expression in the most memorable Punjabi film music that he composed. 

Music Director Vinod’s first super-hit Punjabi film venture happened to be a movie called “Chaman” (1948). In “Chaman” Pushpa Hans sang a soulful song “Saari raat tera takni haan raah, haye tarian ton puchh chann wey”. Even Shamshad Begum sang some very nice songs for this film, but the climax was the two songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar. It is an important piece of information for the historians of Punjabi film music that one of the earliest songs that Lata Mangeshkar sang was a Punjabi song for film “Chaman”. The lyrics of the song are “Galliyan-ch firdey dhola, nikke nikke baal veh, balan kolon puchhni haan, channa tera haal veh”. This song was composed in a very slow beat in “Raaga Piloo” mixed perhaps with “Jaijaiwanti”. The tune is very sad and Lata’s highly emotional rendering is even sadder. This song, written by Aziz Kashmiri, is a beauty. If we compare the finesse, this song puts Lata’s first ever Hindi song “Dil mera torah, ho mujhe kisi ka na chhorha tere pyaar ne, hay terte pyaar ne” sung for film “Majboor” composed by Master Ghulam Haider to shame. This is a landmark Punjabi song. The secong Lata Mangeshkar song from the same film is “Raahe raahe jandiya, akhiyan milandiya, akhiyan chura ken a jaah, dhola veh, akhiyan chura ken a ja”. This is a variation of a Punjabi folk tune “Dhola”. These songs can easily match the appeal of music director Shyam Sunder’s landmark songs composed for Hindi film “Bazaar” also made in1948. This films lyrics were composed by Aziz Kashmiri, another Lahore based poet, who also migrated to Bombay. Aziz wrote in earthy Punjabi better than most others. If anyone can find these songs with a collector or someone who does not know their real worth, he will be stepping on a rare treasure. No amount is too much for these records. 

Film “Lachhi” was shot in 1949. Its  music was composed by the Late Master Hans Raj Behl. The lyrics were penned by Mulkh Raj Bhakhti, another import from Lahore. Lachhi was a big hit. Its landmark song is “Naale lammi te naale kaali, haye weh channan, raat judaiyan waali” sung by Lata Mangeshkar. Other songs sung by Lata include “Do milde haaye dilan noon, bedard zamana door kare, haaye vichhran te majboor kare” and “Haarha veh channan, yaad saannoon teri awe”. Lata mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi had sung some very memorable Hindi songs for music director Shyam Sunder in film “Bazaar”, but the film “Lachhi”duet (Lata & Rafi) with lyrics “Kaali Kanghi naal kale waal payi vaahunia, aa mil dhol jaania” is no less than the “Bazaar” masterpieces. Some of the songs of film “Lachhi” are still available in some of the music shops in India. 

Vinod composed the music for a super-hit Hindi/Urdu film “Ek Thi Ladki”, in which a Lahori Punjabi girl Meena became very popular as the heroine. A Punjabi folk based song “Laara lappa laara lappa laayi rakhda, addi tappa adi tappa layi rakhda” based on a folk tune of song “Jutti meri jandi e pahariye de naal, paula mera janda e musafire de naal”. Lara lappa song was sung by Lata Mangeshkar and became a big hit. Soon afterwards Vinod composed the music for a Punjabi film “Bhaiyaji” in 1950 with five Lata songs. Its best emotional song “Jhil mil tariya jah Akhiyan na maar veh, ajj saada mahi naal tutt gaya pyar veh” was very brilliantly sung by Lata Mangeshkar. Shanker Jaikishan, who started music direction with Raj Kappor - Nargis starrer film “Barsaat” (1949), attempted to give Punjabi style music. Initially they composed a music which was similar to that of Pandit Husnalal Bhagatram, but by the time they composed music for Dilip Kumar – Nimmi starrer film “Daag” (1952), they had a new model before them and it was Vinod’s film “Bhayiaji” song “Jhil mil taariya jah akhiyan na maar veh”. This pattern they used for the Lata superhit song “Kahe ko der lagayi re, aye na ab tak baalma”. Vinod’s other songs for the film “Bhaiyaji” including a Lata – Rafi duet “Chal aa bagan wich nachiye ni, ki badliyan chha gayiyan” also became hit. 

Sardar Davinder Singh, a highly dedicated Programme Incharge of Punjabi Programmes at All India Radio Delhi, who died a few years back told me a very interesting story. This story of historic significance unfolds as follows: 

One day in late sixties, Davinder Singh was sitting in his dilapidated office in the Annexe of Broadcasting House New Delhi. The morning Punjabi Programme was over and he was planning the evening programme. All of a sudden a middle aged Maharashtrian looking thinly built woman was ushered into his office. The woman introduced herself as Lata Mangeshkar. She had come from Bombay for a live performance. She asked Davinder Singh if he had a rare Punjabi film song of 1950 bearing lyrics “Rassi utte tangiya dupatta mera dolda, udd pudd jana pataa dassda nayin dhol da”. The song is from a Punjabi film “Madari” with musical score by Ustrad Allah Rakha Qureshi. Davinder Singh had this song at the radio station. Lata wanted to pay any price to have it. But the government rules did not permit Davinder Singh in parting with this record. Lata wanted it desperately, because this song, along with some other rare Punjabi songs in her own voice dating back to 1948-1950 period were very dear to her. Davinder Singh made a copy of this song from a 78 RPM disc and handed it over to Lata Mangewshkar. 

Another two songs from film “Madari” bearing lyrics “Puchh mera haal kade ake mere haaniyan, tere pichhe rondiyan ne akhiyan nimaniyan” and “Asan takkya maahi nuun pehli waar, oh akh bacha ke gallan wich laake, chhod gaya, haye ni dil torh gaya” were very emotionally sung by Lata. In the meanwhile Vinod was composing typically Punjabi tunes for some of the Hindi/Urdu films also. 

Ustad Allah Rakha Qureshi (the great tabla master) composed the music for another Punjabi film “Phumman” in 1950. Its music is great, but two of its Lata Mangeshkar songs are simply outstanding. The lyrics of one song are “ Main addiyan chuk chuk vekhan, menoo maahi nazar na aawe”. The other song is “Raatan andheriyan aa gaiyan, dhola, raatan andheriyan aa gaiyan, dhola teriyan uddikan chha gaiyan”. Lata’s first three years in Punjabi films were outstanding. 

Soon the producers of Punjabi films realized that the market for purely comedy based Punjabi movies is very restricted. On the other hand the Hindi films were much richer in content and lavish in budget. Only in the quality of music the Punjabi Cinema could compete with its counterpart in Hindi. The market for the Punjabi Cinema was mostly confined to the East Punjab Circuit which included Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, hill areas of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh and Haryana (which was also a part of the then Punjab). Delhi and UP territory was another market, but not really good, because the refugees from West Punjab were spread thinly all over U.P. and were not a concentrated block. Pakistan was a good territory for exhibition, but due to piracy and cheating its returns were poor. Therefore the number of Punjabi films made in India dwindled to a trickle. 

Lata reluctantly sang for another good musical Punjabi film “Vanjara” in 1953-54. She did this on the request of a singer/actor Shaminder Singh Chahal, a wealthy landlord of Muktsar, In Ferozepore District of Punjab. Lata sang about five songs including two duets with Shaminder Singh in the music direction of Sardul Singh Kwatra. Sardul himself admitted that after the creation of Pakistan, the market for Punjabi cinema had dwindled very badly. More than 60% of Punjabi speaking population was based in Pakistan. India’s less than 40% share got scattered all over the country. Sardul said even the will to make decent Punjabi films in India was lacking. The producers were contented in making humour centric movies only. Urban culture was totally missing in the Punjabi films. All this and stoppage of the exhibition of Indian films in Pakistan in 1960, caused the virtual demise of Punjabi cinema in India. But, by then, Lata Mangeshkar gave her best to Punjabi films in “Chaman” (1948), “Lachhi” (1949), “Bhaiyaji” (1950), “Madari” (1950) “Phumman” (1950) and “Vanjara” (1954). She gave us two dozen precious gems.  

It is true that there is nothing in sheer numbers, Lata’s two dozen Punjabi songs are worth more than 10000 ordinary songs currently circulating in Punjab. After the Golden three years of Punjabi film music, perhaps Lata also smelled that all is not well with the Punjabi cinema in India, so she started shying away from Punjabi films. If the lovers of good Punjabi music can unearth some of the rare gems of Lata Mangeshkar, they will be doing a great service to Punjabi music.  

From the 1980s, some good Punjabi films are being made, but the standard of music set by Vinod, Hans Raj Behl, Allah Rakha Qureshi and later on by Sardul Kwatra and S. Mohinder (Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai 1969) is being sorely missed. Folk singers, untrained in classical music, have become heroes and singers in the films and the standard of music in Punjabi films has taken a steep nose dive. 

Across the border in the 1950 – 1960 decade, however, the Golden Period of Punjabi Film music took shape in Pakistan. They made great musicals with, a daughter of the soil, Zubeida Khanum as the top play-back singer. But after Zubeida Khanum’s marriage, the standard went down in Pakistan too. Only a miracle can restore the standard of Punjabi film music to its days of past glory. 

A genuine master of the art of music direction Vinod, who was every inch a Punjabi, became a casualty of the fall of Punjabi cinema in India. He wanted to compose music for Punjabi films, but not more than two films were made in each year and the contracts for composing the music were grabbed by Hans Raj Behl and Sardul Kwatra. Thus Vinod felt squeezed out of his first love, the music making for Punjabi films too. This frustration told on his health and he died at the prime of his youth during the mid-fifties, un-honoured, unwept and unsung.    

{ The author Harjap Singh Aujla lives at 16 Junction Pond Lane, Monmouth Junction, New Jersey 08852 USA. Phone number 732 329 0981 and the e-mail address is       

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