May 26 2020
On Bollywood's recurring song syndrome
12 June 2018

Repeating a signature number is one of Bollywood’s fond tricks

There’s a funny story about a student who lived across a theatre in Meerut. The year was 1953 and Anarkali was running in cinemas. Its chartbuster ‘Yeh zindagi usi ki hai’ springs up on multiple occasions in the film. The student timed his studies around the song. When it played the first time, he opened his books. When it repeated the second time, he took a tea break. The third time he would catch a wink. He followed this routine around the three shows Anarkali ran, and went on to top his class.

The recurring song syndrome has its rewards. Although no longer a popular trend in Bollywood, there was a time when a good song could pull off a movie more impressively than Half Girlfriend’s whiny ‘Phir bhi tumko chaahunga.’

‘Mere mehboob tujhe’ (Mere Mehboob), ‘Tum bin jaoon kahan’ (Pyar Ka Mausam), ‘Jeevan ke din chhote sahi’ (Bade Dil Wala) and ‘Aane se uske aaye bahar’ (Jeene Ki Raah) owe much of their success to this one-trick pony formula. In Baat Ek Raat Ki, the mellow melody ‘Na tum hamein jaano’ plays once as a source of comfort and again as a reminder of better times conveying the dramatic turn life has taken for an actress turned murder accused. Faraar’s catchy refrain ‘Main pyasa tum sawan’ echoes a similar thought process.

Aa Gale Lag Jaa’s ‘Tera mujhse hai pehla ka naata’ defines the topsy-turvy course of Shashi Kapoor-Sharmila Tagore’s relationship from happy courtship to awkward reunion after their oblivious child insists on having it played as theparty song.


Having a signature love song came in handy for many an estranged screen couple. In Pyar Jhukta Nahin’s ‘Tumse milkar na jaane kyun’, all Mithun Chakraborty and Padmini Kolhapure’s offspring has to do is chant it like a mantra he’s heard through his childhood, and patch things up between his parents.

Melodramatic verve

If Raja Hindustani uses the melodramatic verve of ‘Pardesi Pardesi’ to highlight Aamir Khan and Karisma Kapoor’s messy equation at three crucial junctures in the narrative, ‘Aaye ho meri zindagi mein’ acknowledges the exponential growth of their love story from driver-Memsaab to husband and wife.

Nothing says romance better than Kabhi Kabhie’s title verse. Amitabh Bachchan’s passionate ode to his muse turns into bitter irony and crushing heartbreak when she has to sing it for her husband on their wedding night.


‘Dil deewana’ appears first to celebrate Salman Khan and Bhagyashree’s happily-ever-after aspirations in Maine Pyar Kiya and once again when standard rich versus poor conflicts threaten its realisation.

Change of tempo in the same tune is another oft-used trick, as in Manzil’s ‘Rimjhim gire sawan’ and Khel’s ‘Ek baat maan lo tum’. Usually though it’s the more flamboyant one that catches the public’s fantasy. For most of us, ‘Ek do teen’ means Madhuri Dixit; few trip over its tapori male counterpart.

Interestingly, the entire texture of a composition changes when individually performed by a male and female voice. Both Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar lend a distinct character to Agar Tum Na Hote’s title track as well as the melancholy of ‘Mere naina sawan bhadon’ in Mehbooba. Again Alka Yagnik’s sweet, straight delivery of ‘Mere angne mein’ in Laawaris is no match to Bachchan bringing the house down in the folksy number’s far more racy avatar.

Life lessons

Certain philosophies cannot be stressed enough. Like Shah Rukh Khan’s endless appeal to seize the day in Kal Ho Naa HoKasme Vaade’s ‘Aati rahengi baharen’ ardour, Masoom’s profound life lessons in ‘Tujhse naraaz nahin zindagi’ or Mr. India’s firm light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel beliefs in the heart-tugging notes of ‘Zindagi ki yahi reet hai.’


Horror themes bank on atmosphere and that one haunting motif to work. Mahal’s ‘Aayega’, Woh Kaun Thi’s ‘Naina barse’ or Bees Saal Baad’s ‘Kahin deep jale’ sneaks in every now and then to send the required shivers down the spine.

Javed Akhtar says, “Songs are not just songs; they are a reflection of that era’s values, faith, people’s nature and way of living.” Be it Saajan’s lovelorn ‘Jiye to jiye kaise,’ Yaadon Ki Baaraat’s lost and found anthem, Ram Lakhan’s maternal assertions in ‘Mere do anmol ratan’ or Shahenshah’s superhero broadcast in ‘Andheri raaton mein’, the reiteration nails the point.



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