A welcome change in Hindi cinema in recent years has been sport-centric films. The list is quite impressive – Saaheb (1985, Football), Awwal Number (1990, Cricket), Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992, Cycling), Lagaan (2001, Cricket), Iqbal (2005, Cricket), Chak De India (2007, Hockey), Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013, athletics), Mary Kom (2014, Boxing), M.S.Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016, Cricket), Dangal (2016, Wrestling) Poorna (2017, Mountaineering) and more recently Panga (Kabaddi, 2020). Many of these are biopics.
Unfortunately, there are very few movies of the golden era which even peripherally touched upon any sport. The depiction of any sport/game being played either in the movie or in its songs was only incidental. The perception then perhaps was – Padhoge likhoge to banoge nawaab, Kheloge kudoge to banoge kharaab (meaning if you study well you will become a king and if you only play around you will get nowhere!). The other perception of sport was that of being a source of entertainment for the elite. A typical example of this view point are the sequences in Andaz (1949) where Dilip Kumar plays badminton singlehandedly with both Nargis and Cuckoo just to impress them. There is also golf being played by Raj Kapoor and Nargis in another sequence in the same movie. These sporting shots are thrown in only to impress and demonstrate the lifestyle of the upper class. There is no love for the sport or an attempt to engage with it seriously. One does find movies such as Manzil (1960) where Dev Anand fights with his father and leaves home to pursue a full fledged career in composing music for films or even Alaap (1977) which had a similar theme of the hero taking up music as his profession much against his father’s wishes. But there was no movie made in the golden era (at least not any that I can recall) where the hero or heroine rebels against the family to become a professional sportsperson.
I have, however, tried to cull out some songs – each of them depicting some sport or game being played. The depiction of the sport/game is fleeting in some and incidental in others. I have included the following games/sport (both indoor and outdoor) in my list with one song depicting each sport/game : chess, playing cards, table tennis, badminton, billiards, Cricket, skating, kite flying, swimming, cycling and carrom. Let me clarify here that not many the songs show any tournament or serious sport being played. Finding even one song for some was a herculean task. In all the songs, the sport/game is being played by adults and not children. The cut off date of the songs is 1980.
1. Chess – Kaka Abba Bade Khiladi (Padosi, 1941) Lyricist Pandit Sudarshan, Music Director Master Krishnarao, Singers Gopal, Balakram and Balwant Singh. This is the song I adore the most in this entire list and hence it finds a position of prominence in my playlist. This is a fun song from V.Shantaram’s movie Padosi which aimed to promote Hindu Muslim unity. The song describes the camaraderie shared by two neighbours – one a Hindu (kaka) and the other Muslim (abba). This friendship is fostered by their common love for chess or shatranj. I remember watching this movie on Doordarshan as a child and that is how I recall this song. The spontaneity is impressive. This song celebrates both their friendship and their boundless love for the game of chess. It is sung by the actors on screen as the era of playback singing had not begun. The lyrics, music, picturization and the voices – all of them together make it a masterpiece. Vasant Desai was the assistant music director of this movie.
2. Badminton – Dhal Gaya Din (Humjoli, 1970) – Lyricist Anand Bakshi, Music Directors Laxmikant Pyarelal, Playback Singers Md.Rafi and Asha Bhosle. This song from the movie Humjoli is the perfect example of how not to play badminton(sigh!!). Both Jeetendra and Leena Chandawarkar are rather pathetic. There is no finesse and the focus is of course on romancing. They are not appropriately dressed to play either. Some of the dance steps in fact are pretty raunchy. Yet, there is a fun element in this song, especially because the sound of the shuttlecock hitting the racquet is made an integral part of the song’s rhythm, very innovatively, by the music directors.
Interestingly, Rafi who was the male playback singer of this song was himself an avid badminton player. I am sure he must have winced at the manner in which the on-screen pair butchered the game.
3. Playing Cards – Aji Ho Taash Ke Baawan Patte (Tamanna, 1969) Lyricist Anand Bakshi, Music Directors Kalyanji Anandji, Playback Singer Mukesh. All of us have played a game of cards sometime in our lives – especially on a longish train journey or when out for a picnic. Playing cards as a game is however not looked upon very kindly, especially because it is addictive and is closely associated with gambling. In fact, this is the message conveyed by this humourous song, sung by Mukesh for the rotund Asit Sen on screen. Asit Sen does not have many songs picturized on him. This is perhaps one of the few.
4. Cricket – She Ne Khela He Se ( Love Marriage, 1959) Lyricist Hasrat Jaipuri, Music Directors Shankar Jaikishan, Playback Singer Md.Rafi. Cricket in India is next to God. Yet, in the yesteryears, there were very few movies where the male lead was a cricketer. Love Marriage is one of the very few movies where the hero (Dev Anand) is a star cricketer from Jhansi – his hometown. Mala Sinha is cricket crazy in the movie and brightens up the walls of her flat with pictures of Vinoo Mankad and Khandu Rangnekar. However, the theme of the movie is not how Dev Anand succeeds as cricketer or his trials and tribulations while pursuing the sport. In the movie, cricket is only a means to establish a link between the hero and heroine. The latter half of the movie has nothing of the sport. The song I list here uses all the jargon and vivid imagery of cricket but to describe a romantic encounter between Mala Sinha and Dev Anand. The opening words – She Ne Khela He Se Aaj Cricket Match – could have been penned better, I feel.
Almost thirty years after Love Marriage was made, Dev Anand again dabbled in cricket. He directed a movie called Awwal Number (1990) – a movie whose screenplay was also written by him. He appeared on screen as well in the movie along with Aamir Khan. Though the movie was pretty ludicrous, it showed Dev Anand’s love for the sport and his ability to experiment. And come to think of it, Aamir Khan played the role of a cricketer once again in Lagaan!
5. Swimming – Tumko Fursat Ho (Bewafa, 1952) Lyricist Sarshar Sailani, Music Director A.R.Qureshi, Playback Singer Talat Mahmood. The mention of swimming makes one think of Bol Radha Bol Sangam Hoga ki Nahin from Sangam (1964). Let me add here that there are many songs that depict swimming. However, I felt this song from Bewafa is a hidden gem. This is a playful solo in Talat’s velvety voice. The mood of the song is akin to Tum Agar Mujhko Na Chaho from Dil Hi To Hain(1963) which coincidentally was also picturized on Raj Kapoor. Complaining without making it too obvious is the beauty of the song. There is Raj Kapoor sitting outside the swimming pool complex as Nargis enjoys her swim in the pool. Through his song he tries to seek her attention in a rather cheeky manner. The lyricist of this song – Sarshar Sailani – has penned more than hundred songs and is known as a screenplay/dialogue writer. A.R.Qureshi the music director is none other than the Tabla maestro Ustaad Alla Rakha – the father of Ustaad Zakir Hussain.
6. Billiards/Pool – Hum Tum Jise Kehta Hain Shaadi (Kaagaz Ke Phool, 1959) Lyricist Shailendra, Music Director S.D.Burman, Playback Singer Md.Rafi. This is a light hearted song from a very serious movie. It is a different take on the institution of marriage, which is shown as having crumbled in the case of the male protagonist (Guru Dutt) of the movie. Johny Walker, who plays the role of the flippant brother-in-law of Guru Dutt sings this song in a party with some, enjoying a game of billiards (or pool?) while others are busy getting intoxicated. He has a piece of advice for all those who are thinking of tying the knot; he perhaps expects everyone around to take a cue from him!! Billiards/pool – being played in the song – is a sport associated typically with the club frequenting elite. However, this is a myth is what billiards champions of today say.
7. Skating – Hawa Ke Saath Saath (Seeta Aur Geeta, 1972) Lyricist Anand Bakshi, Music Director R.D.Burman, Playback Singers Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle. This is a unique light hearted, breezy romantic song with the lead pair romancing on roller skates. The hero Sanjeev Kumar performs some stunts as well to impress the lady (Hema Malini) but eventually ends up having egg on his face, as he comes down crashing. The picturization of the song is amazing and so is the playback singing by Asha and Kishore. The chemistry between Hema Malini and Sanjeev Kumar is remarkable.
Since we are on roller skating, it would be worthwhile to mention here that this sport has been vying to be included in the Olympics since long, albeit unsuccessfully.
8. Table Tennis or Ping-Pong – Yeh Din Kya Yeh (Chhoti Si Baat, 1976) Lyricist Yogesh, Music Director Salil Chowdhury, Playback Singer Mukesh. This is a background song that must be watched and not merely heard. It is beautifully directed. The subtle humour is what makes the song truly enjoyable. The director, Basu Chatterjee, is known for his light hearted yet realistic take on life. How the shy hero woos the woman he loves and veers her away from a competitor by taking professional help from a personality development coach (Ashok Kumar, who is a retired army man in the film) is the gist of the movie. This song shows the positive change that the coach brings in him. The table tennis match between Amol Palekar (the hero) and Asrani (the competitor) leaves you in splits. The manner in which Amol Palekar irritates Asrani and finally makes him recklessly concede is the highlight of the song. There is also chess being played. And if this were not enough, in this song, Amol Palekar also plays tic-tac-toe with Vidya Sinha, his on-screen lover. A message that is perhaps being conveyed through this song is that a sport/game helps to develop one’s personality. Amol Palekar – now genial, fit and confident – trounces (the overbearing) Asrani.
9. Kite Flying – Chali Chali Re Patang Meri Chali Re (Bhabhi, 1957) Lyricist Rajinder Krishan, Music Director Chitragupt, Playback Singers Md.Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar. This is perhaps the first song that comes to mind when one thinks of kite flying. This song is all about the soaring kite challenging the skies. Kite flying is a very popular game in Asia – especially in India, China, Japan and Thailand. In India, Makar Sankranti and independence day are the special occasions when kite flying is enjoyed by all and sundry. This song from the movie Bhabhi lucidly describes the sport and subtly, life as well, because there is so much in common between the two. Nanda and Jagdeep light up the screen with their childlike innocence and playfulness as they fly their kite. The music of Chitragupt, the lyrics of Rajinder Krishan and last but not the least the voices of Rafi and Lata make this a memorable kite song.
10. Cycling – Banke Panchchi Gaaye Pyaar Ka (Anadi, 1959). Lyricist Hasrat Jaipuri, Music Director Shankar Jaikishan, Playback Singer Lata Mangeshkar and chorus. In this song, Nutan and her friends are cycling in the countryside. The cinematography makes the song more enjoyable. The tinkling of the cycle bells, which is a part of the instrumental music, adds more charm to the song. Nutan is a delight to watch in this song and she has been the focus, whenever this song is written about. However, I wanted to highlight the fact that Shubha Khote, who is cycling alongside is probably the real heroine of the song. In an era when very few women even ventured into sports, she not only excelled in swimming and cycling but also was a national level cycling champion. She would have represented India in the Asiad games but there was no such event for women. Sadly, cycling events in the 1950s were only for men. Thus, Shubha Khote turned to cinema instead, enriching it with her beauty and grace.
Let me also add here that though there are several other songs where the hero/heroine/comedian are on a cycle, sadly, there does not seem to be any song in which a cycling race is on.
11. Carrom – Piya Baawri (Khoobsurat, 1980) Lyricist Gulzar, Music Director R.D.Burman, Playback singer Asha Bhosle with Ashok Kumar (as singing star!!). This song is based on Raag Bihaag. In this movie, the matriarch (Dina Pathak) of a joint family is a strict disciplinarian and does not view fun and frolic very kindly; egged by the female protagonist (Rekha), the patriarch (Ashok Kumar) of the family and the others indulge in some ‘nirmal anand‘ (pure joy) and let their hair down by playing indoor games and even stage a drama on the terrace. In this song, the family (sans Dina Pathak of course!) is enjoying all the good things of life – including carrom though it is a very fleeting shot in the song.
It is interesting to note that carrom is of Indian origin; it is very popular in south Asia. Carrom is a game which I have played quite proficiently since childhood and still do (now) with my children. Many a Saturday night is reserved for a game of carrom with the family to derive the much needed nirmal anand; no points for guessing who the best player is (of course, me!!).
With this, I come to the end of my playlist. Like I said earlier, there are several songs for certain sports/games such as swimming and cycling but almost none which show anything serious in the form of a tournament. The sport/game is being played either to impress or just for diversion. Cinema has thankfully travelled a long way and has matured to showcase sports and sporting talents in the last two decades. Now, we are moving to the other extreme of too many films being made on sporting legends. A balance needs to be struck. Also in our own children’s schools, we see that sports from being ‘extra-curricular’ has slowly been elevated to the status of ‘co-curricular’ – which is no mean achievement.
There could be many songs for the various games/sports listed above. Please do (sportingly!!) add them if they meet all the parameters listed.