Some time ago I had written posts on Terrace songs in two parts. These were songs that were substantially picturized on a terrace. It then struck me that stairs also have featured prominently in many movies and songs. I researched this subject and came across a very interesting article on stairs – Film flashback: How the staircase played a starring role in Indian cinema. This article chronicles the thoughts of the legendary archivist P.K. Nair on how staircases have been used to depict affluence and the ups and downs of characters.
This in turn led me to explore songs shot on staircases. There are some iconic songs of the nineties that one can recall that were shot on a flight of stairs like Ek Do Teen of Tezaab (1988) partially shot on the stairs of the Asiatic Library in South Mumbai or the song Kuch Na Kaho (1942 A Love Story, 1994) which was shot on a beautiful set with stairs. This blog post however focuses (essentially) on songs of the golden era which were substantially shot on staircases.
Stairs have a symbolic role to play. The calibrated ascent/descent, the landing, the handrail sometimes with elaborate ornamentation – all these convey so much in a song. The stairs sometimes signify rise and at others fall with the landings in between suggesting a fleeting state of equilibrium. Staircases stand as a motif for life as it were with all its twists and turns, ups and downs. The meandering spiral staircase in particular has a greater philosophical connotation of the eternal search for the ultimate truth. It was these aspects that I decided to visit in this post. The ground rules for the post are that a substantial part of the song must be picturized on stairs. The actor/actress can sit or stand or even dance on the stairs apart from climbing up or down. I have also ensured that the songs of this post are different from those of the songs I had listed in my post on terrace songs. This would mean that songs with stairs that lead to the terrace being shown will not feature in this post. The spotlight is on stairs of a building or of a pond/garden. Dream sequences (Hum Aapki Ankhon Mein, Pyaasa, 1957) and stage performances (Piya Tose Naina Laage Re, Guide, 1965) have also been excluded in this post. That is because almost all of them have stairs and thus including some and not the others would not be fair.
1) Tum Pukar Lo (Khamoshi, 1969) Lyricist: Gulzar; Music Director: Hemant Kumar; Playback Singer: Hemant Kumar. If one had to choose one of the best songs composed as well as sung by Hemant Kumar, this would be it. The slow pace of the song with its haunting melody and whistling, transport the listener to a different realm. This song is very sensitively picturized paying attention to minute details. The prelude music, the mukhda and the whistling in the end are shot on a flight of stairs intercepted by a landing. Waheeda,who plays a nurse in the movie, slowly climbs the stairs, heart broken after learning that the man she loved, has recovered from acute mania and does not harbour any feelings for her. It is his birthday and she comes with Kalidasa’s Meghadutam – a love poem – as his birthday gift. While she climbs the stairs, the front panel sporting the name of the book is shown. While she descends the stairs without parting with her gift, she hugs the front panel close to her heart and the name thus is no longer visible. This flip of the book conveys so much! The song that is sung actually echoes her feelings for Dharmendra. Ironically, these are sung by Dharmendra for his own fiancée, who now agrees to marry him.
The stairs play an important part in the song, poignantly portraying how agonizing the ascent and descent (in love!) are for Waheeda. She is in two minds as to whether to give the gift to Dharmendra or not. Her emotional turmoil gets accentuated by the song. She fleetingly stops on the landing while climbing down, showing how shattered she is.
2) Dil Ka Bhanwar Kare Pukar (Tere Ghar Ke Saamne, 1963) Lyricist: Hasrat Jaipuri; Music Director: S.D.Burman; Playback Singer: Md.Rafi. This evergreen love song picturized on one of the best on-screen couples is breath taking. The magic of Rafi is stamped all over the song. What better way to make a declaration of your love than this! Though the historical monument shown in the song is the famous Qutub Minar, it turns out that it was only a replica that was created in the studio as the song could not be shot in the real monument due to technical reasons. When you see the song, the magic of the meandering stairs enthralls you. The entire song is about the heights and depths of love beautifully symbolized by the stairs. The prying eyes of the other visitors to the monument (one of whom is Vijay Anand!), the child like tantrum of Dev as he settles down in an alcove even as Nutan oblivious to this continues her descent, the manner in which she comes back and fetches Dev, all of this adds so much to the charm of the song. At one point, the two even settle down on the stairs trying their best to avoid the gaze of inquisitive visitors. The lyrics too echo the ascent and descent. By the time Dev and Nutan hit the ground, their love is absolutely cemented. Though the song is not a duet, it has the feel of one because of the expressive non-verbal communication of Nutan.
pyar ki unchai ishq ki gahraayi... pooch lo hamaari aah se aasmaan choo liya re..... is haseen utaar pe ham na baithe haar ke saaya banke saath ham chale.... aapkaa ye aanchal pyaar ka ye baadal phir hamen zameen pe le chala
3) Mila Hain Kisika Jhumka (Parakh, 1960) Lyricist: Shailendra; Music Director: Salil Chowdhury; Playback Singer: Lata Mangeshkar. This melodious song with Sadhana as the ebullient village girl who finds so much beauty even in the simplest of sights steals your heart. The Jhumka in the song is only a flower. The scenic beauty of the countryside is captured wonderfully. The boy on a buffalo plays the flute with so much élan; this seems to be an oblique reference to Krishna who is a cowherd and plays the flute. Sadhana’s simplicity and innocence in the song make her look stunningly beautiful.
She has set out to fill water from the village pond. She is pining for her beloved who is a teacher in the village school. As she enjoys the sights around her, in the last antara of the song, she descends the stairs of the pond and then settles down on one of them with her empty matka. The daily rigmarole of fetching drinking water in villages has been depicted rather romantically. For Sadhana, it is an opportunity to meet her beloved who comes to bathe there.
4) Insaaf Ka Mandir Hain Yeh (Amar, 1954) Lyricist: Shakeel Badayuni; Music Director: Naushad; Playback Singer: Md.Rafi. This is a wonderful Bhajan playing in the background in a movie which could have been scripted better. The star studded movie flopped because of the star couple not getting united after all. The portrayal of Dilip Kumar as a righteous lawyer but not devoid of animal instincts didn’t augur well for the movie. But for my theme at hand, this is one of the best songs that one could have zeroed in on. This Bhajan has two versions, both in Rafi’s voice. The first one is shot fully on the stairs of a temple. This is the point in the movie where Dilip Kumar is guilt- ridden and hence does not have the courage to face the almighty. His reluctance to enter the temple precincts is only too obvious. Madhubala tries her best to make him climb the steps of the temple. The lyrics more or less sum up the conflict and turmoil in Dilip’s mind. The slow ascent also symbolizes the pangs of guilt getting stronger with each step northwards. At one point, Dilip even steps back.
The second version of the song is towards the end of the movie when a remorseful Dilip decides to make amends and sacrifice his love. The stairs in this version are shown differently. Now in contrast to the earlier version, it is a dejected and heart broken Madhubala descending the stairs after giving up her love for the sake of meting out justice to a wronged woman. However, it is Ironical that though she is climbing down, her stature has got elevated because of her sacrifice – the message that Mehboob Khan – the director of the movie – is perhaps trying to convey. The cinematography and the symbolism make the song sublime. The link below has both versions.
5) Mere Mehboob Na Jaa (Noor Mahal, 1965) Lyricist: Saba Afghani; Music Director: Jani Babu Qawwal; Playback Singer: Suman Kalyanpur. This iconic song of Suman Kalyanpur is a hidden gem in a movie that by no means deserved this melody. The high pitch of the song has been beautifully handled by Suman Kalyanpur. The movie went pretty unnoticed. This song however, composed by a Qawwal and written by a lesser known lyricist stands out. Picturized on Jagdeep and Chitra, it is a haunting melody; it seems to be an attempt to recreate the magic of Aayega Aanewala from Mahal(1949). A major part of the song is shot on flights of stairs with a veiled Chitra dressed in a long floating gown with a lit candle in her hand either ascending or descending stairs, wandering around a huge mansion, with a perplexed Jagdeep close on her heels. The stairs in this song are used to create suspense and enhance the overall eeriness.
6) Kahin Pe Nigahen Kahin pe Nishana (C.I.D., 1956) Lyricist: Majrooh Sultanpuri; Music Director: O.P.Nayyar; Playback Singer: Shamshad Begum. This is a song where the stairs have a completely different role to play. The reason why they find a place in the song is to buy time and ensure that Dev Anand – the hero – escapes the clutches of the villain played by Bir Sakuja. The stairs help Waheeda stall the progress of the villain towards the first floor where Dev Anand is hiding. The entire third antara is shot on the stairs with Waheeda even sitting on them. The lyrics of the song are very craftily penned by Majrooh Sultanpuri. The song is a cryptic message to warn Dev Anand about the impending danger and indicating to him the escape route (aaya shikaree o panchhee too sambhal ja, ek jaal hain zulfon ka, tu chupke se nikal ja, udd ja o panchhee shikaree hain divaana). This was Waheeda’s debut movie and how gracefully she dances and tries her best to deflect the attention of her baddie boss. The mukhda of the song is very popular and is used frequently in informal conversation to convey that someone is looking at one place and actually aiming at another.
7) Nainon Mein Badra Chaaye (Mera Saaya, 1966) Lyricist: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan; Music Director: Madan Mohan; Playback Singer: Lata Mangeshkar. This song from the blockbuster movie Mera Saaya is beautifully shot in Lake Palace, Udaipur. The music, lyrics, rendition and the picturesque beauty of Udaipur make it a pleasure to hear as well as watch. Set to Raag Bhimpalasi, the song leaves the listener asking for more. The second antara is fully shot on the stairs of a temple (perhaps in the Lake Palace Complex??). As both Sadhana and Sunil Dutt climb the stairs of the temple to seek the blessings of the almighty, Sadhana gently tugs at Sunil Dutt’s hand and stops him; she then expresses her desire to immortalize their love. This is a flashback song in the movie where Sunil Dutt is pining for Sadhana and relives memories of happier times. The stairs of the temple are symbolically chosen by the couple as the place to firm up their love.
8) Tera Jaana Dil Ke Armaanon Ka (Anari, 1959) Lyricist: Shailendra; Music Directors: Shankar Jaikishan; Playback Singer: Lata Mangeshkar. This melody from the movie Anari brings out the class difference and opulence associated with staircases. Sung canorously by Lata, this is a song with a slight Arabic touch in the higher notes. The second half of the song is completely shot on the staircase of the palatial mansion of Nutan. Just before the song, Nutan (after being blackmailed by her uncle) has driven away Raj Kapoor, giving him a sermon on their class difference. As a heart broken Raj Kapoor leaves her bungalow, she is distraught and then hits the keys of piano to express her frustration. The second antara has Nutan haltingly climbing down the staircase, taking support of the handrail. It is as though she is symbolically getting off the high horse that she was forced to climb to save Raj Kapoor from being ruined.
[ Other songs of Anari – Dil Ki Nazar Se is also partly shot on a staircase in a garden. Sab Kuch Seekha Humne has the dancer coming down the same flight of stairs of Nutan’s palatial bungalow. The stairs clearly signify class difference in this movie. ]
9) Man Tarpat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj (Baiju Bawra, 1952) Lyricist: Shakeel Badayuni; Music Director: Naushad; Playback Singer: Md.Rafi. This is yet another timeless melody composed by Naushad in Raag Malkauns for a movie that was about two doyens of classical music. The stairs here are important to show the depth and power of the saadhana of Baiju; it is Baiju’s devotion to music that enables Swami Haridas – his future Guru who has not been able to even walk a few steps because of his malady – to not just walk but climb down an entire flight of stairs and worship his god – Krishna. The importance of the Guru in the Indian ethos is very poignantly depicted. It is also interesting to observe how Baiju is requesting God (Hari) to give him darshan which will thereby enable him to meet his Guru. For Baiju, the Guru is as important, if not more, than God(Hari).
10) Sun Sun Sun Didi Tere Liye (Khubsoorat, 1980) Lyricist: Gulzar; Music Director: R.D.Burman; Playback Singer: Asha Bhosle. I decided to end this blog with a song of 1980. All the other songs are of the 50s and 60s. I have made an exception for this one. This song showcases the friendly banter of two sisters of marriageable age. Rekha has acted exceptionally well, both in the song and the movie. The landing of the staircase of their residence almost doubles up as a stage where Rekha takes a bow and performs in this song. The interludes and the last stanza have the staircase featuring prominently. I like the way both sisters settle down on the stairs towards the end of the song for some fun; the manner in which Rekha tears the reputation of the prospective (fictitious!!) groom to shreds is quite hilarious. The bonding of the two sisters (on the stairs) is amazing.
I have reached the end of my playlist. There were a few songs that I did not include though they were apt because I had listed them in the terrace songs. The one song that perhaps should have been here is Aaj Sajan Mohe Ang Laga (Pyaasa, 1957 ). There are other songs too that are picturized in historical monuments such as Kaaton Se Kheenhke Yeh Anchal (Guide, 1965 ) and Waada To Nibhaaya (Johny Mera Naam, 1970). The post would have become long and so these were excluded. I also found quite a few songs that featured stairs/ladders but their presence was either unintentional or the focus on them was pretty short to find place in a blog post dedicated to songs of stairs. The songs that I refer to are – Bahut Shukriya Badi Meherbani (Ek Musafir Ek Hasina, 1962), Aaiye Meherbaan (Howrah Bridge, 1958), Acha Ji Main Haari Chalo (Kala Pani, 1958).
As I wrote this post, I realized the importance of symbolism. The stairs by their mere presence in the song add a completely different dimension to it. There are so many purposes stairs serve in songs; they help in stalling, portraying guilt, showing opulence, romancing and bonding. At a more philosophical level, they deal with ascent to a different plane, which is also portrayed in some songs.
I am sure there must be more songs of the golden era that I may have missed. Please do add on if you happen to read this post.
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10 thoughts on “Songs of Stairs”
What an interesting theme. And some great songs, though it would have taken a lot of effort for me to remember that some of these were picturised on stairs, even in part. Here’s another which came to my mind when I read this post. See le zubaan from Nau Do Gyarah, where Shashikala sings and dances partly on the stairs in an attempt to dissuade Dev Anand from going upstairs and rescuing Kalpana Karthik, who has been imprisoned in the upper room.
Thanks for the appreciation, Madhuji! This was a post where I had to rely on my memory and also guessing the contexts in which stairs would feature in songs.
The song you mentioned is new to me. But is fits perfectly. Thanks!
This is a superb post. I remember stairs had a very important part in ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun’. Some songs are picturised around them, a crucial tragic turn takes place because of a fall from the stairs.
Thanks, AKji for reading and commenting! Hum Aapke Hain Kaun did have liberal use of stairs. I somehow wanted to stick to the older songs and hence did not venture beyond 1980.
very interesting post.
Never thought about it to confess!
All the best!
Thanks for reading, Anupji! The article of P.K.Nair that I refer to in the post is also very interesting.
oh! I didn’t go through it. I’ll read it.