Though she passed away prematurely in 1972 at the age of 38, Meena Kumari had established herself as one of the most popular actresses in Hindi cinema. From the nature of her roles and her screen emotions, she was called the Tragedy Queen.
Musically, the bulk of her hits were sung by Lata Mangeshkar. From love songs to sad tunes and classically-inspired compositions, there was a lot of variety in these songs. Of course, while Meena Kumari had hits with Geeta Dutt (like ‘Na Jaao Saiyyan’ in Saheb Bibi Aur Gulam) and Asha Bhosle (‘Tora Mann Darpan Kehlaye’ in Kaajal), one mostly identified her with Lata’s voice.
To mark Meena Kumari’s 88th birth anniversary on August 1, we chose 10 solo songs sung by Lata. While most were musical hits, some of these songs created an impact with her performances or dance renditions. The order is chronological.
1 Mohe Bhool Gaye Saanwariya – Baiju Bawra (1952)
This Lata classic was composed by the legendary Naushad who blended raag Bhairav with elements of Kalingada. Shakeel Badayuni wrote the lines, “Mohe bhool gaye saanwariya, mohe bhool gaye saanwariya, aawan kah gaye ajahu na aaye, leeni na mori khabariya”. Filmed mostly on Meena Kumari, it has Bharat Bhushan in the flashback scenes. The film’s soundtrack was known for its use of classical raags.
2 Na Bole, Na Bole – Azaad (1955)
Meena Kumari had a frothy dance sequence on this number sung by Lata. C Ramchandra provided the music, and Rajendra Krishan wrote, “Na bole, na bole, na bole re, ghunghat ke pat na khole re, Radha na bole, na bole, na bole re”. The story was that Naushad was first given the offer to compose for the film, but he refused as he found the deadline unreasonable.
3 Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh – Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi (1960)
Shailendra’s lines, “Ajeeb dastaan hai yeh, kahaan shuru kahaan khatam, woh manzilen hain kaunsi, na woh samajh sakey na hum” were hummed by music lovers everywhere. Shankar-Jaikishen composed the music, using wonderful back-up vocalists, and once again, Meena Kumari’s expressions were fabulous. The song also featured Raaj Kumar.
4 Dil Mein Baji – Kohinoor (1960)
Naushad’s tune was written by Shakeel, with the opening lines, “Dil mein baji pyaar ki shehnaiyaan, aa gaye woh, aa gaye woh, mit gayi tanhaiyaan”. This song was known for Lata’s exuberant singing and Meena Kumari’s sprightly dance moves. The film had huge hits in Mohammed Rafi’s ‘Madhuban Mein Radhika’ and the Rafi-Lata duet ‘Do Sitaron Ka Zameen Par Hai Milan’.
5 Jyoti Kalash Chalke – Bhabhi Ki Chudiyan (1961)
This mellifluous song was composed by Marathi music director Sudhir Phadke in raag Bhupali. This was one of Lata’s most serene numbers picturised on Meena Kumari. Narendra Sharma wrote the lyrics, which began, “Jyoti kalash chalke, hue gulaabi, laal sunahre, rang dal baadal ke, jyoti kalash chalke”.
6 Ruk Ja Raat – Dil Ek Mandir (1963)
Another masterpiece by Lata, this was composed by Shankar-Jaikishen in raag Asawari. Filmed on Meena Kumari and Raaj Kumar, the song was written by Shailendra. The opening lines were, “Ruk jaa raat theher jaa re chanda beete na milan ki bela, aaj chandni ki nagri mein armaanon ka mela”.
7 Naghma-o-Sher Ki Saugaat – Gazal (1964)
The classic combination of Lata and music director Madan Mohan got together on this ghazal featuring Meena Kumari and Sunil Dutt. Sahir Ludhianvi wrote the lyrics which began with the couplet, “Naghma-o-sher ki saugaat kisey pesh karoon, yeh chhalakte hue jazbaat kisey pesh karoon”. In a similar vein, the film also had Rafi’s hit “Rang aur noor ki baraat kisey pesh karoon, yeh muraadon ki haseen raat kisey pesh karoon”.
8 Dil Jo Na Keh Saka – Bheegi Raat (1965)
This song was in two versions – Rafi sang for Pradeep Kumar and Lata for Meena Kumari. Roshan set his composition in Maru Bihag, and Sahir wrote the single-line mukhda, “Dil jo na keh saka, wohi raaz-e-dil kehne ki raat aayi”. In both versions, the rendition of the words ‘raat’ and ‘aayi’ were very nuanced.
9 Duniya Kare Sawaal – Bahu Begum (1967)
The Pradeep Kumar-Meena Kumari film Bahu Begum had the hit ‘Hum Intezaar Karenge’ by Rafi and Asha Bhosle. For her part, Lata sang the ghazal ‘Duniya Kare Sawaal’ for Meena Kumari. Music was by Roshan, and Sahir wrote, “Duniya kare sawaal toh hum kya jawaab de, tumko na ho khayal toh hum kya jawaab de”.
10 Chalte Chalte – Pakeezah (1972)
This was an iconic song with Meena Kumari playing a nautch girl. Ghulam Mohammed provided the music using Bhoop and Kalyan, and the highlights were the facial expressions of the actress, Lata’s brilliant singing, the choreography, the dances by two girls and the driving keherva rhythm. Kaifi Azmi wrote, “Chalte chalte, yunhi koi mil gaya tha, sarey raah chalte chalte”. The film had other Lata solo gems like ‘Thade Rahiyo’, ‘Inhi Logon Ne’ and ‘Mausam Hai Aashiqana’, besides the Rafi-Lata duet ‘Chalo Dildar Chalo’.
As mentioned, the songs covered a range of styles and emotions. Meena Kumari’s on-screen expressions matched the melodies perfectly. And though Lata also sang great numbers for most of the other leading heroines of the 1950s and 1960s, her Meena Kumari melodies deserve special mention.