The 1950s and the 60s. The era of noir in mainstream Hindi cinema; a time of the urban crime thriller – its plot often played out against the backdrop of a hotel or a seedy club that was a front for the nefarious activities of the bad guys. Not surprisingly a lot many songs in this period ware picturized in these dens of vice and featured music that was heavily inspired by jazz and rock and roll with dances that were predominantly Western in nature.
One hero who played his share of shaded characters and made the perfect noir hero was Dev Anand. From the card shark in Baazi (1951) to the pickpocket of Pocketmaar (1956), from the gang member wanting to go straight in House No 44 (1955) to the black marketeer of Kala Bazar (1960), Dev Anand achieved much success with these urban crime dramas. Not surprisingly, he was one hero who had a lot of songs filmed on him against the setting of the nightclub. On the occasion of Dev Saab’s 92nd birth anniversary, we take a look at some of his best songs in the genre.
We begin with Guru Dutt’s directorial debut Baazi, a trendsetter amongst the crime thrillers of the 1950s. Today, the film might appear dated and its plot creakingly cliched, but one has to see it in historical context. Dev Anand played an unemployed youth who gambles for the boss at the club to ensure his sick sister’s treatment in a sanitarium. But he finds out the hard way that in the world of crime it is easy to get in but not so simple to get out. With much of Baazi being set in the club and the club dancer Geeta Bali playing an integral role in the film, it was but natural to have many of the songs pictured here. This one, Sharmaye Kahe, sees Anand get taken in by the club and the dancer, Bali, who entraps him in a net at the end of the song – a foreboding of things to come for Anand who finds himself trapped in the world of crime as the plot progresses.
Anand’s shaded characters almost always faced moral dilemmas on whether they should take to crime or fight out their existence with honesty. Often, the vamp at the club would push him over the edge, encouraging him to go along with the world, live for the moment, and enjoy life to the fullest – as Nadira tells him here through Geeta Dutt’s sexy voice in Pocketmaar.
It’s not as if Anand played only the criminal in these noir inspired films. In films like CID (1956) and this one, Jaali Note (1960), he also played the law keeper, a cop who went after the gang, infiltrating the club in disguise as he went undercover. Here he is in his element ‘in disguise’ with Helen in one of the film’s club songs.
Besides crime based films, Anand also developed his other persona and his set of identifiable starry mannerisms as a charming, freewheeling romantic hero, where he pretty much was the life of the party as we see in Paying Guest (1957). And if he’s knocked back a peg or two, and voiced by Kishore Kumar, even better!
Finally and interestingly, Anand acted in two films, Maya (1961) and Asli Naqli (1962), playing a similar role in both as a spoilt rich man, who finds true love, happiness and meaning in his life when he lives amongst the poor. Both films were inspired by the Hollywood film, Sullivan’s Travels, and both also saw him in club song situations! I choose one from the former, one of Salil Chowdhury’s all time great compositions.