Songs of Mumbai

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

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The quintessential Bombay song is of course, Eh dil hai mushqil jeena yahaan from the film CID, lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri. When Naresh Fernandes and I were casting about for the title for the anthology that we did for Penguin India, we finally settled on Bombay Meri Jaan; Writings on Mumbai.

But when we were growing up and guitars came out and the bottle went around one more time, the Bombay song was Bom-Bom-Bom Bombay Meri Hai. “Ladies are nice,” the women would sing. “They’re so full of spice,” the men would roar back and general merriment would ensue when the same old jokes were trotted out about how Uncle Ed wanted less mirchi in his and all the rest of that.

Mina Cava’s song seems to have fallen out of the masala, as we called it, the sing-along which allowed every memory-challenged person to shout out the words because you only sang the verse everyone knew and then moved on to the next.

Last week, I finally got down to watching a film called Holiday in Bombay (1963), directed and produced by PL Santoshi. It was available, an original VCD of it, for Rs 39, marked down by the producers because of the changes wrought in pricing strategy by Harish Dayani of Moser-Baer.

In those days, films felt the need to take their viewers on a little tour of the country’s most fascinating and exotic city. Some attempts were made to glorify Calcutta but those were limited to an invitation to come and enjoy the
wonders of Chinatown:
Rangeen bahaaron se hai gulzar, Chinatown
Sheherwaalon ki shaam-e-bahaar, Chinatown
Aake to dekho ek baar, Chinatown.
The invitation was quite specific since the refrain was Pyaar ka town, Chinatown.

In Holiday in Bombay, Shashi Kapoor and Rajendranath turn up in the city and enjoy it very much. They cruise the bay (in a boat), they take a tonga, they watch a monkey show and kids playing in a park, they go cycling in Bandra and horse-riding on the beach.

“Yeh haseen Bambai,” sings Shashi and Rajendranath replies with “Apne ko jam gayi.”
“Jis taraf nazar mudi,” ditto, ditto, ditto, “Us taraf hi tham gayi.”
Together, “Dekhiye manzar, naye, naye, naye
Holiday, holiday, holiday, holiday in Bombay.”

The next verse:

Woh hawaa ke taal par naachti leher,
Yeh leher ki chaal par, mil gayi sheher.
Sirf ek chaand par hai fida jahaan
Par hazaar rang ke chaand yahaan
Dil jawaan machal gaye, gaye, gaye, gaye
Holiday (4) in Bombay.”

And then comes the first dark note:

“Dekhiye jidhar nayaa kuch kamaal hai
Har kamaal mein koi golmaal hai.
Dil-fareb laakh yahaan, humsafar yahaan
Har nazar hai jeb par, yeh khabar kahaan.
Kya hai jo nahin yahaan mile, mile, mile, mile
Holiday (4) in Bombay.”

Our city, leddis and gennelmen, was a mixed bag of danger and nazaarein. It was also quite peculiar.

Here’s what Noor Dewasi came up with in Ye Bombay Hai (1959), directed and produced by Nanabhai Vakil.

Bombay sheher ka bada naam hai
Par gadbad ghotale ka har kaam hai
Aalu ko bole batata yahaan
Namaste ko kehte hai ta ta yahaan
Amrud peru aur anda hai baida
Yahaan par huey hai naye naam paida.
Bombay sheher ka bada naam hai
Par gadbad ghotale ka har kaam hai


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