Sakhi Re Sun – Memorable All-Female Duets and More

If I asked you to think of memorable duets, I’m sure that songs of Rafi-Lata, or Rafi-Asha, and Kishore-Lata or Kishore-Asha are the ones that immediately spring to mind. In other words, male-female duets. And indeed these are the most common and also the most memorable songs of Hindi cinema. Who can forget the romantic “Paon Choo Lene Do” from the movie Taj Mahal sung by Rafi and Lata, or the playful “Haal Kaisa Hai Janab Ka” voiced by Kishore and Asha from Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, to name just two. But there are some wonderful duets and even triplets that are worthy of mention, which are all female or all male songs. Okay, okay, I know that word triplets doesn’t apply to songs but it just seemed better than saying group or multiple singer songs!

These songs typically show a form of competition between two or more women, or moments of friendship and bonding between them. These often feature elements of response or repartee.  While there are several examples of some kind of rivalry, in this blog, I want to showcase all female duets that are featured in a more amicable context.

The song “Janu Janu Re Kahe Khanke Hain” from the movie Insaan Jag Utha is a perfect example of girlish bonding as friends, Madhubala and Nishi tease each other about their lovers. The giggly, light-hearted way in which Asha and Geeta Dutt sing the song fits the picturisation perfectly as the two women tug at each other’s braids and clink their anklets.

By contrast, in the movie Basant Bahar, although both Lata and Asha are singing about how their lover has bewitched them in “Kar Gaya Mujhpe Jaadu”, one of them seems to be joyfully dancing while the other, Nimmi is singing ruefully.

But Lata and Asha are not the only musically gifted sisters as is evident from the song, from Grihasti, that has all three sisters, Lata, Asha and Usha singing. “Khile hai sakhi aaj phulwa mann ke” depicts Rajashri and her friends singing and dancing about love and marriage, and the voices of the three sisters blend to perfection in this joyful number that is pleasing to hear and see.

Usha Mangeshkar also goes head to head with Shamshad Begum in the song “Oye Chali Chali” from the 1963 movie, Bluffmaster. This song features a very young Saira Banu clashing with Shammi Kapoor impersonating a female qawwal. While it is not surprising that Usha’s voice suits Saira Banu’s really well, Shamshad Begum’s distinctive singing seems equally well-suited to Shammi’s female guise.

This might also explain the popularity of the song, “Kajra Mohabbatwala” from the movie Kismat in which Shamshad Begum is the playback singer for yet another hero impersonating a woman. In this case, it is Biswajeet dressed as a woman, while Asha Bhosle sings for Babita, dressed as a man. This song has great singing and so much energy that although neither Biswajeet nor Babita are among my favorite actors, this song is a real audio-visual treat.

Although the songs mentioned so far are from an earlier period in film, there are a few modern versions of female duets too. One of my favorite Lata-Asha songs is “Mann Kyun Behaka” from the movie Utsav. This song shows the bonding between Rekha, who plays a courtesan and Anuradha Patel, who is the wife of the man taken up with the courtesan, as they muse about the effects of love. The period sets, gorgeous costumes and beautiful actresses function as the perfect setting for this soft melodious number.

Another recent take on female bonding is the song “Gendha Phool” from the movie Delhi-6 which has all the female members of the extended family engaging in household chores as they sing about married life. The rustic sounding voices of Rekha Bharadwaj, Shrradha Pandit and Sujata Majumdar along with AR Rehman’s music match the domestic scene perfectly.

Although there are many group songs with multiple singers in Bollywood movies today, there are not as many female duets that celebrate kinship among women in today’s Hindi movies. So I would like to end with a golden oldie, a Lata-Asha song that is not as well-known – the classical number “Sakhi re sun bole papiha us paar” from the movie Miss Mary. This one is a gem of a song featuring Meena Kumari as the teacher and Jamuna as the student, but one can easily imagine Lata, the elder sister teaching her younger sister, Asha, who not only manages to keep up with every note, but almost outshines the teacher.

I hope that reading about these songs inspired you to expand your definition of duets to include numbers with all female or all male singers. In the next blog, I will be exploring songs that feature some kind of rivalry or competition.

Can you think of other examples of great all female duets? Email us and let us know.

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