Top 24 Bollywood Movie (or Hindi Film) Songs of All Time: Results, Observations and Lessons Learned

Saidas M. Ranade, Houston, Texas

Since the release of Alam Aara in 1931 Bollywood has by one count produced more than 40,000 songs.  On January 7, 2012 I launched a project to find the Top 24 Hindi film songs of all time. I gathered data from various sources such as Binaca Geetmala, Filmfare awards, Plant Bollywood’s top 100, Outlook India.com jury’s top 20, etc. and narrowed the list down to 600 songs. Each week, I presented a selection of songs and the public voted online for their favorite songs. About 100 songs made it to the final round which began on December 8, 2012. The final round ended on December 31. And I am pleased with the results.

Cross tabulating the results using a person’s age as the basis, as expected, showed as shift in the songs selected. In general, with a few exceptions, younger respondents selected newer songs. To improve the validity of the results I decided to include the songs selected by the younger folks (35 and under) as well as songs that were too close in votes tally to be excluded from the top 24 in a separate Honorable Mentions list. To view the top 24 and honorable mentions list visit:http://mirthmystic.com/witscript/?p=72

Here are a few interesting insights and observations about the songs that made it to the top 24 list:

  • Seven of the top 24 songs were also picked by a high profile jury assembled by OutlookIndia.com in 2006.
  • I had often heard 1960s being referred to as the Golden Age of Hindi Cinema. Eleven songs in the Top 24 are from the 60s. Seven are from the 70s. These results are not an aberration or an accident. The top 24 songs list reflects the history and evolution of Bollywood. Shakeel Badayuni, Anand Bakshi, Rajinder Krishan, Kaifi Azmi, Hasrat Jaipuri, Majrooh Sultanpuri and Sahir Ludhianvi were born around the year 1920. Majority of these writers got their first break around the year 1950. And, they were the most prolific during the 60s and the 70s. This period of 1960s and 70s also coincided with the time during which Bollywood’s film production technologies, crafts and skills became more refined.  Today visual elements of a movie are very important during its pre-release and launch phase. Until the late 70s, radio was the main medium of publicity for Bollywood. Hence music and songs were considered to be critical to the success of a movie. It was also the time during which Indian classical music played a bigger role in composition and rendition of songs.
  • This is purely a conjecture.  Either because the field was saturated with already established lyricists or because song-writing was not considered as glamorous as the actors and actresses, new lyricists did not enter the field until the 90s. In addition passing away of Jaikishan, S D Burman, Vasant Desai in the 70s and Salil Chowdhury and Shankar in the 80s may have contributed to the lack of good quality songs in the 80s and 90s.
  • I suspect that the recent passing away of Dev Anand and Rajesh Khanna may have had some impact on how people voted for their favorite songs. Only time will tell if this claim in true.
  • People are either good at or are more comfortable picking the top song rather than the top 5. In most of the categories (Love, Romance, Funny, Cabaret, etc.) the vote count for the number one choice far exceeded the tally for the second choice.
  • The right combination or collaboration leads to success. Manna Dey and Kishore Kumar, Aishwraya and Madhuri, RD Burman and Anand Bakshi, SD Burman and Majrooh Sultanpuri, AR Rahman and Javed Akthar.
  • In the United States they speak about Christopher Cross as a one hit wonder. One would naturally expect some songs written by Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, and Hasrat Jaipuri to be in the Top 24. What is surprising is that the list also includes songs written by less prolific lyricists like Bharat Vyas, Shahryar, Gulshan Bawra and Yogesh. One would expect any top songs list to include songs composed by music directors like Shankar Jaikishan, RD Burman, etc. Again what surprised me is that the Top 24 list includes songs composed by less well-known composers such as Ravi, Jaidev, Ismail Darbar, Khayyam and Vasant Desai.  My conclusion is that quantity of output helps in achieving excellence but there may be exceptions to that rule.
  • I am not familiar with the classical Hindustani or Carnatic music but I was expecting that one or two classical ragas would stand out in the top 24 list. While this did not happen six of the top 24 songs were based on either raga Piloo, raga Pahadi or raga Khammaj.
  • One would have expected more songs with AR Rahman as the music director to be in the Top 24. I think AR Rahman’s musical talent and composition skills are amazing. Unfortunately the songs for which he has been the music director, with some exceptions, do not seem to be memorable or hummable. I think his music overshadows the lyrics in songs.
  • As far as the future goes I believe that we (Indians and Indo-Americans) need to encourage young people to study liberal arts, languages and poetry.  Majority of the influential lyricists in Bollywood had early training (or talim) in Urdu and Persian. I recommend training for young students in Hindi, Sanskrit, Urdu and other languages. The beauty and uniqueness of India is in its languages, traditions, dance and music. Rather than getting caught up in sales and marketing gimmicks, and using the actors as “brands,” Bollywood has an opportunity to leverage and represent the true essence of India as its brand. This is what the rest of world  and the Oscars are waiting for. While the sameness of technology and material objects may be helpful for efficiency and convenience the sameness and homogeneity of arts, culture, language, dance and traditions is a recipe for a boring and depressing future.

Since the project lasted one whole year, along the way I also learned a lot about the people, technology, marketing, and myself.

  • For me the first lesson was: Just because you think something is important does not mean it is important to everyone. At first it was hard to accept this but with time I realized that not everyone is going to be as excited about this project as I am.  I realized that people have other important priorities. I was reminded of an advice from a book called The Four Agreements by Miguel Angel Ruiz: “Don’t take things personally.”
  • Some members of my own alumni organization members from ICT in Mumbai, India (excluding the BChemE batch of 1980) insinuated that I was abusing my access to their network for some sort of selfish gain. A few especially Maharashtrians and Tamilians were clear in their wishes to not receive any further e-mails from me. I think part of their reservations also stemmed from the fact that Bollywood is seen by many as a “big money” business that lacks artistic values and caters to the lowest drives in human beings.  While there may be some truth to that assertion, Bollywood has produced lasting visual art, created wonderful songs and music and along with cricket put India on the world entertainment map. I simply cannot imagine a life without Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle and Kishore Kumar.
  • When everything is said and done, more is said than done: Majority of the people told me that they would vote and never did. I think for most people it is important to appear to be nice or to be seen as respectful rather than to either speak the truth or support words with actions. Again, the lesson for me is one of the four agreements from the book The Four Agreements by Miguel Angel Ruiz: “Keep your word.”
  • We have destroyed the potential and the future of the Internet by making it mainly an arena for commerce. We are so sensitive to sales and marketing ploys that very few people believed my assertion that there was no catch in the project. Due to fear of viruses, hackers, and other scams many people probably did not even open my e-mails. After I sent out my first e-mail blast about the project, a Professor of ethnic music studies at Colombia University sent me threatening and degrading e-mails because I asked for his vote and he did not want to receive any more e-mails from me.
  • In the US everyone seems to be totally booked and does not have time. Time has become money for most Indo-Americans. Many Indo-Americans feel that they are wasting time if they are not making money. A newspaper editor told me that putting anything in a newspaper about the project would not be of any help. A close friend of mine from the Sugarland instead of offering help told me that this project was for young people. The biggest surprise was that with a few exceptions, I did not get any collaboration or support from my friends and acquaintances in the US who are supposedly fans of Bollywood and who are in the media business related to Bollywood. Radio station DJs who are supposed to make their living off Bollywood music were the worst about either participation or support. Lesson for me: When someone asks for help for a good or an interesting cause do my best to help even if there is no short term gain from that exercise.
  • I had been informed by others and seen in the past the low rates of civic participation from young people. However I did not believe that until I worked on this project. I sent countless e-mails to India Student Associations (at UH, Rice, Texas, etc.) and organizations like NetIP and got minimal response. Some of this may be because we are sensitive to Internet scams. Another reason might be that they did not believe that there was no gimmick or catch in the project. However, as hard as it may be to accept, there may be one other simple reason: Since the project did not include money, sex, fame, food or booze, they simply didn’t give a damn!

2 comments

  1. Pradeep Gavankar says:

    Excellent analysis of your findings during this project! I get the feeling that the issues relating to people’s participation were somewhat predictable. I, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the process. You can count on my support for any future surveys involving an interesting subject matter.

    Congratulations on a well executed project!

  2. Vishram Dhole says:

    Dear Saidas, First of all heartiest congratulations for a wonderful project- managed almost single handed. Unfortunately, I could not participate/ vote in the project as I came to know about it only today (29 Jan). But it was great knowing about it and it was quite insightful to read the list of top songs and your quick comments on it.
    A little about me- I am a media professor from Pune and HFS has not only been my life-time engagement but also an area of academic research interest. I therefore completely appreciate the significance of your project, your efforts and involvement towards the same.
    Would like to know more about it than what appears on the site. Will appreciate if we can communicate via e-mails.
    Thanks, Regards and Once Again- Congratulations..

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