Why we continue to hum ‘Zindagi ek safar hai suhana’?

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‘Zindagi ek safar hai suhana’ is 50 years old and still fresh, immortalised by its poetry, composition and Kishore Kumar’s voice

Swashbuckling Rajesh Khanna in a scarlet sweatshirt. A speeding motorbike, skilfully navigating the traffic of Marine Drive. A serenading hero on the bike humming ‘Zindagi ek safar hai suhana, yahan kal kya ho kisne jana’ (Life is a joyful journey, who knows what tomorrow will bring).

Why we continue to hum ‘Zindagi ek safar hai suhana’?

It is from Andaz, a Shammi Kapoor-Hema Malini starrer, which completes 50 years of its release. Khanna, the superstar, between 1969 and 1971, had delivered 17 hits in a row, and Andaz became one of them, although he only played a 15-minute cameo in the film.

Andaz had several distinct ‘firsts and lasts’. The film was Ramesh Sippy’s directorial debut, and the first major project for Salim-Javed, who went to become highly successful screenplay writers. Andaz also played a role in Shammi Kapoor’s comeback and was one of his last successes.

High point in playback music

However, the spotlight was, and remains, on the title song, ‘Zindagi ek safar hai suhana’. Penned by poet Hasrat Jaipuri, who went on to win that year’s Filmfare Award for Best Lyricist, the song remains a high point in Hindi playback music. Counted as numero uno of Kishore Kumar’s yodel numbers, it is the last song recorded by Jaikishen of Shankar-Jaikishen fame, before he died on September 12 the same year, ending a 22-year musical partnership.

Shankar-Jaikishen used both Indian classical and Western music elements in their scores and never shied away from out-of-the-box ideas.

By the time Jaiskishen passed away in 1971, they had recorded 104 songs for 19 films in that year alone. Among those, ‘Zindagi ek safar’ struck a unique chord with people, becoming a huge hit, more than the film itself, with Kishore Kumar’s yodelling becoming a phenomenon.

Why we continue to hum ‘Zindagi ek safar hai suhana’?

Besides music and singing, Hasrat Jaipuri’s lyrics contributed immensely to its success, with lines like ‘Chand taron sey chalna hai aage, aasmanoh sey badna hai aage, piche rahe jayega yeh zamana’. Loosely translated, it means, ‘We forge ahead of the stars and moon, leaving this mundane world behind.’

It’s not known if Kumar suggested the yodelling to complement the experiential lyrics, or if it was the music composer duo who came up with the innovative idea to enhance the vocal effect.

Believed to be a mode of traditional communication among the shepherds of the Alps in Central Europe, yodelling got a touch of refinement in the 19th century, emerging as a musical form in choirs. It then travelled worldwide, reaching India as well.

Back home, Anoop Kumar, the second of the Ganguly brothers, had an ear for European folk music, and was thus familiar with yodelling.

Kishore picked it up from his brother and mastered it in no time, and soon began to use it in his songs. ‘Panch rupaiya bara aana’, a popular song from the 1958 film Chalti Ka Naam Gadi, was his first successful attempt, and got him some attention. By the time ‘Zindagi ek safar’ came, it became Kumar’s signature style.

Such was the song’s impact that Ramesh Sippy chose to use it thrice in the film, in three different situations and playback voices.

It became a leitmotif binding the three main characters — for Sheetal (Hema Malini; sung by Asha Bhosle), it reminded her of her husband Raj (Rajesh Khanna; sung by Kishore Kumar), while for Ravi (Shammi Kapoor; sung by Mohammad Rafi) a widower, the song was a note of optimism.

The writer is a filmmaker and author, most recently of Banaras: Of Gods, Humans And Stories.

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