Mumbai is one of the most fascinating cities in the world and filmmakers have time and again captured the city’s essence in their works.
Picture a nervous Amol Palekar approaching a graceful Vidya Sinha on a BEST bus ride to work. Or an artistic Amol Palekar sketching a young Tina Munim in a 9.40 ki local. Or Vidya Sinha missing Amol Palekar on a kaali peeli taxi ride.
I have always been an admirer of those beautiful slice-of-life movies from the seventies, made primarily by Basu Chaterjee and Rishikesh Mukherjee which were all about these small and precious moments. The films brilliantly captured the everyday lives of the people of maximum city and were a departure from the usual blockbusters and underworld-inspired gangster movies. What draws me to them is the music and the way the films take me through the many moods and landscapes of Bombay-Mumbai on celluloid. I have chosen some of the best ones here. Through them, you get to see the old Bombay-Mumbai spaces. It’s like travelling back in time.
Aye Dil Hai Mushkil Jeena Yahan, CID
There can’t be a better way to start our list than talking about this evergreen classic from Raj Khosla’s CID. Picturised on legendary comedian Johny Walker, the yesteryear song sums up the spirit of Mumbai quite poignantly. The song takes us through the Mumbai (Bombay or Bambai then) of 1956, when the city was less crammed than today.
Sung by the legendary duo of Mohd. Rafi and Geeta Dutt, the song shows us how the iconic Marine Drive and Nariman Point looked back then. The tonga or horse cart ride pictured here along Marine Drive is still one of the things quintessentially Mumbai.
Mere Mehboob Qayamat Hogi, Mr X in Bombay
This song is a fine example of one of those songs that you remember from the movies you don’t. Penned by Anand Bakshi and sung and enacted by the illustrious Kishore Kumar, the evergreen song is still enjoyed by love-struck youngsters. The song begins with a captivating shot of flying pigeons against the backdrop of the landmark Taj Mahal Hotel and quickly moves to the statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji, which is said to have replaced a similar statue of Prince of Wales. Dressed in a black suit and tie, Kishore-da also takes the viewers through the Gateway of India as cinematographer Rocky Fonseca’s camera gives a clear picture of the area around Apollo Bunder.
Yeh Bambai Shahar Ka Bada Naam Hai, Kya Yahi Bombay Hai
Perhaps, you may have never heard of this song or the 1959 movie that it is a part of. But truth be told, this is one of the most beautifully filmed songs in Mumbai. One can’t help but be absolutely fascinated by not only the lyrics but also the way it represents the city. The most fascinating part are the visuals in which we can see a tram running on the roads of Bombay, as it was called then. The song was written by Noor Dewasi and Bipin Dutta was the composer. But it was Rafi sahab who made it eternal with his golden voice.
Yeh Haseen Bambai Apne Ko To Jam Gayi, Holiday in Bombay
In this 1963 film, director PL Santoshi did a great job of showcasing Mumbai to cinema lovers across the country. Beautifully sung by Mukesh and Mahinder Kapoor, the song features a young and excited Shashi Kapoor with the hilarious Rajendranath, who are holidaying in the city.
The two actors are shown cruising the bay in a boat. They ride a horsecart or tonga and watch a streetside monkey-madaari show, visit a children’s park (probably the Hanging Gardens) and cycle around Bandra, and even enjoy horse-riding by the beach.
Bambai Shahar Ki Tujhko Chal Sair Kara Doon, Piya ka Ghar
Even though a lot of directors have shown Mumbai in their movies, no one matches the sheer genius of Basu Chaterjee who wove magic on the screen. In his films, the city played a central role. This song from Basu-da’s second film takes us through Bombay through the eyes of a migrant, whose quest for a better life has drawn her to the city. The song shows Malti (Jaya Bhaduri) and Ram (Anil Dhawan) on their first outing together after their wedding. They stay in a tiny house with other family members and this outing is an escape. The couple takes a BEST Bus, hire a kaali peeli taxi, and walk around. The happiness on Malti’s face is visible as she splashes sea water on Ram at Chowpatty and marvels at the animals in Byculla Zoo.
Zindagi Ek Safar Hai Suhaana, Andaz
This blockbuster track from the seventies is so Mumbai. Your mom would tell you about how she and her friends used to drool over the magnetic Rajesh Khanna, who yodelled his way along Marine Drive with the gorgeous Hema Malini riding pillion. The song will surprise you with its visuals from the city’s beaches where one can see glimpses of the ‘hippie culture’ from the seventies as foreigners sun themselves. Khanna and Malini romance at a rooftop restaurant, drive around the Gateway and pass through Art Deco buildings at the Queen’s Necklace. Composed by Shankar Jaikishan, written by Hasrat Jaipuri and sung by the legendary Kishore Kumar, the song also topped the annual list of the Binaca Geetmala of 1971.
Rimjhim Girey Saawan, Manzil
If there was an award for capturing Mumbai’s monsoon on celluloid, Basu Chaterjee, along with cinematorgrapher K.K. Mahajan, would have bagged it for this beautiful song from the 1979 film. Shot in South Mumbai, the song depicts the poor boy-rich girl love story of Amitabh Bachchan and Moushumi Chaterjee, as they walk hand-in-hand through the city.
The queen of melody Lata Mangeshkar weaves pure magic as Bachchan and Chaterjee romance at the Queen’s Necklace and walk through a flooded Oval Maidan. The city’s Victorian buildings stand as fine specimens of Neo Gothic architecture in the backdrop, lending the song that charming south Mumbai vibe that leaves every visitor to the city smitten. What makes the song so special is the fact that it was shot in actual rain, and introduced audiences to the magnificence of the famed Mumbai monsoon.
Naa Jaane Kyun and Jaaneman Jaaneman, Chhoti Si Baat
These two gems from the 1976 film let audiences know that travelling in those iconic red BEST buses wasn’t all that tough. Amol Palekar’s Arun and Vidya Sinha’s Prabha hop on and hop off the same bus from the same stop every morning as their romance blossoms through small talk and shared glances.
While the second half of Jaaneman Jaaneman shows Arun and Prabha romancing at a bus stop, Na Jaane Kyun is when Prabha realises her affection for Arun, (who is not in town currently) as she takes the daily double-decker red BEST Bus from Charni Road without him. The entire movie has been shot at beautiful locations around Mumbai, including the iconic Gaylord Café and Metro Cinema. Again, this is Basu Chaterjee at his best.
Suniye Kahiye, Baaton Baaton Me
This all time-favourite takes us through the story of Nancy (Tina Munim) and Tony (Amol Palekar) as they meet at various locations including Bandra’s Bandstand, local train compartments and landmark cafes around town. Just like Chhoti Si Baat, public transport plays a key role here in nurturing the romance between this atypical, charming middle class couple.
While that may not be possible in today’s day and age when riding a local has become a daunting task, it sure felt possible in the late seventies (1979), when the movie was shot. Walking around Bandstand gives the lovers solace from their nagging families and they feel liberated from their daily 9-to-5 grind. This is what Mumbai’s all about, even now. Working hard and then letting it all go as you stare into the vastness of the sea with your special someone.
Kai Baar Yun Bhi Dekha Hai, Rajnigandha
No experience in Mumbai is complete unless you take a ride in a kaali peeli taxi. In Rajnigandha, Vidya Sinha plays Deepa, a PhD student from Delhi, who has come to Mumbai for a job interview. Here she meets her collegemate Naveen (Dinesh Thakur). This leaves her confused about choosing between her existing partner Sanjay (Amol Palekar) and Naveen. During the song, she is seen taking a cab ride in the city with Naveen, but all she can think about is Sanjay. That’s basically every one of us at some point in our dating lives. This is what made these slice-of-life movies so relatable. The song reminds old timers about the days when one could take a taxi without facing those endless and nightmarish traffic jams of Mumbai.
Tumhe Ho Na Ho, Gharonda
This sublime song, composed by Jaidev, written by Gulzar and sung by Runa Laila, still takes old timers back in those days when Mumbai had cleaner beaches and less traffic. The song starts with Zarina Wahab and Amol Palekar getting on, you guessed it, a BEST bus.
What follows could be a great itinerary for any traveller in the city. They enjoy splendid views of the sea from the Hanging Gardens, drink coconut water (nariyal pani) at the beach, savour some bhel puri, spend time at the Marine Drive rocks and visit the Bandra Fort. The song ends with a stunning sunset view. Director Bhim Sain does equal justice to Mumbai in two other songs from the film: Do Deewane Shahar Mein and its more melancholic version, Ek Akela Is Shahar Mein. The songs draw a contrast between a happy couple on a house-hunting spree and a lonely man trying to find meaning in life as he searches for a place for himself in the city.