Monthly Archives: February 2014

Simkie’s Choreography in the Awara Dream Sequence (Hindi, 1951)



Simkie’s Choreography in the Awara Dream Sequence (Hindi, 1951)

When I first heard that Uday Shankar’s early dance partner Simkie choreographed the famous dream sequence in Awara (Hindi, 1951), I was quite surprised!  That song and dance sequence is one of the most iconic and well-known from the “golden era” of Hindi cinema.  But the real eye-opener was seeing that Simkie’s choreography is taken straight from the Uday Shankar playbook as evidenced by the dances in his 1948 dance film Kalpana (which we can now watch in full thanks to!).  A few sources had mentioned the influence of Kalpana on Awara‘s dream sequence before, but now we can see the evidence for our own eyes.  And what an influence; it’s direct and unmistakable!

Awara‘s dream sequence is comprised of three segments filmed in three different spaces which Gayatri Chatterjee in her National Award-winning book Awara sees as representing the “Earth-Hell-Heaven triptych.”  “Tere Bina Aag Yeh Chandni” is the name of the song for the first two segments (earth and hell) though some have listed the second hell segment as a separate song “Mujhko Chahiye Bahar.” “Ghar Aya Mera Pardesi” is the song for the last segment (heaven).

The “Earth” and “Heaven” Segments

In the first and last segments, the dancers’ graceful side-to-side movements, arm postures and trajectories, and hand gestures are clearly directly inspired by Shankar’s choreographies especially Kartikeya and Rasa Leela (click on the links to watch them inKalpana), and these movements are echoed in the “dancing” by lead Nargis as well.  The arm movements the dancers are performing at the beginning of the clip below be seen in Amala Shankar’s Manipuri dance, and the spins at 6:24 are also seen identically in Kalpanain a few places.

Left: Awara   Right: Kalpana     Could it be any more obvious!

Instead of doing a comparison video, I’ve displayed the dream sequence videos below and linked to or described the inspirations in this post.  The first segment runs til 1:07, and the last segment starts at 2:46.  Note: The official clip below leaves out the two-minute introduction featuring some imaginative set design and the introduction of the dancers; the whole dream sequence in its entirety can be viewed here.

Isn’t the “South Indian” vibe of Nargis’ dance posing and costume starting at 5:32 interesting!  I wish more footage had been included since the Bharatanatyam/Kuchipudi inspiration is obvious and would have added a third “style” of choreography to the dream sequence.  The giant Nataraja statue provided the perfect background!

“Hell” Segment

The middle segment in which Raj Kapoor’s character descends into “Hell” dramatically shifts the style of choreography from slow-paced grace to aggressive, forceful movements, but they are still taken straight from Shankar’s creative style and are a testament to his ability to express varied emotions and ideas.  The wide half-seated posture, back and forth movements, and finger-spread hand shimmies all have direct parallels in movements seen in Kalpana particularly the Naga tribal dance and Astra Puja/Sword Dance.

While I had shown in my last post that the “finger-spread hand shimmies” as I’m calling them had inspiration from Kathakali dance from southern India, another blogger made a very interesting connection to another likely source of inspiration: Kecak dance from Bali, Indonesia. The similarities are obvious in not only the individual dance movements but also the way the group is spatially arranged.  I became convinced of this connection after reading that Uday Shankar had visited Indonesia to observe its indigenous dance forms in 1935.  In excerpts from Shankar’s diary about the trip, “Ketchok” is among the dances he notes watching in addition to “kabbiyar, “lagon,” “krish,” and “Wayang Koolit” shadow-puppet play (Abrahams).  Intriguingly, Shankar mentions having dinner with Mr. Spiers.  I wonder if “Mr. Spiers” is a mispelled reference to “Walter Spies” who supposedly was instrumental in popularizing Kecak dance in the 1930s!

Here is a cinematic view of the Kecak dance in the film Baraka.  Shankar’s inspiration is obvious!

The Making and Themes

Awara‘s dream sequence reportedly took three months to shoot and was not formally planned until mid-shooting.  The sets were designed by M.R. Achredkar and a chemist was hired to create the “cloud effect” with dry ice.  Some sources note the sequence’s ideas were inspired from some Hollywood musicals of the time (the dream sequence in An American in Paris was allegedly one), but Kalpana gives plenty of set design inspiration all on its own with the grandiose objects, flames, and smoke columns.  And by the way–there are a few sources, including The Hindu, who incorrectly cite Zohra Segal as the choreographer for the dream sequence!

Thematically, the book Global Bollywood: Travels of Hindi Song and Dance gives an interesting perspective on the meaning behind the sequence:

“Integrating narrative and lush spectacle, this scene condenses the themes of the film and prefigures the ending. At the same time, it functions as a metacomment on popular filmmaking with its amalgam of”art” and “kitsch” and marks a transition in narrative modes–from romantic realism to melodrama.  Through visual icons and “universal” signifiers, such as a staircase that leads in one direction to an idyllic world represented by a tower set amid fluffy clouds and in another to a hell represented by flames and grotesque statues, the sequence captures in shorthand the social gap that separates the principals and the various conflicts encountered by the hero. Its innovative use of space, perspective, and the movement of bodies visually realizes Awaara’s critique of the existing social order as the hero plaintively cries, “Mujhko yeh narak na chahiye; mujhko phool, mujhko geet, mujhko preet chahiye” [I don’t want this hell; I want flowers, I want music, and I want love], even while it relocates this critique in the individual.”

Dancers – The Little Ballet Troupe, and Helen!
I was very surprised to read in Chatterjee’s book that the dancers in the dream sequence were from Shanti Bardhan’s Little Ballet Troupe!  Shanti Bardhan was part of Uday Shankar’s Center in Almora for a few years before striking out on his own, performing with the Indian People’s Theater Association (IPTA), and then forming his own Little Ballet Troupe in 1952.  Another surprise find about the dream sequence: famous Cabaret film dancer Helen was supposedly among the background dancers in what would be her first screen appearance!  Can anyone spot her?
Uday Shankar’s Influence on Film Dance
While it has been thrilling to see the impact Uday Shankar had on one of the most well-known songs in Hindi cinema, his influence was not restricted to Awaraalone.  V.A.K Ranga Rao in his article “Dance in Indian Cinema” reveals that Shakar’s influence on 1950s and 60s film dance was “immeasurable.”  While Shankar’s only film Kalpana was an unsuccessful flop, his influence on film dance spread through the students and dancers that worked with him during the making ofKalpana and earlier at his novel training Center in Almora.  These dancers “received the kind of allround training that was unthought of in [the] Indian dance world” until then and many of them became “independent choreographers” and worked in cinema spreading “the Uday Shankar turn of limb, taste of aesthetics around” not only in choreography but also visual presentation.  Among them, Narendra Sharma, Sachin Shankar, Zohra Segal, Guru Dutt, and more all choreographed for films.  Researching their work in films seems to have proven Ranga Rao’s assertion true which I’ll be highlighting in future posts. It seems Shankar’s influence on cinema through his trainees is a subject that hasn’t received much attention…making it an ideal research project for yours truly!  I’m also happy to be covering Hindi cinema which doesn’t get much exposure on this blog. 🙂


Abrahams, Ruth Karen.  The Life and Art of Uday Shankar.  PhD Dissertation.
Bardhan, Gul.  Rhythm Incarnate: Tribute to Shanti Bardhan.
Chatterjee, Gayatri.  “The Hero’s Fears and Nightmares.”  Awara.
Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Encyclopaedia of Hindi Cinema.
Gopal, Sangita and Sujata Moorti.  Global Bollywood: Travels of Hindi Song and Dance.
Ranga Rao, V.A.K.  “Dance in Indian Cinema.”   Rasa: The Indian Performing Arts in the Last Twenty-five Years.

Bin dekhe aur bin pehchaane : A discussion



My first day in Cairo… I head down to breakfast at the hotel I am staying in… I start to eat and suddenly my attention drifts to the tune being played. It sounds familiar and I recognise it. It is this song! Did not know that this sing was originally an Arabic song


  • Raj Chandarana The tune for the song came from Ron Godwin’s Dancing Eyes. Shankar Jaikishen were great fans of Ron and often based their work on his compositions
  • Asha Sridhar Well Raj, there is also an Arabic tune. So I don’t which of the 3 came first.
  • Raj Chandarana fascinating , would love to hear the Arabic tune. Yes agreed it could be based on that. Pretty sure Bin Dekhe .. Was not the original though. There was a write up on SJ compositions inspired by RGs work . I think it was Dattaram who wrote it or mentioned in an interview . anyway Bin Dekhe is a wonderful and I love it .
  • Arunesh Gupta thnx raj chandarana ji 4 this wonderful post thnx again
  • Asha Sridhar Yes and even though it is a copy, SJ had their own take on it.
  • Raj Chandarana Ashaji , I’m curious , in which way did SJ have their own take on Rons tune. They are identical compositions. Would love to learn more.
  • Asha Sridhar Haha  I get a slightly more Indian flavour
  • Raj Chandarana Hmm.., interesting.
  • Raj Senani I don’t think all of Ron Goodwin’s compositions are ORIGINALLY his ! IMO, most of them are derived/inspired from folk music of Arabian countries, Iran and others. I heard one of the so-called `HIS” compositions in Tehran in 2012 and confirmed (again and again) from very knowledgeable Iranian friends that that particular Ron Goodwin’s composition was, indeed, based upon an Iranian folk tune. So-much-so for Ron Godwin’s assumed `originality’ !!
  • Deepak Kadam Very nice post
  • Raj Chandarana Raj ji
    Very informative .must stress I have not said Ron Godwin’s ORIGINAL tunes. More to the point his compositions ( however he may been inspired) . It is a documented fact that SJ took a lot of inspiration from RG and famously … Ghar Aya mere paradesi .. In AWARA from Arabian tune which SJ openly admitted , it was a tune that Raj Kapoor liked so they used it as it was. 
    There is no negativity towards SJ here, but at the same time must remain open minded about how our Heros SJ used all the available resources to them to create their own, Just like the present day composers turn to SJ , LP KA. RDB For inspiration.
  • Rama Narayana Raj Chandaranaji…It is true that SJ copied these songs mentioned by you 100% including interludes…But the orchestration and use of selective sets/types of instruments in it and tune adoption ( aur iss dhun kaa Hindikaran) has the stamp of their intelligence ! Bombay is the Gateway of India for importing any thing ! Regarding Ghar aaya Mera Pardesi ..they had nicely adopted the tune and moulded it in Raag Bhairavi !As you rightly mentioned … SJ used all the available resources to them to create their own …sometimes adopted and sometimes modified the resources !
  • Sudarshan Pandey As Raj Chandarana ji has said, we should not get hurt or irritated or dislike if we get to know or someone says that SJ were inspired by some certain tune. This is a good comment because in those days there were very few people who could afford to buy music records of foreign musicians. SJ or whoever music director used to listen a good tune they wanted their fans to listen to that tune. We should be grateful to these music directors. 

    SJ fans can feel very proud that each and every tune they picked, they polished and decorated that tune with their color and ornaments producing Indianised version of that particular tune which according to me were far better than the originals.

    And the on the top, sometimes using foreign tunes were either their choice or choice by actor, director, producer etc etc and music directors were agree to oblige their request.

    We should keep in mind that working on other’s tune and making it more attractive is always a tough job.

  • Rama Narayana It is true.. Sudarshan Pandeyji and Raj Chandaranaji ! I said it in other words..even if they had adopted some foreign tunes, they with their skill improvised them and made them memorable ! You both have nicely detailed their passion in creating music ! Both of them lived, breathed, understood fully well Indian classical music and also western style of music and experimented fusion music and created many memorable hits which we enjoy them even today and the generations in future will also enjoy ! That’s why they are Great Legends and Trend setters!
  • Nikhil E Iyer The most difficult thing in life to take inspiration from something and creating an own tune keeping the inspiration in mind…that’s why SJ were the masters-they got inspired and decorated that inspiration with their self ideas and unique abilities taking the music to another level keeping our ‘hindustani’ flavour alive..
  • Asha Sridhar Well, just because SJ were inspired at times, it does not mean that they didn’t do anything originally. One of my friends, who is not a very big Naushad fan, always says snidely that Naushad was not very original because he was always inspired by classical raagas
  • Raj Chandarana This type of comments really goes to show that there can not be a reasonable discussion On the matters of above. Yes we all love SJ and Naushad and Madan Mohan and S D Burman and anyone else you care to name. We should really stop treating them as celestial beings. They were as mortal as the rest . It is their creative talents that we love and respect and endeavor to learn more about . Through exchange of views and debates we are able to do so. But it seems that any and all points that may appear slightly negative are rejected by many who can not see beyond the fact that these people could do no wrong. Well there have been no suggestions that SJ didn’t do anything original . It is through the availability of information over the internet that we can , as die hard fans , discover what inspired SJ, Naushad and many more. How many in the 1950’s knew that there were Arabic tunes or western tunes incorporated in their favourite songs? How many knew in the 1960s that SJ’s .. Dekho Aab to .. was based on a Beatles song , and Kaun hai Jo sapno me aaya was based on an Elvis Presley song. How many knew that Naushad used western Waltz in many of compositions? 
    I would urge people to remain open minded and look at the wealth of information available to us now and learn about their beloved SJ , LP, Naushad. .KA , etc. you will enjoy their music even more . 
    The choice remains with you.
  • Asha Sridhar Raj, you are right. It is important to enjoy the music…
  • Raj Chandarana To address the comment that Naushad was not very original because he was inspired by classical ragas … 
    One must first understand classical ragas before making such comments. Classical ragas are not composed pieces of work like western symphonies that can be copied in entirety . There are fixed ascending and descending notes in a raga scale and each raga has a time frame and mood. From this basic information the composer had to create his own composition. 
    Raga music is improvised depending on the mood , seasons, time of day etc. 
    Naushad ‘s. O Duniya ke rakhwale. From Baiju Bawra was based in Raga Darbari . So for this Naushad would have selected the notes of Darbari because it matched the mood required for the song. Then he would have to create a composition on the mood and in the framework of Darbari. 

    Important to remember Raga music is improvised never written. Raga Darbari played by Ustad Vilayat Khan will be different to Darbari played by Pandit Ravi Shankar. Yet it will remain in the same framework. 

    So to conclude was Naushad not original because he was inspired by RAGAS ? In my opinion he was Original. But in his use of western waltz he was not original.

  • Asha Sridhar Raj, it was a light hearted comment and not to be taken seriously lol
  • Rama Narayana Raj Chandarana ji.. I am to add to what you mentioned above… Even when the composers use classical raagas, they are not purely based on a particular Raaga and they mix other notes too to beautify the tune …that is their talent ..for example the composers start a tune in Raag Bhairav, evolve it into Raag Bhairavi and conclude it into Raag Ahir Bhairav (Jaagte Raho : Jaago Mohan Pyaare-by SalilDa) ! Same Raag Bhairavi SJ used to build up various moods in various situations…like Jaanewale Zara Hoshiyar…Juhi Ki Kali Meri Laadli…Ramaiah Vastaavaiah…Hum Kaale Hain To Kya Hua Dilwale Hain … Main Piya Teri Tu Maane Yaa Na Maane…Man Re Koi Bataa Kyaa Gaoon..Joshe Jawani Haye Re Haye..Mere Mann Ki Ganga..and so on…SJ and Naushad Saheb were brand ambassadors of Raag Bhairavi..SJ even used all Janya Raagas of Bhairavi ! Music was their life Style/soul… They even ventured to create fusion music(Indian and Western) in films and in private albums like “Raaga Jazz Style” even when they were very young ! We have very talented composers who left for us a TREASURE of is only our turn to ENJOY them !
  • Raj Chandarana Rama Narayana ji , well said. This shows that the raga inspired comopsitions can be said to be original. I have 3 copies of the album Raga Jazz Style . Master piece of composing.
  • Rama Narayana Raj Chandaranaji…To our surprise …The Arabian tunes match with the notes of Raagas Bhairav and Bhairavi,whereas the Western tunes with those of NatBhairavi and Keervaani…When tunes are made in Indian films, we enjoy the songs without being aware of the fact that they are based on classical Raagas or adopted ones from music abroad ..that is the beauty of experimentation done by our composers ! As you said rightly… our compositions, based raagas, can be termed to be original but at the same time, compositions based on same raaga may be mistaken for copied tunes! Sir… Indian classical music is our cultural heritage..Filmy composers like Shanker-Jaikshen, Naushad Saheb,Roshan,SachinDevBurman, MadanMohan, SalilDa,NayyerSaheb and so on …they all kept it alive through their lovely melodies based on Indian classical Raagas with their unique styles … Morover, Home made food is always tasty and healthy ! It is nice to interact with you RajSaheb!
    20 hours ago · Edited · Unlike · 3
  • Raj Chandarana Bravo. My hat off to you for your knowledge. I am very passionate about Raga music ( however I am not a musician) . Over the years I have sat with vilayat khan , Ravi Shankar, Rais Khan , Bismillah Khan and many more and discussed raga music . Even the most accomplished of western musicians have been to India to learn the basics of raga music, Yehudi Menhuin, Dave Brubeck, John Coltrain are just some. This action alone gives great respect to our Raga music.
    22 hours ago · Edited · Unlike · 4
  • Raj Chandarana Ashaji Thank you for posting Bin dekhe …. It has meandered into an interesting interaction.
  • Asha Sridhar I loved reading all the comments. Thanks to all contributors for making this an interesting and informative thread.
  • Rama Narayana Raj Chandaranaji..!I salute to you Rajsaheb for your association with so many great musicians ! But I am not that expert classical knowledgeable person… whatever I have learnt from “Vividh Bharati : Sangeeth Sarita/Swar Sudha Programmes” and interviews with great musicians/maestros, their published articles, I dared to place here some views of mine out of my meagre and mere observation on the filmy songs vis-à-vis the classical traditional collection I have with me…Really I do not know classical in depth…It is again not like OPNayyer Saheb’s statement…(he used to say “ I don’t know classical”) a Composer who composed “Tu Hai Mera Prem Devta”(Kalpana) in Raag Lalit and “Man Mora Bawra” (Raagini) in Raag NatBhairavi and tuned almost 80 percent of his songs in Raag Peelu alone ! It is really a great pleasure for me to have interaction with you,Sir ! Asha Sridharji I could interact with such a knowledgeable person because of your sharing of this song here ! Regards !
    20 hours ago · Edited · Unlike · 5
  • Krishnakumar Bhagwat Nice song with foot tapping music…..
  • Sudarshan Pandey Dear Raj Chandarana ji, you said, “that there can not be a reasonable discussion On the matters of above.”
    But you will appreciate that your discussion proved it very reasonable for many of us. Sir, this is open forum and you will find here people with no knowledge, or very less knowledge or misinformed etc etc. So please don’t get disheartened by few comments by people having wrong information. Raga Based songs should not be taken as a identification for not being original. Even you will get few people who are more vocal against such inspirations and straightway call the music director with taunt. But we should not get disturbed by these acts or comments and our job is to make these people understand about the misconceptions. Such discussions helps to clear many doubts in mind of ordinary listeners. Thanks a lot to Rama Narayana ji, Asha Sridhar ji and you sir.
    13 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Raj Chandarana Sudarshan Pandey ji , absolutely correct. A point well made and noted. Thank you.
    7 hours ago · Edited · Unlike · 1
  • Raj Chandarana Rama Narayanaji – it is I who should salute you. I have no formal training in music . It is just sheer passion , lots of listening and reading.
    7 hours ago · Unlike · 2
  • Maruti Rao V I have never seen a thread like this before and the discussion that has opened up has revealed such an valuable information on Ragas, SP ji the whole discussion has to be documented. Before such eminent and knowledgable people like Raj ji and Rama ji, our knowledge on everything looks limited. We are indeed privileged to have such extraordinary people here.
    7 hours ago · Unlike · 2
  • Rama Narayana It is amazing that the discussion started with “Bin Dekhe aur Bin Pehchane” and the comment series also went as a flow of views from us bin dekhe aur bin pehchane (none of us knows one another) but it went on well and we enjoyed ..Thanks to this SJ forum for being a platform for such interesting interactions on … copying (adopting tunes from abroad)…. composing on getting inspired by other tunes…using various classical Raagas as basis for composing filmy songs…the fusion music and so on !Various Maestros presented their tunes basing on same Raaga by treating it differently…even same music director used the same Raaga in different situations suitable to the filmy situational requirements …that shows their creativity and talent ! They are no less to any pure classical artistes ! Raj Chandarana ji, Sudarshan Pandeyji, Maruti Rao V ji…! Happy to be with you all without knowing much about one another (Bin Dekhe aur Bin Pehchane)…!!!! Further let us look forward..we will be knowing and realising more about aspects of this sort from one another ! Regards !
    5 hours ago · Unlike · 2
  • Rama Narayana Special thanks and regards to Asha Sridhar ji !
    5 hours ago · Unlike · 1
  • Neeraj Mittal Ron Goodwin’s Music for an Arabian Night has been a big source of inspiration for our MDs. This number appears in that album. Then Old Beirut inspired Koi Bulaye Aur Koi Aaye. Inspiration for Kahin karti hogi Woh Mera intezar, Baje Payal Chhun Chhun hoke Beqarar etc. can be traced to this album. Asha Sridhar ji will hear many more familiar tunes in Cairo.
    Thanks Raj Chandarana ji, Sudarshan Pandeyji, and Rama Narayanaji for the interesting discussion.
    5 hours ago · Unlike · 2
  • Rama Narayana Very interesting info Neeraj Mittal ji ..Thanks for highlighting such aspects of composing…It is interesting also to note that the Arabian tunes have some affinity towards Raag Bhairav (in Carnatic classical music it is equivalent to Raag Maayamaalava Gowla) ! Bhairav being the Raaga-thought itself, SJ used all raag-lets (Janya Raagas) of Bhairav…Sindhu Bhairavi, NataBhairavi, Ahir Bhairav and so make their creative tunes ! They were born for Creative and Trend-setting Music !
    4 hours ago · Unlike · 2
  • Neeraj Mittal It is always a pleasure to just read the comments of people like you on this forum. It helps me appreciate music better. Chandarana ji has commented above that tune is a straight lift. I feel that there is nothing wrong in it because a song is not just the melody but the orchestration, tempo, harmonies, and the way it is sung are also very important. There are very few songs that can be called plagiarized. If you listen to Nazrul Islam’s Aruno Kanti Kego Jogi, you will find that entire tune without any change, was used by S D Burman in Poochho na kaise Maine rain Bitai, but the moods of both the numbers are quite different. I shall not like to call it plagiarism just because a tune inspired a team of lyricist, MD, and singer to create something entirely new and different. I shall request Sudarshan Pandeyji, and other Admins to invite knowledgeable members in the debate for their views.
    4 hours ago · Unlike · 1
  • Raj Chandarana Neeraj Mittal ji . This is wonderful information. I am not an expert on Bengali folk melodies but have often come across SD Burman songs that have originated from the folk traditions 0f Bengal . Going back to BIN DEKHE BIN PECHHANE… If Rafisahab were to sing the lyrics to Ron Goodwins piece the song would be the same. The mood and the tempo is the same in SJ version. Would any one agree with me that a tune played on a piano and then on a the flute still remains the same tune but different sound ? It is this I try to point out that the tunes remain the same with maybe different orchestration. Plagiarism is not a term I like to use , I think the creative mind should take from everything around it and and then set about doing its work. If we were to take the discussion a lot deeper than it can be said hypothetically IF SJ copied the tune exactly note for note then it is plagiarism but with a change in just one note makes it a different composition in which case it can be said that SJ were inspired by a particular tune and not copied it. 

    It would be very interesting to take part in other debates. Always looking to learn , I find it allows me to enjoy the songs even more.

  • Neeraj Mittal Nazrul Islam was an Indian Bangla poet. He was a revolutionary and was known as Vidrohi Kavi. In 1972 he was invited by Bangladesh government to live in Dhaka where he lived till his death. He wrote and composed numerous songs, collectively known as Nazrul Geeti, and some of them are considered to be in the same class as Rabindra Sangeet. I give the link to the Nazrul song.

  • Sudarshan Pandey When such discussions happen, I feel proud of SJ and their ardent fans for making the group more vibrant and useful. And as advised by Maruti Rao V ji, I am here for its documentation. Doing it in few minutes. Everyone who participated and shared views deserve kudos for their intensity.