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Cycle trails of Bollywood

Guest article by DP Rangan

(It is ironic that while bicycle is being crowded out by scooters, motorcycles and cars in the developing world, it is the developed world where bicycle riding is being promoted in a big way as a means of transport to commute to work or pleasure. A time may come when bicycle may become a distant memory to be savoured from old film songs in India.  Not too long ago, it was the main mode of transport. It also has a fascinating history going back to about three centuries, but, surprising as it may sound, the modern pedal-bicycle evolved later than trains.

After taking us through horses, tongas and steam engine, our indefatigable DP Rangan now logically takes us on a joy-ride of cycle songs. Along the way, he also writes a dissertation on its history. Blog readers have a short attention span, but SoY has a number of readers who would find this part interesting and useful. I must thank Mr Rangan profusely again for his great effort. – AK)

Cycle songI started my first post on a thematic subject – ‘horse’ – because my knowledge of Bollywood in its various aspects is next to nothing. I even admit to some muted feeling of jealousy on my part at the multi-faceted genius of the blog founder AK who can turn out post after post of a bewildering variety with aplomb and rapidity. Theme writing has already been established and I adopted it conveniently to suit my needs. Dinesh K. Jain, a keen and punctilious commentator of the blog made an observation on my first post:

The other bright side to the current trend is that now we can also expect dog-songs, elephant- songs, and so on!

Till now I felt low in not being able to fulfil his simple wish. Songs available on animal theme are very scarce and I apologise for my inability to build a post with significant contribution on my part. Since I could not do anything useful on animate subjects, my attention was diverted to the inanimate. My better half suggested songs based on Bicycle riding. I immediately jumped on the band wagon, put on my thinking cap and started the post.

The habit ingrained in me would not allow me to proceed directly. I have to digress to some extent to cover the history of development of bicycle, which is quite fascinating. I will try to be as brief as possible touching on important milestones in the development of bicycle as we know today.

Credit for the first inventor of the bicycle design cannot be given to anyone as it is shrouded in mystery. The feeling of jingoism makes every country claim its citizen as the pioneer. Leonardo da Vinci is supposed to have sketched the first cycle. It is only an unsubstantiated claim.

Horses used to be major vehicle of transportation in those days. Tamboro, a 14100 feet high volcano located in Sumbawa, Indonesia erupted on a massive scale in April 1815. Volcanic ash spread over the entire stratosphere triggering ‘volcanic winter’. Famine gripped Europe and America and horses were a heavy casualty. Failure to feed surviving horses led to a vacuum in transportation sector and this probably led to the invention of mechanical transportation. The first authentic claim to the development of a practically usable bicycle, Laufmaschine, in 1817, is attributed to German Baron Karl von Drais. The press called it draisine (English). It was the first successful two-wheeled human steerable contraption which was also commercially viable. It went by its popular name – velocipede and also nick named hobby horse or dandy horse. On his first reported ride from Mannheim, he covered thirteen miles in an hour, an astonishing record for the period. It is pertinent to note that people had to keep their feet firmly on the ground and move forward by pushing against on the ground forward. A sketch of the vehicle is reproduced below.

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The velocipede spread rapidly over Western Europe and America. Being accident prone, several city authorities confined its plying on the sidewalks as the main street with its vehicle-rutted surface was unsuitable. The model was improved in England. The delicate art of balancing while riding these cycles made it impossible for ladies to take up the hobby. Between 1820-50, new vehicles in the form of tricycles and quadracycles were put in the market making driving a much simpler affair.

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The next progress around 1860s was invention of rotary cranks and pedals mounted to the front wheel, thereby obviating the necessity to kick the ground for locomotion. Substitution by metal frames made it lighter and mass production could be achieved. Ernest Michaus and Pierre Lallement of France are credited with attachment of pedals to the front wheel by the International Cycling History Conferences in 1863/64. Michaux et Cie (‘Michaux and company’) was floated in 1868 in France to mass produce these cycles replacing the wooden frame by metal ones. Because of the tremendous exertion involved in navigating on the cycle, it was initially called ‘bone shaker’. There were brief periods of velocipede craze and riding clubs and riding rinks developed all over. Due to Franco-Prussian war of 1870, industry collapsed in France and in the USA outrageous demands of royalty on patents led to a similar result. In the UK, cycle market remained unruffled.

From 1870s front wheel grew in dimension while rear wheel shrank to keep the balance. This high wheel bicycle was retronymed ‘ordinary’ and was popularly known as ‘penny farthing’. Big front wheel is of penny size, and farthing, one fourth in value, is represented by a proportionate small rear wheel.

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These were highly unstable and even hitting a pebble on the road would throw up the rider causing grievous injury. This became a dangerous sport indulged in by adventurous young gentlemen.

Across the Atlantic, Albert Augustus Pope bought out all competition and started production of Columbia brand high wheelers in 1878. He introduced modern concepts of manufacturing as mechanization, mass production and vertical integration, subsequently copied by Henry Ford in his motor car production industry, and brought down costs significantly. Hitherto machining and die costs kept the price of cycles quite high. Western Wheel Company of Chicago introduced “stamping” technique, drastically lowering the cost of manufacture. Bicycle producers adopted annual model change (deridingly called planned obsolescence) to retain their hold in the market. Cycle was beyond the reach of the average citizen in 1890.

The last major development of the industry was fabrication of “safety bicycles”, a throwback to the original design of two same sized wheels. John Kemp Starley, nephew of the British producer James Starley constructed the first successful safety bicycle in 1885. One Dr. Dunlop, an Irish Veterinarian, invented pneumatic tyre to make the rides of his sickly son comfortable on the tricycle in 1888. Bicycle boom started in the 1890s. Till now this sport was a male preserve. With strict dress code as long skirts, women were confined to tricycle rides around the park. With the birth of safety bicycles, women experienced a great sense of freedom and could ride on their own like their male counterparts. Feminists and suffragists got a boost. Bicycle-riding women became the new symbol of New Women of the late nineteenth century in Britain and United States. Betty Bloomer bloomers simplified the dress mode of ladies and did away with “bustle and corset”. Annie Londonderry, a Latvian Jewish immigrant of Boston, USA, started on her world circumnavigation in June 1894 from Boston and finished it at Chicago in June 1895, a first instance of its kind.

Thomas Stevens completed the first successful transcontinental cycling in the USA. He started in San Francisco in April 1884 and reached Boston in August 1884. Continuing on his global trot beyond, he travelled round the world and reached San Francisco in December 1886. Details of the journey are available in the book titled Around the World by Bicycle, 2000. Bicycle playing cards were introduced in America and were very popular. Recently I read the account of a Parsi gentleman from Gujarat who went around the world on his bicycle in the 1930s after obtaining an introduction from Viceroy. Till the 1960s, cycle was a major means of cheap urban transportation for Indians. This has now been relegated as a hobby for children because of the introduction of environment damaging motor industry which has invaded all nooks and corners of the country. In Western countries there is encouragement to shift to cycle riding. I do not think it will ever be done in our Bharat.

Bicycle racing is a major national sport and it forms part of Olympics. The most prominent sport is Tour de Force of France where cyclists ride down France from north to south over a number of days. It is an annual event, held in July, which commenced in 1903. Here is a you tube version of the 1974 race won by Eddy Merckx.

Even though I could ramble on and on, keeping up the interest of readers in mind, I conclude the history of the bicycle development abruptly.

Film producers in India incorporated the cycle scene in their movies since time immemorial. The variety presented is mind boggling. There are solo rides, love-stricken couple in a single or pair of bicycles, two males or two females riding in unison, and, lastly, the usual chorus headed either by the heroine or the hero with their own gender companions. Where hero and heroine are riding a single bicycle, the directors could have used a little more imagination. I would have introduced a fat paunchy short- wearing dafadar of Mumbai, chasing the couple on foot, full of perspiration and giving up after some time. Usually I present the songs in a chronological order. Because of the sub divisions prevalent, I will codify the songs suitably and present for the enjoyment of readers.

I will start with songs of couple in love riding a single bicycle or separately.

1. Kaise bheege bheege from Apna Ghar (1960) by Mohammad Rafi and Suman Kalyanpur, lyrics Prem Dhawan, music Ravi

Shyama and Premnath head the roles supported by others as Nanda, Moti Sagar. Here Nanda and Moti Sagar are out enjoying a nice day. Ravi has composed a tune to suit the occasion.

2. Mere peeche ek diwana from Nazrana (1961) by Asha Bhonsle and Mukesh, lyrist Rajendra Krishna, music Ravi

Raj Kapoor and Vijayantimala are the couple in love riding their own bicycles. Other major actors are Usha Kiran and Agha. This is a retake of the successful Tamil movie Kalyana Parisu. It is the usual Ravi song.

3. Chale bajate seeti from Zamana (1957) by Asha Bhonsle and Anil Biswas, lyrics Indeevar, music Salil Chaudhary

Kamaljeet and Ameeta are merrily riding together. One Music director singing for music set by another. In those days they were a close knit fraternity with no jealousies.

4. Michael ho to cycle hai from Bewaquoof (1960) by Kishore Kumar and Geeta Dutt, lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri, music by S D Burman

With casts as Kishore Kumar, Mala Sinha, Pran, I S Johar this must be a semi serious movie. Kishore Kumar is upto his usual tricks and yet maintains cycle balance with Mala Sinha sitting in the cross bar. S D Burman has given appropriate music.

5. Sanwle salone aaye din from Ek Hi Raasta (1956) by Hemant Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar, lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri, music Hemant Kumar

Sunil Dutt and Meena Kumari play lead roles. The pair are riding a double-pedaled bicycle with a precocious Daisy Irani seated in the basket. A delectable and smooth flowing song, has not been forgotten even now. Look at the laughing countenance of Meena Kumari. She looks like an 18-year old girl, even though she crossed it in 1950. It is a family song outright conveying the right Indian values.

Here is a lone cyclist journeying through the streets of Delhi. This is the only song I came across of this category.

6. Chal mere dil lehra ke chal from Ishara (1964) by Mukesh, lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri, music Kalyanji-Anandji

Joy Mukherjee and Vyjayanthimala play lead roles. Here he is merrily cycling through various localities of Delhi. This is a typical tune from this pair with their trademark beat.

Now I will present a few songs where the hero/heroine is accompanied on bicycles by their coterie.

7. Saawan ke nazaaren hain from Khazanchi (1941) by Shamshad Begum & chorus, lyrics Wali Saheb, music by Ghulam Haider

This film was made in 1941 in Lahore. Actors were Ramola, M. Ismail, Jagirdar and Manorama and others. We get a view of Lahore of those days. If someone can identify the male singer I would be much obliged. Ghulam Haider has composed a simple chorus in line with the leisurely life style of the early 1940s.

8. Yeh zindagi ka mausam from Ghunghat (1960) by Asha Bhosle, Mohammad Rafi & chorus, lyrics Shakeel Badayuni, music Ravi

This is a Gemini production with lead actors as Pradeep Kumar, Bharat Bhushan and Asha Parekh. A standard tune from Ravi.

9. Ban ke panchi from Anari (1959) by Lata Mangeshkar & chorus, lyrics Hasrat Jaipuri, music Shankar-Jaikishan

Raj Kapoor, Nutan and Lalaita Pawar are the main actors. Shankar-Jaikishan gave great music and each song will stand by itself. Here Nutan is leading a cycle brigade of girls in the countryside. Raj Kapoor wobbling on his cycle dashes against Nutan towards the close of the song.

10. Jab din haseen from Adalat (1958) by Mohammad Rafi, Asha Bhosle & chorus, lyrics Rajendra Krishna, Music Madan Mohan

A great movie of 1958 with a serious theme, describing the travails of a chaste woman forced into the flesh trade. Pradeep Kumar and Nargis are the leading pair and Pran as a pimp put up a good performance. Madan Mohan gave top notch music and all songs are hits.

11. Anchal ko udane do from Picnic (1966) by Asha Bhosle & chorus, lyrics Anand Bakshi, music S. Mohinder

Manoj Kumar, Kalpana, Shubha Khote and others act in this film. The song is quite fast paced and a good tune from S Mohinder. It appears this film was not released.

I came across many songs of this genre with Johnny Walker as the singer. I have always had great admiration for him and I am reproducing a few of his songs.

12. Main chali main chali dekho pyar ki gali from Padosan (1968) by Lata Mangeshkar & chorus, lyrics Rajendra Krishna, music R D Burman

A movie from south and retake of the popular film Aduttha Veettu Penn. It is a rip roaring comedy. The central plot is the hero (Sunil Dutt) trying to put over the heroine (Saira Banu) he is a great singer, when he does not know ABC of music. He is helped in this piece of deception by his friend (Kishore Kumar). It strains belief that the heroine could be fooled like this. Ultimately everything is exposed and as expected it has a happy ending. R D Burman has composed great tunes for the film like Manna Dey and Kishore Kumar duet – Ek chatur naar kar ke singar.

12. Zara ruk ja pyare ruk ja from Sitaron se Agey (1958) by Mohammad Rafi, lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri, music S D Burman

A very popular song of 1958. Look at the acrobatic management of the cycle by Johnny Walker. It will take one’s breath away. S D Burman has captured the mood very well.

13. Bachke balam from Johnny Walker (1957) by Geeta Dutt and Mohammad Rafi, lyrics Hasrat Jaipuri, music by O P Nayyar

A song of fantasy. Johnny Walker in his dream sequence takes the heroine on a round tour of India. A very nice composition by O P Nayyar.

14. Suno suno Miss Chatterjee from Baharein Phir Bhi Aayengi by Mohammad Rafi & Asha Bhonsle, lyrics Anjaan, music by O P Nayyar

Johnny Walker puts up a credible performance of a man in love. O P Nayyar, the master he is, can always be expected to rise to the occasion and give a fast paced song.

15. Suno suno re bhaiya from Paigham (1959) by Mohammad Rafi, lyrics Pradeep, music C Ramchandra

A social drama from the banners of Gemini Studios. Dilip Kumar, Raaj Kumar and Vyjayanthimala are the main actors. Johnny Walker plays his usual role as a comedian. A good music composition from C Ramchandra.

I now conclude my post and leave to the veterans the full field.



This post first appeared on Songs Of Yore - Old Hindi Film Songs, please read the originial post: here

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Cycle trails of Bollywood

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