Bollywood is one film industry that has been obsessed with dance numbers from the days of inception. Fans and critics seemed to breed a special affinity for those that featured women in magnificent finery, making all the right (read graceful) moves. A well-accepted part of the culture in several regions of the Indian subcontinent, the mujra dance recitals, therefore, naturally made way to cinema. One that combines traditional kathak moves with Hindustani classical formats of music, this dance form is commonly performed by courtesans (tawaifs in Urdu) and were commonly staged at their lavish mansions (kothas in Indian languages). Now, this makes for a very larger-than-life picture, which is exactly why there always have been takers for this genre of dance which also places great emphasis on poetry.

Here’s a list of 25 mujra numbers that are possibly the finest ever since Hindi cinema got popular. In case of any misses, you may certainly add them in the comments section:

25. Sanam Tu Bewafa Ke Naam Se (Khilona)

First, there is Mumtaz in the song who, sort of, threatens to overpower every other element out there. Having said that, this orchestration-heavy number is also not particularly well-shot. Lata Mangeshkar’s singing is functional and fits the mood of the song, as is the case with Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s composition. Mumtaz remains a genuine highlight in the song that was decently popular upon release.

24. Qubool Kijiye (Dard)

The empress of mujras, Asha Bhosle gets behind the mic to deliver this expressive number composed by Khayyam and written by Naqsh Lyallpuri. The only minor hiccup here is that the song eerily reminds us of the composer’s own classics from Umrao Jaan and Mandi.

23. Jaam-e-Mohabbat (Yatra)

If Asha Bhosle was the go to voice of mujras at one point in Bollywood, the industry is yet to see a dancer other than Rekha who could ooze high grace and sensuality in songs of this genre. Jaam-e-Mohabbat came in 2007, which was way past the actor’s prime. Nevertheless, the evergreen combination of Rekha, Asha Bhosle and Khayyam consolidated their monopoly over the much-admired music and dance format.

22. Khuda Huzoor Ko (Sawan Ki Ghata)

Performed with great élan by Jeevankala and Madhumati, this song from Sawan Ki Ghata was the film’s opening number. Set in the contemporary era, ‘Khuda Huzoor Se’ is composed by O. P. Nayyar and it does not fully meet certain mujra requisites that Hindi cinema usually mandates. However, the costumes, the setting and, more importantly, the lyrics (S. H. Bihari) reiterate how it is just what it is. Sisters Asha Bhosle and Usha Mangeshkar croon this female duet with remarkable flair.

21. Yeh Pyar Tha Ya Kuch Aur Tha (Prem Rog)

The highlight of this number from the 1982 hit Prem Rog was Sudha Malhotra’s vocals. Slightly reminiscent of Lata Mangeshkar in texture, Malhotra’s voice gets throaty in certain octaves and it elevates Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s rather unadventurous composition bigtime. Picturized on the occasion of a wedding, the song is performed by Asha Sachdev while Nanda, Padmini Kolhapure and Rishi Kapoor (a younger picture of Ranbir Kapoor here) can be seen to be enjoying the performance.

20. Ada Qatil Nazar Barke (Gazal)

One with brighter hues of a ghazal, the song’s heavy instrumentation sprinkles the much-needed mujra feel to it. Not a big fan of the performance here, it is Madan Mohan’s composition filled with intonations and aalaps which engages you throughout. And of course, the timeless Asha Bhosle magic.

19. Main Na Mil Sakun Jo Tumse (Umrao Jaan – 2006)

J. P. Dutta’s Umrao Jaan that released in 2006 was one that compensated the lack of mujra numbers in modern days with as many as six songs of the kind to offer. Out of them, ‘Main Na Mil Sakun Jo Tumse’ expressed disdain like no other. A lovelorn Umrao (Aishwarya Rai) is performing to a fierce Faiz Ali (Sunil Shetty). Javed Akhtar’s lyrics, in a rather direct tone, conveys every bit of her contempt towards the forced act she is putting up. Anu Malik’s soulful tune and Vaibhavi Merchant’s sharp choreography adds to the impact and delivers a piece that is melodious as well as situational.

18. Chilman (Kisna)

From a very idealistic angle, Sushmita Sen makes for the finest picture of a mujra dancer. She is seductive, graceful, has a husky voice, sharp features and an inviting pair of eyes. ‘Chilman’ from Kisna is a number pivotal to the plot and the actress uses magnetic persona to full advantage.

‘Jumman miya, woh mehfil hi kya, jis mein dilwalon ke saath, diljale na ho? Tum dil se dilwalon ke liye gaana. Diljalon ka khayal hum rakhenge,’

Declares Naima Begum (Sen) and sets the mehfil afire. If only the vocalist (Alka Yagnik) could match her on pizazz quotient.

17. Teri Katili Nigaahon Ne Maara (Jaanisaar)

Those who have seen Jaanisaar or have listened to soundtrack would know it is a bouquet of classic numbers. In a story that chronicles around a Lucknowi courtesan called Noor (Pernia Qureshi), a good number of these songs are mujras – out of which the ones that stand out are Malini Awasthi’s ‘Sawan’ and ‘Teri Katili Nigaahon Ne Maara’. While the former is finer representative of the genre of music, it was (unfortunately) not picturized. As for ‘Teri Katili…’, the song comes with Awasthi’s raspy yet therapeutic blending vocals beautifully with Qureshi’s expressions. One wishes how the choreography could have been tad bit better but that is not a big roadblock in admiring this haunting number.

16. Bada Qatil Hai Mera Yaar (Chinatown)

Performed by Jeevankala, this mujra number from Chinatown is notable for its brisk pace and the fact the male singer becomes an equal part of the proceedings, making it appear more to be a duet. Composed by Bombay Ravi, the song is written by Majrooh Sultanpuri and is voiced by Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhosle.

15. Ab Aage Teri Marzi (Devdas)

How can Vyjayathimala not be a part of this list? She is someone who was known to sell films with her much-admired dance-offs with other female actors. When it comes to technique, she could – arguably – be deemed Hindi cinema’s most proficient danseuse. Playing a courtesan called Chandramukhi in Devdas, Vjyanathimala was ace in the film’s mujra numbers. Picking this one over the others for S. D. Burman’s superior tune and Sahir Ludhianvi’s subtly mischievous words.

14. Salaam-e-Ishq (Muqaddar Ka Sikandar)

Sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar, ‘Salaam-e-Ishq’ featured in 1978 film Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, which was yet another spin-off on the literary classic Devdas. With Rekha doing her version of the ‘Chandramukhi’ act, the song is a win on most fronts. The sole hitch is Kalyanji-Anandji’s aversion to experiment with the antara and charan portions. They progress in a flat (yet melodious) fashion and is somehow tedious to traverse through, especially when the male singer takes over. However, Rekha’s expressions and the choreography more than makes up for it and the song is an absolute treat.

13. Jab Jab Tumhe Bhulaya (Jahan Ara)

One of the milestones in Mala Sinha’s career, Jahan Ara came with a rich soundtrack by Madan Mohan. Performed by Minoo Mumtaz and Aruna Irani, this mujra number gives emphasis to lyrics (Rajinder Krishan) and vocals (Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle) as opposed to instruments taking precedence even in the singing portions. The frame that focusses on the queen reminds us of Priyanka Chopra in Bajirao Mastani’s ‘Deewani Mastani’ number.

12. Chubti Hai (Mandi)

A contemporary representation of the mujra culture, ‘Chubti Hai’ features Smita Patil at her flirtatious best. In absence on grandeur, the song might seem relatively colourless but it is remarkable how it sets tone to the hilarious parody that Mandi is. Khayyam’s interpretation of the mujra brief in a present-day mould is spot on as he delivers a tune that is not fully reliant on instruments and mood.

11. Saaqiya Aaj Mujhe (Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam)

A personal favourite, this pacy mujra number from the Guru Dutt classic Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam is set to tunes by Hemant Kumar and is written by Shakeel Badayuni. Another notable feature is how Guru Dutt picturizes the song. Through V.K. Murthy’s camera, there is exceptional use of shadows vs light contrast. The song is also a portrait on how to make the black-and-white frames come alive and be as glorious as colour, if not more. Performed by the ever-expressive Minoo Mumtaz and crooned by Asha Bhosle, the song gives you no reason to complain and is a gorgeous fixture in the iconic film that it belongs to.

10. Salaam (Umrao Jaan – 2006)

‘Salaam’ has Umrao Jaan (Aishwarya Rai) communicating how it feels to be in love for the first time. A delicate melody by Anu Malik, the song also sees intricate choreography by Vaibhavi Merchant who makes great use of close-ups and mid-shots seeking prominence on hand and leg movements as opposed to regular mujra tracks that lay equal focus on the mehfil. Talking about visuals, can there be a more resplendent sight than Aishwarya Rai’s heavenly face? Pretty much everyone on the sets of Umrao Jaan seemed to know this, thankfully.

9. Main Vari Vari (Mangal Pandey – The Rising)

Set in mid-nineteenth century, Heera (Rani Mukerji), a slave girl, was sold off to Lol Bibi’s (Kirron Kher) kotha in Mangal Pandey – The Rising. It takes her no time to transform into a siren who could tantalize the best of British soldiers. In this zingy Kavita Krishnamurthy number, the camera chronicles almost every possible angle and the petite Mukerji is given the tough task to own the mehfil with her coquettish expressions and sultry moves. And boy, does she marvel and how!  Brilliantly choreographed by Saroj Khan, the song makes full use of the set, the props, the smartly chosen colour scheme and the reactions of other actors in the scene. The song, in itself, is said to be one of A. R. Rahman’s most complex compositions, as agreed to by the maestro himself.

8. Inhi Logon Ne (Pakeezah)

One of Lata Mangeshkar’s iconic mujra numbers, ‘Inhi Logo Ne’ is conventional and, at the same time, immensely fascinating. Clad in a red ensemble, Meena Kumari’s look in the song, more or less, became the identity of the film. Interesting lit and choreographed, the song accommodates other performers who are seen dancing at far off chambers.

7. Maar Daala (Devdas)

‘Maar Daala’ witnesses Madhuri Dixit in absolute slay mode. Even in the literal sense, the song has Chandramukhi (Dixit) paying a sweet revenge to the arrogant Kali Babu (Milind Gunaji) who treats her like nothing but a beautiful object. With her expressions ranging from the ecstasy of welcoming Devdas (Shah Rukh Khan) to her court to those of her disdain towards the disrespectful client, Madhuri is first rate best online casinos in australia in this dance number choreographed by Saroj Khan. Kavita Krishnamurthy’s celesta-like voice and the adas simply add to Madhuri’s expertise over her craft.

6. In Aankhon Ke Masti (Umrao Jaan)

A visual that was a part of Doordarshan’s prelude for entertainment programmes two decades ago, no ‘90s kid would have missed the celestial sight of Rekha in this song. Clad in off-white anarkali, she is a picture of poise and enigma. One that is not high on thrusting body movements, Rekha equates the soul in Asha Bhosle’s voice with her impish expressions throughout. Khayyam, here in his elements, delivers a song that went on to capture a million hearts decades after its initial release.

5. Chalte Chalte (Pakeezah)

One that engulfs the protagonist’s agony, ‘Chalte Chalte’ has Meena Kumari in red, yet again. Another song that is low on dance moves, this one is meant to take the story forward in Pakeezah and is considered a landmark for all the right reasons.

4. Nigaahein Milane Ko Jee Chahta Hai (Dil Hi Toh Hai)

Again, a personal favourite, this one has to be amongst the most musically dexterous mujra numbers in cinema. Composed with absolute flair by Roshan, ‘Nigaahein Milane Ko…’ makes stellar use of instruments while also giving the vocalist (Asha Bhosle) her spotlight to shine. Also present is an ambient chorus, which adds greatly to the song with their rhythmic claps. Performed by Nutan with splendid grace, the choreographer makes great use of the stage and the song’s gradually heightening pace towards the finale. An all-time favourite!

 3. Yeh Kya Jagah Hai Doston (Umrao Jaan)

A mujra performance that will invokes a rain of emotions within you; this melancholy from Umrao Jaan appears towards the end of the film once the protagonist has succumbed to her miserable fate. With heart wrenching lyrics by Shahryar, it’s difficult not to weep along with Umrao (Rekha) in this song, who is voiced by Asha Bhosle yet again.

“Naa bas khushi pe hain jahaan…
Na gham pe ikhtiyaar hai…
Yeh kya jagah hai doston,
Yeh kaunsa dayaar hai…”

Get the drift?

2. Kaahe Chhed Mohe (Devdas)

No, we are not overrating things or negating facts one bit when a (relatively) recent number nearly tops the list. Well, Kavita Krishnamurthy and Madhuri Dixit bring that level of panache to this shimmering thumri number by Ismail Darbar from Devdas. Featuring pitch-perfect choreography by Pandit Birju Maharaj, there is no element that stops the song from being one of legendary proportions. The picturization is lavish, the lighting is immaculate and, not to mention, the 30-kilogram lehenga that Dixit carries off (quite literally, that is) with superlative elegance. Her facial expressions oscillate from being vulnerable to being utterly mischievous in a matter of few seconds.  And the icing on the cake? Well, the issshhh moment!

1. Dil Cheez Kya Hai (Umrao Jaan)

No prizes for guessing this one! Say mujra and ‘Dil Cheez Kya Hai’ is the unblemished synonym – a genre defining creation. It is as if Bollywood never got the arrangement better and, in all probability, is never going to surpass the magic of this Rekha number. This can be vouched as we longer have performers such as Rekha and Asha Bhosle even though our composers and lyricists might just manage to pass muster. Talking singularly about the song, it appears at a transitional juncture in the film and captures the evolution of a young poetess to a dancer full of mystique. Khayyam’s propensity to come up with splendid variations for the mukhda¸antara and charan portions is yet another masterstroke in the song that remains unmatched till date.  

P.S.: I was tempted to include Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya (Mughal-e-Azam) and Ishq Ki Daastaan (Taj Mahal – An Eternal Love Story) in the above list as both  were shot in a format very similar to that of mujras. 

Which is your favourite out of the list?

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