• Shwetant Kumar

Be still, my beating heart: “Kuchh Dil Ne Kaha”

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

Every so often, you get a song that encapsulates a film (or a play, or a book) perfectly; rarely does the same song transcend this function and mean whatever you want it to. "Kuchh Dil Ne Kaha" ("The Heart Said Something"), from Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Anupama (The Nonesuch, Hindi/India, 1966) is one of those exceptions.

The titular Anupama is Uma, a repressed young woman whose wealthy father shuns her because her mother died giving birth to her. On a visit to a hill station, they meet struggling writer Ashok, who gradually draws the silent Uma out of her shell and helps her begin a new life with him against her father's wishes.

Uma (Sharmila Tagore) and Ashok (Dharmendra).

Appearing almost an hour into the film, "Kuchh Dil Ne Kaha" is the first time the audience sees Uma utter a word – which she does only because she thinks she is alone. This is an ideal situation for composer Hemant Kumar (no relation!), whose sparsely arranged songs inhabit a dreamlike, almost polytonal world. Though "Kuchh Dil Ne Kaha" is nominally set in raga Bhimpalasi, you seldom get the tonic in the melody and the harmony simultaneously; instead, the song abounds in fifths and sixths, creating a bittersweet aura not unlike "Lever du jour" from Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé.

Uma is something of an anachronism in the film, and "Kuchh Dil Ne Kaha" is likewise built on a kind of tango rhythm that had died out in Hindi film music by the early 1960s, provided here by a triangle, a surprisingly audible upright bass, and a piano (which is as good as a character in the film). Two flutes weave in and out in octaves around an acoustic guitar; a sitar is doubled by a glockenspiel; and a vibraphone fills out the string section. Floating above this landscape, in an aural parallel to the way the song is filmed, is one of Lata Mangeshkar's finest performances: she practically whispers through the melody, occasionally touching one of the lowest notes any Indian soprano has ever sung (A3).


Torn between tentative overtures and a feeling that one's inner world is more forgiving than the one outside, Kaifi Azmi's words ensure that "Kuchh Dil Ne Kaha" borders on being universally relatable without resorting to clichés. The song could refer to every relationship in (and indeed outside) the film: early on, the newly widowed father asks his infant daughter "What's your fault? Why do I hate you?"; towards the end, another character proclaims "People don't fall in love, they rise in love." (The poet Gulzar would soon provide Kumar and Mangeshkar with a more world-weary sequel: "Humne Dekhi Hai" from the 1969 film Khamoshi, with its immortal "Let love be love, don't give it a name.") What's more striking is that it is still loved by, and remains relevant to, people who have never heard of the film – and that, I feel, is the ultimate achievement of any work of art that begins life as a 'product'.

"Kuchh Dil Ne Kaha"


The heart said something – nothing at all

The heart heard something – nothing at all

These things happen too


The heart stretches and wakes; somebody reason with it

Lest longing open its eyes, lest someone be disgraced

The fairies of dreams sleep on eyelids for beds

These things happen too


False glitter and grace for the heart’s consolation

Life remained deserted; all believed spring was here

Let someone ask the buds: do they laugh or cry?

These things happen too


Music by Hemant Kumar

Words by Kaifi Azmi

Performed by Lata Mangeshkar

From the original soundtrack of Anupama (1966)


Transcription and translation by Shwetant Kumar

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