Bells and Whistles

“Bells and Whistles” is a popular English idiom. It means extra or fancy add-ons. For example, we often say “this phone or computer comes with many bells and whistles”; meaning a lot of extra features that may not be really needed and used by us.

However, when you hear bells or whistles in some Hindi film songs, they seem very much an integral part of the song and not something fancy or extra. In fact, the add-on we get in bells and whistles is their sweet sound which is extremely pleasant to hear. We also get to hear and enjoy a variety of bells and whistles in our songs.

In most cases, the visuals for the songs depict situations, events or things that make the sounds of bells or whistle a natural fit for the situation. For example, there are a number of songs on a bicycle where the sound of a bicycle bell is a perfect fit for the visuals. And when you have a cheerful situation, whistling in the song sounds natural.

Whistling permitted

Courtesy: Nick Bleasel

There are literally hundreds of songs that feature bells and whistles. I have created a playlist of 17 lively and popular songs with bells and whistles. These songs have been picked from movies from the mid 1960s to the mid 2000s. Enjoy these 17 songs on the player below.

(Mobile phone users may not be able to play the songs continuously since the devices do not support automatic play – due to potential data consumption issues)

If you are based in the USA or Canada, you can also enjoy some of these songs on the 8tracks player below.

(A tip to enhance your enjoyment –  To listen to these songs without any break, open another window after clicking the play arrow on the players. If you want to browse further on this site or another site, use the newly opened window. The players will keep playing the songs as you browse in the new window.).

There are of course, different types of bells and whistles. I have however not included the most commonly heard sound of bells – the ghungroo used in many dances and the manjeera used in most bhajans and temple songs. I am sure there will be hundreds and perhaps thousands of songs that feature the sounds of ghungroo and manjeera.


Bicycle bell

One of the most commonly heard bells in our movies is linked to the common man’s vehicle –the bicycle. S D Burman’s Hey maine kasam lee (Tere Mere Sapne) is a soothing melody that uses the sound of a bicycle bell in the prelude to the song. R D Burman’s Main chali main chali (Padosan) is a lively song that also features the sound of bicycle bells in the prelude. It is interesting to note the different styles adopted by the sisters Lata and Asha in this song. It is clear that Asha was trying something ‘extra’ to compete with Lata.

Salil Chaudary’s memorable song Kahin door jab din dhal jaye (Anand) has the lovely sound of cowbells in the prelude to accompany the visuals of a cart. Mere desh ki dharti (Upkar) is an iconic classic that is heard on all days that call for patriotic songs. It is also a song where Manoj Kumar and Kalyanji-Anandj put in gigantic efforts.
cowbellsKalyanji-Anandji spent more than 24 hours at a stretch to record this song and get everything right. Manoj Kumar also went to great lengths to synchronize the visuals with the song and sounds. You get to see birds flying, women filling water, a stream flowing, seeds being sown and lots more with the visuals perfectly synchronized to the sounds in the song. One of the interesting sights in the song is bullocks running with bells around their necks. You can hear these sounds in the first prelude.

Bells also can play a role in the orchestra to build up tempo, anticipation and sometimes a climax in the song.  Though electronics and computers became the standard ‘orchestra’ for songs in the 1990s, A R Rahman mastered the art of  arrangement and raised the standards to a new high.  Rahman used bells beautifully in the song Muqala Muqabla (Hum se hai muqabla). (As an aside, Rahman’s use of bells in this song reminds you of the  themes from popular western films. The theme music in the Dollar trilogy of For a fistful of Dollars, A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly are masterpieces in the use of bells, whistles and of course, guitar). Observe the brilliant use of bells by Rahman for building up  tempo and anticipation in the 45 second prelude to the Muqala Muqabla song below (the bells come in after 27 seconds).

Laxmikanth-Pyarelal blended the sounds of bells beautifully with guitar in the inspiring song Ruk jaana naheen (Imtihan). Bells can also be used in the orchestra to create a contrasting sound and bridge different scales of music. R D Burman used bells and chorus effectively in the orchestra in Ek din bik jayega (Dharam Karam).

A R Rahman created a wonderfully soft and dreamy melody in Nahin saamne (Taal). He also used the bells beautifully in his instrument arrangements to build up tempo in the song in the second prelude.
temple bell

Kalyanji-Anandji used temple bells in Mose mera shyam rootha (Johny mera naam). Laxmikanth-Pyarelal also used temple bells effectively in the classical raga based titled song in Satyam Shivam Sundaram.

The song Aao tumhe chaand pe (Zakhmee) starts off with the Christmas carol – Jingle bells Jingle bells jingle all the way. But, sadly, one does not hear the sound of the bells in this song. I am not able to recall immediately songs with Church bells.


Boy whistling

Whistling by forcing breath through partly closed lips has been part of film songs at all times. Whistles symbolize joy, fun and a carefree attitude in the songs.

Songs from films prior to mid 1960s, of course, also featured whistles. Anari, New Delhi featured whistles in songs like Kisiki muskurahaton and Nakhrewali.

Among the songs after mid 1960s, popular songs with whistles include two Kishore numbers – R D Burman’s Yeh shaam mastaani (Kati patang) and Rajesh Roshan’s Dil kya kare (Julie). In later years, there were a number of songs that became extremely popular – perhaps the sweet sound of whistle had something to do with their popularity. Jatin-Lalit’s Chand sifarish (Fanaa) and the title song of Main hoon na by Anu Mallik have lengthy whistles. My favourite whistle song is the peppy dance number Arre re are ye kya hua (Dil to paagal hai) by Uttam Singh.

And while these whistles seem to sound dignified and proper, let us not forget what we do in movies when we thoroughly enjoy a scene or situation. ‘Seeti’ or whistling with two 2 fingers whistlefingers in the mouth is actually the ‘proper’ whistle in India. And Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s Kajra re (Bunty aur Babli) captures this whistle effectively in the catchy rhythm for this super hit dance number.

Normally whistling is associated with a cheerful mood. However, the whistle after Tum Pukar lo (Khamoshi) leaves you with a haunting feeling. A number of Hemant Kumar songs have this haunting feeling (see The haunting music of Hemant Kumar)

Our songs also feature many different types of whistles. R D Burman’s Jab andhera hota hai (Raja Rani) is all about thieves and their work in the night. As you can expect, you will hear the sound of police whistles in the song. And what about the sound of a train whistle? The train had a key role to play in Meena Kumari’s life in her swansong Pakeezah. The song Chalte Chalte by Ghulam Mohammed ends to the sound of the train whistle. Kalyanji-Anandji also used the train whistle in the prelude of Haathon ki chand lakeeron ka (Vidhaata) though the sound of the whistle in this song is unusual for a train.

train whistle

Did you ever hear the hoot or sound of the horn of a road roller? I thought a road roller would have a horn that sounds like the loud horn of a truck. But, no! I learnt something from R D Burman’s music. R D Burman used the ‘whistle’ of the road roller imaginatively to create a rhythm in Ruk Ruk (Warrant). Listen to the song and decide for yourself whether the whistle of the road roller is an integral part of the song or whether it fits the true meaning of bells and whistles – as a fancy add on.

Bells AND Whistles


Thus far, I discussed songs that featured either bells or whistles – but not both in the same song. But what about songs that have both bells and whistles?

Bhupen Hazarika is a famous music personality from Assam. He was also a music composer in a few Hindi films. His Nainon mein darpan hai (Aarop) features the sound of a bicycle bell as well as Vinod Khanna’s whistle. R D Burman’s Koi haseena jab (Sholay) features the sound of a train whistle prominently as well as the sound of a bicycle bell.

Laxmikanth-Pyarelal’s Gaadi bula rahee hai seeti bajaa rahi hai (Dost) also features the sound of a train ‘seeti’ and the sound of bells.

Kalyanji-Anandji also included both the sounds in their lively duet – Tum ko mohabbat ho gayee (Haath ki safai). While this song starts with a whistle in the prelude, the sound of bells is not as prominent as the whistle. You really have to pay attention to hear the sound of bells in the interludes.

And finally, here is a lovely song in Telugu from the genius Ilayaraja. Maate mantramu (Seetakokachiluka) went on to become an iconic song that is played on most occasions to highlight the sacred nature of marriage and the commitment required for sustaining the marriage. The song includes temple bells as well as sounds that resemble church bells. Enjoy this iconic song below.

I am sure there will be countless other songs that have bells and whistles of various types. I hope you enjoyed this collection of songs on the player and hopefully whistled along with them!

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9 Responses to Bells and Whistles

  1. Ravi,
    This is a wonderful post. Bright and innovative idea, excellent write-up and delightful graphics.

  2. Anu Warrier says:

    Such an interesting post, Ravi. It’s funny that you should mention Main chali main chali because I was reading the RD Burman book, and there is a very interesting snippet about that song. Thanks for the playlist – I’ll come back later to listen to the songs.

  3. Pingback: Carnival of Blogs on Golden Era of Hindi Film Music – September, 2015 | The world is too small? or Is it?

  4. Kamala Raghupathy says:

    Hi Ravi, thanks for the wonderful collection of songs.very innovative idea

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