The best lyrics often combine succinctness, imagery and originality of thought.

It all started when I was 15. One evening I sat with my father and he translated the lyrics of Betaab Dil Ki Tamanna Yehi Hai for me, line by line. By the end of the song, I was choked up and moist-eyed. Blubbing like a fool, I said “I don’t understand how someone could experience this sort of love!”

Legendary Indian Urdu Poet – Kaifi Azmi with his daughter Actress – Shabana Azmi

I’m still in awe at how Kaifi Azmi managed to translate the feelings of such profound love to a teenager whose main concerns in life were acne and grades. For a short while, that evening, a completely different mode of existence was revealed to me: that of the lover surrendering to the beloved.

Less than a day later, I was back to obsessing over mundane issues. Almost a decade has passed and since that day, I have been curious about how many Bollywood songs are written and composed to express love in all its facets. Only my shoddy Hindi skills held me back, but that was swiftly remedied by websites that translate Hindi lyrics to English (and in the process, helped me improve my Hindi).

Here are some of the loveliest lyrics I have come across over time.

1. Nahin Saamne from Taal

“Tera naam maine liya hain yahan, Mujhe yaad tu ne kiya hain vahan.”

(Here I said your name; There you remembered me.)

In such simple Hindi (I didn’t even need to check a dictionary for this), this line expresses the bond between two lovers no matter how far away they are.

2. Raja Ki Aayegi Baaraat from Aah


“Nainon se hogi barsaat, andheri hogi raat, Magan main nachungi…”

(Rain will fall from my eyes, the night will be dark, Lost in a trance, I will dance…)

I like this line because through vivid imagery, it evokes a particular strain of heartbreak that can crop up in any social setting, where we must put on a brave face and pretend to be happy while watching our beloved with someone else.

3.  Tu Hi Re from Bombay


“Aaj aansoo bhi meethe lage.”

(Today even tears seem sweet.)

(Translation from https://www.bollywhat.com/lyrics/bomb_lyr.html#3)

This is the last line of a verse describing the lover’s anguish and yearning for the beloved. I particularly like how neatly the idea of tears being sweet translates to the bittersweet contradictions that exist in such profound love.

4. Aaya Tere Dar Par Deewana from Veer Zaara


“Kyon dil se har ek hai anjaana?”

(Why is everyone a stranger to matters of the heart?)

(Translation from https://www.bollywhat.com/lyrics/veer_lyr.html#8)

I think this line is genius as it works on two levels. First, it implies that nobody quite understands the love and sorrow experienced by their very own hearts. Second, the singer asks why this is. It is frustrating not even to know why matters of the heart are so confusing – and listeners of the song can surely relate to this.

5. Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya from Mughal-E-Azam


“Parda nahin jab koi khuda se, Bandon se parda karna kya?”

(When there’s no hiding from God, Why should we hide from mankind?)

(Translation from https://bollywhat-forum.com/index.php?topic=7072.0)

The word choices are so gentle, such as parda (veil) and khuda (god), but at the core of the line is a strong, unshakeable defiance in the face of forbidden love.

6. Jo Bhi Main from Rockstar

“Jo bhi main kehna chahoon, Barbaad kare alfaaz mere.”

(Whatever I want to say, will be ruined by my words.)

We’ve all been there – trying to describe something phenomenal, only to feel like our words are not doing it justice. This lovely line reminds us that some things in life are best experienced, not described.

7. Chand Aahen Bharega from Phool Bane Angaare


“Chand aahen bharega, phool dil thaam lenge, Husn ki baat chali to, sab tera naam lenge.”

(The moon sighs, flowers console their hearts; When speaking of beauty, all will take your name.)

Sure, comparing the beloved to nature’s beauty isn’t exactly the latest innovation in the field of poetry. Yet I like the fact that lyricist Anand Bakshi has gone one step further: not only is the beloved more beautiful than the moon and flowers, but the moon and flowers themselves agree with him.

8. Main Pal Do Pal Ka Shaayar Hoon from Kabhi Kabhie


 “Mujhse pahale kitne shaayar aaye aur aakar chale gaye, Kuch aahen bharkar laut gaye, kuch nagme gaakar chale gaye.”

(Many poets came before me, and after coming, departed; Some went filled with sighs, and some went singing songs.)

(Translation from https://www.bollywhat.com/lyrics/kabh_lyr.htm#2)

This line – in fact, the whole song – captures the timeless wisdom, “This too will pass.” The singer knows his poetry was born of a love that will end at some point. He also knows he is not the first person to have loved someone, and for everyone the experience of love will lead to something good or something bad – either way, there will be an end.

I recently discovered there is a happier version of this song: Main Har Ek Pal Ka Shaayar Hoon, in which the singer describes love as something timeless. It is a more optimistic interpretation of the poetry that love brings out in him.

If you’re a non-Hindi speaker or your Hindi isn’t very good, I would recommend bollymeaning.com (for newer songs) and bollywhat.com. Film subtitles are usually good too, but overly literal translations sometimes make the original Hindi seem silly. If you know someone who speaks Hindi and would take great pleasure in translating lyrics for you, ask them.

Have I missed anything?

That’s a rhetorical question. Of course I have. The above list is subjective and based on my own experiences. Please share your favourite lyrics in the comments section below!

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