Atul’s Song A Day- A choice collection of Hindi Film & Non-Film Songs

Main albeli titli

Posted on: January 8, 2013

This article is written by Sadanand Kamath, fellow enthusiast of Hindi movie music and a regular contributor to this blog.

In the decades of 30s and 40s, some of the female singers made it to Hindi films as actors thanks to their ability to sing well. It would appear that in those days, it was more of the singing ability than the acting skills which was the deciding factors for the film producers to pick up the female actors. Some of the prominent singing female actors of that period were Khursheed Bano, Noor Jehan, Kanan Bala, Shanta Apte, Suraiya, Amirbai Karnataki, Rajkumari etc.

There was, however, one female actor who made it to the Hindi films in the 30s because of her proficiency in classical dancing. Her singing ability was an extra bonus for the film producers. The female actor was none other than Sitara Devi, the kathak queen. She is regarded as the pioneer in bringing kathak dance to Hindi films. As far as I know, Sitara Devi was the first dancer-singer-actor with major roles in Hindi films. She paved the way for other classical dancers like Vyjayantimala, Padmini, Waheeda Rehman, Asha Parekh etc, who would join the Hindi film industries without much struggle in the 50s because of their proficiency in classical dancing. Later they excelled in their acting skill as well and rose to the level of getting leading roles in the films.

Sitara Devi was born as Dhanalaxmi in a Brahmin family belonging to Banaras on the dhantrayodashi day of Hindu calendar in 1919 or 1920 in Calcutta (Kolkatta). Her father Sukhdev Maharaj was a Sanskrit scholar and a kathak exponent who worked in the royal court in Nepal as a musician. Her mother was related to the royal family of Nepal. She learnt Kathak dance under the guidance of her father Sukhdev Maharaj, Lachchu Maharaj, Achchan Maharaj and Shambhu Maharaj. Her first kathak performance was in her own school where she impressed her teachers and local print media. When her father came to know about her impressive dance performance, he renamed her as Sitara.

How did she came to Hindi film industry? In one of her interviews, she revealed that Director Niranjan Sharma was looking for a small girl knowing classical dancing for a role in his film ‘Usha Haran’ (1940). He saw her dancing in her father’s dance school in Calcutta and selected her for the role. Her family shifted to Bombay (Mumbai) sometime in 1934 for enabling her to join shooting for the film . The film took a long time to complete and in the meanwhile she got a chance to dance in the film ‘Vasantsena’ (1934), Sagar Movietone’s ‘Anokhi Mohabbat’ (1934) and ‘Shahar Ka Jadoo’ (1934).

She got her first role as an actress in Sagar Movietone’s ‘Al Hillal (1935) which was also the first directorial venture of Mehboob Khan. Her first film as a lead actor was ‘Watan’(1938). Later she did films like ‘Meri Ankhen’ (1939), ‘Achhut’ (1940), Holi (1942), Roti (1942) etc not necessarily getting leading roles. In ‘Haiwan’ she acted with both her elder sisters Alaknanda and Tara Devi who were also accomplished kathak dancers. Gopi Krishan, the famous choreographer of Hindi films was Tara Devi’s son. Sitara Devi got a chance to work in National Studio’s prestigious ‘Roti’ (1942) and in ‘Najma’ (1943) both directed by Mehboob Khan.

In 1942, Sitara Devi joined Hind Pictures as partner with actor Nazeer and produced films like Kalyug (1942), Society (1942), ‘Aabroo’ (1943) etc in some of which she acted in lead roles. During this period, she met K Asif who was a nephew of Nazeer and in 1944 they had a civil marriage. She worked in K Asif’s first directorial venture film ‘Phool’ (1945) and his first film produced under his banner ‘Halchal’ (1951). As a lead actor, Chetan Anand’s ‘Anjali’ (1957) was the last film in which she co-starred with Chetan Anand. ‘Mother India (1957) is stated to be her last film in which she had a dance song. At this juncture she bid farewell to film industry to fully concentrate on kathak dance. I have not come across a full list of her filmography but on the basis of the names of her films I have heard, my guess is that she may have worked in nearly 50 Hindi films. After retirement from the film industry, she has been performing kathak and other form of dances all over the world. She was to be conferred Padma Vibhushan by Government of India but she refused to accept the award by saying that she had dedicated her entire life in propagation of kathak dance for which nothing less than Bharat Ratna would give her a honour.

Sitara Devi was not lucky in her marriage front. She separated from K Asif sometime in the 50s for neglecting her and for living a colourful life. Later, she married Pratap Barot who was the brother of playback singer Kamal Barot and director Chandra Barot. This marriage too did not work out for long and she separated from him in 1970. Their son Ranjit Barot is connected with the music industry. If I go by her year of birth as 1920, she completed 92 year on the last Diwali day.

What reminded me to write an article on her was one of her solo songs ‘main albeli titli re phulwaa’ from the film MERI AANKHEN (1939) which I liked for her rendition and composition. The song was written by P L Santoshi and set to music by Khemchand Prakash, probably his second film. The film was produced under the banner of Supreme Pictures and directed by Dwarka Khosla. The film had Khursheed, Ishwarlal, Mazhar Khan, Sitara Devi, Trilok Kapoor etc. Only the audio clip is available but it is apparent that Sitara Devi sang for herself in the film.

This song appears to be composed in a different style. The first two stanzas are composed in the same meter but in third and final stanza of the song, there appears to be some deviation in the metering and resultant composition of tune. Perhaps, we could have got the clue for such deviation if we had the benefit of watching the picturisation of the song. The orchestration of this song reminds me of the style of orchestration of songs in New Theatre’ films. This influence is understandable as he spent his initial years in New Theaters and assisted music director Timir Baran.

It is often said that it was Ghulam Haider who introduced dholak in Hindi film songs in Kazaanchi (1941) for the first time. However, in this song, I distinctly hear the sound of dholak which makes this melodious song rhythmic as well.


Song-Main albeli titli (Meri Aankhen)(1939) Singer-Sitara Devi, Lyrics-P L Santoshi, MD-Khemchand Prakash


main albeli titli ee
main albeli titli ee
re phulwaa
re phulwaa
main albeli titli
main albeli titli ee
main albeli titli ee
re phulwaa
re phulwaa
main albeli titli
main albeli titli ee

main un kunjan se nikli
main un kunjan se nikli
dil mein Krishna man se bhanwaraa
dil mein Krishna man se bhanwaraa
Radha bani kali ee
Radha bani kali ee
main albeli titli ee
main albeli titli ee

kaise hriday churaaya jaata
mujhse poochho mujhse seekho
kaise hriday churaayaa jaata
mujhse poochho mujhse seekho
kaise kaun phansaaya jaata
mujhse poochho mujhse seekho
kaise kaun manaayaa jaata
mujhse poochho mujhse seekho
kaise kaun manaayaa jaata
mujhse puchho mujhse seekho
kaise prem rachaaya jaata
mujhse poochho mujhse seekho
kaise prem rachaaya jaata
mujhse puchho mujhse seekho
main brindavan se nikli
main brindavan se nikli
main hari pujan se nikli ee ee
main brindavan se nikli
main hari pujan se nikli ee ee ae


6 Responses to "Main albeli titli"

Recently, following up a post in ‘Dances on the Footpath’ I read this article by Anil Biswas
where he says
“Sometimes when I am alone I recall the tunes
of “kyoN ham ne diya dil” (sung by Sitara, lyrics by
Wajahat Mirza, from `Vatan’) and..”
I wonder whether it is the same Sitara (Vatan seems to be 1938 film). Thanks.

Yes, it is the same singer Sitara Devi for Watan (1938).

Kamath ji,
Thanks for posting a very good song and writing an informative article on Sitara Devi.

Few months back her interview was published in I am reproducing here a portion of it regarding her family.It seems her grandmother and mother came from Nepal and they were NOT related to the Royal family-

Originally from a Benaras situated Mishra family, Sitara Devi’s clan had a tradition of singing and playing in temples for the last 5 centuries. The Mishra family had very close relations with Nepal and Nepal’s royal family. Sitara Devi’s grandfather Pandit Ramdass Mishra was a royal singer in the Nepalese king’s court. Her grandmother and mother Matsya Kumari had hailed from Nepal and hence she considers herself ‘half-Nepalese’. Sitara Devi’s maternal grandfather ‘Maila Pandit Upadhyay’ was Nepal’s Rajguru (royal educator & priest) and her father Acharya Pandit Sukhdev Maharaj was a high ranking poet, singer and storyteller. Sukhdev Maharaj not only took the family tradition of music and dance to new heights but also did many experiments with storytelling and emotions, ‘bhāva-Pradarshan’ (display of emotions) namely Kathanritya (Katha: story, Nritya: dance). Sitara Devi considers the word ‘Kathak’ a corrupted expression (Apabhransha) of ‘Kathanritya’. She says, this dance forms true name is ‘Kathanritya’ because it originated from the emotive performances rendered during story telling in temples.

Sitara Devi’s elder sisters Tara Devi and Alaknanda,both were already in films before her.Tara devi had married another actor Marutirao Pehalwan and settled in Dhule,Maharashtra. Gopikrishna was their son.

All the 3 sisters had worked in one film “HAIWAAN”-1940.This is a record,so far unbeaten.


Dear Arun,

Thanks for additional inputs on Sitara Devi.

In her interviews in the newspapers 2-3 years back, she always talked about ‘Kathanritya’. With the explanation given by you, this ‘puzzle’ for me is solved.

I have already covered in my article about Gopikrishna being the son of Tara Devi and all three sisters having worked in ‘Haiwaan’. However, I did not know that this record still stands.

Sadanand ji,

A wonderful song, and a find for me – hearing it for the first time.
Thanks for the detailed write up.

Arun ji
Thanks for the additional details. Especially the relationship between Sitara Devi and Gopikrishan ji.


Thanks everybody for the song and the write-up.

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