Tragic love story Barsaat (Rain) was 25-year-old actor Raj Kapoor's first hit as a director and launched Bollywood's greatest playback singer Lata "Nightingale of India" Mangeshkar (who went on to record thousands of film songs over a career spanning seven decades and counting). Kapoor may have made finer films (Awaara, Shree 420), but Barsaat's songs (marking the debut of music directors, Shankar Jaikishan) of vulnerability, innocence and heartache, captured newly independent India's fragile imagination. Many consider Barsaat to have the greatest film songs of all time.
Pakeezah (Pure) is the story of a courtesan, or a wronged woman with a good heart, in the Mughal era. Lata is on playback duties for heroine Meena Kumari (who died just after its release) and the combination of real-life tragedy and magical songs distilling dignified suffering and sadness ensured the film's cult status. Pakeezah brings together north Indian classical music and image-rich Urdu poetry and symbolises the importance of Indo-Islamic culture in North India – which is largely invisible in Bollywood now.
Sholay is Bollywood's Star Wars: the masala western is a tale of revenge and lovable rogues resisting bandits. RD Burman penned rip-roaring, sing-a-long tunes including bromance belter Yeh Dosti and Jab Tak Hai Jaan, which soundtracks a scene where the heroine must keep dancing or her beloved gets it from ultimate villain Gabbar Singh. Its eerie incidental music evokes Ennio Morricone and Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns but don't feature on the official soundtrack release, so watching Sholay is the only way to appreciate its musical majesty.
Alongside 1981's Silsila, this film established director Yash Chopra as the "king of romance". Playback singers Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar and Mukesh's heart-tugging melodies (composed by Khayyam) chart soaring young love, crushing heartbreak and stoicism in the face of family duty. Kabhi Kabhie and Silsila represent the pinnacle of the golden era of playback singers, though choosing which is the best soundtrack remains an unresolved debate. Indian video shops in 1980s Britain did a brisk trade in VHS tapes featuring the songs from these two films.
The ultimate masala movie in which angry-young-man-era Amitabh Bhachan is a mafia "Don". Its forward fashion (Guys: flares, wide collars, unbuttoned shirts. Girls: maxi dresses, headdresses, thick eye-kohl), and Kalyanji and Anandji's funk-fuelled, acid-dipped soundtrack means Don's arguably the most eye-and-ear-catching film of its day. Indeed Kalyanji and Anandji's sinuous arrangements and use of session musicians makes this soundtrack a psychedelic-funk masterpiece – so much so that hip-hop luminaries Dan the Automator, DJ Shadow and Madlib are fanboys.
The definition of "cool kitsch", as street kid Jimmy triumphs against the odds and becomes a disco dancing champion. This soundtrack earned flamboyant musical director Bappi Lahiri the sobriquet "Bollywood's king of disco" and rightly so: he sprinkles flute, harmonium, strings and Hindi lyrics over dazzling, pulsing synthesisers. The soundtrack's analogue warmth and glossiness is spellbinding, with MIA sampling its hit song (Jimmy Ajaa) in 2007.
Director Aditya Chopra followed in his father's (Yash Raj, see Kabhi Kabhie above) footsteps with a sentimental romance starring wildly successful saccharine duo Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) and Kajol. Yet again, Lata plucks heartstrings with support from younger sister Asha Bohsle (immortalised in Cornershop's 1997 hit Brimful of Asha): Mehendi Laga Ke Rakhna is a firm favourite at North Indian weddings while Tujhe Dheka To Yeh Jaana Sanam (When I Saw You I Fell Madly in Love), has surely soundtracked millions of clandestine teenage romances in India.
A distinctly average film starring doe-eyed face of L'Oréal, Aishwarya Rai, Taal lives on in the movie memory thanks to AR Rahman'sscintillating score. With lyrics by the poet Anand Bakshi and Rahman's astounding compositional grace and versatility (folk, bhangra, ballads, electronic), it proved an inspired partnership. Filmic folklore contends Rahman's crossover to the west began with Andrew Lloyd Webber hearing this soundtrack and promptly flying the Tamil Muslim to London to write Bombay Dreams (2004).
Another SRK blockbuster, this New York romcom has a hip, outernational soundtrack (by musicians turned musical directors Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy). Maahi Ve features a DJ, chunky bass, muscular bhangra and gorgeous melodies, and is another North Indian wedding staple. It's The Time to Disco's Hi-NRG trance is further evidence of Bollywood devouring Western trends, while the gentle title track ensured aunties and uncles could sing along.
This small-town gangster epic set in northeast India has a soundtrack like no other: bawdy Bhojpuri ditties and women's folk songs covering lusty liaisons and good-for-nothing-men, complement the film's blood-and-guts earthiness. Meanwhile the Indo-patois of I'm a Hunter (chorus: "She wants to see my gun") and the nursery-rhyme dancehall of Tain To To are refreshing and utterly bonkers. Take a bow, Sneha Khanwalkar. She has just turned 30 and is among a handful of female musical directors in Indian cinema.