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Happy birthday Neelam: Down memory lane in 10 popular romantic numbers

As the actress-turned-jewellery designer turns a year older today (she was born on 9 November 1969), we remember some of her best romantic numbers with co-stars from Govinda to Aamir Khan.

Sonal Pandya

The elfin actress with the long, silken tresses, Neelam, was often referred to as a ‘doll’ by her co-stars and fans. In her films from her debut Jawaani (1984) to her memorable cameo in Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), the ever-smiling actress always made a mark.

Even though she acted opposite the top actors of the 1980s to 1990s from Govinda to Aamir Khan, she was known more for her hit songs rather than her acting. Neelam also played Amitabh Bachchan’s sister in the iconic 1990 film, Agneepath. In her two-decade long career, she will mostly be remembered for her romantic numbers from ‘Tu Rutha Toh Mai Ro Dungee Sanam’ to ‘Tip Tip Baarish’.

Here are ten popular duets from her career below.

1. ‘Tu Rutha Toh Mai Ro Dungee Sanam’ — Jawaani (1984)

Neelam made her debut opposite Karan Shah, nephew of Tina Munim, in the film directed by Ramesh Behl. The director lived in the same building as her family and offered her the film when she was visiting India during her school vacations. She was only 15 when she joined the industry and thanks to the chartbusting romantic number ‘Tu Rutha Toh Main Ro Dungee Sanam’ composed by RD Burman, the film became a hit. The duet, penned by Gulshan Bawra, was sung by Asha Bhosle and Amit Kumar. Although the film wasn’t a hit, it pushed Neelam forward as a promising young actress.

2. ‘Pehle Pehle Pyar Ki’ — Ilzaam (1986)

Her next film was producer Pahlaj Nihalani’s Ilzaam (1986) opposite Govinda who made his big screen debut. Neelam would go on to have a winning onscreen partnership with him in around a dozen films in three years from 1986 to 1989. The two were said to be in a romantic relationship off screen as well and Govinda later admitted in a Stardust interview that he thought of marrying Neelam at one point. The music of Ilzaam was composed by Bappi Lahiri and the lyrics were written by Anjaan. ‘Pehle Pehle Pyar Ki’ was sung by Asha Bhosle and Amit Kumar.

3. ‘Mai Se Minaa Se’ — Khudgarz (1987)

This duet sung by Mohammed Aziz and Sadhana Sargam is usually the first track most people think of when the pairing of Govinda and Neelam are mentioned together. Rakesh Roshan, making his directorial debut, cast the young couple alongside Jeetendra and Shatrughan Sinha in the film. The veteran actors played friends-turned-foes whose offspring fall in love to bring them back together. The music of Khudgarz was composed by Rajesh Roshan, while Indivar provided the lyrics. Govinda and Neelam danced their hearts out in green fields and white snowy mountains for the evergreen romantic number.

4. ‘Chalo Chalo Door Kahin’ — Sindoor (1987)

In K Ravi Shankar’s Sindoor (1987), a young college student Lalita (Neelam) wants to get married to her fellow batchmate Ravi (Govinda). Her mother Laxmi (Jaya Prada), a widow, meets Lalita and Ravi’s college Professor Vijay (Shashi Kapoor) and is shocked to realise it’s her former husband. Laxmi raised Lalita after the death of her parents and is once again face to face with her past. The music of Sindoor (1987) was composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal while the lyrics were written by Anand Bakshi.

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5. ‘Main Pyar Ki Pujaran’ — Hatya (1988)

In Govinda’s home production, directed by his brother Kirti Kumar, Neelam was once again cast in the lead role. The actor had more of a dramatic role here as a widower Sagar and Neelam played Sapna who falls in love with him. She is shown to have a hidden connection to Sagar and his family. The song ‘Main Pyar Ki Pujaran’, sung by Mohammed Aziz and Sapna Mukherjee, featured the two in a fantasy sequence proclaiming their love to each other. Hatya’s score was composed by Bappi Lahiri and the song was written by Indivar.

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6. ‘Bandhan Toote Na’ — Paap Ki Duniya (1988)

In Shibu Mitra’s Paap Ki Duniya, Neelam acted in a love triangle with Sunny Deol and Chunky Pandey. Deol played Suraj, a criminal who mends his ways after the love of a good woman, i.e. Neelam’s character Aarti, while her ex-boyfriend, the police officer Vijay (Chunky Pandey) tries everything in his power to stop them from getting together. In this duet sung by Shabbir Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar, the onscreen couple in love sing about their unbreakable bond. This was yet another film where Bappi Lahiri scored the music for a Neelam-starrer, while Anjaan wrote its lyrics.

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7. ‘Tutak Tutak Tutiyan’ — Ghar Ka Chiraag (1989)

Neelam also acted opposite Chunky Pandey in a number films including this hit film, Ghar Ka Chiraag (1989) which also featured Rajesh Khanna. Pandey and Neelam play a couple who are separated by fate and circumstance. Neelam’s character Kiran has to marry a widower Kumar (Khanna) to raise her son. Years later, they run into each other and recognise the song they once sang together ‘Tutak Tutak Tutiyan’. The Punjabi party song was composed by Bappi Lahiri and penned by the film’s director Sikander Bharti.

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8. ‘Tip Tip Baarish’ — Afsana Pyar Ka (1991)

A charming Aamir Khan sings in the rain to win back the affections of Neelam in MR Shahjahan’s Afsana Pyar Ka (1991). The pair play college classmates who fall in love, and don’t realise that their families dislike each other. Despite the oh-so-cute pairing of Khan and Neelam, the film failed to click at the box office. But the songs of the film composed by Bappi Lahiri were well-received, including this romantic song written by Sameer. Amit Kumar lent his voice for Khan, while Asha Bhosle once again sang for Neelam.  

9. ‘Kitna Pyar Tumhein Karte Hain’ — Ek Ladka Ek Ladki (1992)

An unofficial adaptation of the Kurt Russell-Goldie Hawn starrer Overboard (1987), Ek Ladka Ek Ladki featured Neelam starring with Salman Khan for the first time. In 1999’s Hum Saath-Saath Hain, she would play his sister, but here she was the spoilt heiress Renu who gets amnesia after a speedboat accident and is tricked by Raja (Salman Khan) into believing she’s his wife. This love song was penned by Majrooh Sultanpuri and composed by Anand-Milind, while singer Kumar Sanu and Sadhana Sargam sang the duet.

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10. ‘Aadhi Raat Ko’ — Parampara (1992)

Neelam was paired opposite Saif Ali Khan, making his film debut, in the multi-starrer Parampara (1992), directed by Yash Chopra. However, the muddled film of love and revenge didn’t do well at the box office. But a few of the songs, including ‘Aadhi Raat Ko’ composed by Shiv-Hari and written by Anand Bakshi, did become popular. The romantic number featured all four leads — Aamir Khan, Raveena Tandon, Neelam and Saif, and was shot at Mayo College in Ajmer, Rajasthan.