To be (talli) or not to be

Kerala’s prohibition jokes on twitter set me off on a different thought process. Thanks to the fact that I was listening to Johnny Johnny from Entertainment when I read the news. You know, I can count on my fingers the number of songs that involved drinking that were big, big hits when in the 90s. The most famous one that I can remember is Zara sa jhoom loon main from DDLJ. That’s all. 

 

Back in the olden days of Bollywood, drinking was something associated with failed love. Most of it was Devdas-ish. You had jilted lovers sing drunkenly about their lost love even as they decried love itself. Ye jo mohabbat hai, remember? Or you had the alcoholic who’d spout philosophy, like in the case of Choo lene do nazuk honthon ko. The song has a lot of gems about the travesty of life. The first depiction of a heroine drinking that I can remember is Meena Kumari in Na jao saiyan chuda ke baiyan, a forlorn, lonely wife, asking her man not to abandon her. So close to her own life. Then there was the inimitable Asha Bhonsale singing Aao huzoor tumko, a seductive song. Mostly only the vamps drank on screen though.  

 

Drunken songs were not a normal occurrence in the movies. They were a turning point in the plot, occurring out of immense sadness, jealous rages and other intense emotions. Very few older songs were about being high for the sake of being high. That somehow seems to have changed in the recent past. Songs these days are all about drinking and the joys (?) of it. They are the opening acts of the movies, they establish the friendships amongst lead stars, they are a sign of the cool life the protagonists lead.

 

One of the first such songs that caught on is the 4 baj gaye song from Faltu. It had become all the rage and kept playing on the radio all the time. Then came the Honey Singh era. His songs were all about drinking, doping and women, right upto 4 bottle vodka. (What’s with this 4 anyway?). A friend was embarrassed to confess that her barely able to say his alphabets 2 and a half year old sang D for Daaru peete jao with relish. Race 2 did the honor of rhyming Booze and Shoes. There was the sweet Talli hai ye zameen from Ek main hoon aur ek tu. Then there is the most recent drinking anthem I mentioned earlier – Johnny Johnny. 

 

Drinking wasn’t ever shown as de rigeur in the older Bollywood. But perhaps its liberalisation, the proliferation of a night life culture, (or just composers and lyricists composing while inebriated :P), but the number of songs centered on alcohol being the fun factor have grown exponentially. Makes me wonder, if Dr. Harshvardhan’s 10 year plan succeeds, what will our Bollywood use as inspiration for dance numbers? As someone told me on twitter, songs surely won’t be written about flavoured milk. But Bollywood, time for you to start researching. 

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Approach to post Independence India – Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt

While travelling in a car, I heard an almost forgotten ‘Dil ka haal sune dilwala‘ playing on the FM. The simple lyrics of the song and the eternal image of the very own Indian tramp/vagabond Raj Kapoor make the song immortal. While I was listening to the words carefully, I suddenly realised we don’t anymore have songs that laugh about our troubles.

This song actually talks about an encounter that the protagonist had with the police. The last two paragraphs of the song, talk alternatively about hope for the future and precautions the poor have to take to stay out of trouble in a country like ours. What struck me was that nowadays we just don’t see a song that sounds so happy but actually talks about the degeneration of the society. The song is all about laughing at and along with your troubles, but telling it like it is – seedhi si baat na mirchi masala…

Kapoor’s tramp was besieged with problems but always hoped for a better tomorrow. He complained about the system, but believed ‘Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi’. The fifties were a time of optimism in the new republic of India. And so despite the poverty, the problems, people felt the end of the British era would surely bring some positive change. Raj Kapoor’s protagonist knew he could do better, but he didn’t resent where he was in the moment. It was not resignation, but a kind of calm acceptance – Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai. His movies showed an imperfect world which was still ideal and in the end, all was well.

Contrast that to Kapoor’s contemporary Guru Dutt, who also told it like it is, but offered no hope. He was a realist, almost to the point of pessimism. His view of independent India is best described in the song from Pyaasa, Jinhen naaz hai hind pe woh kahaan hai… A scathing report of the actual state of the country which everyone had thought would once again become the golden bird after independence. The song is bitter and harsh. The picturisation equally grim.

Dutt’s look at the whole situation was one of cold observation and his films also reflected the all or nothing perfectionism of his life. His most famous protagonists were always struggling to come to terms with lost hopes and dreams while facing an indifferent world. What is striking about a song like Jinhen Naaz or Ye Mahalo ye takhton is the loss of innocence. No other film maker of his times would have let these immortal words by the lyricist Sahir be part of a film. Even the happy go-lucky songs like Ae dil hai mushkil jeena yahaan sing of the isolation capitalism brings in. While Dutt’s earlier movies show the urban India in the 50’s crime, romance et all, his later movies, considered to be classics are the ones that show the eventual decline in human relationships, the effects of capitalism and the impact of a loss of idealism.

While Raj Kapoor’s protagonist though aware of the flaws of the system, is more concerned about how he can progress despite them and maintain a personal optimism. Guru Dutt on the other hand is the idealist who doesn’t see the point of optimism if things are not the way they should be. But thanks to the two of them, we can see a fair enough portrayal of the whole spectrum of nationalism of a young nation.

Loser songs of the 90’s

Anyone who knows me would tell you that songs especially Bollywood numbers play a huge part in my life. In fact every time I make a new friend, within the first two three meetings I ask them what songs do they listen to and more often than not, the future course of the friendship gets decided by that discussion. I can’t interact with people who don’t have an interest in music nor can I get along with the ‘I love only firang songs coz they are supposed to be cool’ crowd. I could spend days discussing old hindi film songs and my ideal vacation activity would be a campfire singing old songs.

But there is a category of songs that I am particularly fond of discussing. I call them the loser songs of the 90’s (umm actually could include some 80’s songs too). Now the 90’s were the era when I had my first crushes and had all those growing up pangs and all. And the songs of that era particularly were about some sort of impossibly undying, pining away sort of love. As an infatuated teenager I used to really believe in ‘Dil jigar nazar kya hai main to tere liye jaan bhi de du..’ but now that I look back I cant help laughing at the songs and their loser in love kinda lyrics.

Many a stimulating discussion I have had about these songs and how the hits of that era now just remind you of the silliness of your own life then. I remember a discussion with Smiling Serpent which I am unlikely to forget anytime in my life because I have never laughed so much ever (much to his consternation, because unfortunately the joke was on him :-). This post has been inspired by insomniacal chats during night shifts with Phoenix in the last few days.

The 90’s were a ‘dramatic love’ era. I remember Filmfare and Stardust publishing stories about fans who used to write fan mail in blood. There were people who had committed suicide after Divya Bharati died. So it was all about hyperbole. Naturally the songs of the era also followed this trend of being high on an aching, nauseating kind of unrealistic love which was supposed to true love. So you had Kumar Sanu crooning away ‘Tu meri zindagi hai’ (I do like this one still) as if he were a dying man looking for the oxygen of love (ooh even reminiscing about the era is making me use hyperbole). That is why I call them the ‘loser’ songs, all about aching love nothing about love’s uplifting qualities. That reminds me of the ultimate loser song, ever heard Achha sila diya tune mere pyaar ka?

The songs of the era were the kind that the roadside tapori would sing in his mistaken view of love which actually would be some funny form of eve teasing. ‘Premi pagal aawara, aashiq majnu deewana…’ or ‘Main hoon aashiq, aashiq aawara’. The songs of the era also seemed to propagate the myth that if you chase a girl hard enough (like a needy psychopathic stalker) she is bound to fall in love with you. ‘Is tarah aashiqui ka asar chod jaunga, tere chehre pe apni nazar chod jaunga’ scary man. Or ‘First time dekha tumhein ham kho gaya second time mein love ho gaya yeh akkha India jaanta hai ham tumpe marta hai…’ Perfect songs for the guy who is waiting at the corner of the road for his favourite girl to walk past.

Lots of metaphors and lots of promises of undying love. ‘Tu shayar hai main teri shayari (I remember everyone of us girls in the school had tried to move their index fingers the way Madhuri does in that song). ‘Saanson ki zarurat hai jaise’ ‘Tumhein apna banane ki kasam khaayi hai khaayi hai’ ‘Dil hai ki maanta nahin’ ‘Saanwali saloni teri jheel si aankhein’ (cute still) ‘Juliet ki tarah honthon pe hai surkhiyan dekh le khud ko tu nazar se meri jaaneja’.

Unrequited love, betrayal or some form of separation was a common theme. ‘Chupana bhi nahin aata’, ‘Accha sila’ mentioned above, ‘Ae kaash kahin aisa hota ke do dil hote seene mein’ ‘Jaao tum chahe jahan yaad karoge wahaan ki ik ladka duniya mein hai jo de sakta hai tumpe jaan’ ‘Woh meri neend mera chain mujhe lauta do’ ‘Ab tere bin jee lenge ham zehar zindagi ka pee lenge ham’. How many lovers of that era must have gone through breakups listening to these depressing numbers.

There were also the quirky ones with weird lyrics. ‘Tu tu tu tu tara…’ ‘Ole ole’ ‘Oye oye’ ‘Ruk ruk ruk’ ‘Sexy sexy’ ‘Choli ke peechey’ ‘Bambai se gayi puna’ ‘Jaipur se nikali gaadi dilli chali halle halle’ ‘Barana de’ ‘Shehar ki ladki’ ‘Madhuri Dixit mili raste mein’ ‘Meri marzi’. I could go on and on.

Each of these songs brings back some memory of some Antakshari won while travelling jam packed in a school rickshaw, some train journey listening to these songs on the walkman (do they exist still?), some wedding band favourites, some that I sang to my then crush in the privacy of my own bedroom believing every word to be coming truly from my heart, some poem I wrote taking off from the lyrics of some loser song, lots and lots of memories of growing up. I dearly loved these songs then, I laugh at my own adolescent image of love now. What was I thinking when I used to sing ‘Teri ummeed tera intezar karte hain’ or sometimes shyly to myself ‘Raah mein unse mulakat ho gayi..’? Well I guess I was just behaving my age.

Some of these songs are gems and I still love them. But ‘loserness’ being the characteristic of the songs of that era, I cant but help call them all loser songs of the 90’s. Anyone remembers any more of these songs, please add your list in the comments section 🙂 Lets remember the days when we were all bitten by the bug called infatuation 🙂