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. 

Drinking buddies

It was a usual night at Shabnam bar tucked away in a lane behind a local train station in Central Mumbai. Some were nursing drinks, some gulping them down, some brooding over every sip and some laughing hysterically at not so funny jokes. Kishore and Rafi were alternately crooning about the greatest disappointments of their lives on the bar’s music system.

And as it was a usual night, Rajesh was there. Everything was familiar here and that soothed his senses. It was a refuge from daily struggles, a place to reflect, appreciate the songs born out of life’s ironies and generally numb oneself at the end of the day. Most of the clientile was the same. Hardly anyone new came there, but Shabnam had many loyalists. Rajesh knew everyone’s story. He liked to hear them and marvel at how much better his life was. And at times when he felt the other person needed it, he told his story too.

Suddenly the door opened and a gust of the pouring rain from outside breezed in and along with it came a man who had the most disturbed face Rajesh had seen in quite sometime. He didn’t look like someone who drank, but then who can say that anymore. The man sat down and ordered 2 pegs, neat. Rajesh raised an appreciative brow and went back to his drink. After a while when Rajesh started to leave, the man was still there, ordering 2 more. It seemed that he had had quite a few of them already and didn’t want to stop until he lost himself completely.

The other man started coming in regularly. Another Shabnam loyalist, Rajesh smiled. His name was Abhishek; Rajesh had seen him swipe a card once. They had both started acknowledging each other’s existence by now. Abhishek would get pissed drunk every night. Rajesh enjoyed his drinks but he had a self imposed limit, one that he stuck to, just enough to get some relief at the end of the day. But this man seemed to be on a mission to drink his body down.

One night however, Abhishek seemed to be even more melancholy but he was gulping down drinks with the same fervour. Rajesh got worried. What if the man was on some suicidal mood today? He certainly looked so. Rajesh went up to Abhishek’s table and tried to start a conversation.
“Hi, have been seeing you here regularly now, I am Rajesh. You on some drink till I die mission today dude?”
“Err…hi…you won’t understand.”
“Try me…”
Abhishek smiled with melancholy dismissal.
“They say majority of men drinking in dimly lit bars are of two types. Ones who are thinking of the girl who got away and the others who are trying to forget the pain of having one. So what is it with you?” Rajesh persisted.
Abhishek laughed out harshly, “Maybe they are right. But let’s hear whats it with you?”
“Mind if I take a seat,” Rajesh pulled a chair next to Abhishek. “The one who got away. She was my college mate. She came into my life when I had almost lost hope. I can still feel her hands cupping my face. There never was anyone who could love so unselfishly, so truly. We would have done anything for each other.”
“That would have been a fairytale, ” Abhishek pointed out.
“Yes, if we could have stayed together that is what it would have been.”
“So what was it? She turned out be a fickle woman? Triya charitra was it?”
“Just shut up ok, I won’t hear a word against her. She was never like that. She was everything one could ever dream for in a companion. She was mine for as long as she could and somehow I know she is still mine, though she is far away, married to someone her parents wanted her to. She hasn’t cheated on him physically though, that much I can tell you. She is his for all worldly purposes, but I know her heart will always be mine.”
“Aah but if your love was that true, you had to lose her buddy. That’s the way of the world. Its a law of nature I think, that if you love truly, you won’t ever get it back, or be fortunate enough to live out this dream love. I love her too completely, honestly, but somehow it never penetrates her heart. Its like she will never understand it. You are lucky. Your love was atleast reciprocated. I had no such luck.”
“No dude, you are lucky. You have no idea how bad it is to lose what you once had. You have never had it, so your pain will ease away. Don’t lose heart. You have no memory of how glorious it felt to have her close and then to be reminded everytime that its gone forever. You are lucky Abhishek. For people like me, love is now just a picture inside a wallet.” Rajesh pulled out his wallet, took out a picture, “This is all that I have of her now. Look at how sweet a thing I have lost,” he smiled ruefully.
Abhishek was completely silent for a while and then he rose from the table, “I should go. You are right I am the kind who don’t have the right to even die,” he said somewhat heavily and left. Rajesh sat there looking at the picture.
Out on the street, Abhishek thought, “You have no idea that its more painful to never really have what you have.” The girl in the picture was his wife.