Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Discreet Charms of Filmi Love

I think discreet charms captures very nicely how Hindi film songs are what made the expression of love both discreet and charming for several generations of Indians for whom film songs constituted popular culture. This is what a friend and I talked about in last night in a lounge bar in Bangalore as we wondered about how different we are compared to an entire generation of school kids whose experiences with the opposite (or same) sex includes the danger of an MMS clip circulating around the world.

(apologies to non-Hindi/Urdu speakers - I don't think I can do justice translating the lyrics that follow).

Well into the second bottle of wine by this time, my friend smiled and began talking about how he dealt with his first crush in school. “I still remember, I’d lie awake on school nights waiting for All India Radio’s Chaya Geet, waiting for Kishore Kumar’s voice to waft in from the living room…all with the fond hope of hearing a song like:

Aap ki aankhon mein kuch, mehke hue se khwab hain
Aap se bhi khoobsurat, aapke andaaz hain…”

“And all next day I would steal glances at her, sitting diagonally across from my desk, and wonder how wonderful it would be were she to respond:
Aap ki baaton mein phir, koi shararat to nahin
Bewaja tareef karna, aapki aadat to nahin
Aap ki badmashiyon pe ye naye andaaz hain…

He went on. “Or, if I was in a more peppy mood, I’d want a song like:

Dil deke dekho dil deke dekho, dil lene walon dil dena seekho ji...

“I’d dream she’d ask coyly: kaise?
And I’d continue: Dil deke dekho…dil deke dekho…”

I had my own little story, but by this time my friend had moved on to unrequited love. “Hemant Kumar man, I tell you. Such gham. I listened to his song for a whole week after she told me off in front of I don’t know how many kids in the school playground.” He began singing in a low voice:

jaane who kaise log the jinke pyar ko pyar mila

Moved (and a little sozzled), I joined him:

humne to jab kaliyan maangi… kaanton ka haar mila

“I’m telling you yaar, I was too young to drink then, but that didn’t stop me from imagining a glass of juice to be whisky.” We smiled, and didn’t say a word for a good ten minutes after this, both lost in our own worlds.

The evening wore on, and on the way back home in an auto, I began thinking about how I came to love the person I do now. When friends ask me who proposed and what happened, I am at a loss. None of that seemingly romantic and tension-filled proposal for us. I honestly don’t know how and at what point we decided we were "together." But I do know that these words make sense:

Jaane Kya Tune Kahi
Jaane kya maine suni
Baat kuch ban hi gayi...
Jaag uthe khwab kai
Baat kuch ban hi gayi

And this, my fellow cinephiles, is why I agree with folks who do not quite connect with contemporary Bollywood’s language for romance. Like the Bheege hont tere…raat bhar tujhe main karoon pyar song from Murder. Seems like softporn compared to the older stuff, no?

p.s. The title for this post is a shameless lift from Ashis Nandy’s essay titled “The Discreet Charms of Indian Terrorism.” In the essay, Nandy narrates a hijacking incident in which one of the terrorists, during the long process of negotiation with State authorities, grows melancholy and begins singing. And he chooses to sing Hindi film songs, not jingoistic anthems that most passengers expected. Some passengers, when questioned about their experience, mention that the songs moved them and helped them see the terrorist in different light. This is one among many other startling stories that Nandy draws on to reflect on some of (Indian) terrorism’s discreet charms.


  • thanks for making my day. And I thought I was weird for not liking bheege honth tere.
    Have u heard the "door reh ke naa karo baat, karreb aa jao" song from the manoj kumar starrer amanat. Another fav. Do u mind if I link your blog to mine?
    Take care

    By Blogger bilbo, at 12/18/2005 8:47 PM  

  • Hey bilbo - of course you can add bollyspace to your list! And while I don't really dig "Mr.Bharat," I agree, the song is a nice one.

    By Blogger Aswin, at 12/18/2005 10:49 PM  

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