Coyly her chum replied, “That’s my heart behind the choli”… Sassy lassie, saucy again, asks, “Pray, what’s behind the chunari?” Sexy lady shot back, “That’s my heart behind the chunari”. As these two rustic young girls danced away on screen over two decades ago, off screen, given a chance, some Indians still scream, “Blasphemy! Anand Bakshi, Bollywood’s lyricist stooped so low – depicting such disrespect towards our nation’s cultural heritage!” Now if that isn’t an attempt at cultural hegemony, what is! These sanctimonious critics never fail to condemn the songwriter who penned over 3500 songs in almost 650 Hindi films over 45 years since the late 1950s until the onset of the 21st century.
A few weeks ago, I touched upon a similar issue. Now didn’t songs penned by other acclaimed lyricists too have double entendre skillfully interlaced in their verses too? Somehow I believe that because those names were heavyweights of Hindi films in the ’50s-’60s-’70s-’80s, e.g. Sahir Ludhianvi stood his own ground, undeterred by critics or politics; or songwriter-poet Hasrat Jaipuri, intrinsic to the quartet team along with renowned lyricist Shailendra and composers Shankar-Jaikishan – each one of them most talented, but together whose careers took off in films largely promoted by actor-director-producer Raj Kapoor of RK Films. Critics may have been cautious and wary about voicing their concerns over their artistic presentations. We never witnessed such attacks when overtly sexual references were clearly visible in most of Raj Kapoor’s films… at that time it all passed under the guise of ‘art’ and brushed aside with one brilliant stroke that is coined as “showmanship”. Brilliant Public Relations, I say. It always amazes me that in the early ’60s — 30 years before ‘the choli song’ — neither did the Indian janta raise their eyebrows, nor did the Censor Board clamp up at this depiction – a middle-aged man playing tricks with a bathing beauty à la Krishna… oh no, who could possibly dare to frown upon, or cause a furor over this!
Ironically, the following ‘evergreen’ ‘devotional’ song is from a film produced under the RK Banner in 1978; and the lyrics are penned by the same songwriter — Anand Bakshi. I doubt if critics ever pointed a finger to fault either the lyrics writer, or the film’s producer- director-editor… 😉
Don’t get me wrong… showman Raj Kapoor was ‘great’ more because he was astute. He had the finger on the Indian janta’s pulse. He knew what worked, and what made them tick. Behind their saintly facades weren’t these holier-than-thou types — in reality — virile men eager to ogle, just pretending to look askance? Given every chance each of them would certainly crave for more than one glance!
Here’s yet another iconic song – nothing obscene about the song nor its depiction. It was written by another heavyweight lyricist, Majrooh Sultanpuri. Picturized on a much-revered actress, Meena Kumari, I doubt if most listeners have ever given a second thought to the deep implications of the lyrics… with a smile on her face, dancing amidst debauched men, the courtesan narrates the sad tale of how her modesty was compromised, and how her state came to be.
Many a film has been made with ‘mujra’ dance songs that either tell a sad tale (Umrao Jaan, Baazar, etc) or forever wooing the degenerate male for money money money. Sometimes even filmmakers like Yash Raj Films have brought in top-rated stars in special appearances to perform an “item-number” – any fingers pointing at these “first families” of Indian films? Dekho dekho… a stark scenario — resplendent with dark kohl, kajra, and plenty of oomph. Censors, critics, the young and old – they all danced to ‘their’ tune, “chunari” was cast away… the question of “chunari ke peechey kya hai” just did not arise… was it the free-fall of lyrics, the descent of decency, or is it… “Hey, to each his own; get a life!”
Yesterday I had the opportunity to watch a show, “100 Years of Bollywood 1913-2013”, an interesting production, a retrospective montage – a representation, a depiction of Hindi cinema through the decades — all the way from its nascent, silent avatar to its current day melée between dance, drama, music, action — each of the elements jostling for attention.
I was thoroughly enjoying the music – both, the very old music from my grand-parents’ era continuing through my parents’ youth, to my childhood, youth and adulthood; but one thing struck me as odd, even as I was watching the audio-visuals, listening to the live music, tapping my toes and clapping my hands in sync with the rhythm of songs that are almost a part of me now — credits were given to the music composers, to the actors and filmmakers but what about the lyricists? What about those who had penned the words that we uttered, and sang? Why no mention or credit to the film poets? Even as this thought quietly rankled, suddenly I felt some harsh brakes that caused a jolt and hurt like whiplash!
A slide in the presentation had singled out Anand Bakshi and mocked himcondemned him thus — A lyricist who was renowned for writing good lyrics, had stooped so low in the ’90s with these lyrics — “Choli ke peechhey kya hai, chunari ke neechey kya hai”. Translated literally the song wold read: “What lies beneath the blouse?” “What lies beneath the veil?” But as in poetry, in film lyrics too one goes beyond the literal. Obviously, in this case, this director/writer of the staged show preferred to interpret the lines literally. For a moment I wasn’t sure whether this was a backhanded compliment to Anand Bakshi, or if it was a deliberate attempt at singling him out to deride the man who has been long gone, but not before he had contributed much to Hindi Films over his lifetime; and one who reached great heights — all on his own strength, merit, determination and steam. He rode his own horse. His written words spoke for him and surpassed any “showman” in Bollywood.
Shouldn’t those who presented this show at a fundraiser for Ekal Vidyalaya in the US yesterday, have displayed better judgment than to pass judgment on a contentious issue such as this? To a packed house of 1100 people — young, middle-aged, as well as senior Indians — surely this could have been left for the audience to gauge the rise or demise of aesthetics in Indian cinema. After all, Indians or not, this was US soil the show was presented on… both national anthems were recited – The Star Spangled Banner, as well as Jana Gana Mana… did they not factor in the sentiments of all who were present? Finally, I’m sorry to say, as far as I’m concerned, this single instance was the show’s undoing. What could have ended on a fun note… ended with a jarring sound.
Sorry, some folks – twenty years ago, or twenty years hence can’t pull away from ‘choli’… perhaps that is why they do not remember this song in the same film, penned by the same lyricist. He wrote a heart-wrenching song – an ode to all mothers. Even Anand Bakshi ji himself had asked his critics the same question – why were they hung up on the choli song? Did they even notice the poignant words — Every mother loves her child – be he the devil incarnate, or God himself. “Apney bachchey tujhko pyarey, Raavan ho ya Ram”.
Think deep… whether a newborn infant, or an aging adult, isn’t it hard to break away from Mom?
Now I wouldn’t like to disappoint the few who may be interested in this other song… I mean the ‘mother’ song. So here it is, in its entirety.