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Word the Cat

Bollywood YouTube Omnibus [re-decorated]

Posted by Chris on December 7, 2006 at 9:00 pm  

Setting the Scene

Mother India (1957) often tops critics’ lists of the greatest Bollywood films. It’s an epic of famine, poverty and misery that enshrines the Indian nation in the body of a long suffering and always dignified woman who eventually has to kill her wayward bandit son. Heavy in every sense of the word. This song is from the early in the film before the famine starts to bite and everything goes wrong. Like just about every song in the film it celebrates labour. One of the few songs that doesn’t is actually my favourite and sees the wayward son singing about how he doesn’t like working while smoking weed with some saddhus. This is not available on YouTube (there are still limits).

Film: Mother India // Song: Matavala Jiya Dole Re available here

The other great lynchpin of this period is Mughal-E-Azam (1960), a historical epic about the muslim Mughal dynasty in India. What really sets this film apart is the means of production. It was filmed entirely in black and white. However, for the song sequences, every single frame of film was coloured with enamel paint. Over 40 years before Richard Linklater or Renaissace used computers, Bombay’s studios made a moving painting by hand.

Film: Mughal-E-Azam // Song: Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya

Pakeezah (1971)

Pakeezah is a weighty melodrama about an orphan who grows up to be a dancing girl / courtesan. I include it here because it has the BEST songs I know of in a Bollywood film. Both clips are dance-centered with largely static camera – making a film about a dancer means songs need be less tied in with narrative events. The singer in both cases is Lata Mangeshkar, who is the most recorded singer… ever. I’m told that she recorded 30,000 solo, duet and chorus-backed songs in 20 Indian languages between 1948 and 1987. She is still recording today. Note that she isn’t the actress – nearly all Bollywood songs are overdubbed.

Film: Pakeezah // Song: Inhi Logon Ne

Film: Pakeezah // Song: Chalte Chalte

Funky

A few years ago, when Bollywood briefly became fashionable in the UK outside South Asian diasporic communities, it was 70s funky Bollywood that got the most rotation. Dum Maro Dum (sung by Asha Bhosle) from the film Hare Krishna Hare Rama (1971) was sampled for Method Man and Busta Rhymes’ ‘What’s Happening’. The video set piece has a load of travelling hippies (including several Beatles lookalikes) smoking charras and getting excited. They were no doubt hired as extras while actually travelling through India, smoking charras and getting excited.

Film: Hare Krishna Hare Rama // Song: Dum Maro Dum

Sholay (1975) is probably the most popular Bollywood film ever made. Even now it lends its name to several restaurants in Leeds. A sort of western / vengence pre-massala (see below) film starring Amitabh Bachchan who continues to be one of the most famous people in Asia.

Film: Sholay // Song: Yeh Dosti Ham Nahi

Weddings

Three cornerstones of good melodrama are births, marriages and deaths. The births and deaths are rarely set to music in Bollywood, but marriages always are.

Dhadkan (2000) brings a big Qawwali bridal entrance scene. The vocal is actually Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan recorded before his death – he was always keen on bringing Qawwali to a bigger audience whether it was recording for films, releasing on Real World (what a strange name for a label) or working with Massive Attack. I like the fact the director felt the need to make the camera move drunkenly/intoxicated-ly while filming the musicians.

Film: Dhadkan // Song: Dulhe Ka Sehra

Mira Nair directs films which often focus on the worldwide Indian diaspora. Her funding also often comes from outside Bombay. FilmFour funded her Karma Sutra (1996) and distributed Monsoon Wedding (2001). Perhaps because her films lie more in a social realist tradition (Mississipi Masala (1991) (starring Denzel Washington) deals with an inter-racial love affair and Monsoon Wedding deals with child abuse), you’re more likely to find them on an Indian film course than anything else I’ve mentioned here. This is from Monsoon Wedding.

[original clip no longer available - this one makes similar points re: realism. Ayesha performs to a song over a PA while the cheers of the crowd are clearly audible. This is quite different from the extra-diegetic music in the vast majority of Bollywood song and dance numbers]

Film: Monsoon Wedding // Song: Ayesha’s Dance

Masala

Genre-bending has been a feature of Bollywood for some time. Masala is a term borrowed from the mixing of spices in Indian cookery to describe a film composed of mixed genres. In this way you’re not unlikely to see films that swerve from full on-action to romantic comedy to buddy movie to tear-jerking tragedy where the cute kid is sure to die. Main Hoon Na (2004) goes one better by also mixing up American college movies and intertextual references to Bollywood staples such as Sholay. Mega-star Sharukh Khan (the face of Pepsi in India) stars opposite Sunil Shetty (who previously advertised Coca Cola) in the action strand as Indian army officer versus Hindu nationalist terrorist respectively. On another intertextual level Sharukh finds himself unable to stop singing love songs from his previous films when he sees Sushmita Sen (who also previously advertised Coca Cola but is now sueing the company for sexual harrassment). This first song gives you a good idea of the high school strand of the film. In the second Sharukh has an extended hallucination scene in which he imagines wooing Sushmita Sen in purposely overstylised and self-referential settings.

Film: Main Hoon Na // Song: Main Hoon Na

Film: Main Hoon Na // Song: Tumse Milke Dil Ka

The 2007 International Indian Film Academy Awards will be held in Sheffield next June. That’s the biggest awards ceremony there is in Bollywood / Bombay cinema. Get excited now.

17 Comments »

  • Comment by floodwatch on December 7, 2006 at 9:40 pm

Absolutely fascinating. Great post.

  • Comment by boutros on December 9, 2006 at 12:45 pm

Thanks for enlightening me!

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  • Comment by maëva on February 26, 2007 at 11:45 am

i love it the song is amusing,interesting wahou really i love it and i love india kiss

Paakeezah is always all ime favoite. AMazing stuff!!!

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