Popular lyricist and screenwriter Prasoon Joshi analyses Hindi film songs down the years… exclusively for Koimoi.com readers.

Prasoon Joshi
Prasoon Joshi

Viewed from diverse perspectives – direction, performance, production, technical – the Indian and Hindi film industries have been prolific. Musically though, they have been exceptional and lyrically, par excellence. The content of our songs, in a number of cases, can be effortlessly compared to sheer poetry and literature. In a country where people read less and listen more – in keeping with our culture of oral tradition – songs have kept philosophy, emotions and beliefs intact. They have reflected the morality of their times in a very defined form. A journey into Hindi song lyrics can be a crash course in the popular consciousness of India through decades.

Society & Songs

On a sweeping glance, though, one might come to the hurried conclusion that Indian people are overtly romantic, for, romance has been the backbone of Indian film music and song. The truth, as it unfolds itself, is contrary. The layers and intricate social and moral fabric of India have always made a simple natural man and woman into participative sport played in the arena of social restriction and sanction. I don’t wish to get into which region, which caste or part/s of society is/are more responsible for this, but the fear that closeness and attachment or intimacy and freedom in man and woman had the power to break down the joint family system and the other sub-units of relationships, was predominant.

The eagerness of the society to play a key role in the denial of the most natural beautiful relationship resulted in romance being more layered, complex, sacred and, paradoxically, beautiful. In this kind of a societal structure, the significance of love songs cannot be overstated.

Since Romance Was Taboo…

Pakeezah, Bandini, Chaudhvin ka chaand
Pakeezah, Bandini, Chaudhvin ka chaand

Since romance was taboo, its expressions were through the medium of poetry and songs. Whether it was to convey your feelings to the object of your affection – “Mausam hai aashqana / Ai dil kahin se unko dhoondh lana”, “Tere husn ki kya tareef karoon” – to self-expression – “Meri aankhon se koi neend liye jata hai”, “Koi aye dhadkan kehti hai / Dheere dheere machal ae dil-e-beqarar”. Every facet be it Desire – “Door reh kar na karo baat kareeb aa jao”, “Mora gora ang leyi le” – or Intention – “Mere dil mein aaj kya hai”, “Pyaar par bas toe nahi hai mera lekin” – or Playfulness – “Hum aap ki aankhon mein kuchh” – or Longing – “Abhi na jao chhod kar”, “Yaad kiya dil ne…”, “Hum bekhudi mein tumko” – or Togetherness – “Tere mere sapne”, “Aap ki aankhon mein kuchh”, “Nain so nain” – or Grievance – “Apni toe har aah bhi ek toofan hai” – or Pain and Catharsis – “Rasik balma”, “Waqt ne kiya”, “Hui shaam unka khayal aa gaya”, “Mann re tu kahe na dheer dhare”, “Hoke majboor”, “Tere bina zindagi se koi shikwa to nahin” – the list is endless. In effect, blatant physical appreciation, too, found its idiom – “Choo lene do nazuk honthon ko”, “Chandan sa badan”, “Chaudhvin ka chaand ho” – through the transparent veil of the Hindi film song.

Most of the above couldn’t be shown in scenes or said directly in dialogues. It would either be deemed irreverent or ridiculous. Class and taste had to be maintained and the social code of conduct, in which male and female relationships operated, respected. So much of the responsibility for articulation was carried by the songs. They not only moved the narrative forward but also added another dimension. It is indisputable that film songs were the best medium for conveying romance and passion in a society where on-screen permissiveness was taboo, till recently.

Perhaps, that is the reason, our earlier songs resided in the space of longing and amplified pathos. The distance, societal and physical, was so much that probably the first five times, the boy and girl only glanced at each other, the boy waited for weeks to even muster courage to cycle or drive past her house months before the first sentence was uttered. The longing, the intensity gradually built up.

In fact, often, the very feeling of being in love surpassed the desire of union. Because time and again, the conformist in a person led him to nurse and nurture the love for one and tread a different path with another. In 99% cases, love lost and society won.

Tehzeeb And Brahminical Restraint

Another factor, I feel, that underlines the language and the tenor of the songs of the early ’50s and, to some extent, ’60s too, was a fusion of Mughal aristocracy and elements of tehzeeb with that of Brahminical restraint. On hind sight, it was, perhaps, a bit patronising. IT ALMOST DECIDED THE NATURE AND EXPRESSION OF LOVE FOR EVERYONE. The tunes were heavily inspired from Hindustani classical music ragas and thumris, voices were classically trained and refined. After all, THE KIND OF music WHICH WAS MOST OFTEN USED in itself – barring the common folk variety – was the domain initially of the few. Nurtured and patronised by the privileged, classical music was not for the masses but the select few.


Democratisation Of Music

Songs held a mirror to a generation’s and society’s morality. If the ’50s were about optimism and idealism, the ’60s were marked by slight societal disillusionment and gentle romance compared to a newer generation and more overt romance of the ’70s to the erosion of the moral fabric in the ’80s and ’90s. There then came a time when the voice of different social strata came into limelight. Songs like “Kaisa sila diya tune mere pyaar ka” or “Tum toe thehre pardesi” went on to become huge hits. From tune to lyrics to the kind of voices used marked the beginning of the expression of the man on the street finding its place in the mainstream of Indian music. There was a certain unrefined aspect in these songs which may be jarring to the cultured ear of a section of listeners but made another section comfortable. I term it as “democratisation” of music. In fact, Himesh Reshammiya’s voice and impact too can be understood if we see him through this lens.

Worshipping The Lover – Then & Now

This brings me to ponder on the romantic morality, if one can call it, of the earlier decades and now. One key aspect, I observe, that has seen a definite decline is ‘worshipping the lover’ aspect. From songs like “Prem jogan ban” or “Ek but banaaonga tera aur pooja karoonga”, “Tumhi meri puja tumhi devta ho” to today, the devotion, the complete surrender in romance has decreased. It is a factor of change in society. Earlier, the distance, physical and societal, played a big role in creating an enigma and aura larger than life.

Today, repression, taboos and stigma associated with romance are considerably less. So is the enigma. The ethereal, unattainable and, therefore, venerated part of romance is now on the backburner. There is less symbolism and there are fewer metaphors. Many would argue that songs like “Lagan laagi tumse mann ki lagan” or “Tumse hi din hota hai” are reminiscent of the melodious love songs of the yore, that they strike more than a chord and transport you in a softer space. I agree whole-heartedly, but with the refrain that these songs are in the ‘classic romance genre’ – one that will live forever. Much like the genre of classic love stories like those of Heer Ranjha, Romeo Juliet have. It’s more of romantic nostalgia – ‘this is how romance used to/should be’ – the ‘retro’ kind of appeal that is reflected.

Romance & Changing Gender Equations

Today, romance has a changed expression. Some would cite the speed of our lives as the reason. Others would say that the eroding morality of society, romance becoming disposable and tem- porary, narrative of our cinema becoming increasingly fast-paced, and the lack of space for songs are the reasons for the change.

I would take a slightly different view. I would say, romance has found a different portrayal, a newer hue. Today, the man-woman relationship has evolved, the societal conflict is comparatively less, and the gender equation has changed. Today’s woman doesn’t want or like to be referred to as tyaag ki murti or devi, the ever-sacrificing and suffering one. She is confident of being human, with her flaws and strengths, and desirous of being accepted as just that. And I would say that gradually men are recognising and echoing this aspect.

Romance is a gentler sentiment. It is what elevates us and, paradoxically, sinks us into depths of emotion. Songs that portray love in all its beauty and complexity, which carry with them the whiff of innocence and the intensity of passion, will never fade. But, perhaps, today more than ever, there is more realism in romance. There is a desire of not just romance but a romantic ‘relationship’, that of a deeper understanding of experiencing a different shade of love… “Rehna tu jaisa hai tu… thoda sa dard tu thoda sukoon…” Romance, as we knew it, is, perhaps, dead. Long live Romance. Albeit in a different avtaar in the Hindi film song.

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