Sunday, November 6, 2011

Why I Love Bollywood: The Playlist (Part 1)

In my second-ever post on this blog, "Why I Love Bollywood," I tried to explain why I find Indian cinema so powerfully appealing. But my halting attempts at explanation weren't nearly as eloquent as the movies themselves. After all, we had begun our journey of discovery not by reading about Bollywood, but by watching dance clips on local TV programs like Namaste America, Showbiz India, and India Waves.

So I began putting together "Why I Love Bollywood" compilations of some of my favorite Bollywood dance numbers for uncomprehending family and friends. The clips are not in chronological order; instead, I looked for connections of mood, imagery, or featured stars.* I focused on recent films because I thought that they would be more appealing to folks who had never encountered a Bollywood movie before, and also because I'm still woefully ignorant about Indian cinema's Golden Age. But (as you'll notice) I've slipped in an occasional classic or two. I clearly need some Helen, though.

This list is not in any way meant to be comprehensive or the "best" of anything. It is meant only to be entertaining.

  1. Song: "Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte" (We'll meet again as time goes by)
    Film: Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (A Match Made In Heaven, 2009), dir: Aditya Chopra
    Stars: Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Bipasa Basu, Lara Dutta, Preity Zinta, Rani Mukherji
    Composers: Salim-Sulaiman
    Singer: Sonu Nigam

    Shah Rukh Khan's homage to great stars of the 1950s through the 1970s: Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna, and Rishi Kapoor (not to mention their leading ladies Nargis, Nutan, Helen, Sharmila Tagore and Neetu Singh). The visual and lyrical allusions to classic films in this number are incredibly dense—see the Wikipedia article on the song for details—but you don't have to be familiar with the originals to enjoy it.

  2. Song: "Mohe Panghat Pe" (Krishna teased me at the well)
    Film: Mughal-e-Azam (The Great Mughal, 1960); dir. K. Asif
    Star: Madhubala
    Composers: Naushad (music), Shakeel Badayuni (lyrics)
    Singer: Lata Mangeshkar

    The shot of the court dancer Anarkali (Madhubala) lifting her veil at the opening of this song is justly one of the most famous in Indian cinema. Neither she nor we yet realize that the forbidden love of Krishna and Radha will have parallels to her love for Prince Salim (Dilip Kumar).

  3. Song: "Kahe Chhed Mohe" (Krishna teased me at the well)
    Film: Devdas (2002); dir. Sanjay Leela Bhansali
    Stars: Madhuri Dixit, Jackie Shroff, Shah Rukh Khan
    Composers: Ismail Darbar, Nusrat Badr
    Singers: Pandit Birju Maharaj, Madhuri Dixit, Kavita Krishnamurthy

    Director Bhansali's gorgeous homage to the great courtesan films such as Mughal-e-Azam, Pakeezah (The pure one, 1972), and Umrao Jaan (1981). It's another telling of the Krishna-Radha story, again with parallels to the lives of the protagonists: Devdas (Shah Rukh Khan) has just forcibly seduced and abandoned his childhood sweetheart Paro (Aishwarya Rai); the courtesan Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit) unwittingly reminds him of his guilt, while (like Anarkali) transgressing fiercely policed social boundaries by falling in love with him herself.

  4. Song: "Chaiyya Chaiyya" (Walk in the shadow of love)
    Film: Dil Se (From the Heart, 1998); dir. Mani Ratnam
    Stars: Malaika Arora, Shah Rukh Khan
    Composers: A. R. Rahman (music), Gulzar (lyrics)
    Singers: Sapna Awasti, Sukhwinder Singh

    The mind boggles as SRK and Malaika Arora dance on top of a moving train.

  5. Song: "Aisa Des Hai Mera" (Such is my country)
    Film: Veer-Zaara (2004); dir. Yash Chopra
    Stars: Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta
    Composers: Madan Mohan, Sanjeev Kohli
    Singers: Gurdas Mann, Udit Narayan, Pritha Mazumder, Lata Mangeshkar

    SRK again, this time on top of a moving bus. The epitome of a Yash Chopra "scenic India" song.

  6. Song: "Lodi"
    Film: Veer-Zaara (2004); dir. Yash Chopra
    Stars: Amitabh Bachchan, Hema Malini, Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta
    Composers: Madan Mohan, Sanjeev Kohli
    Singers: Gurdas Mann, Udit Narayan, Lata Mangeshkar

    A delightful reunion between frequent 1970s co-stars Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini (Sholay (Fire, 1975), Trishul (1978), and many others), with Shah Rukh and Preity Zinta in attendance.

  7. Song: "Dola Re Dola" (Swinging and swaying)
    Film: Devdas (2002); dir. Sanjay Leela Bhansali
    Stars: Madhuri Dixit, Aishwarya Rai
    Composers: Ismail Darbar, Nusrat Badr
    Singers: Kavita Krishnamurthy, Shreya Ghoshal, Kay Kay

    Each time I watch this song featuring two of the greatest dancers in modern Bollywood, I'm amazed again by the swirling camerawork and lengthy continuous takes. A brilliant combination of form and content by director Bhansali.

More to follow in Parts 2, 3, and 4; I have also created a Why I Love Bollywood YouTube playlist.


* A note to Yash Raj Films, Eros Entertainment, Shemaroo, Tips, and other Indian producers: I would be more enthusiastic about using your YouTube videos in my posts and playlists if they were complete, were posted at the proper aspect ratio (not stretched or squashed), and had an English closed caption option. Since those criteria are only rarely met, I also rely on the many YouTubing Bollywood fans out there who share their favorite songs as a labor of love. They are apparently more concerned about attracting new audiences to your films than you are.


  1. Great list! Bollywood is just so LOVEable... perhaps that's what makes it so special for me... I can love Hindi films, no matter how many bad ones I watch, there's just this special thing about it, I really don't know what it is. It feels... "warmer" than other film industries, if that's possible.

  2. Thanks for your kind words, Mette! Yes, one of the things that I find so appealing about Indian cinema is how unabashedly emotional it is, and the songs are a key part of that (the combination of music and emotion is why I love opera, too).