The first Indian technicolour film, Aan (1952), had a Holi song. This is hardly surprising. Holi, a festival of colour, cadence, drama, and dance, lends itself beautifully to the medium of cinema. Over the decades the "Holi song" would become a trademark, fit, sometimes uneasily, into the narrative. Any excuse to bring in some colour. Think 'Rang Barse Bheege Chunar Wali', 'Holi Ke Din', 'Holi Khele Raghuveera', or even the insanely popular 'Balam Pichkari'. These songs almost lent the films their iconic, timeless status.
But through the decades, the song has also become an excuse for lyrics that border on the ludicrous, wardrobe choices that are at best questionable, and choreography that is, at worst, harassment. T-Series's latest rehash of Mere Angne Mein, where a jealous girlfriend sends her boyfriend to the 15th century where he ends up seeing Jacqueline Fernandez bathing, made us introspect further.
We ring in the Holi Spirit by lurking through Hindi Holi songs, armed with more questions than answers. Here goes:
Some of the wardrobe choices these songs have are questionable. Holi is supposed to be about cheap, old, disposable, white clothes. Mohabbatein has a 9-minute 'Holi Song' called 'Soni Soni' with Shamita Shetty and her entourage dressed in mini-skirts, tennis shoes, or heels as they compete with men in fresh denim pants. It doesn't help that the chaperones are wearing silk. "Realistic" was definitely not part of the costume design brief.
In all of Bhansali's past three films, there has been a distinctive Holi song- 'Lahu Munh Lag Gaya' (Ram Leela), 'Mohe Rang Do Laal' (Bajirao Mastani), 'Holi Folk Song' (Padmaavat). It gives Bhansali's canvas a chance to explode with colours, shades, and patterns seen only in dreams. We are yet to find the exact shade of peacock-blue on Ranveer Singh's neck in Ram-Leela, or playfully throw colour into the air without it back-firing and getting into my eyes. Yes, it is poetic, and sighs pour out, but it is also frustrating.
In the 2019 action epic War, to fulfil the quota of 'customary foot-tapping party song in big action movie' the film abruptly burst into song with Jai Jai Shivashankar. To 'celebrate' the success of their first mission together, Hrithik, Tiger and team dive into a Holi celebration in a strange undisclosed location, presumably because the makers felt the Holi song market was in much need of a new entrant. Still, the suddenness and lacking logic of it all quickly faded away as soon as we saw the two dancing legends trade moves in painful fluidity/synchronicity. Not to mention it's a hell of a earworm.
"Upar upar rang lagaiyo, na tariyo kuch neeche (Apply colour only on the exterior, do not go beyond that)," sings a character in Darr's 'Ang Se Ang Lagana' ominously. We're guessing she decided to lay down some rules after seeing this shot of a crouching Anupam Kher staring at women's exposed stomachs and making this face:
If you're trying to explain why your Holi-themed music video has more shots of Jacqueline Fernandes bathing sadly than people actually playing Holi, then "Padte hi water, lage baby hotter" may not be the best way to put it.
What is it about the Bollywood Holi song that lends itself to declarations of love and attraction? Is it the inherent chaos of it all that makes lovers in Hindi movies feel a rare freedom with the object of their affection?
There is Mohabbatein's 'Soni Soni Ankhiyon Wali' and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani's 'Balam Pichkari' where the leading lovebirds celebrate how they feel without a care in the world, before reality sets in, as it always does. In Raanjhanaa there is Dhanush as an uncomfortably passionate suitor Kundan imagining Sonam Kapoor's Zoya approach him in the midst of his Holi celebrations. Or Ram Leela's 'Lahu Munh Lag Gaya' where both leads (and real-life couple in making) Ranveer and Deepika are in mid-flirtation, palpably attracted to each, before getting their garba on and eventually being separated.