Let’s get one thing out of the way. This isn’t about memorable songs that have stood the test of time and will echo over our lonely planet even after human beings disappear. Nope! This is a simple tribute to the rush of adrenalin that flowed through us — in the past decade — when a catchy song and catchier choreography came together on a big screen.
2010 (‘Munni badnaam hui’, Dabangg)
The original was apparently a 1970s song by Razia Begum, a folk singer from Madhya Pradesh: it went Launda badnaam hua, naseeban tere liye. The passage of decades and a quick gender-flip later, we got this Lalit Pandit (yes, Jatin’s brother) chartbuster. Farah Khan said she listened to all the songs of Dabangg and chose to choreograph Munni. Whatever that instinct was, it worked: the steps are smashing, as is Malaika Arora. When the initially low-sounding percussion bursts into full-blast at “Main Zandu balm hui,” you realise why theatre speakers were made. Mahesh Limaye shoots the sequin-popping splendour beautifully.
2011 (‘Character dheela hai’, Ready)
Wow, another Salman Khan number? I was not… um, ready for this inner revelation! But this star’s songs are just so much fun on the big screen, probably because the man… cannot dance to save his life. (The sight of him as Dilip Kumar in Mughal-e-Azam, wiggling his un-wiggle-able hip, is a laughter cure for the ages.) Another person having himself a whole lot of fun is lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya, who rhymes “formula” with “khokla”, “dheela” with “santreela”, “Facebook” with “ek look”, and Pritam completes the experience with his insanely ear-wormy techno-shehnai hook. The bling quotient of the sets is off-the-charts. Gold is a very happy-making colour on screen!
2012 (‘Aa re pritam pyare’, Rowdy Rathore)
What if ‘Choli ke peechhe kya hai’ was choreographed with the raunch its lyrics deserved? Madhuri Dixit, with her classic Indian-heroine face, made the moves fit for family-viewing. But Maryam Zakaria, Shakti Mohan and Mumaith Khan show how this kind of “in the villain’s lair” number should really be done. The dancers are superb, and the choreography uses every inch of screen space: the camera keeps roving about and there’s frenzied movement everywhere. Of course, the song has to explode in the first place, and that it does. Sajid Wajid (‘Soni de nakhre’, ‘Fevicol se’) knew a thing or three about making a party hit.
2013 (‘Gandi baat’, R… Rajkumar)
I was also leaning towards the amazing ‘Dilli waali girlfriend’ (Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani), but there’s a Ranbir number coming up later and I wanted one by Shahid Kapoor in this list. I adore watching Shahid dance, and when you add Prabhu Deva’s brilliantly eccentric moves (including a “haunch step”, which resembles someone taking an Indian-style shit on a moving train), the result is a music video for the ages. The same year, Shahid had another spectacular outing in ‘Dhating naach’ (Phata Poster Nikla Hero), but the constant cutaways to Nargis Fakhri are a bummer. She looks lovely, but her dancing? Someone described her body as “being as flexible as a ball-point pen refill” and I haven’t stopped grinning since.
2014 (‘Tune maari entriyaan’, Gunday)
Tang tang tang tang… That part is Sohail Sen, but Irshad Kamil seriously outdoes himself here, matching “entriyaan” with “warranty-aan” and (most inventively) “country-aan”, showing just how much catchy rhymes can add to an already catchy song. Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor are fun, but this is a Priyanka Chopra show. Was she one of the last truly “Indian” heroines, who could act at a (relatively) natural plane and also pitch herself higher, when required to do in-sync adaa-s in a musical stretch? This number makes me wonder. Oh, and the choreography makes me reach for a favourite Hinglish expression: “Mind blow ho gaya, ji!”
2015 (‘Malhari’, Bajirao Mastani)
How can we not have a Bhansali number in this list? How can we not have a Ganesh Acharya number in this list? How can we not have a period film in this list? Vishal Dadlani belts out the hard-edged alliterations in the lyrics like a king, and Ranveer and the dancers around execute breathtakingly precise military formation-like moves. The energy levels can light up a small city, and sorry, no OTT platform can replicate this feel. If you run into me in an ICU and the worried nurse says I’m breathing my last, please ask her to whip out her phone and play this music video. It’s Bollywood-powered CPR.
2016 (‘Breakup song’, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil)
I recall an anecdote from an exasperated Yash Johar who said he gave up asking Karan to keep an eye on the budget of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… after he saw how much the picturisation of ‘Bole chudiyan’ cost. I wonder what the producer would have said about this number, with its dazzling play of lights and some five-thousand extras. Whatever they spent, every bit of it is up there on the screen. Ranbir is fantastic, as is Anil Mehta: this is a textbook demonstration of how much cinematography is an integral part of choreography. As for Anushka, she answers the question about PeeCee I had a couple of entries ago. We may not have seen the last of the “Indian” heroine yet.
2017 (‘Radha’, Jab Harry Met Sejal)
I realise this has come off as a very Pritam-skewing list, but he has had some of the best-seen-on-big-screen, high-energy songs of the decade. The staging here is not as extravagantly showy as in the earlier numbers, as the situation is more character-based. A stubbled SRK is magnificently casual: I love it when he breaks into that low-energy bhangra move. What seemed like overacting on Anushka’s part in the rest of the film is a perfect fit here, and this “two people get comfortable around one another through naach-gaana”stretch is one of the few things that didn’t make the theatre experience of this film a total write-off.
2018 (‘Tu hi re’, 2.0)
As far as the words in this AR Rahman number go, I prefer the Tamil version, ‘Endhira logathu sundariye’. But the video is the same in all languages, and it’s a marvellous blend of sci-fi and kitsch. Rajinikanth and Amy Jackson aren’t required to do too much dancing, but in this case, the moves don’t matter as much as the mood. The colours are reminiscent of metals as well as jellyfish, and the set design ranges from futuristic e-waste art to a psychedelic planet right out of Avatar. Few directors do big-screen kitsch better than Shankar. What delirious dreams he must have!
2019 (‘Ghunghroo’, War)
I briefly thought about Jai jai Shivshankar, which had two tremendously agile stars matching steps: Tiger does all kinds of look-ma-I’m-made-of-rubber acrobatics and yet is upstaged by Hrithik doing the simplest of steps, hands in his pockets, just jiving with his feet. But Ghungroo is not only the better song (by Vishal-Shekhar), it also gives me the pleasure of sunning out in a very pretty holiday location, a feeling that’s especially welcome when cooped up at home all the time. I’m going to cheat a bit and add ‘Tum hi ho bandhu’ from Cocktail (2012), which had a very similar stretch. Those cooling, calming Mediterranean colours, man oh man! When will we see them on a big screen again?