“Rangisari”, the new song from Jugjugg Jeeyo, is not really new. Sung by Kavitha Seth and recreated by her son Kanishk as an electronic Easy Listen, it’s the strawberry smoothie version to the rough, moody rendition by Hindustani classical vocalist Shobha Gurtu, who sang the definitive version of this traditional bandish.
Gurtu’s style of singing was best suited to the thumri and her delivery and throw in “Rangi Saari” is textbook stuff. The sustained stay on a note for a prolonged period and the masterful embellishments transport you to the courts of Lucknow where light classical forms such as thumri and dadra flourished in the 19th century.
Traditional numbers have always been used in Hindi film. This version of “Mohe Panghat Pe”, sung by Indubala Devi, sounds more raw and authentic compared to the Lata Mangeshkar version in Mughal-E- Azam, for instance. You can see that their edges have been softened to be made palatable for a more mainstream audience – but the song was in tandem with the world of Mughal-E-Azam, an iconic sequence where Madhubala performs in a court.
The music video in Jugjugg Jeeyo seems dissonant with the essence of the song. There is none of the playfulness hinted in the lyrics that’s steeped in Bhakti romanticism in the perfectly harmless and generically choreographed song promo; Varun Dhawan and Kiara Advani dance like they could be dancing to any other song.
Seth’s version, which came out in 2020 and caught fire on Reels, was a nice update: her voice is cut out for the genre and Kanishk’s take gives it a contemporary, Chill-out spin. Juggjug Jeeyo seems to have retained their version, and that’s both a good thing and a bad thing. Good, because at least it didn’t ruin it like one of those unimaginative remixes of 80s/90s favourites. Bad, because by just lazily coopting the song it has failed to honour the essence of the original, which thrives and lives on through reinterpretations.
Listen to this version by Kaushiki Chakraborty to get a taste of the expandable aspect of Hindustani classical music, which is driven by improvisation. You can take a piece and expand it to hours. Here’s a 3 minute song from the new Dharma film in a 21 minute version, in which Chakraborty also emphasises the feeling of the raag: mishra pahadi.
There’s one by the sitar player Shujaat Khan. Now this is a very vocal driven bandish but notice how it becomes almost incidental in this piece, where it’s the sitar that’s being showcased, along with the other instruments.
There is a film version too. In Gulabi Gang, it gets a new life in the context of the theme of the film – a sisterhood among generations of women. So you have the song beginning in the voice of Snehalatha Dixit, Madhuri Dixit’s mother. Her thin, feeble, and otherworldly vocals throws you off initially because you don’t expect it. And then you have Madhuri herself singing a part of that song, along with Anupama Raag. The legacy of “Rang Saari” lies in the different versions in which they exist.