Twitter trembled with a rumour last week: Pakistani artist Ali Sethi’s global chartbuster, ‘Pasoori’ — the most Googled song of 2022; the most streamed Pakistani croon on Spotify; the most viewed Coke Studio production with over 500 million views — would be recreated for Kartik Aaryan and Kiara Advani’s upcoming romantic drama Satyaprem Ki Katha. Today, that rumour turned to sour fact, with the release of the full song, in all its glorious travesty, its rudderless vision, its insulting blandness.
The problem with the ‘Pasoori Nu’ recreation is not that it is bad, which it unquestionably, unequivocally is, but the song’s refusal to look at the original as anything but a tune that has been fitted with syllables. ‘Pasoori’ is a song characterised by queer ambiguity, with a seething sense of separation and the kind of rage that can only come from heartbreak. ‘Pasoori Nu’ sung by Arijit Singh and Tulsi Kumar, with composer Rochak Kohli and lyricist Gurpreet Saini, tells a different story.
Sethi had come across the phrase “Aag lavaan teri majbooriyan nu” (to set fire to your problems) on the back of a truck in Pakistan. The sentiment and acoustics of the way the phrase works in Punjabi — the heaviness of syllables evoking both pathos and playfulness — moved Sethi to spin this quirky truck art into something more. The word ‘pasoori’, meaning angst, sprung up. The song was slowly sedimenting into form.
Sethi’s ‘Pasoori’ is a mysterious plea to a lover. It’s queer — not just in its aesthetics, with boys from Chakwal and Lyari doing kathak, kurtas swirling — but also in the way the lyrics were translated. “Aana si o nai aana” was translated as “He said he’d come, but he never did”. The pronoun “him” keeps coming up, referencing the lover that Sethi pines for in the song.
The grating audacity to, then, plaster this song over visuals of grinning heterosexuality — embodied by Aaryan and Advani in sweeping shots of yellow fields, dull indoor choreography in white tops and denim; actors looking into the camera, preferring to romance their fandom than each other; a yawning chemistry that is pale and confected. Not only does the recreation erase the queerness from ‘Pasoori’, the simpering pep in its stride seems ignorant of the romantic rage in the original.
For example, the lyric “Aa javey dil tera, poora vi na hove” (I hope you fall in love; I hope it breaks your heart) gets short circuited into “Aadha hai dil mera, poora tujhse hove” (My heart was incomplete, made complete by you). To take a thorn and mistake it for a paper rose. Sethi’s playful voice is written over with Singh’s ubiquitous, over-stressed timber. The fragility of Shae Gill’s singing is replaced by Tulsi Kumar, who seems almost imprisoned in the lower range of notes.
The thing about this T-series industrial complex — Satya Prem Ki Katha is produced by T-Series — is that it flattens a fluttering, ambiguous moment into a frictionless aesthetic that can be slipped around, thrown into any film, any context. It refuses the dignity of meaning, clobbering ambiguity and vision out of what Sethi described as “mystical lyrics, full of metaphors, coded, puns intended, also not intended”.
To see ‘Pasoori’ as simply a tune is to mistake its layered allure. It is also a work of lush, inventive production by Abdullah Siddiqui — from the claps, the baglama mandolin, the synchronised alaaps — who birthed an eerie atmosphere of longing with the song. The music video, directed by Kamal Khan, with Sheema Kirmani dancing the Bharatnatyam fluttered the flag of what Sethi called “the spirit of undivided South Asia”. Watching ‘Pasoori Nu’ is seeing someone dance sadistically, slackly over this grave, having shredded the original instead of building upon it.
Why did T-series do this? Because they could? Because they are uninterested in what made the original song a work of staggering, seething perfection, attending instead to only the melody which they can lift and lacquer per will? The product of a strange and flat perspective, the recreated ‘Pasoori Nu’ is a warning flare that you can buy the rights to art, yes; but artistry is never for sale.