As a child, I did not have as wide an access to cinema as I have now. My interests at the time oscillated between Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan’s films and the characters they portrayed. As a result, both of these actors have a larger footprint on my emotional canvas than anyone else from that era. While I may not recall the name of a film at times, I remember the impact their songs had on me. I remember how my heart used to melt seeing Shahrukh’s character singing ‘Main koi aisa geet gaoon’ – playfully & innocently wooing Juhi’s character with his cutesy charades. My reaction used to be the same during ‘Iss deewane ladke ko’ from Sarfarosh, seeing Sonali Bendre’s character trying to make Aamir’s, not scared of committing to someone.
I was in awe of such playful interactions. While these songs may not be the highlights of my childhood, they were few of those that gave an impression of how such relationships might pan out in reality – and carved a way to understand more about the world. As an adult, I can discourse on the reality-aspect of such picturizations as long as you want. But at that age, these people and their characters were real to me – speaking in real-time – singing and jumping around with a kind of ease and charm that seemed more or less achievable to me. For that kid, they were not merely representations even if they have ceased to be a replication of reality for the present me.
One concrete fact about Bollywood is how such song-and-dance sequences are an intrinsic part of its structure. Even with the infusion of cinematic influences from around the globe, there is an audience that still looks for such songs as a source of entertainment – without which the movies seem incomplete to them. The mainstream film world implicates a wider reach which can engage with more and thus to build their outlook – even with its songs. They convey all sorts of emotions and such conveying of feelings makes the individual reactions and how we perceive them be just as interesting to navigate. As Martin Scorsese puts it, it is a way of nurturing and growing cinematic literacy. So, my reaction to the films and its songs brings more awareness of how the understanding of cinema and the world was slowly built for me.
As a child, I remember how I couldn’t get enough of SRK from Swades. His US-returned, soft-spoken NASA engineer character swaying around in his billowy blue shirt seemed like a guy I could actually meet – there seemed more possibility, more accessibility in such a presence being around me for some reason, than his other characters. The way he spoke and interacted broke that barrier between reality and cinema for me – without necessarily having the exact words to express what and how that barrier was broken – how my relationship with cinema began to change. He seemed more real to me than the reality I was expected to believe in with the mainstream films and their share of misguided morals and prejudices.
Beyond Mohan being an approachable, likeable character, what he showcased was a possibility of what kind of man I can be. Again, without knowing that ‘this’ is how the film had impacted me. SRK’s charm was still present but with a more grounded approach. So, when he spoke with the kids from the village, dancing around – while looking at the stars and conveying something in a language that could be understood by a kid like me at the time, it made me get immersed into this brief cinematic world.
At the same time, it showed me a possibility of looking at the world which my orthodox upbringing had not done by then. The song’s lyrics made its attempt to give a voice to the voiceless – in a way that I could understand – in scope of picturization that I won’t need much effort to witness in real life. A sky full of stars was a way to connect with the world that Swades puts across and to comprehend its metaphors in a manner that I could understand. ‘Yeh Taara Woh Taara’ became a song that I will always cherish for its core of equality as much as for Udit Narayan’s comforting vocals.
A few years after that, Taare Zameen Par was released and my interest switched back to Aamir Khan – another maverick from Bollywood. One particular song from that film ‘Kholo Kholo’ brings back my memories with its rising notes. The picturization showed a landscape that I used to be part of, in reality – the drawing competitions with hundreds and thousands of people. Sitting amongst a huge crowd, trying to build a picture from my imagination on a piece of paper, I used to experience a joy that was unmatched at the time. These competitions provided me a way to communicate with the world in a language of visuals that I was not particularly aware of being a language at the time. The colors and strokes and itching of pastels – being engrossed in my work – I have experienced all of it many times during that age.
So a child doing the same on a piece of paper, sitting at a place well-secluded from the majority of students, became a figure that I could strongly resonate with. His range of emotions was what I used to have – the rush of adrenaline and the excitement of showing my artwork across – it was all real to me. However, what makes me connect deeply with the song is not just the familiarity with its landscape, but the nod of validation that Aamir’s character gives to little Darsheel – how proud he was of this little kid that he had managed to nurture from a stage of nothingness.
I can’t help but look at that scene as a result of longing for validation, which makes me weep in sorrow. However, that moment also signifies the sheer joy of attainment – of this human connection conveyed through that scene. That was a defining moment in their relationship as a teacher and a student – which had initiated being just a support system for the kid. In that instant, it reached a stage of fruition of their mutual struggle to make sense of his condition and to flourish and prosper despite that. The hug that Aamir’s drawing teacher gives to this little kid plays out with the rising acoustics in the background – still makes me shiver. I’m glad that this song exists and the one before – which shaped my childhood with more acceptance and hope. Be it Udit Narayan’s voice or that of Shankar Mahadevan, I’m grateful to them for being an inseparable part of my childhood, and thus, my personality.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.