India is widely known as the land of festivals, colours, and people loving cinema and cricket as their two major lifelines since the last century. That is exactly the reason festivals and their celebrations have always been an integral part of our films right from the initial decades. Another reason for this essential inclusion lies in the fact that we largely began with films based on mythology, history and religion, and, therefore, festivals came along strongly representing them all.
Following the transition from silent to talking films, festivals always remained woven in our stories, at times also incorporated in the titles. Holi and Diwali being the favourites, there were films and melodious songs also focusing on Rakshabandhan, Janmashtami, Eid, Karva Chauth, Dussehra/Durga Puja, Ganesh Chaturthi, Christmas, and more, lovingly representing the cultural diversity of the country and its people. The trend of including festival-based songs in the scripts was religiously followed till the mid-90s, before it changed because of the Cable TV and multiplex revolution, altering the entire equilibrium of Hindi cinema.
The visibility of festivals in Hindi films started declining towards the end of the ’90s as the family dramas shifted from the bigger to smaller screen on multiple TV channels, and their overdose compelled filmmakers to find new subjects and genres moving ahead of the usual. As a result, songs for even the key festivals started vanishing from our film soundtracks, and the occasions were now considered as ‘extended festival weekends’ instead, to release the mega ventures getting more footfall in the theatres.
For instance, try to recall the last time you heard a song including Diwali in its lyrics in a Hindi film released in the new millennium? The most prominent inclusions were last witnessed in Aamdani Atthanni Kharcha Rupaiya (2001), Home Delivery (2005), and maybe in a few more apart from the period films.
However, one festival that still gets featured in our new-age Hindi films and their soundtracks is the colourful festival of Holi that continues to make its presence felt, also largely contributing to the film’s overall success.
A Holi song rises above the restriction of the typical family surrounding, and has always been used to bring in some relief or positive moments into the film. Its on-screen execution involves upbeat music, dance and colours lifting the mood of the viewers. But, most importantly, it is also associated with the ‘element of fun, flirt, and romance’ — that remains the key reason its popularity often surpasses the other songs in the soundtrack, becoming the best-seller. Quoting a few examples, today Silsila (1981) is widely represented by Rang Barse, a Holi-bhang reference instantly reminds us of Jai Jai Shiv Shankar from Aap Ki Kasam (1974), Waqt (2005) is only remembered for Let’s Play Holi and Balam Pichkari is the first thing that comes to mind on hearing Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013).
Holi also continues to be there, as it allows a lot of creative freedom to the composer and the director and doesn’t have any limitation of an age-group or any specific region. So, it can involve everyone from the innocent kids to the young and old from the family and friends circle, appealing to the viewers in different cities and states.
Thankfully, a Holi song still gets conceived and allowed a decent space by the present filmmakers in their projects, and we still get a hit-spirited track at regular intervals, continuing the tradition set by the legends of our Hindi cinema.
V. Shantaram, his enlightenment about colours and Navrang
Released in 1959, Navrang begins with the titles (in B&W) focusing on a closed door. As the credit of ‘Screenplay and Direction by V. Shantaram’ appears, the director enters from that door and shares his personal experience with the viewers about why he made the film representing colours.
Breaking the fourth wall, he directly informs the audience that how while shooting the climax sequence of his last film Do Aankhen Barah Haath (1957), he had an accident fighting with the bull, hurting his eyes. In those dark days, when he had to struggle with the fear of losing his eyesight forever, he realised the meaning and importance of various colours of life, which we keep on missing considering the gift of vision as granted. In those enlightening moments, he decided to make a film representing colours, and hence Navrang.
The moment he ends the monologue, we see seven pitchers (kalash) kept on the top of a white wall. As they get tilted, different colours coming out of them write a vibrant title: Navrang in Hindi and English on the screen. That remains the best representation of Hindi cinema’s inseparable relationship with colours to date. Incidentally, Navrang also has the most innovatively conceived Holi songs ever picturised in our films.
(The writer is a critic-columnist, an explorer of cinema and author of ‘Did You Know’ series on Hindi films also active at bobbytalkscinema.com)