Characters in Hindi films are notoriously versatile singers and they incorporate a motley collection of things into their songs, ranging from “saree ke fall” to “selfies”. But the lyrics are considerably more imaginative when the characters are singing about themselves or each other. In Kala Chashma from the September 9 release Baar Baar Dekho, the male singer pays his female love interest a slightly dubious compliment, comparing her black eye gear to a beauty spot on her chin. She inexplicably demurs with “Main Katrina toh sohni ve” (I am more beautiful than Katrina).
Kar Gayi Chull from Kapoor and Sons features the female comparing other women to sparrows and herself to a bulbul. Questionable analogies aside, it is interesting to examine how male and female characters sing about themselves in Hindi film songs.
A female character’s personality is rarely the subject of a song in a Hindi film. After the trend of item numbers named after women took off, female characters sang more about their bodies than their personalities, describing themselves with one demeaning metaphor after another.
Munni compared herself to Zandu Balm in Munni Badnaam Hui; Sheila declared that she was “too sexy” for any man; Chameli announced that she was serving herself to men (“Pyaar se paros loongi, toot le jara); Mary called herself Sau Takka (100%) the property of another man. Their less popular counterparts Jalebi Bai and Bably Badmash described bodies in similarly degrading ways.
This kind of lyric is not limited to item numbers. In Roy (2015), for example, the female protagonist sings “Chittiyan kalaiyaan re, oh baby tere hisse aaiyaan ve” (My fair wrists are yours).
It is not unusual for female characters to describe themselves in terms of their love for a man in Hindi songs. In songs like Kamli from Dhoom 3, or Deewaani Mastani from Bajirao Mastani, females sing about themselves, but with declarations like “Main ruthiya yaar manawangi” (I will placate my disgruntled lover) and “Nazar jo teri laagi main deewani ho gayi” (When you gaze at me, I am besotted with you). Female characters rarely sing about males in Hindi films unless it is to pledge their devotion in no uncertain terms.
On the other hand, male characters often sing about female bodies or attires in Hindi songs and rarely about their personalities. In Gabru Ready to Mingle Hai from Happy Bhaag Jaayegi, the male cannot stop raving about the DP (display picture) of the female, which quite strangely but predictably, raises his BP (blood pressure).
A lyrically interesting exception is the song Aali Re from No One Killed Jessica, which describes Rani Mukerji’s character with lines like “Temper hai bhayankar udhde cactus ki daali” (Her temper is terrible, she uproots cactus stems).
Males sing about other men far more flatteringly in Hindi films. Consider songs like Shah Ka Rutba from Agneepath and Behti Hawa Sa Thha Woh from 3 Idiots, both of which are almost obsessive odes to the personalities of the men they describe. Even the otherwise not-so-complementary Tharki Chokro from PK offers a sweet description of the titular character with words like “Pyaaro laage tu, bhoolo laage tu” (You appear lovable, you appear innocent).
Male characters don’t sing about male bodies often, though. A few rare exceptions are Aata Majhi Satakli from Singham 2, in which a man sings about how much his chest and biceps measure (“Mera sola ka tola, chiyaalis ki chaati”) and Tattad Tattad in which Ranveer Singh’s character invites people to gaze upon his body (“Ramji ki chaal dekho, aankhon ki majaal dekho)”.
However, men in Hindi films describe their personalities in painstaking – and often painful – detail. Lungi Dance from Chennai Express, intended to be a tribute to the actor Rajnikanth, is a litany of self-praise. The lyrics include the male singer cavalierly suggesting that the listeners should simply look him up on Wikipedia.
In Selfie Le Le Re from Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Salman Khan’s character raps about himself confidently: “Mere jaisa na hoga, chand pe na Cheen mein (There is no one like me, neither in China nor on the moon). The song is a lyrical package of the titular character’s personality, and its music often appears in the film as Bajrangi’s theme.
As more Hindi films are named after, or describe, characters that they are about, title tracks that extol the virtues of the principal characters are becoming quite common. Consider the headliner of films like Dabanng, Bhaag Mikha Bhaag, Bodyguard and more recently, Rustom. All these songs are typically smug descriptors of the male protagonist.
The lyrics of the title track of Barfi, Ala Barfi, offer a more meandering and ironic statement on Ranbir Kapoor’s character. Ghanchakkar Babu from Ghanchakkar is a quirky take on its titular character. But all these songs praise men, and more importantly, are sung by men.
On the other hand, soundtracks of films named after their female protagonists such as Queen, Neerja and Mary Kom do not contain a similar song about their titular characters. Although the title tracks of Aisha, Bobby Jasoos and Doli ki Doli are about the personalities of the titular female protagonists, they are sung by men. Piku has a deliciously worded title track about Deepika Padukone’s character sung by Sunidhi Chauhan, but it never makes its presence felt in the film.
Hindi films are being praised for gradually including more women in their narratives and for crafting diverse female characters. But even these films seem to be several crucial miles away from a song in which a female can confidently describe herself with a line as casual as “Mere baare mein Wikipedia pe padh lo” (Just read about me on Wikipedia).