festival spirit

Hindi film tributes to Krishna range from the sublime to the ridiculous

Janmasthami is not the only time to remember the deity – these songs establish him as a man of all seasons.

Krishna is the favourite deity of Hindi films songs. Janmasthami, the annual celebration of his birth, is celebrated through raasleela, in which dramatic enactments from his life are performed, and the dahi handi sport, in which young men and women form a human pyramid to reach a pot of curd. Krishna is remembered the rest of the year through popular tributes, bhajans by the 16th-century mystic Meera, and thumris.

Thus, a wailing Mithun Chakraborty singing Krishna Dharti Pe Aaja Tu in Disco Dancer (1982) is not quite the act of devotion that we expect.

‘Krishna Dharti Pe Aaja Tu’.

Chakraborty is dressed in shiny threads and prances around a cardboard replica of Krishna’s diadem and flute. The composition of Bappi Lahiri and the playback singing by Nandu Bhende is emblematic of the disco-loving 1980s. The song borrows its tune from a song that celebrates a messiah from another faith: Cliff Richards’s Jesus.

Fast-forward to the present, when characters named after Krishna’s lover assert their dance moves in Radha Likes To Party in Student of the Year (2012) and Radha Nachegi (Tevar, 2014). Krishna worship is clearly mirroring the current musical tastes.

The tributes to Krishna have gone through a series of transformations before reaching the dance floor. In Radha Krishna (1954), Lata Mangeshkar and Geeta Dutt sing Tum Bansi Ho Main Taan, written by Sahir Ludhianvi and composed by SD Burman. Although the song has been written like a bhajan, the composition is light and takes the route of the love ballad.

‘Tum Bansi Ho Main Taan’.

Manmohana Bade Jhoothe, sung by Mangeshkar for composers Shankar-Jaikishan in Seema (1955), deftly combines raag jaijaiwanti and shringar raas, giving the Krishna tribute one more style of interpretation in which the bhajan and the ballad fuse in a classical raag. The same year, Mangeshkar sang Radha Na Bole (Azad, 1955), composed by C Ramachandra. It combines the thumri form with raag bageshree.

The thumri is one of the most popular and recognised styles used in songs about Krishna. Examples include Madbhuban Mein Radhika Nache Re (Kohinoor, 1960), based on raga hameer, Mohe Panghat Pe Nandlal (Mughal-E-Azam, 1960), in raag gaara and filmed as a Janmasthami celebration, Kaun Gali Gayo Shyam (Pakeezah, 1972), and Kanha Main Tose Haari (Shatranj Ke Khiladi, 1977), with an exquisite Kathak performance by Saswati Sen.

‘Kanha Main Tose Haari’.

Apart from the classical tributes, songs announcing Krishna’s arrival have become a fixture of dahi handi events.

In the 1960s came the ubiquitous Janmasthami song Govinda Aala Re (Bluffmaster, 1963), sung by Mohammed Rafi and a jubilant chorus for music composers Kalyanji-Anandji. The song’s celebratory mood echoed through the following decades.

‘Govinda Ala Re’.

Mach Gaya Shor (Badla, 1974), Mach Gaya Shor (Khuddar, 1982), Aala Re Aala (Kala Bazaar, 1989), Chandi Ki Daal (Hello Brother, 1999), Har Taraf Hai Yeh Shor (Vaastav, 1999) and Go Govinda (OMG – Oh My God!, 2012), all bear the hallmark of the street song featuring large crowds, the breaking of the dahi handi, and synchronised dance steps. Go Govinda is one of the few occasions on which the dahi handi is smashed not by the hero but the heroine (played by Sonakshi Sinha).

Temple music has been an integral part of films, where the bhajan praising the Almighty has produced several tributaries within the devotional song genre that move from simple evocation to disco and trance.

The Krishna bhajan has its roots in the film song as early as 1935. In Dil Ki Pyaas, Kamla Jharia sings Nandlala Gopala, set to music by Nagar Das Nayak and written by Agha Hashr Kashmiri.

‘Nandlala Gopala’.

It is followed by Hey Natwar Giridhari, sung by Shanta Apte and composed by Ghulam Haider (Zameendar, 1942), and Kit Jaaye Basey Ho Murari (Asha, 1948), sung by Lata Mangeshkar for composer Khemchand Prakash. Carnatic vocalist MS Subbulakshmi acted in and sang Meera bhajans in the 1945 film Tamil film Meera. A Hindi version was released two years later.

‘Pag Ghungroo Re’.

Director and lyricist Gulzar did not meddle with the traditional poems of Meera in praise of Krishna in his 1976 biopic. Vani Jairam sang in Meera for composer Pandit Ravi Shankar. Mangeshkar had refused to sing for the film as she had already cut an album of Meera bhajans, Chala Vahi Des (1974) with her composer brother Hridaynath Mangeshkar.

Tradition went for a toss in Bappi Lahiri’s Krishna Dharti Pe Aaja Tu. In Hare Krishna Hare Ram (Bhool Bhulaiyaa, 2007) composer Pritam mixes chants with rap, reaching for a trance sound.

Another aspect of Krishna that has been fruitfully explored in film songs is his mischievous (natkhat) behaviour. A year before Meera, Mangeshkar had sung Yashomati Maiyya Se Bole Nandlala, in which the petulant Krishna complains to his mother about his dark complexion. In Bhor Bhaye Panghat Pe based on raag bhairavi, Roopa (Zeenat Aman) sings “Mohe natkhat Shyam sataye” (The mischievous Krishna bothers me), referring to his playful antics while on her way to the river. These songs were written by Narendra Sharma and composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal for Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978).

The tradition of listing out Krishna’s pranks has featured in songs such as Mohe Chhedo Na (Lamhe, 1991) and even filmed peculiarly in faux-mujra fashion as Maiyya Yashoda Yeh Tera Kanhaiya in Hum Saath Saath Hain (1999).

V Shantaram filmed a colourful Holi song in which Krishna troubles a village girl in Arre Jaa Re Natkhat (Navrang, 1959). In the unusual composition, Krishna sings in his defence. The track was sung by Asha Bhosle and Mahendra Kapoor, written by Bharat Vyas and composed by C Ramachandra. Few songs have been sung from Krishna’s point of view. Bol Radha Bol (Sangam, 1964), and Radha Kaise Na Jale (Lagaan, 2001), give vent to his feelings when he is accused of playing truant.

It’s usually the other way round, as is evident from the mujra number Ek Radha Ek Meera (Ram Teri Ganga Maili, 1985), queen Jodhaa praying to his idol in the bhajan Mann Mohana (Jodhaa Akbar, 2008), or the young hero of Kisna: The Warrior Poet (2005) singing a paean Woh Kisna Hai.

The one time Krishna and Ram got equal attention was in the hit song from Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971). In the song Dum Maaro Dum, sung by Asha Bhosle, written by Anand Bakshi and composed by RD Burman, Krishna comes first in the lyrics imploring listeners to get high before chanting the names of the gods: “Dum maaro dum, mit jaaye gham, bolo subah shaam, Hare Krishna Hare Ram” (Smoke up, it alleviates pain, chant day and night, Hare Krishna Hare Ram).

With such a vibrant repertoire of songs inspired by Krishna, the lyrics of Krishna O Krishna (Meera Ka Mohan, 1992), written by Indivar and composed by Arun Paudwal, is weirdly appropriate. Kumar Sanu and Anuradha Paudwal sing, “Oh Krishna, you are the greatest musician of this world”.

‘Krishna O Krishna’.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.


During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.