The Navratri festival is that time of the year when men and women of all ages and sizes get to wave sticks at each other in public, aided by a deejay and his turntable.
Dhol Baaje from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) takes the traditional route. Salman Khan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan get together for old-fashioned garba, clapping their hands and shimmying to what has proven to be one of the most popular melodies associated with the nine-day festivities that lead up to the Dussehra festival. Bhansali’s Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (2013) has the garba-themed Nagada Sang Dhol, featuring fleet footwork from Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh that would not be out of place on the dance floor.
Other festive songs such as Shubhaarambh (Kai Po Che!, 2013), O Re Gori (Aap Mujhe Acche Lagne Lage, 2002) and Sabse Bada Tera Naam (Suhaag, 1979) get cracking on the beats of the dhol when the dandiya sticks begin to clack into action. But there are lesser-heard songs that have done more for traditional Navratri nights than most deejays who remix retro numbers to suit the occasion.
Taaqat (1995), starring Kajol and Vikas Bhalla, had the earworm Hun Huna, which is the buzzing sound of a bee. It also had Dandiye Ke Bahane, a catchy tune by composers Anand-Milind. Singers Udit Narayan and Sadhana Sargam charmed listeners as Kajol coquettishly moved into a dream sequence with her beau, singing, “Garbe ka mausam har saal aaye, bicchde dil ko phir se milaye” (Every year when the garba season comes, it unites separated lovers). Sameer wrote the lyrics.
One of the most-loved romantic pairs of the 1990s was Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit. In Chithi Mujhe Likhna (Pratikar, 1991), music composer Bappi Lahiri incorporated the sound of dandiya sticks as a backbeat, giving the tune a pitch-perfect tempo for synchronised dance moves on Navratri nights. Asha Bhonsle sang, “Yeh dandiye waali raat hai, ek raat ki yeh mulaqat hai” (This is the night of dandiya, the only night to meet), marking the festival’s annual nature.
AR Rahman composing a garba-dandiya number is a blast from the past. Perhaps the only one of its kind in his repertoire, Chand Aaya Hai (Dil Hi Dil Mein, 2000) has a beautiful rhythm punctuated by an ethereal flute sound. Udit Narayan and Kavita Krishnamurthy sing to lyrics by Mehboob. Rahman breaks the song with romantic interludes but eventually returns to the tempo for dance as the lyrics say, “Chand aaya hai zameen pe, aaj garbe ki raat mein” (The moon has descended to earth on this night of garba).
If it is disco and dandiya, it has to be Bappi Lahiri. The rarely heard singer Vijay Benedict sings Disco Dandiya with Alisha Chinai in Love Love Love (1989). Actors Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla put the dandiya sticks to good use, defiantly using the occasion to rebel against social restrictions – a favourite trope where star-crossed lovers are united on Navratri nights.
In spite of a stiff Rahul Roy trying to cavort with Karisma Kapoor, the title track of Sapne Saajan Ke (1992) has a melodious hook befitting the event. Composers Nadeem-Shravan deliver a tune that has its beats in place, ensuring that the music can continue to play all night long, without the interference of a deejay.