Snowfall and snowstorms, frozen rivers and lakes, jammed roads and highways, landslides, faces and bodies disappearing into woolen garments – the harshest phase of winter has arrived in parts of India. As have memories of the snow song, a sub-genre as distinctive as the rain song, the beach song and the disco song.
The snow song is typically associated with romance, the loosening of inhibitions, and sexual intimacy. In Chahe Koi Mujhe Junglee Kahe from Junglee (1961), Shekhar (Shammi Kapoor) gets stuck in a blizzard and has to spend two days in a log cabin with Rajkumari (Saira Banu). The quiet period establishes their intimacy, after which Shekhar realises how much he loves Rajkumari. He breaks out into a cry of jubilation, screams “Yahoo” and frolics in the snow. Anecdotal evidence suggests that couples, especially newlyweds, have since made trips to Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh in winter to experience the same heady rush of romance.
Kashmir in winter began appearing as early as the 1940s. In the black-and-white film Ek Thi Ladki (1949), the song Hum Chale Door combines studio shots with footage of the lead actors (Motilal and Meena) enjoying a boat ride on a lake. The cloud-capped mountains are filmed with a hint of winter in the region.
Skating rinks are hotspots for simpering lovers. In Shokh Nazar Ki Bijliyaan (Woh Kaun Thi, 1964), Parveen Chaudhary serenades a coy Manoj Kumar, who needs the assistance of a chair to step onto the ice.
Snow leads to sex in Aa Gale Lag Jaa (1973). Preeti (Sharmila Tagore) meets amateur skater Prem (Shashi Kapoor) during a holiday in Shimla. Sparks ignite during Wada Karo, set at a skating rink. Preeti almost drowns in a lake. Prem rescues an unconscious Preeti and to save her from hypothermia, he removes his shirt and slips between the sheets to keep her body warm.
The quest of Indian filmmakers for the perfect snowy setting took them as far as Europe in the 1960s. Raj Kapoor shot in the Alps for Sangam (1964), co-starring Vyjayanthimala and Rajendra Kumar. In the song Ich Liebe Dich (German for I love you), the newlyweds Sundar (Raj Kapoor) and Radha (Vyjayanthimala) include a sleigh ride during their honeymoon as Vivian Lobo sings in German in the background.
Following Raj Kapoor’s example, filmmakers have frequently set songs in snow-covered locations. Yash Chopra filmed the melancholic number Kabhi Kabhie Mere Dil Mein (Kabhi Kabhie, 1976) in a white Kashmir. Composed by Khayyam and sung by Mukesh, the popular song reinvented Amitabh Bachchan’s image from an angry young man into a romantic lead.
Dekha Ek Khwab from Silsila (1981) was shot partly in The Netherlands and Pahalgam in Kashmir. Chopra moved to the picturesque landscapes of Switzerland after growing tensions over the pro-independence movement in Kashmir forced filmmakers to abandon the state in the ’80s.
In 1985, Chopra shot a couple of songs, including Janam Janam (Faasle, 1985), against snow-capped mountains in Switzerland, even though the scenic locations were not part of the storyline.
Chopra later wove the tranquil country into his movie plots. In Chandni (1989), Lalit (Vinod Khanna), a travel agency owner, befriends Rohit (Rishi Kapoor) in Switzerland, where Rohit has successfully undergone treatment for his paralysed legs. They don’t know it yet, but they are both in love with the same woman Chandni (Sridevi), and they sing a duet Tu Mujhe Suna, urging each other to reveal the name of their sapno ki rani (dream girl).
Chopra’s son, Aditya Chopra, continued the tradition in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995). A skimpily dressed and inebriated Simran (Kajol) romances a fully clothed and shivering Raj (Shah Rukh Khan) in the song Zara Sa Jhoom Loon Main. It was shot at Jungfraujoch, known for its icy glaciers.
In several film songs, snow usually serves as a pretty backdrop. It took Mani Ratnam, the director from the city without barely any winter, to depict the awe that the first sighting of snow can produce. In Yeh Haseen Vaadiyaan from Roja (1992), originally made in Tamil, Rishi (Arvind Swamy) takes his bride Roja (Madhoo) to Kashmir and reveals the snow-encrusted peaks, she is astounded. Her emotions are expressed in the symphonic tune composed by AR Rahman. Quite naturally, a lovemaking scene follows.
In the peppy track Yeh Ishq Hai (Jab We Met, 2007), Geet (Kareena Kapoor) is ecstatic when she reaches the Rohtang Pass. The narrow road is covered by snow. She leaps off the jeep driven by Aditya (Shahid Kapoor) and exclaims that she can see jannat (heaven) in the white expanse.
The song Kitni Khoobsurat Yeh Tasveer Hai from Bemisal (1982) pays direct tribute to the wonders of winter. Lyricist Anand Bakshi and composer RD Burman thank the wintery landscapes of Kashmir. The visuals pan away from the actors singing onscreen to the sheer beauty of Kashmir in winter. It’s enough to make you want to pack your bags and head north.