hindi film music

Bollywood baddies always have the time for a song break, and the movies are better for it

Ashim Ahluwalia’s Arun Gawli biopic ‘Daddy’ honours time-tested musical traditions of Hindi films about gangsters.

A tough-as-nails gangster story is not automatically associated with a song. But Indian filmmakers have always found a way to do the shimmy. In Indian gangster films, a must-have situation is the song set in the gangster’s lair, where the baddies are entertained by a seductress. The quintessential Mumbai gangster film has an added responsibility: to include the Ganpati song which portrays the gangster as a part of the milieu.

Ashim Ahluwalia’s Arun Gawli biopic Daddy, starring Arjun Rampal, has both, honouring time-tested musical traditions of the genre.

Among the early gangster’s lair songs is Tadbeer Se Bigadi Hui Taqdeer Bana Le from Baazi (1951). The desperate, out-of-luck hero Madan (Dev Anand) is about to leave the gambler’s den in Star Hotel until the seductive Leena (Geeta Bali) strums her guitar and the Geeta Dutt classic kicks in. Leena sings, “Apne pe bharosa hai to dav laga le” (If you trust yourself, place a bet), and Madan feels compelled to return to his gambler’s ways.

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Tabdeer Se Bigadi Hui Taqdeer Bana Le, Baazi (1951).

In another Dev Anand starrer, Jaali Note (1960), Anand is an undercover police inspector hobnobbing with criminals in their underground den beneath the Paris Hotel, where they are entertained by a then-unknown Helen dancing to Nigahon Ne Pheka Hain Panje Ka Chakka.

And in yet another hotel, this time in Howrah Bridge (1958), Prem Kumar (Ashok Kumar) too tries to get cosy with the bad guys who may be involved in his brother’s death. The hotel’s biggest draw, the beautiful Edna (Madhubala), is fond of Kumar and charms him with Aaiye Meharbaan, while the villain Pyarelal (KN Singh) looks on.

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Aaiye Meharbaan, Howrah Bridge (1958).

Latter-day songs such as Jalwa Dekhoge Kya Ji from JP Dutta’s Hathyar (1989), Jawaani Se Ab Jung from Vaastav: The Reality (1998) and Khallas from Ram Gopal Varma’s Company (2002) continue the tradition of women dancing along while gangsters relax, conduct deals, or are joined by a silent enemy.

The gangster’s lair song gets an unique update in Don (1978), in which the impostor Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan), posing as Don, entertains his guests, cronies, and, of course, himself with Main Hoon Don. It’s a self-celebratory moment for the crime lord. Bachchan is in peak charm mode and his theatrics are punctuated by shots of his chums (Kamal Kapoor, Mac Mohan, MB Shetty) nodding in appreciation.

The song situation gets a Mumbai-flavoured update with Ganpat from Shootout At Lokhandwala (2007). Ganpat appears in the film right after the interval and is a functional item song with no attempt from director Apoorva Lakhia to tie it to the story. The boys, drunk and out of booze, sing their own praises (“In the Mumbai, all over India, we are the bhaai”), declare their influence irrespective of the party in power (“Congress smart party ya phir hove BJP, sabko to hoti hai only tere bhaai ki”) and list their usual weaknesses (“Shaam ko daaru, raat ko ladki aur neend aa jaye.”)

Ganpat, however, draws more from two 1998 songs than anything else. One is Goli Maar Bheje Mein from Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya (1998), another song in which the gangster lifestyle is described and celebrated. Alcohol is involved, as usual. Gulzar’s lyrics describes the gangster’s code in broad, philosophical strokes (“Bheje ki sunega to marega”, “Tu karega, dusra bharega” or “Yede, woh marega jo darega”).

The other is the Hinglish rap song Mumbhai from Kaizad Gustad’s directorial debut Bombay Boys (1998). Javed Jaffrey provides the vocals for and dances to Mumbhai in a colourful video where he describes what an “ ekdum danger place” Mumbai is. Much before “bhai” or “bhaigiri” became commonplace with Rajkumar Hirani’s Munna Bhai M.B.B.S (2003), the terms were used with wild abandon in Mumbhai. With its strange mix of English lines, Hindi lines, lines in Bombay Hindi and tapori-speak (“Hoenga woh khallas”, “Udharich reh jaata hai”), Mumbhai paints a picture of the city as a kill-or-get-killed place.

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Mumbhai, Bombay Boys (1998).

In Company’s Sab Ganda Hai Par Dhanda Hai Ye, Varma strips the fun out of the this-is-how-we-gangsters-are song and admits that it is just dirty business (“Vote mein note, dhoti pe hai khot”, “Matlab ke yaar, aage se pyaar, peeche se waar”). Sanjay Gupta adds a touch of romanticism in Rama Re from his Reservoir Dogs-meets-Heat saga Kaante (2002). Here, the gang comprises a ragtag bunch of Indian expatriates in Los Angeles who are desperate for money and join hands to rob a bank. They are fearful of their life choices, and even regret it, but they march ahead without a choice – “Soch na hai kya? Jo hona hai hoga. Chal pare hai fikr yaaron dhuey mein udake, jaane kya hoga rama re.”

The nihilism of the gangster life is explored without inhibition and coyness in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur (2012). The hopelessness reflects in most of its songs’ lyrics: Keh Ke Lunga, Chhi Chha Ledar and Aabroo in particular. While these songs don’t describe the cosmetic details of a gangster’s life (that purpose is somewhat served by the Bihar anthem Jiya Tu), they speak of the violence and twisted eye-for-an-eye code prevalent in their lives.

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Jiya Tu, Gangs of Wasseypur Part - 1 (2012).

Another fixation, particular of the Mumbai gangster film, is the Ganpati song. Ganesh Chaturthi is Mumbai’s biggest religious and cultural festival, and gangsters singing praises of Ganesha or being filmed amid celebrations are recurring elements. This song situation has the dual function of portraying the gangster’s close ties to his community and giving a bird’s eye view of Mumbai’s ethnography.

Ganpati Apne Gaon Chale from Agneepath (1990) is one such song, as is Deva Shree Ganesha from its 2012 remake of the same name. Sindur Lal Chadayo from Vaastav: The Reality is a particularly popular one. The 2006 remake of Don by Farhan Akhtar has one too.

Now, Ahluwalia has brought back the tradition with Aala Re Aala Ganesha in Daddy. The video shows Gawli (Rampal) and his wife Asha (Aishwarya Rajesh) celebrating a Ganesh puja with his supporters and patrons. Towards the end, the joy is punctured by assassins, as one of them takes a shot at Gawli, sending a reminder that all it takes is an unexpected bullet for the music to stop.

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Aala Re Aala Ganesha, Daddy (2017).
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.