Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Barsaat mein… some of my favourite rainy-day scenes

Did this piece for Mint Lounge’s monsoon special – a little ode to some beloved Hindi-film rain SEQUENCES (not just rain songs)

One of Hindi cinema’s most indelible monsoon scenes – Nargis and Raj Kapoor holding a single umbrella between them, singing “Pyaar Hua Ikraar Hua” in Shree 420 (1955) – has a new resonance these days, given the fuss over the Sanjay Dutt biopic Sanju. When Nargis sings “Main na rahoongi, tum na rahoge, phir bhi rahengi nishaaniyan (We won’t be around forever, but the tokens of our love will remain)”, we see the two-year-old Rishi Kapoor walking down a drenched street with his siblings. Could any of the people involved in this shoot have imagined that six decades later, the son of that infant (Ranbir Kapoor) would play Nargis’s “baba” in a hagiographical film?

But while we know that actors can pass their nishaaniyan down to us in the shape of star-children and star-grandchildren, the Shree 420 scene is noteworthy in another way. How unusual it is for a star couple, at the peak of their popularity, to pause and remind us – midway through a passionate song about first love – that nothing is eternal; that they will fade away and be supplanted.

There could be something about rain that encourages this manner of philosophizing. A few years ago, Shyam Benegal (not himself a director you’d associate with “monsoon songs”) told me about an educational TV series he had worked on for UNICEF in the early 1970s, combining science with folk tales. One story about rainwater harvesting had an explanation of why water bodies disappear in extreme summer. “We started with a lake,” Benegal said in a charmingly staccato tone, “It looks up. Falls in love with the sky. Burns with love. Evaporates into a cloud. Goes looking for the sky. Does not find the sky. Weeps, becomes rain. And the cycle of life continues.”

Rain as regeneration: washing away the old, heralding the new. Such depictions occur in many types of film songs, such as the ones where villagers look to the skies, waiting anxiously for the “weeping” cloud that will bring fertility and future generations of crops. Interestingly, two of the most iconic sequences in this vein, shot fifty years apart – “Hariyala Sawan Dhol Bajaata” in Do Bigha Zamin (1953) and “Ghanan Ghanan” in Lagaan (2001) – don’t show us any precipitation. In a literal, visual sense, these aren’t “rain songs”, but in a spiritual sense they are: the scenes are soaked with the anticipation of the monsoon and its joyful, life-giving effects.

Then there is the romantic rain song, which seems like a cliché but operates in many modes and meters. We have the giddy, light-hearted sort (watch Aamir Khan, umbrella in tow, chanelling Gene Kelly as he serenades Neelam in Afsana Pyaar Ka’s “Tip Tip Tip Tip Baarish”) as well as the intense version that uses the raging elements as a metaphor for unrest in the heart. “Baahar bhi toofan, andar bhi toofan (There is a storm both outside and inside),” sing Amrita Singh and Sunny Deol in “Baadal Yun Garajta Hai” in Betaab – the scene articulates the elation and fear of young love, while also supplying a pretext for the lovers to cling to each other when the sound of thunder scares them.

Everyone knows about the sensual rain song, with the wet heroine catering to the male gaze, but the same sort of scene can offer something more complex: watch how Mr India – a lovely children’s film with Sridevi playing a desi Lois Lane to the titular superhero – takes a right turn into grown-up territory when the uninhibited heroine sways to “Kaate nahin kat te”. (For many of us kids watching in the mid-80s, this scene was a jaw-dropping introduction – not too common in the mainstream films of the time – to the possibility of the sexually desirous woman.)

There are the tragic love songs too: the ones that have a silver lining (in Chandni’s “Lagi Aaj Saawan Ki Phir Woh Ghadi Hai”, Vinod Khanna experiences both sad remembrance for a lost love and hope for the future) and the ones that don’t – the title song of Barsaat plays in the film’s last scene, as a young man, repentant much too late, lights the funeral pyre of the woman whom he had wronged.

But my all-time favourite rain sequence is probably the location-shot one in Manzil (1979), where Ajay (Amitabh Bachchan) and Aruna (Moushumi Chatterjee) splash through south Bombay’s monsoon-lashed roads and maidans while the second, female version of “Rim Jhim Gire Saawan” plays on the soundtrack.

Stunning as this scene – shot by KK Mahajan – is on its own terms, it also makes for a fine visual contrast with the earlier, more somber version of the song, which we saw at the film’s beginning when Ajay sings for an audience in a room. That scene was poised, tranquil, controlled (dare one say “climate-controlled”?), while the outdoor one is spontaneous, exhilarating, improvised. In a story about a man whose vaulting ambition leads him to bend ethical codes and then repent, the difference between “Rim Jhim” indoors and outdoors is a bit like the gap between theory and lived experience – sitting in one place and pontificating about life versus going out on the streets and facing it in its gusty, splashy, unpredictable madness.


  1. I love that quote from Benegal. Brilliant! Thank you for this article, Jai - great monsoon reading. :-)

  2. This was a great read! Lately, I've been thinking about rain songs a lot. Yesterday, I found myself watching the outdoor Rim Jhim Gire Saawan video yet again (it's something of a habit by now) and thought to myself that I should write something about it. It looks like you have said almost everything that I was trying to pin down.
    I love how the two videos of this song establish the central relationship of the movie and get you emotionally invested in it. Along with the visuals, the changes in the arrangement and vocal styles from the first version to the second are very thoughtfully done. In the former, the tabla is a strong presence and it keeps the song firmly walled-in. Kishore sings with a lot of restraint; he is giving a very good 'performance' of the song. He noticeably hits the word "sulag", as you would expect from a dramatic reading of the lyrics. In Lata's version, the spark ignited by the rain becomes more candlelight than fire. The percussion is a lot gentler and strings sound more lazy and relaxed. The best part, for me, is how Lata brings an ethereal, dreamy quality to the singing. She makes it possible for the listener to not immediately notice how good her craft is, but instead feel as if the song is not really being sung. As if it is happening just in Aruna's head, or in our heads.

  3. I was reminded of one of my favourite rain songs - Mujhe Jaan Na Kaho Meri Jaan- in which the hero and his wife merely watch the rain, don't get wet - when I read your piece on SK. It's so beautifully picturized, the chemistry between Tanuja and SK is palpable and he just looks lovingly at her - the song is delightful and both he and Tanuja are charming

  4. Hi everyone,
    thanks for the comments. Just putting up this boiler-plate comment here (and on other posts) to say: I have been missing lots of "to be moderated" comments because for some reason they are no longer coming to my email.
    Will have to figure out what the problem is -- I think it may be that Blogger's spam-detection is no longer too good, with the result that literally hundreds of spam comments every week are going into the "to be moderated" folder, and then they don't get sent to Gmail because there are too many of them. I just had to sift through hundreds of recent comments on the Blogger dashboard to find the genuine ones, which I have now published.