Sunday, June 23, 2024

Tan tana tan: How I learnt to stop gritting my teeth and love a Judwaa song

(Wrote a version of this for my Economic Times column)

Earworms slither in mysterious ways. During a recent cine-club discussion that could be described as classy (if not outright highbrow), my friend Tipu – a man of such learning and refinement that he would bunk school to watch Tarkovsky films – shared a five-second video. It was part of the “Tan Tana Tan” song from David Dhawan’s 1997 Judwaa (a film Tarkovsky never lived to see, though I like to imagine he shook a leg to Disco Dancer tunes in the early 1980s like all other Russians). The clip in question had the “Chalti hai kya nau se baarah” line, and was probably in response to someone on the group mentioning show timings of yore.

And I was sucked right in. I must have listened to the entire song a few dozen times between then and now – and just as importantly, watched the scene which has two Salman Khans performing a series of increasingly manic dance steps in accompaniment with (mostly) Karisma Kapoor and Rambha. I loved the tune, the rhythm, the lyrics with their evocation of distant old-world memories like iced Mangola, but also the mad visuals: the audacity of it, the crass maleness, the Salman-ness, and the fantasy scenes in the police station where Anupam Kher and other cops are both moral-policing and dancing along rambunctiously (because multiple possibilities can co-exist in this sort of sequence).

I also love how politically incorrect the scene is, from the pelvic thrusts to the suggestion, in the lyric “Samajh na mujhko aisa waisa / Mere batuwe mein hai paisa”, that the girl can only be interested in the guy for his money and his ability to show her a good time – and how this lowest-common-denominator approach, which might be triggering to some viewers, can capture broad emotional truths about the human experience. (The scene where Salman sings “Gupchup pyaar karenge yaara”, and backup dancers suggestively bounce his and Karisma’s “chairs” up and down, reminds me of two of my amorous adventures in a dark film hall, twenty years apart – including one in the sophisticated confines of an India International Centre auditorium mostly populated by snoring octogenarians. We non-tapori types also do these things when the old hormones kick in.)

Now, some back-story: I have never watched Judwaa. I missed it when it came out because I was on a self-imposed exile from Hindi cinema at the time (though, as it happened, I let some friends take me for a hall viewing of another Salman film of the period, Pyaar Kiya toh Darna Kya). However, I did once have a bad relationship with Judwaa’s most popular songs – long before I knew which film they were from. Sometime in early 1997, “Tan Tana Tan” and “Oonchi hai Building” became much more traumatising earworms, keeping me up nights.

For one reason or another, 1996-97 was a period of very scant film-viewing for me, with weeks often passing without watching anything except for music videos and Tendulkar innings – but in the midst of that barren time I was awake, gritting my teeth, while a bunch of boisterous young men in the flat downstairs played those songs on loop. At first the music was catchy enough, but as the same two numbers wore on and on, with the repeated “lift teri bandh hai” and “mudh ke dekh mujhe doobara” and the whoops and shrieks, it seemed to confirm everything about Hindi cinema being a universe I had left behind.

Nearly three decades later, some members of that rowdy family still move in and out of the downstairs flat – which has been the subject of property disputes and bad blood – and when I see the older versions of those men, now in their fifties, speaking rudely on the phone or even smacking a driver who has moved too close to their parking space, it’s easy to peg them as stereotypes of the Salman/bad-boy fan. To shake one’s head at the toxic behaviour of a “Bhai” enthusiast.

But that is a simplistic way of looking at fandom, and there doesn’t have to be a personality match of that sort. After my return to Hindi cinema from the wilderness, I have been a Salman fan myself in phases, via such films as Jaanemann or Bajrangi Bhaijaan or Mujhse Shaadi Karogi. And before that, there was my mother, unfailingly egalitarian. She kept the faith during that much-maligned decade when I wasn’t watching Hindi films, and was a huge Govinda-David Dhawan buff in particular who loved madcap humour, even if it tilted towards the off-colour: she would furrow her brow a little at 1990s songs like “Sarkailo Khatiya” while also enjoying them.

What I learnt from her, more than anything else, is to not be ashamed of what you love, if it has genuinely touched something in you or lit up some of your indecipherable synapses. And now, after all these years, when I get little glimpses of the things I had once cut myself off from – but which she engaged with – I think again of how many different ways there are of being a movie-buff, or a consumer of the “popular”. And how easy it is, despite your stated likes, dislikes, principles or triggers, to be drawn back into something that can be nourishing and meaningful by virtue of being fun. For many of us, the lift to massy films and massy songs is never quite “bandh”.

No comments:

Post a Comment