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Monsoon Special

Monsoon strains of hope and despair

Shobhit Mahajan | Updated on June 08, 2019

Is there a silver lining? The farmer waiting expectantly for the rain, or dancing with joy when it comes, has been portrayed in many films. A still from Do Bigha Zameen

There is something about romancing in the rain that film-makers find hard to resist. But the monsoon in the Hindi film industry is not just about lovers dancing or pining for each other

Everyone has their favourite monsoon song from Hindi films. My own is a relatively unknown song which has two versions — a duet by Asha Bhosle and Mohammed Rafi, and a Rafi solo. The song is Aaj ki raat badi shokh badi natkhat hai, aaj to tere bina neend nahin aayegi (The night is filled with mischief...) from that eminently forgettable film Nai Umar ki Nai Fasal (1966), whose only redeeming feature was a fabulous body of songs penned by Neeraj and composed by Roshan.

 

The cool purvai (easterly) wind is the harbinger of the Southwest monsoon over the parched North Indian plains. The monsoon showers, presaged by dark badariya, bring relief from the scorching heat. A married woman comes back to her parents’ house and meets her childhood friends as she rides the swings under trees laden with ripe mangos. Ab ke baras bhej bhaiya ko babul (Bring me back home this year) by the lyricist Shailendra captures that nostalgic longing.

Shailendra grew up in Mathura and was thus familiar with the emotions that the monsoon evoked. Longing for the beloved when the dark clouds form in the firmament is captured vividly in that amazing Salil Chowdhury composition O Sajna, barkha bahar aayi (Oh, beloved, the clouds are gathering). The sitar prelude to the song reminds me of the sounds of raindrops. Incidentally, this prelude was a favourite of the maestro Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. Of course, Shailendra’s first song for Bollywood was also a monsoon song — the title track from Barsaat (1949). He went on to not just give words to Pyaar hua ikrar hua (We are in love) in Shree 420 (1955), but also the hilarious Lapak jhapak tu aa re badarwa (The clouds come, leaping and lunging) from Boot Polish (1954) as well as the haunting Allah megh de paani de (God, give us rain) from Guide (1965).

Monsoon finds its place in both Indian classical and folk music. Raag Malhar and its variations (Gaud Malhar, Mian ki Malhar, Megh Malhar) were very popular with the earlier generation of music composers in Bollywood. Whether it was Naushad’s Dukh bhare din beeto re bhaiyya (The sad days are gone) from Mother India (1957), or Vasant Desai’s Bole re papihara (The songbird sings) or Roshan with Garjat barsat sawan aayo re (The rain comes, with thunder and lightning), songs with a monsoon theme were invariably based on these ragas. In folk music, kajri sung during the months of Saawan and Bhadon in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar has been popular since it typically expresses the yearning for one’s beloved when the dark clouds gather.

The longing of a maiden for her beloved has found many expressions in Hindi film songs. RD Burman’s first composition as an independent composer, Ghar aaja ghiran aaye badra (Come home, for the clouds gather), from Mehmood’s Chhote Nawab (1961), to his haunting Saawan ke jhoole padhe (The monsoon swings are in place) are just two examples. A very wet Zeenat Aman trying to catch the attention of a brooding Manoj Kumar by singing Hai hai yeh majboori, yeh mausam aur yeh doori (O, this distance between us) is a somewhat flirtatious example of the same emotion.

And, of course, lovers singing in the rain can be found in countless films. Talat Mehmood and Lata Mangeshkar singing the melodious Aha rimjhim key yeh pyaare pyaare geet liye (The beautiful songs of the season), a Shailendra composition set to Salil Chowdhury’s music from Usne Kaha Tha (1960), is a classic. There is something about lovers romancing in the rain that film-makers find hard to resist. And romancing while being drenched touches our hearts.

Monsoon is obviously not only about lovers pining for each other or frolicking in the rain. It is possibly the most crucial economic determinant for rural India — given that large parts of the country are still dependent on rain-fed agriculture. A failed monsoon can be disastrous for the economy: Recently, we saw the stock market crash when a private weather forecaster predicted a below-average monsoon and pick up when the Met Department said it wouldn’t be so bad.

Hindi cinema has explored this theme too. The farmer waiting expectantly for the rain, or dancing with joy when it comes has been portrayed in many films. Who can forget the farmers dancing to Hariyala sawan dhol bajata aaya (The rain comes beating the drum) in the Bimal Roy classic Do Bigha Zameen (1953)? Or prisoners singing Umadh ghumadh kar aayi re ghata (The clouds are rumbling) in Do Aankhen Barah Haath (1957)?

Love, longing and hope have their place in Hindi film music. But once in a while, a song manages to talk about something else which the monsoon brings — despair and hopelessness for those who don’t have a roof over their heads. The first antara of the duet from Aaj ki raat badi shokh has Asha Bhosle pining for her beloved. In the second antara, the tempo and the mood change and the hero tells his beloved to wait till he can put a roof over the heads of those who spend their lives braving the rain under leaky thatched roofs and for whom life begins and ends on a footpath. But that was another era of Hindi film music. We seem to have come a long way from that to Aaj rapat jaayen (don’t blame me if I keel over).

Shobhit Mahajan teaches physics in Delhi University

Published on June 07, 2019

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