"Take movies, music, poetry out of life & its gone!"

The survival of HOLI songs in Hindi Cinema and the unique features of V. Shantaram's colourful NAVRANG (1959) - (Articles on Cinema by Bobby Sing)

29 Mar, 2021 | Articles on Cinema

India is widely known as the land of festivals, colours, and people loving cinema and cricket as their two major lifelines since the last century. That is exactly the reason festivals and their celebrations have always been an integral part of our films right from the initial decades. Another reason for this essential inclusion lies in the fact that we largely began with films based on mythology, history, and religion, and therefore festivals came along strongly representing them all.

Following the transition from silent to talking films, festivals always remained woven in our stories, at times also incorporated in the titles. Holi and Diwali being the most favourties, there were films and melodious songs also focusing on Rakshabandhan, Janmashtami, Eid, Karva Chauth, Dussehra/Durga Puja, Ganesh Chaturthi, Christmas, and more, lovingly representing the cultural diversity of the country and its people. The trend of including festival-based songs in the scripts was being religiously followed till the mid-90s, before it all changed because of the Cable TV and multiplex revolution, altering the entire equilibrium of Hindi Cinema.

The visibility of festivals in Hindi films started declining towards the end of the ‘90s as the family dramas shifted from the bigger to smaller screen on multiple TV channels, and their overdose compelled the filmmakers to find new subjects and genres moving ahead of the usual. As a result, songs for even the key festivals such as Diwali, Rakshabandhan, Eid, Dussehra, Christmas, and more started vanishing from our film soundtracks, and the occasions were now considered as ‘extended festival weekends’ instead, to release the mega ventures getting more footfall in the theatres. 
For instance, just try to recall when did you last see a song including Diwali in its lyrics in a Hindi film released in the new millennium? The most prominent inclusions were last witnessed in Aamdani Atthanni Kharcha Rupaiya (2001), Home Delivery (2005), and maybe in a couple of more projects apart from the period films.
However, within this evident scenario of disappearing festivals, the one festival that still gets featured in our new-age Hindi films and their soundtracks is the colourful festival of Holi that continues to make its presence felt, also largely contributing to the film’s overall success, due to more than one reason.
Elaborating further, a Holi song rises above the restriction of the typical family surroundings and has always been used to bring in some relief or positive moments into the film. Its on-screen execution involves upbeat music, dance, and colours, lifting the mood of its viewers. But most importantly it is also associated with the ‘element of fun, flirt, and romance’ - that remains the key reason its popularity often surpasses the other songs in the soundtrack becoming the best-seller. Quoting a few examples, today Silsila (1981) is widely represented by “Rang Barse”, a Holi-Bhaang reference instantly reminds us of “Jai Jai Shiv Shankar" from Aap Ki Kasam (1974), Waqt (2005) gets only remembered for “Let’s Play Holi” and "Balam Pichkari" is the first thing one gets in mind hearing about Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013).
Holi also continues to be there, as it allows a lot of creative freedom to the composer and the director and doesn’t have any limitation of an age-group or any specific region. So, it can involve everyone from the innocent kids to the young and old from the family and friends circle, appealing to the viewers in different cities and states.
Thankfully, a Holi song still gets conceived and allowed a decent space by the present filmmakers in their projects (in fact loved by directors like Sanjay Leela Bhansali), and we still get a hit-spirited track at regular intervals, continuing the tradition set by the legends of our Hindi cinema like Mehboob Khan in his 1940's film Aurat and more. For reference, the most recent films featuring Holi Songs were Goliyan Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela (2013), Bajirao Mastani (2015), Begum Jaan (2017), Toilet Ek Prem Katha (2017), Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya (2017), Jolly LLB 2 (2017), Pataakha (2018) and Milan Talkies (2019).

So as it seems, where the other festivals have almost vanished, a Holi Song is here to stay in our Hindi cinema forever.
V. Shantaram, his enlightenment about colours and Navrang.

Released in 1959, Navrang begins with the titles (in B&W) focusing on a closed door. As the credit of ‘Screenplay and Direction by V. Shantaram’ appears, the director enters from that door and shares his personal experience with the viewers about why he made the film representing colours.

Breaking the fourth wall, he directly informs the audience that how while shooting the climax sequence of his last film Do Aankhen Barah Haath (1957), he had an accident fighting with the bull, hurting his eyes. In those dark days, when he had to struggle with the fear of losing his eyesight forever, he realized the meaning and importance of various colours of life which we keep on missing considering the gift of vision as granted. In those enlightening moments, he decided to make a film representing colours and hence Navrang.

The moment he ends the monologue, we see seven pitchers (kalashs) kept on the top of a white wall. As they get tilted, different colours coming out of them write a vibrant title: Navrang in Hindi and English on the screen. That remains the best representation of Hindi cinema’s inseparable relationship with colours to date. Incidentally, Navrang also has "Arey jaa re hat natkhat" - the most innovatively conceived Holi Songs ever picturized in our films featuring a dancing elephant.

Bobby Sing

NOTE : The edited form of this article was first published in THE FREE PRESS JOURNAL Newspaper (Mumbai Edition) on 28th March 2021
Note : The write-up is a chapter shared from my upcoming book releasing soon. So any additions, rectifications suggested by friends are welcome to make it better.
Did You Know By Bobby SingFor more such interesting articles on lesser known facts on Hindi Cinema, do try DID YOU KNOW Series by Bobby Sing available in both Book and E-book form.

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Tags : The survival of HOLI songs in Hindi Cinema and NAVRANG by Bobby Sing at bobbytalkscinema.com, Articles on Holi Songs by Bobby Sing, Articles on Cinema by Bobby Sing, V Shantaram's NAVRANG
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