I recently discovered Bollywood and my goodness, did it rock my world. The extent to which the Indian film industry is ignored by critiques and distributors in North America is nothing short of scandalous. But when I tried to drum-up some interest for my latest Bollywood discoveries on Facebook is was met with widespread indifference, which lead me to conclude that people were not interested in having more colour, music and mood-altering overproduced eye-candy in their lives. Or the desire to break free from the tropes of North American screenplays. Oh well.
But I do care and I think you all need it anyway. This is the first of a two-part post about my Bollywood playlist and it includes pop songs from the first Masala movies I saw on Netflix. Some of the older Bollywood available on Netflix took me some getting used to. As a result, this first installement of the playlist was born out of the more recent crop of Bollywood bluckbusters.
One thing that took me no time to get used to was the music and dance numbers specific to the Masala genre, known as “Item Numbers”. Item numbers are musical performances shown as a part of the movie but often without any importance to the plot. They have a variety of purposes, from vehicles for movie trailers to end credits sequences. Hindi movie lovers were trained not to leave during the end credits long before Marvel movies made it a thing. Another particularity of item numbers is that the Central Board of Film Certification — the government body that regulates the public exhibition of film and TV in India — is reputed to be more lenient about what is shown during music numbers compared to the non-dancing parts of the movie. That’s how a very safe, family-friendly, movie like “Jab We Met” can be closed off by a raunchy, pole dance-y item that is still safe for work.
Since the most popular item songs in Bollywood are rarely available on Spotify I decided to make you a Youtube video list. All these songs are available for sale on iTunes.
1. Mauja Hi Mauja and Nagada Nagada from the movie “Jab We Met”. Mauja Hi Mauja plays during the end credits and final scenes of the movie. There is a speaking interval in the middle of the song where the grandfather tells the two protagonists — now married with two daughters — that he saw right through them when he met Aditya, which is not true. The two actors, Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor (not related) were a real-life couple at the beginning of the movie and broke-up during the shoot, causing curious fans to forever wonder in which scenes they are a reaal couple and which scenes are faking it. Their chemistry is pretty strong throughout. In Nagada Nagada, the Hero — the term used in Bollywood for male lead — Aditya, having driven the heroine Geet back to her family in Punjab, is getting ready to leave when he is invited to sing a song. Happens at my parties All. The. Time.
2. Marjaani and Love Mera Hit Hit from the movie “Billu”. “Billu” is a Bollywood movie about a Bollywood star coming to a small village to shoot a movie, hence the “set within a set” concept of Marjaani. Shah Rukh Khan plays himself in what amounts to an extended cameo: the main character of the movie, Billu the barber, is played by Irrfan Khan. Marjaani was composed by Pritam, the composer who penned Mauja Hi Mauja. Bollywood loves referencing itself and you will notice that the actress accompanying Shah Rukh Khan in Maarjani is the same as in Mauja Hi Mauja. In Love Mera Hit Hit, all the wonderful soul-lifting tropes of item numbers are on steroids, with Shah Rukh coming from the future wearing costumes that could only look hot on him (but man, do they). In interviews, Shah Rukh Khan shows amazing wit and wisdom about his stardom. This video — which shows him almost spoofing himself— is just another reason why his presence at the top of the Bollywood food chain is enduring.
3. Speaking of spoofs, this video from All India Bakchod takes more than a few stabs at the item culture of Bollywood. And it’s as good a time as any to watch it before you watch the next few videos and see it all at work. The actor playing the skit is Irrfan Khan, also known as “the other Khan.” The Bollywood rooster is currently ruled by three (unrelated) Khans: Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan. In Party Song, Irrfan and his assistant try to sell him as “another Khan,” with limited success. By the way, the movie they are mentioning, “The Lunchbox” used to be available on Netflix Canada. It’s a mesmerizing tale of two unhappy people finding connection through Mumbai’s famed lunchbox system. It really made me crave Indian food and Irrfan Khan’s movies.
4. Lovely, from the 2014 movie “Happy New Year.” What can I say, it’s everything Party Song mocks and yet I can’t get enough of Deepika Padukone dancing. In the words of my 9 year-old daughter: “She’s so pretty I’m gonna die!” I wasn’t sold on the movie — I’m not a huge fan of slapstick comedy in general — but anything produced by Farah Khan promises to have super entertaining dance numbers, a ton of friendlies (cameos) and a really creative credit sequence. So I watched it all.
5. Dard-E-Disco , another example of Bollywood not taking itself too seriously, once again at the expert hands of choreographer/producer Farah Khan and actor Shah Rukh Khan from the 2007 rom-com “Om Shanti Om.” If someone is watching over your shoulder while you listen to this one, you might have some ‘splaining to do… So much shirtless Shah Rukh, so much water….