Hindi film songs and the proverbs for our times
More saiyyaan bhaye kotwal ab dar kaahe ka! to andher nagari chaupat raja
Proverbs, sayings and maxims are integral to every language and dialect, and tend to find their way into song lyrics too every now and again. However, proverbs and sayings that were once popular may not now be part of common usage, making their inclusion in Hindi film songs an area of interest and study for the student of Indian film music.
At times, proverbs bring a pithy quality to lyrics, conveying and expressing with a punch feelings and emotions that long-winded lines may not be able to convey. Take, for example, the proverb naach na jaane aangan tedhaa in the 1968 Padosan classic Ek Chatur Naar, composed by R.D. Burman and sung by Manna Dey, Kishore Kumar and Mehmood. The proverb is used to convey derision for someone who uses a trumped-up excuse to camouflage lack of skill and ability, much like someone who blames an uneven courtyard for being unable to display non-existent dance skills. In Padosan, Mehmood, playing the dance instructor for Saira Banu, hurls the proverb at the bumpkin-like Sunil Dutt in a song-duel between the two men who are vying for the leading lady’s hand. The same proverb reappears in the 1985 film Zamana, with Rishi Kapoor and Ranjeeta in the lead roles. In this instance, Gopi Krishna, ace dancer of his times does some acrobatic moves, singing naach na jaane kahe aangan tedhaa to flaunt his own expertise at Kapoor’s expense.
Borrowing from Ek Aur Ek Gyarah, a proverb signifying strength in unity, comes a song sung by playback stars Sonu Nigam and Shankar Mahadevan for the 2003 film of the same title starring Govinda and Sanjay Dutt, with music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy.
The song Hans Ki Chaal, sung by the immensely popular Kailash Kher, from the 2013 movie Jolly LLB, with music by Krsna, packs in proverb after proverb, as opposed to single-proverb usage in most songs. Starting with the punch line kauwa chalaa dekho hans ki chaal (pretending to be something you’re not), the song contains quite a compilation of proverbs, including Chaube-ji chale Chhabbe-ji banne, Dubey-ji ban ke laute, making fun of excessive greed and avarice that results in a loss of face. Okhlee mein sar diya toh moosal padhenge (why be afraid of the perils in a potentially dangerous situation) and baal mundwaate hee olay gire hain (obstacles and challenges raising their heads at the very start of a job or project) are some of the other proverbs that form part of the lyrics of this proverb-heavy track.
However, it is from a track in the 2003 Raveena Tandon-starrer Satta that one gets a proverb that is hugely apt for current times—more saiyyaan bhaye kotwal ab dar kaahe ka! Recent footage on television showing a group of lawyers taking the law into their hands as the police looked away could well have had the Satta track playing in the background. Ironically, the track was part of a film written and directed by staunch Bharatiya Janata Party supporter and 2016 Padma Shri awardee Madhur Bhandarkar. Is it time then to revisit the song andher nagari chaupat raja composed by Madan Mohan for the 1955 film Railway Platform? The proverb, of course, points to a city of darkness headed by a leader who knows not what is just or unjust.
Shubha Mudgal tweets at @smudgal and posts on Instagram as shubhamudgal.