Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A post from Mr. Shammi Kapoor

I am happy to present to readers of this blog a post from Mr. Shammi Kapoor. But first, a few words on songs in movies. I have sometimes been asked if I like songs in my movies. I absolutely do. I have loved every teeny-weeny bit of the major song sequences in "Hum Aapke Hain Koun" and "Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar" since I was an itsy-bitsy teenager. Questions on this particular topic include “Why do Bollywood movies have songs at all?” and "Doesn't the presence of songs in the movies make them quite unrealistic?".

The questions arise because of attempts to interpret one culture in terms of another, and the problems thereof. One could equally well ask: "Why is violence an important part of many video games? Do gamers realize that if they were in San Francisco, they would, in fact, not have to steal a car to get around?" There is a certain element of suspension of disbelief at work in video games as well as Bollywood, and the question is "in what ways", as opposed to "to what lengths", the audience is willing to suspend its disbelief.

There are various functional purposes that songs serve in Bollywood, and this is indeed why they are there in the first place. From Tejaswini Ganti’s excellent Bollywood:
To those unfamiliar with popular Hindi cinema, song sequences seem to be ruptures in continuity and verisimilitude. However, rather than being an extraneous feature, music and song in popular cinema define and propel plot development. Many films would lose their narrative coherence if the songs were removed.
One of the main functions of songs within a screenplay is to display emotion, and in this case of Hindi cinema, this is overwhelmingly related to love. The general belief in the film industry is that love and romance are best expressed musically. In films where a love story is not the main focus of the plot, a “romantic track” is developed primarily through songs between the male and female leads.
Songs are also used as the primary vehicles to represent fantasy, desire and passion. A common scenario that has become a cliché is one with characters singing and dancing in the rain. Rain has always been invested with erotic and sensual significance in Indian mythology, classic music and literature, as it is associated with fertility and rebirth.
In addition to expressing intense emotion and signifying physical intimacy, songs are frequently used to facilitate the passage of time as well as evoke memories: children can become adults over the course of a song, or a song can take a character back to an earlier time. Songs can aid in characterization when they are used to introduce the leading actors in a film. Songs are also a mode of indirect address whereby characters can articulate thoughts and desires which may be inappropriate to state directly.
The songs belong. Moving onto what I had promised. I am happy to present to the readers of this blog Mr. Shammi Kapoor. Some time back, I asked Mr. Shammi Kapoor if he could write a post for Zoo Station on Bollywood. Mr. Shammi Kapoor will always be remembered for the song "Chaahe koyi mujhe junglee kahey" from Junglee, and he has since, of course, worn a number of different hats. He was gracious enough to write back with a post for Zoo Station on some of his remembrances of movies past. Here is Mr. Shammi Kapoor on some unforgettable moments in Hindi cinema.
There are so many beautiful movies that come to mind when you give me this liberty of roaming over a wider time frame. The New Theaters school of Debaki Bose films like Vidyapati and Barua's Devdas. The small town romantic folk lore in Bombay Talkies' Ashok Kumar Leela Chitnis films had a spot of their own. By the 50s' and 60s' there was a new look and feel to the love scenes. It reflected the growing anxiety of freedom and the urban facelift. There was a new tilt to the music, the rhythm had the spirit soaring. There were convertibles instead of the baelgaadi and tonga. The duppatta was allowed to form patterns in the sky. The youth came hurtling down bare chested on a snowy slope, Yahooing away to glory. Super stars gave way to the Angry young man. The hue turned black & white into millions of colors.
And then there is one film; one which is beyond words, beyond description, which defies imagination given the time span it took in the making. Moghul-e-Azam. Despite the amalgam of mostly B/W and some color, this magnum opus comprised some of the most powerful love scenes ever portrayed. The particular scene, where Salim (Dilip Kumar) fans some delightful and most expressive close-ups of Anarkali (Madhubala) to the background classical music of Tansen rendered by Bade Ghulam Ali, is almost orgasmic. This for me is one of the most astounding and unforgettable moments in Cinema.
Thank you Mr. K. Asif. 
Thank you, Mr. Shammi Kapoor!

Update: updated the post a bit.

[Cross-posted to Zoo Station]