Deepika Padukone not only celebrates Holi in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’s “Balam Pichkari”, the song also marks the transition from her “chashmish” Naina into a confident girl who is ready to take life to the fullest. Sholay’s “Holi Ke Din” is like a time bomb, ready to explode as Gabbar Singh’s henchmen attack Ramgarh. As the events of Damini’s Holi sequence alter the entire storyline, Shah Rukh Khan’s obsession reaches new heights in Darr’s “Ang Se Ang”.
Holi has been featured in many shades and colors in our films, and since the time India started making films. From being a moment of rejoicing to introducing a major twist or letting passion play its game, Holi has been an integral part of Bollywood’s narrative device for decades. However, as times change, his portrayal has also changed.
The first performances of Holi in Bollywood that we can list here are “Jamuna Tat Shyam” by Aurat (1940) and “Daaro Re Rang” by Jogan (1950). The films of the black and white era mainly portrayed the festival in long shots, in all its glory with the entire cast literally playing with the colors. But did that add anything to the plot? Rarely.
Dilip Kumar in Aan’s “Khelo Rang” (1953), however, brought a new color to Holi – prancing actors and women giving flirtatious looks. Long shots give way to close-ups, as does the growing proximity between the actors. We had a faithful representation of the traditional roots of the festival. Soon, long-distance flirtation was replaced by subtle romance, as in Mother India’s “Holi Aayi Re Kanhai” (1958). Raj Kumar’s flashbacks romancing Nargis were a wonderful break from the film’s otherwise intense drama.
My memory of Holi goes back to Navrang’s song “Are Ja Re Hat Natkhat” (1959). It became notable because actor Sandhya played the dual roles of Radha and Shyam. A beautiful dance sequence, which continues to be a benchmark of creativity to this day.
Bollywood kept its date with the Festival of Colors in another memorable Kati Patang (1970) streak. Besides that “Aaj Na Chhodenge” found a permanent place in our playlists, he was also progressive in the way he treated the way society looked at a widow at the time. Asha Parekh’s Madhavi holds back his desire given the conventions of society, but Rajesh Khanna’s Kamal is not ready to budge. Holi was gaining prominence in moving the story forward, so much so that Phagun (1973) revolved entirely around Holi. What happens in his song “Piya Sang Khelo Hori” changes the course of history and the lives of its characters.
Our films began to open doors for his songs to fit perfectly into the plot. In the future, if we tried to edit Holi, the storyline would hang. Much like we saw in Sholay’s “Holi Ke Din” (1975) which came as a relief amid the high octane dacoit drama. Hema Malini and Dharmendra immerse themselves in the explosion of colors, while Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bachchan realize a spark in their silence. It was also a prelude to the big story twist about to happen, which picked up the pace of the film. At the end, “Holi kab hai?” From Gabbar Singh? found some change among the fans and brought us to the film’s climax.
Amitabh and Rekha gave a new dimension when they let go of all inhibitions in “Rang Barse”. For audiences Silsila (1981) was a true reflection of the couple’s reel life, the song was also a major breakthrough in the iconic film. It was no longer about romance or taboos. It was about love and only love, even if it meant challenging so-called societal norms.
Holi went on to be a twist in movies of the ’80s and’ 90s, including Damini (1993). The scenes of Holi kept getting intense.In the film Rajkumar Santoshi, Meenakshi Seshadri witnesses the rape of his maid by his brother-in-law and his friends. Her cries for help are suppressed amid the noisy Holi festivities.
In the 1990s, Bollywood began to show the more daring side of Holi. Now the representation of innocent love was outdated. Rather, the filmmakers swore by action, aggression and fear. And taking it to new heights was Shah Rukh Khan flaunting his menacing avatar in Darr (1993). In the middle of his “KKK-Kiran”, came “Ang Se Ang Lagana”. Playing a stalker, the actor uses the anonymity granted by Holi to break into Juhi Chawla’s safe area and smear him with color. Too scary? A significant chase streak ensued between SRK and Sunny Deol.
Holi’s web was getting bigger, more exuberant and noisy. In the late 1990s, it became a plot point in the film when the entire cast marked the festival together. Now how it happened was the work of the writers. We were coming back to the festive mode.
The public’s love for the festivities grew so strong that the 2000s kept Holi primarily for song and dance. It was the 90s generation adjusting to the new millennium, embracing the culture of the dance floor. The Holi community was growing in importance, as was the demand for frolic and fun. Mohabbatein (2000) and Baghban (2003) had hit holi songs – “Soni Soni” and “Hori Khele Raghuveera” giving us a moment of vibrancy, even if that meant they didn’t add anything to the plot. No, not even Shah Rukh’s appeal to Amitabh Bachchan to forget their differences was irrelevant to Mohabbatein.
Fortunately, folk songs came back to life in the early 2010s. Songs like “Balam Pichkari” and “Badri Ki Dulhania” merged traditional Holi songs with new-age musical arrangements. And as they say, folk can uplift anything, and we had two hit songs in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013) and Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017). It was a good way to present the new generation with its roots.
Lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya, on the set of the video for ‘Balam Pichkari’, said, “It was more of a fun, teasing and flirtatious song. This is how we got to crochet which is very desi hook, to be precise – “Balam pichkari jo tune mujhe maari …”
More recently, when top Bollywood dancers – Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff, were brought in for a dance in War (2019), the creators ditched some Hip Hop or acrobatics and went for a Holi streak in “Jai Jai Shivshankar. “.
Holi’s trip to Bollywood surely proves that we cannot take the festival away from our films. From being a must-have song to being a catalyst for change, Holi has been, and continues to be, at the forefront. How will the new decade shape the Holi sequences in our films? We are waiting to see, with a touch of color.
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