Recently, a video of a senior couple in Mumbai recreating the popular song “Rimjhim gire saawan…” from the 1979 Hindi film "Manzil" went viral.
Directed by Basu Chatterjee, "Manzil" is a loose adaptation of the Bengali film "Akash Kusum" (1965), directed by Mrinal Sen. Though the film was not a huge success when it was released, this song, written by Yogesh, composed by R D Burman and sung by Lata Mangeshkar, continues to be popular, especially on social media.
In the original song, Amitabh Bachchan and Moushumi Chatterjee play a young couple taking a stroll around various places in Bombay (Mumbai)—Gateway of India, Bandstand—while it rains as it can only in this city. The elderly couple, whose names are not known, can be seen visiting the same spots while getting drenched in the rain; they are wearing the same clothes as Bachchan and Chatterjee did in the film—a grey suit and tie, and a green sari, respectively. Thousands of people who shared the video claimed it made them deeply nostalgic.
Why do old songs make us nostalgic? Research says that songs that evoke nostalgia are often autobiographical and familiar. Music lovers express nostalgia not only about the music from bygone times but also about obsolete technology.
In the 1990s, when I was growing up, cassettes were ubiquitous. So when I was commissioned to write an article on road trips during the monsoon, I said I will do one better: I will give you a nostalgic playlist, a mixtape of sorts, for your road trip.
Raj Kapoor-directed "Shree 420" (1955) was a monster box office success. One of the key components for its success was the music—songs written by Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri and composed by Shankar Jaikishan. While “Mera joota hai japani” became an anthem for Nehruvian India and “Ichakdana…” became a chartbuster in Israel, it was “Pyaar huwa, ikrar huwa…” that captured hearts.
It begins with Raj (Raj Kapoor) and Vidya (Nargis) getting caught in a torrential shower and coming close together to find shelter under the same umbrella. But the umbrella is only a symbol—they actually find shelter in each other. As they acknowledge their love and promise to be together, they come to the realisation: “Main na rahungi, tum na rahoge, / Fir bhi rahengi nishaaniyaan..."
Our second song takes us to another rain-soaked night in Bombay. When her car starts to malfunction, Renu (Madhubala) takes it to a garage, only to find the mechanic Manmohan (Kishore Kumar) sleeping. She shouts at him for not doing his work, and he initially refuses to repair her car. Finally, when he agrees, Manmohan starts singing, accompanied by improvised musical sounds from his tools: “Ek ladki bheegi-bhaagi si, / Soti raaton mein jaagi si / Mili ek ajnabi se, koi aage na peeche, / Tum hi kaho yeh koi baat hain…" This song—written by Majrooh Sultanpuri and set to music by S D Burman, inspired by the Tennessee Ernie number “The Watermelon Song”—is a mischievous and seductive number. It is sexy—and continues to be popular—because it does not say much, only hints at possibilities.
Cinema scholar and filmmaker Vikrant Kishore writes in a paper titled "Making Love In The Rain: Depiction of Eroticism and Sexuality in the 'Rain' Song and Dance Sequences of Bollywood Cinema": “There has been a certain taboo on overt sexual contents in Indian films due to strict censorship code… Therefore, since 1940s, the 'rain' song and dance sequences in Hindi/Bollywood cinema has been an important motif to depict sensuality, sexuality and eroticism.”
When done well, it can be a beautiful expression of desire and sexuality. For instance, in "Guddi" (1971), directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, the eponymous protagonist played by Jaya Bhaduri, and Navin (Samit Bhanja) realise they are getting attracted to each other when they find themselves in a cave full of erotic sculpture and rain outside. As Guddi starts to sing “Bole re papihara,” playback by Vani Jayram and music by Vasant Desai, the erotic tension of the scene is mediated through the music.
Music and rain continue to be very important to Hindi cinema. “The usual seasons for romance are spring and rainy season,” writes film scholar Rachel Dwyer in an article titled “The Erotics Of The Wet Sari In Hindi Films,” published in South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies. “Spring with love in union and the rainy season with love in separation. These two categories of love are found in Sanskrit theories of aesthetics and throughout Sanskrit literature.”
Hindi film songs have also continued to explore these emotions. For instance the chartbuster “Tum se hi” in "Jab We Met" (Imtiaz Ali, 2007). It explored the longing of the film’s male protagonist Aditya Kashyap (Shahid Kapoor) for Geet (Kareena Kapoor).
Aditya, a stiff corporate scion, meets Geet in a train at a low point in his life, but her vivaciousness inspires him. She is about to be married to someone else, so he returns to Mumbai and his business. Thoughts of her, however, continue to haunt him. In this song, Aditya goes about his daily schedule, constantly thinking of her. On his way home, he gets out of his car and starts dancing in the rain. The rain in this song is not only a symbol of Aditya’s longing for Geet but also his letting go of corporate life and doing what his heart desires.
Another song that explores this emotion of separation from one’s lover is “Uyire Uyire!” from the film "Bombay" (1995), directed by Mani Ratnam. The original Tamil lyrics were written by Vairamuthu and set to music by A R Rahman; the lyrics for the Hindi version (“Tu hi re!”) were written by Mehboob. There is no rain in the song, but the mise-en-scène is drenched in monsoon colours and symbols—overcast skies, wet and green landscape, and a sea at high tide. Even as Shekhar Pillai (Arvind Swamy) is drenched by the spray of waves breaking against rocks, we hear Hariharan’s playback cry out his longing for his lover Shaila Banu (Manisha Koirala). The film told the story of an inter-religious couple in the backdrop of the Mumbai riots of 1992-93.
There are, of course, hundreds of other songs we can include in our mixtape, but one song you cannot exclude is “Ghanan, ghanan” from "Lagaan" (Ashutosh Gowariker, 2001). Written by Javed Akhtar, composed by A R Rahman, and sung by Udit Narayan, Sukhwinder Singh, Alka Yagnik, Shankar Mahadevan, and Shaan, the song brings together an entire village that serves as a metaphor for the country. The villagers, most of whom are farmers, are delighted by the sight of rain clouds on the horizon—but they are disappointed as the clouds pass by without even a drizzle.
Uttaran Das Gupta is a New Delhi based writer and journalist. He teaches journalism at O P Jindal Global University, Sonipat