A Dirty But Nostalgic Picture
The first time I heard the song “Ooh-La-La-Ooh-La-La-Tu-Hai-Meri-Fantasy”, nostalgic memories (which had nothing to do with the rampant shaking of mammaries) were evoked. Like Ravi Verma’s incarnation Monty in Karz, who used to get occasional flashback images of a Kali Mandir in negative print while his memory went into spurts of power saving mode, I had instantly connected to the song, and not without a reason. Even before I had looked up the configuration of the song, I knew Bappi Lahiri had something to do with it.
Have you grown up in the early eighties, during the era of Doordarshan and Vividh Bharati? That was the era when women of substance were really women of substance and not some size zero anorexic versions of Paris Hilton. It was the age when the sartorial distinction between the heroine and the vamp was crystal clear. It was the era when it was okay for a hero to not be South Indian or a villain and still sport a moustache. If you belong to that era, you will perhaps resonate with, if not agree with what I say.
I was born in the first half of the eighties, and raised in a family which lived, breathed, and swore by Bollywood. Unlike most culturally inclined Bengali families where watching Hindi movies occasionally, even at home (forget cinema) was distasteful and an anathema (also known as bhalgar kalchar, not to be confused with tissue culture), I was exposed to Bollywood pretty early. Back in the heydays, the color television had just made its way into our living room in 1984, which only fuelled the spirit of Bollywood along with the weekend visits to the neighborhood Shakti or Shiva cinema halls. Multiplexes like Inox did not exist then.
There is a very specific genre of movies, which had taken the early eighties by storm. Typically, the star cast involved Jeetendra, Sridevi, or Jaya Prada, the playback singers were Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhonsle (unlike payback singers, like the adenoidal Himesh), and their names were Tohfa, Mawaali, or Himmatwaala. Most importantly, their music composer was the one and only Bappi Lahiri. Those were a different class of movies, nothing that our generation of Shah Rukh Khan lovers or six pack admirers would admire. “Those were the days”, I keep harping like a veteran with a broken phonographic record.
There would be colorful sets by the beach, replete with Rangoli decorations, palm and coconut trees. Hundreds of missiles would fart Holi colors every now and then, as the hero and the heroine ran toward some unseen finishing line in slow motion, holding hands. The extras looked straight out of the Ravan’s Lanka dasis from Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana who took care of a very bemoaning Sita. They often used simple domestic cleaning devices like feather brooms as props (watch the song “Nainon mein sapna” if you do not believe me), which could be doubled up to clean cobwebs off the walls or to dance to tathaiya tathaiya hooo. There was nothing like a hideous color combination, for you could expect the hero to wear white shirt (tucked in of course), white trousers, white boots, and white socks, as much as you could expect the heroine to wear fluorescent yellow and pink track pants. At least watching him was better than watching his son, or his daughter (who I am surprised did not rechristen the movie to “Kissa Dirty Pikkkkcharr Ka” or “Kahaani Kleavage Ki”).
The songs of Bappi Lahiri might not have the finesse of Jhumpa Lahiri, but it was definitely dhinchik material. Lip biting, whistling, winking, or an open display of unabashed wantonness did not count as taboo. The dance moves were nothing Shiamak Davar or Farah Khan style, but represented every imaginable domestic activity like wiping floors in the air, kick starting an invisible Humaara Bajaj scooter, riding an imaginary pony, gyrating like the flour grinder or Idli maker, starting a manual diesel generator, milking a cow while half bent on haunches, flying a kite, or vibrating as if been electrocuted. Such choreography is witnessed best when on mute. I can only imagine how painful shaking all that lard would be, because there is so much to shake when one has a qamra (room) for a qamar (hip).
The shooting locales would best be in a, no, not the Swiss Alps or the Holland tulip fields, but in our very own desi fields, gardens, or beaches, amidst piles of pumpkins, sometimes apples, tomatoes, or balloons flying all over the place. The heroine would sinuously move in a white sari on a sunny Sunday afternoon, wearing heavy jewelry and flowers and gyrating deftly to “Ganga bina kaisa Haridwar, aalingan bina kaisa sansar”. The lyrics could be as eyebrow raising as “Ladki nahi hai tu lakdi ka khamba hai”, “Ting ting ting ting ghanti baje”, “Jhopdi mein charpai”, “Ek aankh maroon”, “Chumma chumma, mujhko banale priyatamma”, or “Aapas mein tak dhin tak dhin ho gaya, ab kya reh gaya baaki.” (Spare me the effort of translating it, please). The camera would unceremoniously focus on her well-endowed unmentionables while she heaved like an asthmatic, clutching on to her chest.
Yes, I know, such an era no longer exists, when the hero would wear body-hugging shirts showing nipples, and flex his hips as much as the heroine does. Gone are the days when Jaya Prada played the role of a lachrymose older sister who got to dance with the hero only in her dreams, sacrificing her desires for the younger sibling’s happiness. Gone are the days when heroines did not dress as vamps. Gone are the days when the dhol and the naal played in full swing while women flaunted their hips, wearing the most atrocious Tarzan-tight clothes as they ran by the beach in slow motion. Buxom extras from both sides hurled colored earthen pots at each other while the symmetric arrangement of the metal pots reminded you of the videogame Mario. This was not the era of the internet, cable, or telephone. This was not even the era of digital music, Baba Sehgal, or a 2-in-1 Sony tape recorder. We had an old Ahuja tape recorder with a single slot for cassettes. Therein, the songs would play in a loop until I had memorized every song.
I can smell Bappi Lahiri’s music from a distance. I do not know if this is an accomplishment worth boasting of, especially when my friends make fun of my huge collection of Bappi Lahiri songs. I am a venerable academician in the making who secretly loves listening to such dhinchik songs while driving. Do you think the research fraternity would disown me if they were to find my taste in music? For me, Jatin Lalit and Anu Malik happened much later. Bryan Adams and Backstreet Boys happened much later. Indian Ocean, Kailash Kher, and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan happened much later. When I was growing up, it was all about Bappi Lahiri.
Music, like food, is all about association and memories. That smell of payesh (kheer, or rice pudding as they call it here) every time Ma cooked during the birthdays. The smell of luchi (poori) and white potato curry for Sunday breakfasts. The smell of Dalda-laden Biryani from Aminia as you walked past Esplanade in Calcutta. The adenoidal voice of Kumar Sanu singing Chura Ke Dil Mera, Goriya Chali, during my teenage years that would spill adrenaline and other hormones all over the floor. Or the nautanki beats of Bappi Lahiri along with the “khyamta naach” (please don’t ask me for a Bengali to English translation) I learned to love as a five year old. The gyrating, shaking, heaving, and my love for such music shall continue. It is not an undoing which can happen. Perhaps that explains why I am still listening to the songs of the Dirty Picture in a loop all day.
[Guest post by DC who is a doctoral student at the University of Virginia, and an ardent fan of Bappi Lahiri’s music from the early eighties. Her previous post on AmreekanDesi was “The FOB who became an ABCD”.]