“Mann jaa ve… mainu shopping kara de
Mann jaa ve… romantic picture dikha de”
Go the lyrics of Chittiyaan Kalaiyaan, a popular Bollywood song you have no doubt heard at some point in the past couple of months. But somewhere between mechanically repeating the words to these item numbers and dancing (read: aggressive pelvic thrusting) to them at just about every celebratory event – sangeets, weddings, hostel parties, ‘retro nights’ and ‘Christmas balls’ – ever stop to think about what the lyrics really mean?
I have questioned the meaning behind Bollywood lyrics too many times to not write about it. I’m not sure whether it’s the underovertones of sexism or the sheer mindlessness of singing along to songs about girls asking their boyfriends to take them shopping and to movies that irks me. At some point I have wondered whether “TV pe breaking news, hai re mera ghagra” has a deeper meaning that I’m too emotionally inept to understand, or whether my Hindi was just that pathetic that I had completely misinterpreted the lyrics. Call me a downer, but I think there’s a problem when the top songs on music charts rhyme ‘ghamand’ with ‘mutual fund’, with little to no connection existing between the two, or the famous rhyming pair of ‘paani‘ and ‘sunny’ (since when do five year olds write lyrics for songs?). And God help any boy who thinks he has half a chance comparing my love to a hookah bar, however intoxicating it may be.
It makes one wonder whether any thought at all is put into these songs. Was Babydoll written in ten minutes (still considerably higher than the average time spent on a Honey Singh song)? Are we as an audience so easy to please, that we accept whatever is thrown at us, however nonsensical? It seems the formula for a Bollywood pop song is simple. Include parties, references to female body parts (the eyes if you’re feeling romantic), a dash of vulgarity, and you’re good to go. Bematlab ki bakwaas, Bollywood sure got that right. At what point do we draw the line and say enough is enough, we want the songs blaring out of radios at every street corner to actually have an ounce of thought and meaning behind them? (But do we want that – or are we already so brain dead that we’ve come to be content with the status quo?)
To me, two themes are recurrent in every other Bollywood song topping the charts – sexism and/or vulgarity. Surely, someone out there must think there’s more to women than the swing of their hips or the way their tresses fall? That it’s problematic that the only references made to women are those of their physical aspects? No? Just me then.
Sex is good. Sex is great. But including innuendos like a refrain in every song can get sickening sometimes. I don’t understand how twisting words to make them sound like ‘viagra’ gives a song more mass appeal – or rather, why it does. How long can we attribute our obsession with sex to it being a taboo topic that is only recently gaining attention in the media? Bollywood has our minds stuck in an infinite loop of parties, alcohol and girls and maybe it’s time to move on and ask for – no, demand – something fresh.
What’s perhaps more worrying is the popularity these songs gain. The only way these songs make it to the Top 10 lists of radio stations is because a sizable number of people listen to, and actually like, them. But then, what can be so appealing about a song eulogizing chicken fried rice? Is it the lack of options that forces us to like what’s served to us?
I’m not deaf (as my friends will testify); I am aware that these songs are catchy, that while the lyrics might be less than intellectual, the music and beats are still appreciable, and will admit to telling myself off for inadvertently tapping my foot to Dilliwali Girlfriend while writing this article. I don’t doubt that Lungi Dance is not on your playlist for the days when you’re introspecting about life, the universe and everything else. I don’t expect anyone to break out their best moves to Beethoven’s ninth symphony. The distinction between party songs that you need to blow off steam once in a while and ‘let go’ and emotional music is clear. But that doesn’t stop the content of these songs from being any less disgusting.
Maybe we should reconsider what we’re singing along to with so much gusto and enthusiasm before it degenerates any further than it already has. The songs we listen to don’t have to be so mind numbingly stupid or blatantly sexist. We choose what we give our approval to and what we don’t. The entertainment industry caters to what we want, not the other way round. We can reclaim our space any time we want to – but the question seems to be, do we want to?
Radha may like to party and move that sexy Radha body, but if these are the songs that are going to be playing, your humble writer would rather not.