A tale of two songs: Of ‘Besharam Rang’ and ‘Lab Pe Aati Hai Dua’
In between Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra taking umbrage over the visuals of Deepika Padukone gyrating in a saffron bikini to Besharm Rang in the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Pathaan, and an FIR being lodged against the principal of a government school in Uttar Pradesh for making the students sing Muhammad Iqbal’s Lab Pe Aati Hai Dua Banke Tamanna Meri, one attended a wedding procession in the Baraut town of western Uttar Pradesh.
Among many songs that the Muslim band master reeled out in dual voice, there were “ Julie Julie, Julie Ka Dil Tujh Pe Aaya Johnny” ( Jeete Hain Shaan Se) and “ Haan Mujhe Pyaar Hua Allah Miyan” ( Judaai). The baraat (procession) merrily danced to the numbers and when the procession reached the temple, the master switched to Satyam Shivam Sundaram to usher the groom inside the sanctum sanctorum. Unlike the Vishwa Hindu Parishad functionary in Bareilly, who got offended by references to Rab and Khuda in Iqbal’s poem that espoused love for knowledge and empathy for the poor, nobody noticed the Christian names and Islamic references in a Hindu baraat or the fact that a Muslim singer was singing a Sanskrit phrase that implies truth is god, god is beautiful. It was simply a day in the life of India whose syncretic culture we cherish.
It is in India where the romantics could hum Hasrat Jaipuri’s “ Ibitida-e-ishq main hum saari raat jaage, Allah jane kya hoga aage” without minding that the protagonists in the film are non-Muslims or Mohit Chauhan could render “ Kun Faya Qun” in Rockstar for a non-Muslim character. On a lighter note, Anand Bakshi could describe “ mausam” (weather) as beimaan (Loafer) and Gulzar could compare his muse’s feet with lotus – Jahan Tere Pairon Ke Kanwal Gira Karte The – without being taken literally.
Gulzar has done it again in Kuttey where he could smell soundhi khushbu (petrichor) in blood during a Naxalite attack. As for rang (colour), it has been used in several songs including the popular Shah Rukh Khan number from Dilwale where he lip-syced to “ Rang De Mujhe Geruaa” (colour me saffron) during a romantic situation. Going by the logic of those against Besharm Rang, the Dilwale song should be seen as an insidious way to show loyalty to the rulers of the day.
Similarly, to hate “ Bachchon Ki Dua” just because it was penned by Iqbal is as small-minded as loathing “ Sagar Pran Talamala” just because it was written by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.
Poetry and subversion
Poetry, as our current Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) Chief Prasoon Joshi would attest, has deeper meanings that change according to context and intent and could not be judged through a song or a trailer. Censorship will only lead to more poetic subversion for poets, who, at times, don’t even need words that have a dictionary meaning to express their thoughts. Who would know it better than Mr. Joshi who once coined the beautiful word Masakali?
In the trailer of the Pathaan, Deepika Padukone’s character could be seen fighting in a saffron outfit. It seems “ Besharm Rang” objectifies the female body but it can’t be said until it is watched in the context of the film. Till Pushpa released, most felt that Samantha Ruth Prabhu’s number “ Oo Antava” crosses the line of decency but the argument lost its bite once the film was released as the song turns the gaze towards men where a woman, even if she is objectified, is in a more powerful position.
When S.D. Burman adapted Bengali folk singer Abbasuddin Ahmed’s Bengali folk song “ Allah Megh De” for Guide (1965), its context changed but it still worked. For many faithfuls, Ahmed’s song essentially refers to the extreme thirst faced by the followers of Husayn ibn Ali during the battle of Karbala. They cry out to the Almighty to send them rain-bearing clouds, but in Guide lyricist Shailendra turned it into Raju’s tryst to end a drought by appealing to Ram, Shyam and Allah. A decade later, the song was adapted by Gulzar in Palkon Ki Chhaon Mein (1977), again as a call for rain gods.
However, the inability to understand the context of the song is not singular to one group. There are those who object to singing Vande Matram but defend the practice of sajda (prostration) and chaar taslim (four salutations) in the Mughal court.
The wokes dissed Raj Shekhar’s song “ Beyonce Sharma Jayegi” from Khaali Peeli as there is a line in the song that goes “ Tujhe Dekh Ke Goriya, Beyonce Sharma Jayegi”. Social media dubbed it as racist because goriya translates as a fair girl but Shekhar said he used the word just to denote a girl and cited the example of a Majrooh Sultanpuri song from Dharam Karam where the lyricist said “ Parde Ke Peeche Baithi Saanwal Gori.” Here Saanwal (dusky) is used as an adjective before Gori, a noun. However, eventually, Shekhar apologised and the line was changed.
The ‘Boycott Bollywood’ campaign on social media is not limited to particular actors. It is against a perceived attempt to demonise and ridicule Hindu gods, rituals, and a section of the upper caste. Recently, a seemingly inconsequential sequence in Thank God! was criticised because it suggests a beggar died because of hunger in a temple because the protagonist didn’t give her alms. Similarly, Shamshera was taken to task because the megalomaniac police officer was named Shuddh (pure) Singh who sports Hindu symbols of shikha and tilak, works for the British, and proclaims Indian dirt could be cleaned only by Indian hand.
Reflection of society
As cinema, like literature, is a reflection of the society, the cinematic taste also changes with the change in the socio-political choices of the citizenry. If a significant section of India is voting for the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), it is imperative that after a period of time, it will assert its choices in the cultural space as well. As a politician, Mr. Mishra takes time out from his job of maintaining law and order in the State to watch a song because he feels his constituency will appreciate his stand and it will empower them to hit the street if required and take on a government body like CBFC if it doesn’t fall in line.
Notably, such controversies surround only tentpoles and if it is a controlled fission, it helps the producer in generating an electric atmosphere around the film without spending much on publicity. After four back-to-back flops, which by the way included the ‘nationalistic’ Samrat Prithviraj, the buzz around Pathaan must have given Yash Raj Films some confidence.