Sunday, February 03, 2008

...That I Can Leave Angrez Behind: English Lyrics in Bollywood

In 1878, British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli gave a speech in the Parliament and in it, he referred to his bitter rival, William Gladstone.
So, why is this relevant to a piece on English lyrics in Bollywood songs?
Because Disraeli called Gladstone a 'sophisticated rhetorician intoxicated by the exuberance of your own verbosity'.
Exactly 100 years, Mr Anthony Gonsalves jumped out of an Easter egg with the same line. And of course, Mr Gonsalves did not stop there. He backed it up with important theories like juxtaposition of the haemoglobin in the atmosphere and the coefficient of linear expansion. No wonder, everybody called him Anthony-bhai in Bandra village!

As propounded in a scholarly manner earlier, only the Christians (and some times, Parsis) speak in English. So, some of the 'real' English songs came through characters of these religions. Unfortunately, the elegantly composed, well-written songs are extremely few and far between. Most of the times, the English lyrics are just crazy lines inserted for comic effect.
Probably because Bollywood has always presented the English speakers as a caricatures and hence the need to show them correctly (Christians speaking normal Hindi, for example) is not a high priority! On the other hand, it is rather easy to insert some English words in the chorus and try to create a rock-n-roll feel.
Anyways, who am I to sound like a serious commentator?

The most famous English song is, of course, the one sung by Julie in the eponymous film. It is a beautiful song, written by Harindranath Chattopadhyay and sung by Preeti Sagar. "My Heart is Beating" never fails to uplift your spirits with its simple words and tune. Harindranath was the brother of Sarojini Naidu so you could attribute the poetry to genetics. The tune is by Rajesh Roshan, who is the son of Roshan, so you could attribute the melody to genetics as well!
(Preeti Sagar sang the "Mera gaaon katha pare" song in Manthan, which - along with the above - would be in my list of favourite Hindi songs. There's something about her voice.)

Lagaan had lots of English dialogue and legitimately so. It also had a nice English interlude in the O Rey Chhori song - as Rachel Shelly and Gracey Singh sang their odes of love in parallel tracks. Vasundhara Das sung the English track with perfection and AR Rehman majestically merged the operatic flow of I Am In Love with the rustic melody of the O Rey Chhori.
I read somewhere that the English lyrics were written by Farhan Akhtar - but that might well be an urban legend.

While the legitimate English lyrics are few and far between, the zany ones are legion!

It started way back as Kishore Kumar and Nutan taught each other English in Dilli Ka Thug. C.A.T. Cat maaney billi. M.A.D. Mad maaney paagal.
In a slightly obscure film called Raaja Jaani, Hema Malini thwarted Dharmendra's efforts to teach her the alphabet by singing ABCD chhodo, naina se naina jodo...

In recent times, Dhooms 1 & 2 - to get the international feel - zoomed through easy-on-the-year English lyrics but somebody should tell them while Tata Young is fine, Uday Chopra singing My Name is Ali does not really qualify as international marketability!
In a film called Kuch Na Kaho (starring Abhishek and Aishwarya - before their paired days), Javed Akhtar wrote some clever stuff using English letters. ABBG. TPOG. IPKI. Tum POG. For those who have not read Chhinnamastaar Abhishaap, read the letters individually.

If I start listing down all the English lyrics in Hindi songs, we will be here till Jodhaa Akbar releases. So, I will quickly move to the conclusion and hope all of you will fill in!

In the annals of the English Bollywood Song (if one such exists in the first place), the person who would get the largest entry would be Annu Malik.
In Main Khiladi Tu Anadi, he intoned in the screechy tuneless monstrosity of his voice - "My Adorable Darling / I think of you every night, every morning..."
He followed it up with LML and GTH - Let's Make Love and Go To Hell respectively - in Hathkadi (starring Govinda and Shilpa Shetty).
And then, he delivered the knockout punch in the most inane and gratingly bad lyrics of Waqt: The Race Against Time - "Do me a favour / Let's play Holi".
Why? Why? Why? Why should we do anybody a favour and play Holi? Why doesn't Mr Malik do us a favour and remain chained to the sets of Indian Idol?

If anything, he should mix the strength of English lyrics with Indian gastronomical culture, as the legendary Bappi Lahiri did in a film called Rock Dancer (ah - English name!)...
You are my chicken fry / You are my mutton fry
Kabhi na kehna kudiye bye bye bye
You are my samosa / You are my masala dosa
Kabhi na kehna mundiye bye bye bye

Wait, where are you going? There's more...

You are my chocolate / You are my cutlet
Kabhi na kehna kudiye bye bye bye
You are my rosogolla / You are my rasmalai
Kabhi na kehna mundiye bye bye bye

What poetry! If he had heard all of these, Shelly (PB - not Rachel) would have drowned himself to death. Oh - he did?
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