From Ranjha in Shershaah to Ambarsariya in Fukre, poetry under the cloak of the new slow Bollywood melody

If today, Bollywood music is looked down upon, it’s a reflection of how we’re not focusing on being good listeners, since intensity and poetry can both be found in droves in a lot of today’s popular music.

Aarushi Agrawal December 04, 2021 11:53:28 IST
From Ranjha in Shershaah to Ambarsariya in Fukre, poetry under the cloak of the new slow Bollywood melody

When the going gets tough, we turn to our favourite guilty pleasures. But when entertainment is concerned, is there even any guilt to what gives one pleasure? In our new series Pleasure Without Guilt, we look at pop offerings that have been dissed by the culture police but continue to endure as beacons of unadulterated pleasure.

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I’ve always loved studying poetry. Taking a piece of writing that requires dissecting, looking up words and phrases, and finding layers of meaning in those words is an immensely enjoyable experience for me. From populars like Keats and Kabir to younger poets like Sarah Kay and Urvashi Bahuguna, I enjoy immersing myself in a world of verses. I pore over these texts, marvelling at the perfect choice of words and startling metaphors that stick with a reader. Any good piece of writing has me hooked.

So it wasn’t long before I started extending the same treatment to several slow, often romantic, Bollywood songs. It started with looking up translations of songs heavy in languages other than Hindi, like 'Jugni' (Cocktail), 'Ambarsariya' (Fukrey), 'Din Shagna Da' (Phillauri), and 'Mera Ranjha' (Queen). Then there’re also songs that require multiple listens to really grasp what’s being alluded to, like 'Aaj Din Chadheya' (Love Aaj Kal), 'Kun Faya Kun' (Rockstar), 'Laal Ishq' (Goliyon Ki Rasleela: Ram-Leela), and 'Channa Mereya' (Ae Dil Hai Mushkil). There’re also lighter but meaningful songs like 'Jashn-e-Bahaaraa' (Jodhaa Akbar), 'Samjhawan' (Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania), 'Humsafar' (Badrinath Ki Dulhania), 'Nazm Nazm' (Bareilly Ki Barfi), and most recently 'Ranjha' (Shershaah).

The lyrics are like short bursts of feeling, exploring all the grand emotions we feel, like love, joy, and pain, and mimicking the promises we make and break.

In its own way, each song explores love, and finds its own words to make sense of it.

These songs remind me of the grandness of love as an emotion, how it encourages people to cross boundaries and come together, fight oppression, unite, and find an ocean of strength in themselves to tackle all that love brings with it. Several of these song lyrics are also cute and cheeky, or intense and brooding, bringing with them different moods and tones.

I often sit down with a song on loop on my laptop, looking up the meaning, and going through each word and line. So many lines pop out, and stand apart as favourites, like ‘Raas hai raat mein / Teri har baat mein / Bol main kya karu / Aise haalaat mein’ from the atmospheric 'Ang Laga De' (Goliyon Ki Ras-Leela: Ram Leela). Then there’s the indignant ‘Toota hai toh juda hai kyun / Meri taraf tu muda hai kyun / Haq nahi tu yeh kahe ki yaar ab hum na rahe’ from 'Tera Yaar Hoon Main' (Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety). From 'Tera Rastaa Chodoon Na' (Chennai Express), there’s the intense promise, "Sar ye bhale phoot gaya / Jism mera toot gaya / Khud se kiya waada todoon naa / Baandhun sehra, kafan odhoon naa." And in 'Nazm Nazm,' "Mere dil ke lifaafe mein / Tera khat hai janiya / Tera khat hai janiya / Nacheez ne kaise paa li / Kismat yeh janiya ve’ refers not only to the letters the characters exchange in the movie but also makes sense as a metaphor for her love, and words, being in his heart.

While the lyrics are multifaceted and poetic, the music is a great accompaniment, adding simplicity to some songs and intensity to others, taking the words in a certain direction, and giving it a layer of meaning. I hear the words the way a singer understands and sings them, adding another layer of meaning. Once I’ve made sense of the song, I add it to a private Spotify playlist, which I turn to whenever I’m looking to unwind. This is often during the times I manage to squeeze in an hour-long walk, where my mind can stretch and relax for a bit. There’s a sense of familiarity and intimacy when listening to music one understands so closely and relates to culturally.

If today, Bollywood music is looked down upon, it’s a reflection of how we’re not focusing on being good listeners, since intensity and poetry can both be found in droves in a lot of today’s popular music.

If one’s only contention is that popular equals lowbrow or bad quality, I’d like to point out how in his day, even William Shakespeare, a free pass of elitist snobbishness for many today, was also considered ‘for the masses.’ For a long time, he remained popular entertainment, the theatre sitting alongside other entertainments like bear-baiting, cockfighting, and more. Much like slow Bollywood songs can seem repetitive, several of his sonnets have similar themes and motifs, talking as they are about love, time, decay, and procreation. But each sonnet, as each song, has its own identity. Shakespeare was writing with his audience in mind, yet still his words are magical, brimming with as much poetry as with bawdy innuendos, and appealing to a variety of readings and emotions. The exclusivity and highbrow attitude around Shakespeare only came about two centuries later, when he started being referred to as England’s national poet, and was branded accordingly. It’s the same way people brand old Bollywood music as great (which it is), while declaring that today’s is not (which it is).

If one were to look beyond stereotypes and the notion that popular culture is somehow lesser art, one would find beautiful poetry in the lyrics of contemporary, soft Bollywood music. To paraphrase from Ratatouille, not everyone can be a poet, but great poetry can come from anywhere.

Read more from the Pleasure Without Guilt series here.

Aarushi Agrawal is a culture journalist with interest in research, reading, writing, and spending time with her cat.

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