These were often an excuse for some heavyduty skin exposure accompanied plenty of heaving and thrusting of the bosom in the camera.
Actor-activist-filmmaker Amole Gupte agrees Holi did provide a pretext for titillation. “Women drenched in white is what the men of this sex-starved land have on their minds on Holi day. My favourite Holi song in a film is ‘Aaj na chhodende bas humjoli khelenge hum holi’ in ‘Kati Patang’, where Rajesh Khanna didn’t even touch the heroine Asha Parekh.”
Recalling the shooting of this unusual Holi song Asha Parekh says, “It was a very sensitive number. I played a widow who stood her ground when the hero and his friends wanted to drench her in Holi colours. At the end of the song he did throw colours in my hair to express his determination to marry the widow. The Holi sequence was a turning point in the script.”
Divya Dutta feels Holi sequences are indeed an occasion for titillation. “You have to admit women drenched do look sexy! However songs and dances with colours might make a good foundation for celluloid Holi. But I wouldn’t call it a pretext. Sadly Holi songs are not shot in our films any longer. Maybe because Holi is not celebrated with the same fervour in real life as before. I am hoping it would return in our movies.”
Divya would be happy to know that two forthcoming movies, both featuring Deeepika Padukone in the lead featured elaborate Holi sequences. In Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Ram Leela’, Deepika would be seen stealing Holi colours with Ranveer Singh. In Ayan Mukerjee’s ‘Yeh Jawani Jai Deewani’ there is a ‘fun Holi song’ featuring Deepika and Ranbir Kapoor.
“But we really don’t have a culture of Holi songs anymore. The splash of multi-coloured ‘Abeer’ can be a truly intoxicating visual,” says Aanand Rai whose love story ‘Raanjhanaa,’ located in Varanasi has a Holi number.
Hema Malini recalls having great fun shooting the ‘Holi ke din dil khil jaate hain rangon mein rang mil jaate hain’ number in ‘Sholay’. However not all Holi songs are fun to shoot.
Recalls an actress who doesn’t wish to be named, “This famous director made sure my choli was tight and even instructed me through his female assistant to not wear lingerie underneath. I paid no attention. However what we saw on screen made me squirm in embarrassment. I stopped playing Holi thereafter both on and off screen.”
Ken Ghosh feels Holi was definitely used for titillation in some songs. “But that is a thing of the past. Today filmmakers don’t use Holi sequences. They were done to death at one time. I’d love to see something like ‘Rang Barse’ on screen again.”
Shabana Azmi thinks imputing lascivious suggestions on Holi is too harsh. “Drenching both men and women has been a tradition over centuries. There is abandon and gaiety associated with Holi. It’s all done for fun and very infectious.”
Shabana names ‘Rang barse’ in ‘Silsila’ as one of her favourite Holi songs. “However ‘Morey kanha jo aaye palatke’ from ‘Sardari Begum’, written by my husband Javed Akhtar is my favourite. The lines ‘Unke peeche main chupke sa jaake/Yeh gulaal apne tan pe lagaake/Rang doongi unhein main lipatke’…is very saucy sensual and shows the woman as an active participant and not a passive recipient of pleasure.”
Vipul Shah whose films ‘Waqt’ and ‘Action Replay’ featured Holi songs doesn’t think Holi numbers are for titillation. “Holi is an occasion to display our festivity. Today our cinema is going Western, so certain elements from our culture are not showcased. To me Amitji’s ‘Rang barse’ is timeless.”
Writer-lyricist Prasoon Joshi agrees. “’Rang barse’ in ‘Silsila’ is a classic. I love Amitji’s singing. Besides that, the song is so much part of the narrative and projects an inherent tension. Why blame our films for using Holi songs as titillation? We should go back to our culture. Sexual undercurrents were always a part of Holi celebrations.”
Ketan Mehta who made a film called ‘Holi’ feels the festival is a kind of a mating dance. “Holi is a festival of colours, exuberance and sensuality. I can watch ‘Rang barse’ in ‘Silsila’ and ‘Ja re hat natkhat’ in ‘Navrang’ forever. In cinema it’s been like a mating dance. Movies don’t need festive excuses any more to portray sexual undercurrents.”
Filmmaker Bhavna Talwar doesn’t see overt sexuality in Holi songs. “While it may be true in some cases, most Holi sequences were wonderfully aesthetic. In ‘Sholay’ the use of Holi colours to contrast with the Thakur’s widowed daughter-in-law colourless life is still vivid in my mind. Would you say ‘Holi aaye re kanhaai’ in ‘Mother India’ or ‘Mohe panghat pe nandlal’ in ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ aimed to titillate?”
However Bhavana feels the Festival per se is sensual. “Holi is inherently sensual. My all-time favourite Holi song ‘Rang barse’ in ‘Silsila’ captures that sensuality with utmost decorum. I don’t know why our films don’t have Holi songs any more. They should.”
To Tamil filmmaker R. Rajamouli the cinematic value of Holi lies in the colours. “I never thought of Holi as titillation. It’s the colour and celebration that attracts me as a filmmaker.”
Tamil star-actress Khushboo agrees with Rajamouli. “I don’t see Holi as an excuse to drench heroines. In the ‘Rang barse’ song in ‘Silsila’ and ‘Holi ke din dil khil jaate hain’ in ‘Sholay’ where is the titillation?”
Adds Lilette Dubey, “I don’t think Holi songs were done to drench heroines. There were waterfall scenes for that! I think they were genuinely sexy/masti bhari songs imbued with the flavour and spirit of bhang and Holi. Being from the North I loved those Holi songs and I miss them sorely. My favourite is ‘Range barse’. That slow sonorous ‘Brij’ style song and the contrast provided by the frenzy of colours….wow!”
Filmmaker Suneel Darshan feels Holi songs were a lot of fun. “They often carried the narrative forward. But that’s in the past. Tradition and culture are not high-priority in our films any more. I can never forget the Holi songs from Mehboob Khan’s ‘Aan’, Shakti Samanta’s ‘Kati Patang’ and Ramesh Sippy’s ‘Sholay’. I’d love to bring back the Holi song in our films.”
Adds Tigmanshu Dhulia,“To me Holi songs are for fun. No ritual, no religious relevance, no titillation. Just fun.”
Urmila Matondkar thinks imputing titillation on Holi is unfair. “I have never been a Holi person. But Holi songs and sequences have always been my favourite. To say they are a pretext for obscenity would be unfair. Songs like ‘Rang barse’ capture the exuberance madness and festivity in a sweet crazy Bollywood style.”
Umesh Shukla the director of the acclaimed anti-ritualistic film ‘Oh My God’ doesn’t find Holi songs titillating. “I loved the sequence in ‘Silsila’ after the Holi celebration between Jaya Bachchanji and Sanjeev Kumarji where the word ‘colour’ was used to define relationships.”
Writer Shibani Bathija who wrote Karan Johar’s ‘Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna’ and ‘My Name Is Khan’ feels Bollywood needs no excuse for titillation, least of all the Holi. “For women to be drenched there’s the rain. In our film it rains all-year long. No doubt Holi is a colourful interactive visual. Earlier the extent to which heroines would willingly expose was limited. Holi and the rain were pretexts to circumvent the flesh embargo. Nowadays there are no such inhibitions. But I miss a Holi songs like ‘Rang barse’. It’s an example of perfect screenplay. Great drama implied on and off screen and the folk flavour of the song was so authentic.”
“I guess item songs have replaced Holi songs,” opines writer-director-actor Saurabh Shukla. “Earlier Holi songs provided colour, vibrancy and sensuality.”
Music composer Shantanu Moitra feels festivals per se have become redundant in present day context. “Environmental consciousness, no ‘gulaal, no ‘gubaara’, no collective celebration as the nuclear family uses Holi as an occasion for vacation…the romance of Holi is gone. I still swoon when I hear Mr Bachchan sing Rang barse.”
I spoke to the Big B Amitabh Bachchan about everyone’s favourite Holi song ‘Rang barse.’ The Big B said, “That’s a legacy of my father. I learnt of this song through him. I used to sing Rang Barse and Mere Angnein Mein at all the Holi get-togethers at our house. That’s where Yashji and Prakashji heard these songs, got them into Silsila and Lawaaris and asked me to sing them. So I am in no way instrumental in getting these songs into the movies.”