Long before the term “Bollywood” came into being and Indian cinema was largely identified with Hindi films, the wonderful, raga-based number Lapaka jhapaka tu aare bhadarwa belted out in the golden honey voice of Manna De in Raj Kapoor’s Boot Polish became famous. Whether you like rains in real life or not, you love it in films because of the visual beauty it adds to the landscape, and the music that invents itself to be expressed in the most imaginative use of melody, rhythm, lyrics and voice one can imagine.
The Hindi film fanatic’s love for the rains remains unabated till today so long as the rains remain confined to the screen. So, when Aishwarya Rai dances in the rains and sings Barso re megha megha splashing about in the slush and water in Mani Ratnam’s Guru, you often feel like getting up from your seat to dance along with her, whether you can dance or not. This number is an all-time favorite by all due to its enchanting music and its lovely lyrics. It is the perfect song for the frolic that one wants in the rainy season. It is an A. R. Rahman classic with Gulzar’s lyrics. Shreya Ghoshal sang it. This 2006 release will be remembered for the entire package including the great music.
Action sequences shot in rain double the intensity of the scene and give the cinematographer, the art director and the editor, the scope to explore their talents. One of the best action scenes in recent times that took imaginative advantage of heavy rains was in Rahul Rawail’s Arjun (1985) starring Sunny Deol. The scene is a highly stylised picturisation of a nail-biting chase between two main characters in a crowded rush of people sheltered by black umbrellas. It is a beautifully orchestrated scene that brings out the effervescent essence of restive youth.
Another unforgettable rain sequence is in the opening frame of Woh Kaun Thi (1964), a mystery thriller directed by Raj Khosla. On a dark stormy night, the hero, a doctor, is on his way back home when he sees a beautiful young woman and offers her a lift in his car. She accepts the lift. As soon as she steps into the car, the wipers eerily stop working. The rains heighten the chilling suspense and set the tone for the film’s edge-of-the-seat suspense. The theme song of the film scored by Madan Mohan and ticked off by Lata Mangeshkar as her personal favourite, evokes the rain as a metaphor in the lyrics – Naina barase rimjhim rimjhim, using the pitter-patter of the rain as a refrain. K.H. Kapadia bagged the Filmfare Award for Best Cinematography for Woh Kaun Thi.
The magic of the rainy past
Step back to 1955 and take a look at Raj Kapoor’s Shree 420. You need not jog your memory to recall the Shankar-Jaikishen number Pyar hua ekraar hua hai, pyar se phir kyon darta hai dil delivered through the magic pen of Shailendra, and you encounter a kind of love that spans the present and looks into the future at the same time. We see the black and white figures of Raj Kapoor and Nargis trapped under a single open umbrella in torrential rains, and as they look around, we see Raj Kapoor’s three little kids wrapped in raincoats, walking along the rainwashed pavements of Bombay. The lines on the soundtrack say – main na rahungi, tum na rahoge, rahengi yeh nishaniya, foretelling the fragility of the present and the permanence of the future emerging from the magic voices of Manna Dey and Lata Mangeshkar.
It is not just the song sequence that is immortal. The fine blend of Radhu Karmakar’s cinematography and G.G. Mayekar’s editing offers a textbook example of how songs should be picturised. In the prelude, the camera captures the gathering clouds, the windy air, and the splash of the first drops of rain on the streets. As the song begins, the lovers begin to walk under the same umbrella, and the camera catches the rain-splashed streets to step back and close in on the beautiful face of the woman from time to time. Dark passing clouds add to the richness of the tapestry. One glimpses a smiling tea-vendor sipping tea from his saucer. The street lights drawing an arc in the distance, a double-decker bus passing by, are fore-grounded by the man stepping out of the umbrella to blow into his indigenous blow-pipe. It is one of the most poetic tributes to love in the rains in Hindi cinema. The false sets, the false rain only serve to underline the purity of that sheer cinematographic artistry.
The song Roop tera mastana from Shakti Samanta’s Aradhana (1969) turned out to be one of the most sensually picturised song sequences in Hindi cinema of the time. The lovers (played by Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore) retire into a hut, and the rain thundering outside makes the couple start a wood fire for warmth. The girl pulls on a red blanket while the boy edges slowly towards her, and what happens next is expressed through the visuals and the song, making it an iconic slice of cinematic history.One of the most strikingly original rain songs that is as romantic as it is incredibly funny and sensual at the same time that comes to mind is Kishore Kumar belting out Ek ladki bheegi bhaagi si in Chalti ka naam gaadi (1958), shot in the drab interiors of a motor servicing garage. The sensual charms of the ethereally beautiful Madhubala in a drenched white sari, hair dripping with rain drops as Kishore keeps time with service tools on the hood of a car, is one of the most imaginatively shot rain sequences in the history of Indian cinema. Sachin Dev Burman’s tunes set to lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri, rendered in Kishore Kumar’s voice, is unforgettable in aesthetic terms, in the way it spells out soft, innocent and refreshing romance, and in the manner the director uses the language of cinema to express the birth of love between a simple garage mechanic, and a rich and beautiful girl.
Even two very serious actors who reportedly did not get on well, enacted an outstandingly memorable rain scene in a film. Amitabh Bachchan and Smita Patil made the song number appear both exotic and sensual in Namak Halal, for which music was scored by Bhappi Lahiri. Smita, in love with Amitabh, gets into a lovely song-dance number atop of a hand cart in the song Aaj rapat jaaye to hame naa uthaiyo, in which Smita is clad in a flimsy white cotton sari with a red border that sticks to her slim figure and turns translucent in the rains, while the hero continues to charm her.
Rain, an intrinsic part of Indian culture
Poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar says, “Rain is an integral part of our tradition and culture. India is predominantly an agrarian society. Our people still live in villages, so its predominance is paramount. Our crops depend upon rains, and so rain is our lifeline. Hence, we celebrate rain. For us, it is a source of joy, happiness, optimism, destination, future and so on. Music also celebrates rain. Rain is lesser celebrated in our films and more in our lives. Don’t we hear Sawani gaana, don’t we celebrate rains over pakodas and chai?” Pandit Ravi Shankar has gone on record to state that to the Western mind the rain is a nuisance or an unwelcome phenomenon. But for us who are totally dependent on the rains for our agriculture, the sight of a rain cloud is a joyous occasion. In Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zamin, the sight of dark clouds in the sky make the villagers break into the wonderful song-dance number Hariyala sawan dhol bajata aaya scored by Salil Chowdhury.
Lagaan (2001) has a poignant sequence where the song Ghanana ghanana ghana has a prelude that sets the mood, followed by this song. The villagers, unable to farm because of severe drought, begin to sing and dance for joy when they see the clouds floating towards their village. But not a drop of rain is forthcoming and their faces fall. The sequence has the physical reality of the expected rains, the symbolic reality of dark clouds bringing in the rain,s and the metaphorical reality of hope followed by despair. The lyrics, the melody and the tone of the song added to the beautiful orchestration and choreography are in complete harmony. The lyrics were by Javed Akhtar and the music was a creation of the A.R. Rahman magic.
The most sensual song-dance number presented in heavy rains and shot with blue as the dominating colour is Sreedevi’s sizzling and steamy number Kaate nahin kat the din ya raat – in Shekhar Kapoor’s Mr. India (1987) where without revealing skin or gyrating her hips and bust, or any latka-jhatkas, wrapped in a wet sari, hair flying in the air, eyes half-shut, she dances gracefully and beautifully to the tunes of Laxmikant-Pyarelal, on lyrics penned by Javed Akhtar lip-syncing to the voices of Kishore Kumar and Alisha Chinai. One can get glimpses of a fire suggesting the burning passion that underlies the song. This film remains a cult classic and this song-dance number is one of the reasons for its archival life.
Incidentally, Mira Nair’s acclaimed film Monsoon Wedding had no rains or rain songs to celebrate the season. Interesting.