One of the most-talked about issues when it comes to women in Hindi films is the item song. But women in film songs don’t just have to be the typical item girl there to titillate the audience and serve the male gaze.
I have already talked about the importance of songs in a couple of films discussed already, the song “London Thumakda” in “Queen” as one of the subversions of expectations and film conventions and the song “Ooh La La Tu Meri Fantasy” in “The Dirty Picture” as an example of Vidya Balan’s use of comedy in a film that is at its essence, a tragedy.
Songs in several other heroine-oriented films have equally presented different sides to women through music. I’ve picked 10 of the most interesting below. Watch out for a few “angry young women” in particular!
- Mardaani Anthem – Mardaani
A song with an explicit women’s empowerment message – this “anthem” addresses the subject matter of the film (child trafficking) but from a position of genuine strength and standing up to injustice.
Below is the link of the lyrical verison of the song – where we see Rani as Shivani Shivaji Roy in action in the instrumental parts of the song, and the listener is encouraged to sing along to the powerful lyrics during the sung parts. Join in:
“Aaj se aab se
Aan meri main tumko na chhoone doongi
Jaan ko chaahe chhalni kardo
Maan ko na chhoone doongi”
- High Heels Te Nachhe – Ki & Ka
A fun, catchy song that could somehow fit in almost any other film, but stands out due the plot of the film it’s in (Ki & Ka), that is a simple romantic comedy that’s also subversively progressive in terms of gender to a point not just beyond Bollywood, but unlike most mainstream cinema globally (for discussing in another post).
However the video song achieves the same in a few short minutes through the choreography and costumes switching up expectations in terms of gender roles gently and humorously.
- Ghani Bawri – Tanu Weds Manu Returns
A popular song that accompanied an ever more popular film – Tanu Weds Manu Returns, plays up perceptions of independent and passionate women as “crazy” by reclaiming the title.
Interestingly, in Tanu Weds Manu Returns, as in the first film, Ranaut’s character Tanu is not demonised for being this supposedly “crazy” woman, in fact she becomes our heroine. It is not whether she should change her behaviour or not that is the question, but rather if Tanu and Manu are a well-matched couple or not, and if they can make their relationship work with such different personalities.
Ranaut’s dance performance here is also unusual – she is being shown as watched by a male, indeed her ex-husband Manu as he is about to remarry, but she is trying to communicate a message to him of strength, independence and defiance rather than serving his sexual desires. The whole dance is far from a pop song in the middle of the film, as Ranaut uses it as an opportunity to convey her character’s feelings in the moment and as such, it manages to move the plot forward and help the audience better understand and relate to Tanu. We understand her anger and pain in one.
- Ziddi Dil – Mary Kom
A montage training scene turned video song with a message of determination, Ziddi Dil is a stand out song from the movie Mary Kom. The picturization of the song meanwhile shows what makes Mary Kom such a compelling real life sports star and biopic lead – that is, her contrasting feminity and roles as daughter, mother and wife; and a driven, determined five-time boxing world champion.
At this point in the film, MC Mary Kom is yet to become a wife and mother of three. Rather she is still a young girl and despite Priyanka Chopra already having been in the industry for more than 10 years at the time of shooting Mary Kom, manages to excude the youthful energy of a teenager
We see facets to Kom’s all round personality – she is a simple farm girl helping out at home, a devout Christian, lives in the picturesque Manipur, is committed to her training, and even so in the face of her parents’ concerns. All these facets comfortably co-exist, and the song pays tribute to Mary Kom’s drive and determination. At the end of the song, we see both the pay-off in terms of her victories in the ring, and the cuts and blisters she suffers through as a result:
- Rajj Rajj Ke – Akira
With lead actress Sonakshi Sinha also doubling up as a playback singer in this track, the song sees Sinha as a rock star.
We are also treated to clips of Sinha in full action star mode as Akira and the mood and lyrics of the song help to strengthen our understanding of her character and her destructive and vengeful mindset in the movie.
The vocal performance shows a very different side to Sinha as a singer than her pop hit “Aaj Mood Ishqholic Hai” and positions Sinha as the quadruple threat – acting prowess, popular dancer, and now fully fledged singer and action heroine.
- Jashn – Bobby Jasoos
A joyful, feel good song from the underrated film Bobby Jasoos, this sees “The Dirty Picture” star in a totally different avatar.
This is an Eid celebration dance song very different from one you would find in Salman Khan’s latest holiday release.
- Chhil Gaye Naina – NH10
In NH10’s “Chhil Gaye Naina” we see Anushka Sharma in a similar mode to Sinha’s Akira in Rajj Rajj Ke, in this case accompanied by the powerful vocal performance of playback singer Kanika Kapoor.
The track also does well at setting the mood of the film, building tension and suspense, and helps understand the fear, pain and vulnerability felt by Sharma’s character Meera, the feelings that will drive her violent fightback against her attackers.
Sharma puts in another acting performance whilst lipsynching to the track and we get a microcosm of Meera’s character arc in NH10 itself through the less than 3 minute song.
- Revolver Rani – Revolver Rani
Another track where the avatar of the lead actress (this time Kangana Ranaut) is wholey different to as we either know her best (a la “Queen”) or have seen her before.
This Western style film with Kangana as a larger than life cowgirl-style politican Alka Singh puts a woman in a position of power, and portrays a grey anti-heroine role and we can sense the black comedy of the film even within the song itself and its picturisation.
- Sava Dollar – Aiyyaa
In this song at the beginning of Rani Mukherji’s film “Aiyyaa”, Mukerji as her character Meenakshi in full fantasy mode due to her dreams of making it as a film heroine.
The song pastiches Hindi film song and dance, but with a tenderness only possible by a true lover of the genre. From within the film itself, we understand this is purely Meenakshi’s perspective, living out her dreams, rather than for the pleasure of any male onlooker.
Life as a Hindi film heroine is portrayed through Meenakshi’s eyes as the epitomy of success, glamour and power, but seems possible to her as she is shown as a dreamer who will not accept narrow expectations of her.
“Haan mamuli nahi main ladki
Khole sapno ki khidki
Apni thandi duniya ko
Maine sapne pe sekha”
- Hamari Atariya – Dedh Ishqiya
A list of Hindi video songs could not leave out the iconic dancer in Madhuri Dixit. Whilst there were a few options to pick of hers (“Aaja Nachchle”, “Dheemi Dheemi Si”, “O Re Piya” and “Gulaabi” in a non-dancing avatar – just from the movies “Aaja Nachchle” and “Gulaab Gang”), her performance in Dedh Ishqiya stands out.
Whilst the song and dance of “Jagaave Saari Raina” is notable for its elegance, I have left this out of the list as within the moment in the film, it is literally viewed through the male gaze of Naseeruddin Shah’s character. This plot point becomes more complex later in the film, and overall this film is unusual and provocative in several ways that warrant greater analysis generally. However the song sits uneasily within this list for this reason.
Hamari Atariya meanwhile, comes right at the end of the film, when the plot has played out fully and we know the status of Madhuri Dixit’s character Begum Para and Huma Qureshi as Munira. We see two women dancing together but who are not competitors for a man’s affections (a la Madhuri herself as Chandramukhi with Aishwarya Rai as Paro in “Devdas”, or most recently Deepika Padukone as Mastani and Priyanka Chopra as Kashibai in the song “Pinga” from “Bajirao Mastani”).
In this song then, we see Madhuri and Huma dance elegantly and defiantly, accompanied by a group of young girls all dancing in sync. It is a genuinely wonderful song and dance that can be enjoyed for its own merit.