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  Gender-al verse

Gender-al verse

Published : Jan 18, 2016, 10:12 pm IST
Updated : Jan 18, 2016, 10:12 pm IST

Piku, among other films released in 2015, stands testimony to the shifting of tides in Bollywood lyrics — broken stereotypes and more As #FeministBolly-Songs take over social media, we look at how Bollywood’s more recent lyrical outings fare when it comes to gender dynamics.

Piku, among other films released in 2015, stands testimony to the shifting of tides in Bollywood lyrics — broken stereotypes and more

As #FeministBolly-Songs take over social media, we look at how Bollywood’s more recent lyrical outings fare when it comes to gender dynamics.


“Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayaal aata hai, ki jaise tujhko banaya gaya hai tere liye, not for me or other men ”

“Chikni Chameli chhupke akeli pauwa chadha ke aayi, because she’s independent enough to do whatever the f*** she wants to ”

If you’re beginning to wonder why these songs sound so wrong and so right at the same time, take a minute to pause and consider what implications the actual lyrics carried with them before they were morphed into less problematic verse by India’s young Twitterati. #FeministBollySongs, a trend that has been taking over social media for quite some time now, has had people picking up some of the best known Bollywood songs from every era and stamping out their sometimes latent and sometimes blatant sexism with similar lyrical experiments. We look at how some of the most recent Bollywood songs fare in comparison to older ones, when it comes to negotiating gender dynamics. Does Chameli really get to indulge in alcohol by herself, without being judged and objectified anymore We make an attempt to find out.


Ananya Bhattacharyya, a PhD student at Delhi University who has been studying Bollywood’s negotiation of gender identities and relationships through the ages, affirms that while there is still a long way to go, the Indian film industry is increasingly embracing a changed gender perspective. The songs released in 2015 in particular, she points out, stand heartening testimony to how more of Bollywood’s verse is beginning to reflect a changed world. “Jazbaa has some great poetry in ‘Kahaaniya’ and even its item number ‘Aaj raat ka scene bana le’ is surprisingly feminist,” she says.

She continues, “In ‘Aaj raat ka...’ The girl is asking for a night out on her own terms, has exams coming up and is busy next weekend for reasons she isn’t obligated to disclose. Thumbs up to that. I wish she weren’t relying on the man for the night out, though. Piku has a fantastic title track that steers clear of every stereotypically attractive trait in a Bollywood ‘heroine’ with absolutely no mention of what she looks like. For that matter, Hate Story 3 managed to surprise me too, although I’m still struggling with a few layers there that might or might not be problematic. For instance, ‘Tujhe chhoone ki azaadi / Jo nahin mil paati’ is good but I’m on the fence about the line that follows – ‘Woh sapno mein mil jaati ae’. Hm. My absolute favourite song from last year, though, is Javed Akhtar’s ‘Girls like to swing’ from Dil Dhadakne Do. Two thumbs up to that number for sure,” she affirms.


Lyricist Swanand Kirkire agrees and adds that while a debate around the issue is essential, it is also important that it extend beyond just the songs. He says, “Things really are changing, and this is something that should be acknowledged. 2015 was all about women in Bollywood. It was the women who led most of the finest narratives this year. And the songs are, therefore, reflective of that phenomenon too. If you think about it, there has been an undertone of sexism in our whole way of looking at things for years. It’s not just the songs, debate can and should also happen around how the hero has usually been placed in a Hindi film, or how the girl’s role has usually been defined. You see, Bollywood songs are totally dependent on the story that they’re placed within. They are not independent expressions of poetry. If you want me to write a song for Piku, I’ll write a song that fits everything Piku stands for. If more films are made like that, more songs will be written like that too.”


Music composer Amaal Malik echoes in agreement and points out how there have been songs of feminist affirmation in Bollywood’s earlier years too, albeit few and far between. “There are a few iconic old numbers like ‘Hungama ho gaya’ and ‘Mungda mungda’ that are every feminist’s delight. And they support the argument that how a song is written depends on the brief given to the lyricist and the overall requirement of the movie. As a composer I also feel that if you have a catchy tune, chances are that you will get away with anything in terms of lyrics. But yes, I do believe that to make the right tune and to capture the right emotions with it, the right lyrics are indeed important – feminist or otherwise.”


In the same vein, Ananya adds that though change is decidedly happening, it is not absolute. “There are still underlying problems in some ‘item’ numbers that continue to objectify women and even some romantic numbers that continue to give the man in the relationship marginally higher ground. For example, Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo has a song called ‘Aaj unse kehna hai ’ from the girl’s perspective, and from one angle it can seem like a How-To-Please-Your-Guy-By-Doing-What-He-Wants module. ‘Unko jo bhaaye who hum lenge / Unke liye kuch bhi kar denge Jo unko pasand who lete chale ’ There is the argument that it is intended in a spirit of affection that could apply to either gender but then, why is only the girl singing it I had a similar problem with a song that I otherwise absolutely love – ‘Agar tum saath ho’ from Tamasha. ‘Teri duniya mein meri duniya hai / Teri chaahaton mein main dhal jaati hoon / Teri aadaton mein ’ The lyrics for both songs are by Irshad Kamil and both songs are from the woman’s perspective, talking about how her entire world revolves around her beloved, so much so that she’s willing to bring about changes within herself to fit into the latter’s world. Why, really And even with Ekta Kapoor’s supposedly ‘feminist’ alteration, ‘Oh Boy’ from Kya Kool Hain Hum 3 still has disturbing phrases like ‘Check me out boy’ and ‘Handle with care, I’m fragile’!” she rues.