The Glorification of Alcohol in Hindi Cinema

A study released in April of this year claimed that Indian adolescents aged 12-16 exposed to alcohol consumption in films were nearly three times more likely to drink than their peers who did not watch Bollywood movies. While this study most likely pertains to the movies released in the industry today, I would venture to say that the origins of this trend can be traced back to films from the Golden Era of Bollywood cinema. Indeed, the consumption of alcohol has been glorified on India’s silver screen for decades, especially through portrayal of sharaab (alcohol) songs in films. Here, I’ve compiled a list of my five favorite male and female sharaab numbers from the Golden Era–let’s take a closer look at these examples to examine how the consumption of alcohol has been portrayed cinematically and its implications on Indian culture.

“Girls Just Want To Have Fun”

In Bollywood’s earliest days, drinking alcohol in films was portrayed as a strictly masculine activity, à la Devdas and other Bollywood heroes who have famously drowned their sorrows in liquor. In contrast, the idealized image of the traditional Indian woman did not permit the depiction of female alcohol consumption in the media.  This trend began to change in the 60s when films depicted heroines and female actresses playing roles in which they partook in the consumption of the Devil’s nectar, just like their male counterparts. As you can see below, the contexts in which female characters drink vary from film to film: alcohol has been used by the women of Bollywood as a coping mechanism, a means of revenge, or just a way to have a good time.

na jaao saiyaa.n (Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, 1962): In this film based on a Bengali novel by Bimal Mitra, Meena Kumari gives one of her career’s best performances as Chhoti Bahu. Chhoti Bahu is married to young zamii.ndar (played by Rehman), who neglects his wife at home in order to take part in debauchery at local brothels on a nightly basis. In desperate need of her unfaithful husband’s companionship, she decides to take up drinking in order to keep him away from those pesky courtesans at night. In this heartbreaking song sung by Geeta Dutt, Chhoti Bahu drunkenly entreats her husband to stay at home and spend the night with her. In a truly unfortunate example of art mimicing real life, both Geeta and Meena would succumb to alcoholism as a way to cope with their unhappy marriages in the coming years. For those of you who enjoy this song, be sure to check out Hemant Kumar’s Bengali version of the same tune: “olir katha shune.

Meena Kumari, as Chhoti Bahu, tragically turns to alcoholism in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (1962).

piike hum tum jo chale aaye hai.n (Gumnaam, 1965): This film (reviewed by us here) is a suspense thriller loosely based on the Agatha Christie novel And Then There Were None. The story revolves around seven vacationers who find themselves on a remote island in the middle of nowhere after a plane crash. One by one, they are murdered off and the big question is, of course: whodunnit? In the midst of all this tension, two of the vacationers, Miss Kitty (played by Helen) and Asha (played by Nanda), decide to loosen up and have some fun with a few drinks. In this comical duet sung by Asha Bhonsle and Usha Mangeshkar, the two actresses appear to be having the time of their lives in a drunken stupor on screen. I mean, who wouldn’t be having a good time if they were getting drunk with Helen?

Helen and Nanda get sloppy together in Gumnaam (1965). If you excuse the stumbling, Helen actually looks quite sophisticated in this scene because she’s not wearing one of her characteristically outrageous wigs/outfits.

aao huzuur tum ko (Kismat, 1968): This Asha-OP Nayyar collaboration is an all-time classic from the soundtrack of Kismat (along with “kajraa muhabbatvaalaa“). The film’s narrative is so outrageous that it’s not even worth summarizing here, but this song is picturized on the actress Babita, who is the mother of Karisma and Kareena Kapoor. Babita never managed to gain much success as a heroine, and that’s not surprising given that it’s unclear whether she is drunk or undergoing eplipetic fits in this particular scene. She certainly does make a statement though and manages to embarass the hero Biswajeet with her public intoxication at this party. Regardless of the picturization, Asha Bhonsle adds all the right expressions here to make this an unforgettable sharaab number on the basis of the song alone. Her vocal control in the extended introduction (“ham se raushan hai chaa.nd aur taare...”) before the song’s first stanza is especially commendable. 

Babita has probably had one too many in this scene from Kismat (1968)

kaise rahuu.n chup (Inteqaam, 1969): Inteqaam is an entertaining (but occaisionally illogical) thriller that stars Sadhana as a woman who seeks revenge against her former boss because he framed her for a theft that she did not commit. As part of her elaborate plan for revenge, she intends to marry her boss’s son (played by Sanjay Khan) and bring shame to his entire family by revealing that the new bahu is, in fact, a convicted criminal! In this song, Sadhana further embarasses her boss’s family by  acting extremely intoxicated under the influence of alcohol at a public gathering. (Technically, this might not be considered a genuine sharaab song because Sadhana is putting on a facade of being drunk without actually consuming, but I liked this song too much to pass up putting it on the list.) This soundtrack composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal is particularly memorable today because it casts a different light on Lata Mangeshkar, who was considered to be staunchly conservative and traditional in her playback output.  Lata surprises us all by agreeing to sing two sizzling cabaret numbers in addition to this drinking song for the film–listen to her nail those hiccups during the interludes!

Helen serves Sadhana another glass in Inteqaam (1969)

piyaa tuu ab to aajaa (Caravan, 1971): Asha Bhonsle and R.D. Burman come together to produce one of their biggest musical hits together with this classic item number from Caravan. Asha’s performance here solidified her status as the queen of cabaret singing in Hindi cinema. Furthermore, Helen’s portrayal of a nightclub dancer on screen during this song is considered the quintessential Bollywood cabaret performance. Helen’s dance moves are completely outrageous here but she makes it work somehow (see Mrs. 55’s step-by-step breakdown here). Given the ridiculousness of the situation here, you can’t really blame Helen for the heavy drinking…it certainly doesn’t stop her from completely owning the stage during her performance!

Helen gives one of the best cabaret performances of her career in Caravan (1971)

“Alcohol May Be Man’s Worst Enemy…”

Unlike their female counterparts, the men of Bollywood cinema have been imbibing alcohol since the industry’s earliest days. The most popular context for male drinking in Hindi films occurs when the hero resigns himself to heavy drinking in order to drown his sorrows, usually caused by woman-related heartbreak. While female characters are often stigmatized for their drinking and public intoxication, it is more acceptable for men of the silver screen to use alcohol consumption to deal with their grief.  Other contexts where actors are depicted consuming alcohol include scenes of male-male bonding (bromances, anyone?) and seduction of heroines and courtesans. Though Bollywood has glamorized the consumption of alcohol for both genders, the effect is far more pronounced for males, as evident in the examples I’ve selected below.

mujhe duniyaavaalo sharaabii na samjho (Leader, 1964): Even though its soundtrack is full of gems like “tere husn kii kyaa tariif karuu.n” and “ek shahanshah ne banvaa ke ek hasii.n taaj mahal,” Leader is one mess of a film starring Dilip Kumar and Vijayantimala. Dilip Kumar stars as a law graduate and aspiring political revolutionary who falls in love with a princess (played by Vijyantimala). The script has so many holes that it’s difficult to discern the overall message of this film, but there are some scenes of comic relief between Vijayantimala and Dilip Kumar that are worth remembering. By far, however, the main attraction here is the soundtrack composed by Naushad. In this particular number, an intoxicated Dilip Kumar claims that he has been forced to take up drinking to grapple with society’s evils.

Vijayntimala tries to stop a drunk Dilip Kumar from embarassing himself too much at this party in Leader (1964).

din Dhal jaaye (Guide, 1965): Where do I even begin with the praise for Vijay Anand’s Guide? Mrs. 55 and I both love everything about this film: the unique story written by R.K. Narayan, the stellar performances by Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman, and of course, the unforgettable soundtrack composed by S.D. Burman. Each and every song from this film is an absolute gem. In this particular Rafi solo picturized on Dev Anand, the hero drowns his sorrows about lost love in alcohol. The melancholic expression that pervades throughout this scene is enhanced by the beautifully crafted lyrics and tune.

Dev Anand turns to the bottle when love goes sour in Guide (1965).

chuu lene do naazuk ho.nTho.n ko (Kaajal, 1965): With this Rafi number penned by Sahir Ludhianvi and composed by Ravi, Raaj Kumar tries to get Meena Kumari, his on-screen shaadi-shudhaa (virtuous) wife, to come to the dark side by having a drink. Alcohol glorification occurs is at its finest in these lyrics: it is referred to as “mubarak cheez,” or a blessed thing.  Meena Kumari excels, as usual, at looking incredibly uncomfortable and disturbed by Raaj Kumar’s advances in this scene.

A drunk Raaj Kumar tries to get Meena Kumari on his team in Kaajal (1965).

jo unkii tamanna hai barbad ho jaa (Inteqaam, 1969): This film certainly features a lot of alcohol consumption on screen. In addition to the drunk Lata number discussed above, this Rafi solo from Inteqaam is picturized on Sanjay Khan as he laments being a mere object in Sadhana’s plans for revenge. Rajinder Krishan’s lyrics are exquisite in their ability to capture the essence of being deceived in love.

Handsome Sanjay Khan turns to alcohol to get over Sadhana’s deception in Inteqaam (1969)

yeh jo muhabbat hai (Kati Patang, 1970): Directed by Shakti Samanta, this film features an evergreen soundtrack composed by R.D. Burman. This particular number sung by Kishore Kumar is one of Bollywood’s most treasured drinking songs, and it features a handsome and bitter Rajesh Khanna drinking the night away because he was stood up at the altar by his wife-to-be.  Asha Parekh watches from a distance, not yet aware of the fact that she is the woman responsible for his heartache.

Rajesh Khanna drinks another glass of liquid courage before singing about the pain of disloyal love in Kati Patang (1970).
What are some of your favorite sharaab/daaru songs from Bollywood films? Let us know in the comments! We’ll understand if your typing is a little bit off…
Mr. 55
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Bekhudi Mein Sanam Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

Babita Haseena Maan Jaayegi
Whoa there, Babita. Are you sure a Santa hat is appropriate for this occasion?

Our next Hindi lyric translation is the classic Rafi-Lata duet “Bekhudi Mein Sanam” from the film Haseena Maan Jaayegi (1968). The movie soundtrack is probably the only reason you would ever want to watch this film. Sure, the plot description is intriguing: two men (who happen to both be Shashi Kapoor) fall in love with the same woman (the unbearable Babita). One Shashi Kapoor is soft-spoken and romantic, while the other is an aggressive jokester who is spurned by our heroine. But then! War with China! Both men are called to duty, and when only one returns, Babita can’t tell if he is truly the man she loves–or his rival!

So you’re lured in, egged on by a few other vaguely recognizable Rafi numbers (“O Dilbar Janiye,” anyone?), and think you’re getting yourself in for a long Hum Dono-esque genre twin film with a swinger bent.

Oh, but how wrong you’d be.

Babita and Shashi haseena maan jaayegi
Shashi Kapoor and Babita play two college students in love in Haseena Maan Jaayegi (1968).

Haseena Maan Jaayegi is a painful free-falling bucket of awkward sauce that is weighed down by Babita’s insufferably thick voice, static characters, and an unfocused plot that never quite pulls together it’s obvious loose ends. I mean, seriously Babita? We need to spend two hours watching you try to decide if there is nothing unique about the man you married? Furthermore, what the heck, Shashi? Couldn’t you have convinced the scriptwriter to at least throw in just one line explaining why you guys look so similar? At least turn out to legitimately be twins separated at birth! There’s no way God would just magically make two Shashi Kapoors in this world. A lot of Indian women would be a lot happier if so.

Shashi Kapoor is entranced by Babita’a teal Santa suit from “Bekhudi Mein Sanam.”

Really, nothing gets my goat more than a twin movie that doesn’t acknowledge that they’re supposed to actually be twins. Do yourself a favor by skipping this cheese-flavored package of dry histrionics, and just youtube the songs because they’re awesome. Of particular note in “Bekhudi Mei.N Sanam” is Babita’s puffy white fur Santa hat and teal blue jumpsuit. This is just in case any audience member had lost their mind and started to make the mistake of taking her seriously. Check out the youtube link for the song here and follow along with the lyrics and translation below to this this otherwise beautiful ode of love!

Bekhudi Mein Sanam Lyrics and Translation

Bekhudi mei.N sanam, uTh gaye jo qadam
Unaware of my self, as I started walking
Aa gaye, aa gaye
I arrived
Aa gaye paas hum, aa gaye paas hum
I arrived nearer to you

Aag yeh kaisii man mei.N lagii hai?
What kind of fire is aflame in my mind?
Man se badhii to tan mei.N lagii hai
Yet, even bigger than that in the mind, is the one burning my body
Aag nahii.N yeh dil ki lagii hai
This is not a fire, its the heart’s desire
Jitnii bujhaayii, utnii jalii hai
However much you try to put it out, it will keep burning

Dil ki lagi na ho to, kya zindagii hai?
Without this desire of the heart, what is life?
Saath hum jo chale miT gaye faasle
When we walk together, all that separates us disappears
Aa gaye, aa gaye
I arrived
Aa gaye paas hum, aa gaye paas hum
I arrived nearer to you

Khoyii nazar thii, soye nazaare
The vision was lost, and the sights were asleep
Dekhaa tumhe to jaage yeh saare
On seeing you, all of them were awakened
Dil ne kiye jo dil ko ishaare
As one heart signaled to the other
Milke chale hum saath tumhaare
We met and walked together

Aaj khushii se meraa dil yeh pukaare
Today my heart calls out with joy
Teraa daaman milaa, pyaar meraa khilaa
In finding your embrace, my love has blossomed
Aa gaye, aa gaye
I arrived
Aa gaye paas hum, aa gaye paas hum
I arrived nearer to you

Dil kii kahaanii pahunche zubaa.N tak
The story of my heart is on my tongue
Kisko khabar ab pahunche kahaa.N tak?
Now who knows where it will reach?
Pyaar ke raahii aaye yahaa.N tak
Travelers of love have arrived here
Jaaye.Nge dil ki had hai jahaa.N tak
They will go to the limits set by their hearts

Tum paas jo to chale hum aasmaan tak
With you at my side, we will reach the sky
Dil mein armaan liye laakh toofaan liye
With a heart full of desires and beset by storms

Aa gaye, aa gaye
I arrived
Aa gaye paas hum, aa gaye paas hum
I arrived nearer to you

Bekhudi mei.N sanam, uTh gaye jo qadam
Unaware of my self, as I started walking
Aa gaye, aa gaye
I arrived
Aa gaye paas hum, aa gaye paas hum
I arrived nearer to you

Glossary:

bekhudi: unaware of oneself, in a trance; qadam: footsteps; aag: fire; man: mind; tan: body; faasle: separation, distance; ishaaraa: signal; daaman: embrace; zubaa.N: tongue, language; khabar: news, knowledge; had: limit; aasmaan: sky; armaan: desire; toofaan: storm

I can’t really explain it, but I’ve always really liked with the way Shashi Kapoor starts his first line walking forward toward her with his hands folded behind his back. It’s bashful, the way Indian men in love were meant to be.

Shashi Kapoor Twins Haseena Maan Jaayegi
I know, I know. It’s almost irresistible–TWO Shashi Kapoors on ONE screen! Look at that handsome cricket jacket, those form-fitting white pants. But restrain, my friends. Haseena Maan Jaayegi will suck out your Shashi-gushing capacities and infect you instead with confusion and hatred of Babita.

This song translation was done by request from our reader “Beloved”! We hope you enjoyed, and if you’d like to see your name on our blog, send us an email with your burning Bollywood request or leave us a comment on our “Requests” page!

– Mrs. 55