The Best Holi Songs of Classic Bollywood Movies

Hema Malini Sholay holi
Hema Malini dances with joyful abandon in Sholay’s famous holi number “Holi Ke Din.”

The festival of Holi is among Bollywood’s favorite celebrations–an occasion at last as colorful as the country of its origin. Indeed Holi, a Hindu spring festival, is commonly known as the Festival of Colors. It is both a religious celebration signifying the triumph of Good over Evil, as well as a cultural one commemorating the onset of a new Spring season. It is marked by the throwing of colorful powders, the lighting of bonfires, and the strengthening of bonds between all individuals in colorful merriment. Its spirited catchphrase “Buraa na maano, Holi hai!” (Don’t bear any ill-feelings, it’s Holi!”) speaks to the underlying theme of the day – the burning of negative forces or ill-will, a sort of spiritual purging. The smearing of colors represents the deconstructing of identities and the breaking of social barriers, as all rejoice and participate together, regardless of social class. At the very least, it is a day to settle old scores and move on. Indeed, everyone is welcome and everyone is pardoned for his or her revelry. Thus, we mortals celebrate Holi today with fun and games, colors and powder, and Bollywood takes this grand opportunity to ignite romance.

Rajesh Khanna asha parekh holi
Rajesh Khanna woos Asha Parekh with color at the Holi celebration of Kati Patang (1970).

There’s something inherent to the playful tag-style nature of Holi that lends itself so conveniently to flirtation and a male-female dichotomy. We discussed the appalling lack of Diwali-associated songs in classic Bollywood previously, and hazarded the guess that the festival is far less conducive to overt flirtation and bumping dance grooves like Holi invariably is. Whether wooing the mourning lover into a literal rainbow of joy or painting your sweetheart with a visible mark of your flirtatious overtures, Holi delivers the goods for Bollywood every time.

Mother India holi
Even the old school epic Mother India takes a drama break for the holi festivities!

Below is our list of the 10 greatest Holi songs of classic Bollywood cinema. Happy Holi to all our readers–and if you’re stuck in a huge snowstorm like we are, here’s hoping Holi will usher in the Spring at last!

1. Rang barse (Silsila 1981)

The ultimate old school Holi hit, this song will force anyone to get in the mood and join the festivities! Say what you want about Amitabh and Rekha’s clandestine affair, this dance number will get you on board in no time!

2. Aaj na chodenge (Kati Patang 1970)

This song is easily my favorite Bollywood holi song! Besides the fact that I grew up on the Kati Patang soundtrack, does it get much better than Rajesh Khanna-Asha Parekh shy seduction? Lata and Kishore are delightful, but don’t get me started on the bizarre chorus act that chops up the number like barbarians on holiday.

3. Holi Aayi Re Kanhaayi (Mother India 1957)

Oh, there’s no school like the old school! Bring it back Nargis-style with this classic song from Mother India that just overflows with romance and sass! The only thing better than a Holi song is a Holi village dance-off.

4. Tan rang lo ji (Kohinoor 1960)

While this royal gem may be shot in black-and-white, you can practically see the colors flying in this fantastic Mohammed Rafi-Dilip Kumar celebration that invites the entire kingdom for a Holi song-and-dance sequence!

5. Holi Ke Din (Sholay 1975)

Retro flirting Queen Hema Malini proves to Dharmendra that she’s more than just a loud mouth in Sholay–her moves and dancing steal the show in this colorful song!

6. Are Ja Re Hat Natkhat (Navrang 1959)

Classical dancer Sandhya wows the audience with this traditional stage performance, alternating as both the male and female character complete with ghungroo! Asha Bhonsle’s Hindustani vocals balance out Mahendra Kapoor’s mainstream sway in a Holi number that is well-known even today for its stunning classical choreography.

7. Piya Tose Naina (Guide 1965)

Looking for something a little classier? Go no further than this Waheeda Rehman semi-classical piece from the great philosophical Guide. Watch her prance around with so much joie de vivre, you’ll ignore how gaudy the stage is decorated and your feelings for high-pitched female choruses of the 1960s.

8. Nadiya Se Dariya (Namak Haram 1973)

This song is just plain cute. While not a roaring shoulder-shaking dance off like some of these others, the song is playful and full of shy passion for Rajesh Khanna, which we always approve of.

9. Baghi Re Bhagi Brij Bala (Rajput 1982)

I think this hidden jewel is under-appreciated by historians. While something of a repeat of previous Hema Malini-Dharmendra magic, Vinod Khanna holds his own in this fast-paced duet that once again brings an entire kingdom to the palace to party Holi-style!

10. Kaikhe Paan Banaraswala (Don 1978)

OK, so this isn’t technically a Holi song per se, but it’s arguably the unofficial anthem! There’s something about a traditional, rich beat coupled with Kishore’s absolutely unabashed vocals that set the tone of a celebration and throwing inhibitions to the wind!

While Holi was born in India, it’s popularity was carried across the diaspora and is celebrated around the world each year with full force! The picture below is from my freshman year at Harvard where Holi was played on the Mac quad! Can you spot me in the pigtails with the orange-yellow face?

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– Mrs. 55

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Neela Aasman So Gaya Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

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Amitabh Bacchan plays a writer who falls for Rekha’s timeless beauty in Silsila (1981)

Directed and produced by Yash Chopra, Silsila (1981) sparked controversy even before it was released. Rumors regarding the film’s casting spread throughout the industry, as its portrayal of a love triangle between Amitabh Bacchan, his wife Jaya Bacchan, and his alleged mistress Rekha was said to mimic reality. Today, we present the lyrics and English translation of a classic romantic ballad from Silsilaniilaa aasmaa.n so gayaa.

This film depicts a passionate romance between Amit (played by Amitabh Bacchan) and Chandni (played by Rekha) that cannot culminate in marriage due to unfortunate circumstances. After his brother (played by Shashi Kapoor) is killed in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, Amit marries his brother’s pregnant fiancee in order to save her honor. Unable to pursue her love with Amit, Chandni marries Dr. Anand (played by Sanjeev Kumar). When Amit and Shobha are involved in a car accident (that causes Shobha to lose her baby), they are hospitalized and treated by Dr. Anand. Chandni sees Amit in the hospital, and this encounter triggers memories of their past love. Amit and Chandni give into their temptations and begin to rekindle their romance through clandestine meetings. The plot thickens when an evening rendezvous goes sour: Amit and Chandni must go to the police station after hitting a pedestrian while driving, and officer assigned to their case turns out to be Shobha’s cousin. How long can Amit and Chandni keep their adultery a secret? Will Amit and Chandni leave their spouses to be together? Silsila is worth a viewing to find out!

Although Silsila is not the first Bollywood film to depict extra-marital love, it is ground-breaking in its concrete portrayal of the consummation of adultery.  Indeed, this film compelled Indian audiences to think about extra-marital affairs and whether they can be cinematically romanticized in a way that appeals to the masses. Silsila offers some justification for the relationship between Amit and Chandni because they were a couple before Amit sacrificed his love to uphold his duty to his brother. However, the film portrays the tumultous decline of their extra-marital romance, eventually depicting Amit and Chandni as disloyal adulterers instead of righteous lovers. The uncomfortable subject matter is presumably the reason why this film failed to be a box office success. Regarding the audience’s reaction to Silsila, Yash Chopra has said:

 “The film had inherent tensions because of the casting coup. If I was confident of the project, it was because all the three artistes had individually assured me that there would be no problems at their end. And they kept their word. It was a film on extra-marital relationships and call it moral and societal pressures, but at the last minute, I developed cold-feet and thought that maybe the hero should come home to his wife. The original ended differently. When and why I changed the ending I don’t know, but I did so because I felt that the audience wasn’t ready. But the audience didn’t accept what we gave them either.”

Although audiences may not have reacted positively to its thematic content, the film has left a legacy of controversy that is still remembered today. The release of Silsila marked the end of the alleged affair between Rekha and Amitabh, but those associated with the Bollywood industry still discuss their love story more than 25 years later. At public events such as award functions, the media is unforgiving in keeping a close eye on how Amitabh, Jaya, and Rekha interact with each other!

Aside from its controversy, this film is also remembered for a number of special debuts. In Silsila, Yash Chopra introduced Shiv (santoor maestro Pt. Shivkumar Sharma) and Hari (flute maestro Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia) for the first time as composers of Hindi film music. Moreover, Javed Akhtar penned his first lyrics for a Hindi film in Silsila. The soundtrack for Silsila has a number of popular hits such as dekhaa ek khvaab and rang barse, but “niilaa aasmaa.n so gayaa is especially noteworthy for its use of Amitabh Bacchan as a playback singer. Amitabh showcases his versatility as a performer by doing his own singing, which defied the conventions that had been established in the industry for years. Although he lacks the refinement of musical training, Mr. Bacchan can certainly hold a tune in his version of this ballad. A little bit past her prime, Lata Mangeshkar also offers a melancholic interpretation of the same song picturized on Rekha. Listen to both as you follow along with our translations, and let us know which version you prefer in the comments! Until next time…

-Mr. 55
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The first version of niilaa aasmaa.n showcases the passionate on-screen chemistry shared by Rekha and Amitabh Bacchan in Silsila (1981)

Neela Aasman So Gaya: Lyrics and Translation (Male)

niilaa aasmaa.n so gayaa
The blue sky has fallen into slumber.

os barse.n, raat bhiige, ho.nTh thharraaye.n
Dew falls, the night becomes drenched, and my lips quiver.
dhaDkane.n kuchh kahnaa chaahe.n, kah nahii.n paaye.n
Although my heartbeats desire to say something, they are unable to.
havaa kaa geet maddham hai
The breeze sings softly,
samay kii chaal bhii kam hai
while the time passes slowly.

merii baaho.n me.n sharmaate lajaate aise tum aaye
You came into my arms, shying away in embarassment, 
ki jaise baadalo.n me.n chaa.nd dhiire dhiire aa jaaye
like the Moon cautiously slipping into the clouds.
yah tanhaayii, yah mai.n aur tum
This solitude, you, and me. 
zamii.n bhii ho gayii gumsum
Even the Earth has fallen silent.

niilaa aasmaa.n so gayaa
The blue sky has fallen into slumber.

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Rekha wallows in sorrow during the second version of niilaa aasmaa.n after Amitabh tells her that they cannot marry each other in Silsila (1981).

Neela Aasman So Gaya: Lyrics and Translation (Female)

niilaa aasmaa.n so gayaa
The blue sky has fallen into slumber. 

aa.nsuuo.n me.n chaa.nd Duubaa, raat murjhaayii
In my tears, the Moon has set and the night has withered. 
zindagii me.n duur tak phailii hai tanhaayii
Solitude has spread far into my life. 
jo guzre ham pe vah kam hai
What has happened to me thus far is a small beginning,
tumhaare gham kaa mausam hai
for I have just entered the season of sorrow for you.

yaad kii vaadii me.n guu.nje biite afsaane
Tales of the past resonate in the valley of memories. 
hamsafar jo kal the ab Thahare ve begaane
Yesterday’s companion is now a stranger. 
muhabbat aaj pyaasii hai
My love remains unquenched today.
baDii gahrii udaasii hai
I am overcome by a very deep sorrow.

niilaa aasmaa.n so gayaa
The blue sky has fallen into slumber.

Glossary

niilaa: blue; aasmaa.n: sky; os: dew; bhiignaa: to become drenched; tharraanaa: to quiver; dhaDkan: heartbeat; havaa: wind, breeze; maddham: dim, soft; samay: time; chaal: movement, passing; sharmaanaa: to shy away; lajaanaa: to be embarrassed; baadal: cloud; dhiire dhiire: cautiously; tanhaayii: solitude; gumsum: silent; murjhaanaa: to wither; phailnaa: to spread; yaad: memories; vaadii: valley; guu.njnaa: to resonate; afsaanaa: tale, story; hamsafar: companion: begaanaa: stranger; pyaasii: unquenched; gahraa: deep; udaasii: sorrow.

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Amitabh Bacchan sacrifices his love for Rekha to marry his late brother’s pregnant fiance Jaya Bacchan in Silsila (1981).
 

Yash Chopra: King of Bollywood Romance

Yash Chopra (1932-2012)

Today marks a very sad occasion in the tinsel-lined world of Mumbai filmdom. Legendary filmmaker Yash Chopra has passed away at the famous Lilavati Hospital in Bombay at the age of 80. A timeless pillar of Bollywood romance, Yash Chopra defined generation after generation of Indian love. From his earliest directorial super-hit Waqt (1965) to his later epic romances Veer-Zara (2004), Yash Chopra made the careers of dozens of stars that we know and cherish today. One of his most famous muses, struggling Amitabh Bachchan who starred in Yash Chopra blockbusters like Deewar (1975) and Kabhi Kabhi (1976), was given a new chance at a comeback with Mohabbatein (2001)–a film that led to the evergreen actor’s eventual rebirth as a grand figure in Bollywood once more. For that opportunity, Big B like many great actors remains ever grateful to the man and legend who supported him.

With Yash Chopra’s passing, the neo-golden age of Bollywood film comes as well to a sad close. Films like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge (1995), Dil To Pagal Hai (1997), and Kuch Kuch Hota (1998) that defined my childhood and that of a generation of hopeless romantics were produced by the Yash Raj banner and carry the hallmark of an era of innocent beauty and carefree romance that brought joy to millions world round. Thank you, Yash Chopra, for the memories and the love. You taught us how to give unconditionally and the precious, crazy things a person can do in the name of love. In the words of your own film Kuch Kuch Hota Hai: tumne na jaane kya sapne dikhaaye

Here is a glimpse at some of Yash Chopra’s most famous films over the years as both director and producer:

Daag (1973)

Daag (1973) starring Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore.

Waqt (1965)

Waqt (1965) starring Sadhana, Sharmila Tagore, Sunil Dutt, Shashi Kapoor, Balraj Sahni and Rajkumar.

Deewar (1975)

Deewar (1975) starring Shashi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan.

Kabhi Kabhi (1977)

Kabhi Kabhi (1977) starring Amitabh Bachchan, Rakhi, Rishi Kapoor, and Nitu Singh.

Silsila (1981)

Silsila (1981) starring Rekha, Jaya Bachchan and Amitabh Bachchan.

Chandni (1989)

Chandni (1989) starring Sridevi and Rishi Kapoor.

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge (1995)

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) starring Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan.

Dil To Pagal Hai (1997)

Dil To Pagal Hai (1997) starring Madhuri Dixit, Shah Rukh Khan and Karishma Kapoor.

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998)

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) starring Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol and Salman Khan.

Mohabbatein (2001)

Mohabbatein (2001) starring Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai.

Veer-Zara (2004)

Veer-Zara (2004) starring Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta.

What was YOUR favorite Yash Chopra film moment and how have his films affected you? Let us know in the comments!

– Mrs. 55

Meera Bhajans as Film Songs: The Saintlier Side of Bollywood

Meera-bai (c. 1498-1547 A.D) was a mystical poet and devotee of Lord Krishna

When most people think of Bollywood cinema, they usually think of extravagant costumes, seductive dance moves, and lots of melodramatic overacting. While all this extravagance is certainly an integral aspect of the industry, you may be surprised to learn about a saintlier side of Bollywood that I will discuss here today: the use of Meera-bai’s texts in Hindi film music.

Meera-bai was a 16th-century mystic whose devotion to Lord Krishna has been immortalized in Indian culture through her poetry and bhajans (religious songs). Meera, a Rajput princess, was married off to a prince at young age, but this marriage did not satisfy her as she already  considered herself the spouse of Lord Krishna. Her husband died in battle soon after their marriage and Meera became a widow at an early age. Meera transformed her grief into spiritual devotion and wrote many poems in praise of Lord Krishna.  In her texts, she worships Krishna from the perspective of a lover longing for union: romantic on one level and spiritual on another. Although her undying devotion to Krishna was initially a private matter, public moments of spiritual ecstasy soon outed her to society. Eventually, her brother-in-law became displeased with her excessive devotion for Krishna and made several attempts on Meera’s life. The most well-known story describes how he poisoned Meera’s prasad and made her drink it, but the Lord transformed the poison into amrit (spiritual nectar) to save her life.

Meera-bai’s texts express themes that are highly pertinent to  heroines in Hindi cinema from the Golden Era. Interpreting and contextualizing Meera’s love for Lord Krishna can be a challenging task, however, because of its apparently paradoxical relationship to acceptable gender norms for women at the time. On one hand, Meera could be considered the ideal Indian woman for the eternal devotion she displays toward her lover–in this case, Lord Krishna–in spite of all the obstacles placed in her way. The type of selfless devotion and sacrifice Meera-bai displays toward Krishna is the same type of devotion that Indian women in the chauvinistic climate of the ’50s and ’60s were expected to provide their husbands.  On the other hand, Meera-bai actually subverts the typical pativrata norms established by Indian society because her devotion is misplaced. Instead of serving her human husband, Meera devotes all of her love to Krishna, which is inconsistent with society’s expectations for the dutiful and virtuous Indian wife. This is further complicated by the fact that Meera, in her mind, actually considered herself to be the wife of Krishna (and supposedly conducted a marriage ceremony with a Krishna idol at a temple).

In any case, it is undeniable that Meera’s texts contain universal themes about love, pain, and devotion that have permeated several mediums of the South Asian cultural sphere. Here, let’s analyze a couple of examples in order to see how Meera’s words have been used in the context of Hindi film songs:

pag ghungruu bandh miiraa nachii re (Meera, 1947): Meera (1947) is a rare treat for lovers of Bollywood films because it is the only Hindi film ever made that features M.S. Subbulakshmi as both an actress and playback singer. M.S. Subbulakshmi, who was the first musician to be awarded the prestigious Bharat Ratna, is one of the most renowned vocalists in the history of the Carnatic musical tradition. Her singing is ethereal and sublime, and many people have praised her by saying she is modern-day personification of Meera-bai herself! Although she retired from films early in her career to pursue classical concert music, her portrayal of Meera in this film is remembered to this day for its natural and pure expression of spiritual divinity.  Words don’t do this woman justice, so just click the link and take a listen for yourself. I’ve selected one of about 20 Meera bhajans that are found in the film; in this particular poem, Meera uses the metaphor of dance to describe her love for the Lord. You may have noticed that the first line of this bhajan was used in another (much less saintly) Bollywood classic rendered by Kishore Kumar and composed by Bappi Lahiri from Namak Halaal (1982) decades later.

M.S. Subbulakshmi embodies the spiritual divinity of Meera-bai in the 1947 Hindi remake of the Tamil film Meera. 

ghunghaT ke paT khol re, tohe piiyaa mile.nge (Jogan, 1950): I have always thought that one of Geeta Dutt’s strengths as a singer was her rendition of bhajans. She shines here in this Raga Jaunpuri-based devotional composed by Bulo C Rani that has some beautiful words penned by Meera-bai. Literally, the first line translates roughly as  “remove your veil so that you can get a glimpse of your beloved.” However, on a deeper level, Meera-bai is using the veil as a metaphor for ignorance–she is asking us to remove our veils of ignorance so that we can be closer to the Lord.

erii mai.n to prem divaanii, meraa dard na jaane koii (Nau Bahar, 1952): Lata Mangeshkar is brilliant in her rendition of this Raga Bhimpalasi-based bhajan composed by Roshan and picturized on Nalini Jaywant  in Nau Bahar. Inspired by a Meera-bai poem, the words here describe how Meera’s devotion to the Lord can is best expressed through love, as she is unfamiliar with the traditional rites and rituals of worship.

 jo tum toDo piiyaa, mai.n naahii.n toDuu.n  (Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje, 1955):  V. Shantaram’s Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje was one of India’s first technicolor films when it was released in 1955.  In this Filmfare award-winning film, when the character played by Sandhya fears that she has destroyed her beloved’s (played by Gopi Krishna) dancing career, she becomes so depressed that she decides to reject all wordly pleasures and become an ascetic like Meera-bai. This Bhairavi-based bhajan composed by Vasant Desai is rendered beautifully once again by Lata, who succeeds in expressing the sentiment of Meera’s words about unconditional devotion to her Lord even if he is not faithful to her.

piyaa ko milan kaise hoye rii, mai.n jaanuu.n naahii.n (Andolan, 1977)Asha Bhonsle tends to employ a lot of over-the-top histrionics in her songs, but music director Jaidev manages to get Asha at her pure, unadulterated best with this soulful composition from Andolan picturized on Neetu Singh.

mere to giriidhhar gopaal, duusro na koii  (Meera, 1979): Directed by lyricist Gulzar, this film is yet another Bollywood biopic about Meera-bai, and Hema Malini takes the starring role here. Despite high hopes, this film achieved only moderate success at the box office. However, the film’s soundtrack of  compositions by sitar virtuoso Pandit Ravi Shankar has certainly left a memorable legacy. In this particular poem, Meera-bai’s words express her singular devotion to the Lord; there is no one else in the world for her except for her Lord Krishna. While Hema falls a little flat in her portrayal of Meera, Vani Jairam actually does a great job expressing the appropriate emotions needed in this rendition and in the rest of the songs on the soundtrack. However, as you may have suspected, Vani was not Ravi Shankar’s first choice of singer for this film–his first choice was none other than Lata Mangeshkar. Lata, however, turned him down, by using the following reasoning:

“How could I? I had already done Meera bhajans for my brother Hridaynath.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the non-filmi album of Meera bhajans released by Lata and Hridaynath. In fact, Lata’s rendition of a similar text  “mhara re giridhhar gopaal, duusra na koii” tuned by Hridaynath for this album is absolutely exquisite. However, her reasoning here doesn’t really make sense to me. Even before her album for Hridaynath, Lata had sung plenty of Meera bhajans for films (see above!) under the baton of other music directors, so I don’t see how this excuse constitutes a legitimate reason to refuse singing in this film. I suspect that her refusal had more to do with some lingering bad blood between her and Ravi Shankar from their prior collaboration on Anuradha (1960): apparently, tensions had flared between the two of them because Lata had failed to show up to a recording session of “saa.nvare saa.nvare” without prior notice. 

Hema Malini is way too attractive to pull off being an ascetic in Meera (1979)
 jo tum toDo piiyaa, mai.n naahii.n toDuu.n  (Silsila, 1981): Although this text is similar to the Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje song listed above, the melody is quite different because music directors Shiv-Hari have tuned this song to the Raga Chandrakauns, an underused raga that is quite rare in the filmi musical sphere. Lata, unfortunately, sounds a bit past her prime here, but this song is still memorable for Meera-bai’s words and their relevance to the contemporary situation at hand in the film. Similar to the real-life rumors that were rampant at this time, Jaya Bacchan’s character suspects that her husband (played by Amitabh Bacchan) is having an extramarital affair with another woman (played by Rekha). Meera-bai’s lyrics express the anguish and torment that Jaya feels in response to her husband’s infidelity, but she resolves to remain faithful to him even though he is not faithful to her. Interestingly, things also turned out this way in real life–Jaya stayed with Amitabh even though it was widely known within the film community that he had cheated on her with Rekha.
Jaya Bacchan laments her husband’s infidelity in Silsila (1981). Look at those eyes!
What are some of your favorite bhajans featured in Bollywood films? Let us know in the comments!
–Mr. 55