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Pavement Poetry: Remembering Footpath Songs in Hindi Films

"Talk of Tapori tunes and film Tezaab comes to mind for its haunting chorus ‘Sho Gaya Yeh Jahan’(Javed Akhtar/Laxmi-Pyare). The song with group humming and snapping of fingers and to the accompaniment of whistle, trumpet, bass flute and snatches of guitar is a sublime musical experience - A sort of anthem of the unemployed."

Tulsidas Mishra : February 27, 2008

‘Jahan Dal Dal Par, Sone Ki Chidiya Karti Hai Basera, Wohh Bharat Desh Hai Mera’’

It was a different season, a different time - An era of great expectation and high hopes that inspired the bards to belt out lines of optimism and opulence like above ones. The memory of the freedom struggle was still fresh in every Indian’s mind. After snapping the shackles of centuries long servitude, a new nation was waking up and raring to go. No doubt this inspired our Hindi film lyricists to write odes in honor of Hindmata.

But what went wrong then? Within two decades of our independence we saw things completely falling apart. The political atmosphere got vitiated and economic policies let us down. Crisis after crisis came tumbling down to plague our social life.

All of a sudden, average Indian youth realized that there was no pot of gold for him at the end of the rainbow. Instead, life beyond the college campus was all emptiness and desolation. Degrees became redundant and he landed up on the streets, an educated unemployed.

Gulzar’s Mere Apne belongs to this period. It is the story of two warring student groups. Unemployed and aimless youths, trapped in a vortex of violence and vendetta.

The somber Kishor Kumar solo in the film ‘Koi Hota Jisko Apna’ picturized on Vinod Khanna and composed by late Salil Chaudhury sends a chill down the spine of the listener, even today.

The lines like – Aankhon Main Neend Na Hoti, Aansoo Hi Tairte Rahate, Khwabo Main Jagte Hain Hum Raatbhar   Or   that way Bhula Hua Koi Vaada, Beeti Hui Kuch Yaaden, Tanhai Dohrati Hai Raatbhar attempt a graphic description of the despair and loneliness of a jobless and lovelorn youth of that era.

The chorus Haalchaal Theek Thaak Hai in the same film, picturized on lead character Shyam (Vinod Khanna) and his friends catalogues an array of issues like price rise, unemployment, corruption, law and order that became worse in later years.

‘Gol ,Mol, Roti Ka Paiha Chala—Peeche Peeche Chandi Ka Rupaiya Chala—Roti Ko Bechari Ko Cheel Kha Gayee—Chandi Leke Muh Kala Kauwa Chala—these lines focused on our country’s tragic travel  from the days of Sone Ki Chidiya  to the days of Cheel(vultures) 

‘Ghar Ne Jo Dil Se Nikala Hame—In Raston Ne Hain Paala Hame/ Muskrake Hum-Jhelte Hain Gham/ Roke Beete Jo Wohh Zindagi Hai Kya’ (Kairo Mama/Arjun/Javed Akhtar/R D Burman).

By the time Rahul Rawail’s Arjun and Yash Chopra’s Mashaal happened, the Indian youth had already accepted unemployment as a grim fact of life. As educated unemployed they formed a social sub-class that also included school, college dropouts and delinquents. The ironical and unfortunate part is, when given a choice; these boys of the basti preferred a footloose life on the footpath to the security of a home, possibly due to neglect by parents.

‘Maa Nahin, Baap Nahin—Jaise Jeeye Paap Nahin/Na Koi Ghar, Na Koi Dar-Hai Paas Kya, Jiska Ho Darr/Na Manzil Hai, Na Saahil Hai (Footpath Ke/Mashaal/Javed Akhtar/Hridaynath Mangeshkar).

This subsection of unemployed youths popularized a genre of lyrics and music in films that highlighted their agony, ecstasy and anguish and many times underlined their inner strength and dignity too. In the song ‘Raaja Raaj Karen’ (Vansh/Sameer/Anand Milind) one gets to see a group of youths, out in the open, trying to cope up with the odds and obstacles thrown at them by the society. The futility of education and a life of deprivation do assail them when they sing – Bangla Nahin , Car Nahin/Degree Milee, Rojgar Nahin. But instead of disintegrating, they display commendable resilience and tenacity ‘Kanto Pe Chalenge, Sholon Main Jalenge, Haarenge Na Kabhi’ claim the boys.

>>> Scroll down to read rest of the Story


Talk of Tapori tunes and film Tezaab comes to mind for its haunting chorus ‘Sho Gaya Yeh Jahan’(Javed Akhtar/Laxmi-Pyare). The song with group humming and snapping of fingers and to the accompaniment of whistle, trumpet, bass flute and snatches of guitar is a sublime musical experience - A sort of anthem of the unemployed. In the voice of Nitin Mukesh, Shabbir Kumar and Alka Yagnik, the number broods over the hapless, homeless existence of the back-street boys. And for once, even the otherwise sturdy characters seem to surrender in front of the enormous power and fury of that behemoth called ‘society’. ‘Kyon Pyar Ka Mausam Beet Gaya/Kyon Humse Zamana Jeet Gaya’ asks Mohini. And Munna(Anil Kapoor) remains mum in reply. 

One more bindaas and boisterous song is ‘De Taali’ in Producer Nitin Manmohan’s ‘Army’. Here lyricist Sameer dips into the psyche of some prisoners and comes out with quite a few witty yet startling findings. The jailbirds claim that the jail is not an unholy place. Instead the devil’s territory ends beyond its tall walls. And inside it is God’s domain. The picture, which they draw of jail sans noise, pollution, crime and congestion, will make any urban dweller envious.

‘It is a kind of spiritual snobbery that makes some people think that they can be happy without money’ mused Nobel Laureate Albert Camus once. And here these prisoners too endorse the same view.

Bahar Jeena Ho To Yaaro Paisa Chahiye

Khana Peena Ho To Yaaro Paisa Chahiye

Naukri Maango To Sarkar Paisa Maange

Taxi Chalao To Hawaldar Paisa Maange

Khali Ghumo To Dost-Yaar Paisa Maange

Ghar Main Jao To Parivar Paisa Maange’ sing these jail inmates highlighting the omnipresence and omnipotence of money. So it is no more the Rule of Law rather the Rule of rokda,  wherever one goes.

In a way, one can call it an ironic and sad fallout of our present day system, that people think that their needs are better taken care of in a prison and prefer it to a life outside.

‘Bina Degree Ke Kaam Yahan Sabko Mile

Kaam Karte Hi Daam Yahan Sabko Mile

Yahan Time Pe Roti Sabko Mile

Dal, Chawal, boti Sabko Mile

Bina Bhade Ki Kholi Sabko Mile’ add the prisoners and tempt us all, when there is grave unemployment and acute housing problem everywhere.

>>> Scroll down to read rest of the Story


Ramgopal Verma’s Satya is a brilliant recreation of the gangland vendetta that rocked Mumbai sometime back. It was the time of extortion, encounter deaths, Supari killings. Streets were splattered with blood, the air smelled gunpowder and for a while it seemed law and order had gone kaput.

And for once the taporis of Satya looked sickening and sinister. Not lovable, endearing and hence not pardonable.

Gulzar understood the attitude well when he wrote  ‘Soch Woch Chod De, Bheje Ko Kharoch Na/Apna Kaam Maal Haath Aye To Daboch Na’ (Goli maar bheje main/Vishaal)

Even otherwise too, this lyric makes a powerful statement on the present decadent society and the generation of degenerates who hanker after material gains.

‘Goli Maar Bheje Main Ki Bheja Shor Karta Hai/Bheje Ki Sunega To Maraga Kallu’ holler the hoodlums. Bravo brute power. ‘Intellect be damned. Intelligentsia go to hell.’ 

And all these songs touch us all the more, because their 'dosti -yaari' theme,the realistic music created with whistling, group humming, snapping of fingers, the 'khullam khulla' and 'bindaas' singing, all   remind us of the  youthful spirit, the school and college days masti and extempore orchestra on hostel terrace.

One might conclude that, all these tapori tunes in films promote crime and make heroes of hooligans, ruffians and rouges. These songs deify delinquents and glorify goons. But in an age when crime encompasses both masses and classes alike, it will be unfair to single out and target the downtown dadas and bhais

At least the footpath gangs shown in films deserve a better assessment because of their likeable traits. In a fragmented society where all live on separate insulated islands, it took a tapori to claim--‘Dil Ke Hain Bhale , Bande Naik Hain/Duniya Bat Gayee , Hum To Ek Hain’(Sameer/Anand Milind/Baaghi). And while saying so, he is not far off the truth.

In a spiritually vacuous society, where everyone moves with iron in the soul, it is the back ally boys who keep the faith in God alive.

‘Rahane Ko Ghar Nahin, Sone Ko Bistar Nahin, Apna Khuda Hai Rakhwala/

Hum Ko Usine Hai Paala’(Sadak/Sameer/Nadeem Shravan)

And below it is not a world-weary philosopher’s realization but a tapori’s observation about the fickle ways of fame and the absurdity of posthumous social recognition—

‘Yeh Kaisa Mulk Hai, Yeh Kaisi Reet Hai/Yaad Karte Hain Hum Ko

Log Kyon Marne Ke Baad’(Sadak/Sameer/Nadeem Shravan).

(Author is an FTII (Pune) graduate in Direction. He writes Hindi Poems, Articles and Analysis pieces on various themes related to the world of Cinema and Entertainment)



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