DK Bose has stirred a debate, and rightly so. But worryingly, the reaction is more on the hand-wringing side. Several people are holding forth on how 'degrading' such lyrics are to the considerable legacy of Sahir, Gulzar and Javed Akhtar. How absurd!
Where were such self-appointed minders of the nation's moral fabric when Sahir's erotic yearning of a sex worker was put to the tune of a Vaishnav kirtan ('Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo', Pyaasa, 1957)? Or when Gulzar was writing '...Apna kaam maal haath aye to daboch na' (Satya, 1998)? Or when Akhtar supposedly typed in 'I got to tell you how I feel,/Oh baby! You are the only one for me' (Karthik Calling Karthik, 2010)?
Truth is, Hindi film lyrics have often fallen foul of the invisible, shifting line of a particular generation's morals. Do you think parents encouraged their children to sing 'Saala main toh sahab ban gaya' when it first came out (Sagina, 1974)? My mother banned me from singing aloud even 'Bol Radha bol sangam hoga ki nahi' (Sangam, 1964), which I had first heard on her Binaca Geetmala LP.
Film songs need to follow storylines and characters. (For a while now they've also been following pre-set tunes, rather than the other way round.) And if street lingo, especially 'Bombaiya bindaas bol', has been part of dialogues for a while — at least since Nana Patekar cocked a revolver — why has it taken so long for 'bad words' to get into song lyrics?
The question is today baffling Amitabh Bhattacharya, who is wrongly credited as the creator of DK Bose. The phrase and its repetitive use came from composer Ram Sampath and writer Akshat Verma. They brought to the film's score the same brand of irreverent humour that Sampath had shown in Luv ka the End, Aagey se Right and 'Mehengai dayein' in Peepli Live.
Bhattacharya, who wrote the rest of DK Bose and also wrote 'Character dheela' in Ready and 'The Mutton Song' in Luv ka the End, says directors are getting more relaxed about using street lingo or colloquial humour in songs when the plot requires it. But he too is baffled why it took so long. Is it because the songs get broadcast on mainstream channels much more the films ever will?
While we ponder that, let's listen to the Delhi Belly album, which stacks other treasures, too. Sampath, who has sung 'Bhaag DK Bose', brings to it the energy of a jumping rock gig with his screeches riding a sort of frantic Celtic folk rhythm. Bhattacharya brings his chuckles with lines such as 'Yeh bheja garden hai, aur tension maali hai, yeah'.
Keethi Sagathia's slightly offkey rendition of the faux qawwali, 'Nakkaddwaley disco, udhaarwaley khisko', keeps up the laughter. He doesn't let us miss the demotic use of 'pencher' in place of 'puncture' with a laid-back beat.
My favourite is 'Saigal blues', which can be read as a tribute or a send-up. In Kaamchor (1982), Kishore Kumar had imitated his guru Saigal's nasal twang in 'Tumse badh kar duniya mein' — but he had gone along only as far as the mukhda. Here, singer Chetan Shashital holds his nose through the song. His stretched vowels on 'Yeh dard ki na hai dawaaai, majnu hai ya tu hai kasaaai' hold up a funny contrast to Rudy Wallang's bluesy guitar. It works particularly well because of the straight-faced rendition on both sides.
Sona Mohapatra's 'Bedardi raja' is a cow-belt folk lit up by the pyrotechnique of Feroze Shah, the reigning badshah of harmonium in Bollywood.
The next song again pushes us into head-scratching territory. Suraj Jagan, who has not been in his tuneful top in recent albums, screams out 'Ja chudail' so many times that it makes one wonder who's letting out whose angst. Even the ever-so-caustic Bob Dylan wasn't capable of so much bile when he was letting off on his ex, Joan Baez.
The most unremarkable song is the ballad, 'Tere siva', sung by Sampath and Tarannum Mallik. The guitar of Bollywood regular Sanjoy Das leads the instruments department.
The humour comes back in 'Switty tera pyaar chaida'. Riding a bhangra beat, it mocks the Punjabi fetishism of Bollywood. Keerthi Sagathia has changed his intonation to suit the mood.
'I hate you, like I love you' is a disco number that would have made Bappi Lahiri proud. It has an Ennio Morricone-ish theme at the back and is alternated with dholak-filled lines such as 'Tere pyaar ne kar diya deewana'. Punctuating the song is producer Aamir Khan's ominous reading of 'Dil todu, haddi bhi/kung-fu khelu, kabaddi bhi'.
So this album is about cocking a snook at, or paying tribute to a rare collection of genres. Just in case Iggy Pop followers were feeling left out, there's a 'punk' remix of 'Switty', too. Just that I can see addled dancers doing a bhagra to it on the dance floor, not pogoing.