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Dry downpour

Unlike the good old days, romance is missing from rain songs in today?s Hindi films, writes Piyush Roy.

india Updated: Jun 03, 2006 04:40 IST
Piyush Roy

Dekho naa yeh saazish hai bundon ki… Aamir Khan and Kajol recreate Bollywood’s favourite love formula with the brilliantly filmed, but without-a-context rain song (shot at 300 frames per second). But despite the technical finesse, the song remains a beautiful picture where you can count the raindrops, but not feel the intensity — all gloss, little romance. Back in the 1950s, Pyar hua ikraar hua (Shree 420) had none of the technical finesse, but is remembered for its subtle sensuality. Nargis drawing close to Raj Kapoor and yet shying away from his touch under an umbrella on a rain-drenched pathway, is unarguably one of the most intense rain moments of Hindi cinema.

Though Kapoor could be credited for introducing rain as a sensuous essential for celluloid lovers, the first rain (read wet) song was seen in the first Indian film Raja Harishchandra in 1913. “Phalke was unable to find any women to act in the film and had male actors play the women’s roles. Nevertheless, he included a scene of sari-clad women indulging in jalakrida (play in water), making this the first ‘wet sari’ scene in Indian cinema, albeit of little, or perhaps an unusual, eroticism,” says Dr Rachel Dwyer of SOAS, University of London.

The rain song was intended for “all of us to be able to see the heroine’s wet body while simultaneously establishing it as an act of love,” says Jerry Pinto, author of a biography of Helen. “Hindi cinema uses nature as a way of establishing sanctity especially in matters of the heart. Invoking nature was a way of showing we were supposed to accept this as ‘real love’.”

Dwyer, who has analysed Bollywood’s rain songs in a paper on ‘The erotics of the wet sari in Hindi cinema’, says, “Directors, whether seeking sensual or pornographic effects, may wish to maximise the eroticism of the female body and have found the most successful way to do this in the ‘wet sari’ sequences. The semantics of the sari and the form of the female body come together in ways which can be construed as ‘tasteful’ by the family audience and the censors, while being simultaneously erotic.”

Dev Anand, whose critically acclaimed Guide, though veering around the issue of rain, never had a rain song, says, “Rain songs were never added deliberately or out of context. The rain sequence was there because the script demanded it and not otherwise.”

Like other industry veterans today, Anand is upset over the trivialisation of the rain song, robbing it of its identity and exclusivity. “I abhor the whole craze of inserting item songs. Where is the need for an item song?”

“Now it’s just a commercial insert,” rues choreographer Saroj Khan, adding, “The aesthetics of dance itself has gone, forget the rain song… Actresses wear the same little clothes and freak out, how does it matter if it’s in the rains or anywhere else?”

“If you wear a bra and mini or a bikini and get drenched, what will you wet… you have to be wearing some clothes in the first place to get them wet,” says Khan. “Remember Madhubala in Ek ladki bheegi bhagi si, the way she is clutching her sari… there is no touch or kiss there, but it’s so sensuous. That’s what  is missing today.”

Dwyer terms it a passing phase. “Item songs are the vamp’s songs under another name. Rain is part of Indian eroticism and remains so even today.” Hopefully the flood of ‘just there’ rain songs is just a passing shower.