She sells, she sings
There was a time when, Bollywood would have us believe, that you couldn’t walk down the street without bumping into some lovely lady peddling her wares. Get your mind out of Kamathipura; she wasn’t always selling her body.
Basanti Taangewaali never got a song to herself until she found herself in the Valley of Broken Glass Bottles but you get the picture. This was a working woman. She was often making an honest living and this meant she had to tell you that she was willing to sharpen your knife for you. (Your mind is wandering again. This is not a metaphoric piece.)
In Zanjeer, for instance, Jaya Bhaduri called “Chakku churi, tez karaa le.” She promised that she would give your chakku “aisi dhaar, chakku ban jaaye talwar” so may be it was metaphoric after all.
What does one make of Zarina Wahab singing “Bambai ki nayi kelewaali”? Even then, I remember thinking that “char aane mein do-do kele” was an improbably cheap price. Where was she getting her bananas? Or was she? And when a young woman offers Tel maalish, boot polish, what is one supposed to think?
Hema Malini also was a street seller in Hum Tere Aashiq Hai but her great moment came when she sang “ Channa jor garam babu main laayi majedaar” at a public double hanging in Kranti, assisted by Shatrughan Sinha who announced that his channa had ala and garam masala and would only eaten by a dilwala.
Nuts about it
He was topped by Dilip Kumar who claimed that his channa were of his own marzi and Manoj Kumar who said his channa had been eaten by the gore log.
In Apna Desh, Mumtaz hoofed herself and her coconuts around town. “Naariyal paani, pee le babu” she sang, extolling the virtue of her coconuts. In the evening, she returned home to a drunken brother (played by Jagdish Raj), a ne’er do well who gambles away a watch she is given as surety by Rajesh Khanna, in repayment for two coconuts. (You don’t want to know. Suffice it to say that the 1970s version of a political thriller ends with everyone dressing up as someone else and singing “Duniya mein logon ko dhokha kabhi ho jaata hai”)
There was a fair smattering of thieves too. Neetu Singh’s swan song was a film called Chorni in which she danced about the city, announcing that she was a thief.
“Chorni hoon main, meri soorat pe na jaana, apni jeb ko bachaana, chorni,” she sang. Not unsurprisingly, there was a sad version as well. After all, it might seem a little counter-productive to announce that one is a pickpocket and to tell the unwary to protective their wallets.
But then there is a tradition to this. Zeenat Aman and Shashi Kapoor both sang a song in Chori Mera Kaam, in which they announced that their work was theft. This seems a bit odd but one forgave much for the sight of Zeenat Aman sitting on an entirely imaginary lookout tower meant for lifeguards, reeling up some extra’s beach throw and taking his pocket out of it.
These women have now vanished. There is no room for the underclass in Bollywood, which is obsessed with foreign locations. How can anyone sell gajras in the middle of Prague on location?