The Thesaurus calls for a review, as contemporary times get inundated with new terminology, off and on. The latest doing the rounds is “Romeo Bandi” or total blackout of love in all forms in UP. Couples are being monitored and hounded with a hawks discerning eye and how! It’s said that love & fragrance are visibly palpable in essence “Ishq aur mushq chupaye nahin chupptey”; hence I tried to envision it through a prism of Bollywood verse to ascertain what all comprises Ishq or Love in contemporary and common Indian parlance.
Aura of Bollywood and Muslim Socials
Call me a bumpkin but my sensibilities aren’t as attuned to the bards’ “Romeo & Juliet”, as they are with the nuances of Sadhnas demure, kohl lined eyes behind the Chilman of burqa, as she nervously picks up her fallen books under the “fallen in love”, gaze of Jubilee Kumar. To the uninitiated, I am referring to the celluloid blockbuster “Mere Mehboob” –A cinematic era when Nazakat & Nafasat, replete with Amma miyaans, Nawabs, Aligarh, Lucknow, Allahabad, churidaars, garaaras/shraaras, paans & hookahs comprised the stereotypical hallmarks of many a Muslim social.
As lovelorn Rajendra Kumar crooned “Mere Mehboob tujhey meri mohabbat ki qasam” one couldn’t but gasp at the imagery of the verse, when lyricists wrote odes in honour of a beloveds Nigaah & Muskurahat- “Bhool sakta nahin ye dil woh suhana manzar, jab tera husn merey ishq se takkraya tha”; When love manifested itself in the unspoken words and sweet nothings under or beyond the gaze of planets & constellations- “Chalo dildaar chalo, chaand k paar chalo”; When a sheer curtain turned into an iron grid as Rajesh Khanna lamented the chilman in Mehboob ki Mehndi– “Ye jo chilman hai, dushman hai humari”; When Leena Chandavarkars wide eyed innocence and flush of first love exudes charm as she sings “Itna toh yaad hai mujhey, ki unn se mulaqat huyi” OR her pathos in “Jaaney kyon log mohabbat kiya kartey hain”.
Blue blooded nawab Rajkumar, falls in love with the pristine as a pearl “Tawaiff”, Meena Kumari in Kamal Amrohis “Pakeezah”. Not for nothing does the heart skip a beat when he mouths the lines “Aapke paanv dekhey, bohat haseen hain; inhein zameen par matt uttariyega, mailey ho jaiyengey”. Add to it, the background score of a puffing train, meandering its way around the rainy terrain of “Nawab land” during monsoons. The stretching sighs or “Aahs & Lilaahs” sufficed for dialogues, before the ghungroos orchestrated “Chaltey chaltey yun hee koi mil gaya tha” or a trains whistle initiated each “Mukhdda” in “Mausam hai aashiqana, aey dil kahin se unko, aisey mein dhoond lana”. Such honed sensibilities, when the lovers haven’t even set eyes on each other.
Moreover, delving beyond the profane, there was no such term as “Love Jihad” and if at all such prohibited encounters happened, they did so as a holy war for soulful love, beyond narrow societal demarcations. Remember Shankar-Hussain, a simple love story which delved into the aspect of love across religions, between a Muslim girl and a Hindu boy. Jaan Nisar Akhtars verse tugs at the heart as the somnambulist girl croons “Aap yun faaslon se guzartey rahey”. It lead us to believe that “true love” conquers all, and no one should even bat an eyelid. Supposedly that generation was more “religious” so to say, till Mani Ratnam’s “Bombay” happened.
The Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb & Shringaar Rass:
Another aspect of such movies was the ubiquitous backdrop of an unmistakable Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb or Hindu-Muslim brotherhood. Apart from the mentioned Muslim socials, the days of yore saw the Gangetic plains of UP & Bihar as the “emplacement privilegie” to churn out the nuances of many a romance against the backdrop of socialistic mores; a la Mother India or Naya Daur; an existential analysis of life, a la Teesri Qasam where the beloved is compared to a enchantress in the form of a caged sparrow (chalet musafir moh liyo re pinjddey waali chiddiya” or the namesake “Ganga Jamuna” where love is nothing but a bursting cracker, as it finds its way (nain ladd jayi hein toh manwa maa kasak hoi be’ kari, prem ka chuutey hain patakha toh dhamak hoi be’ kari”.
Be it the rustic appeal of Dilip Kumar’s “Tujhey chaand k bahaney dekhu, tu chatt par aaja goriye” or the earthy charm of Vyjanthimala in “Abhi cheddengey gulley k sab laddkey, ki chaand bairee chupp jaaney de”, the concept of eve teasing was nothing more than a harmless naughty fringe and harassment beyond that was left to the lecherous moneylender Zamindar, a la Kanhaiya, Jeevan or Ajit. The sociological context of the screenplay never undermined or limited the antics of romance. Raj Kapoor’s Krishenesque obsession was validated in Sangam, as he stole her lady loves clothes while she bathed, held her to ransom by his query “Bol radha bol sangam hoga ki nahin” without caring for her “Nahin, kabhi nahin” till she had no choice but to relent “Hoga Hoga”, culminating in “Oh Mehbooba terey dil k paas hee hai meri manzil e maqsood”. Cinema lovers didn’t label Raj Kapoor a cheap, vulgar, obsessive maniac. In fact these very “endearing antics” resonated with the sensibilities of Indian masses who worship the God of love Krishna and his consort Radha. Not for nothing is Vrindavan & Gokuls Ras Leela, the backdrop of many a Thumri and Raag. Take the sonorous notes of “Madhuban mein Radhika naachey re” or mellifluous tenor of “Mohey panghatt pe nand laal chaedd gayo re”; The art of wooing, gets intertwined in “shringaar rass” manifesting itself in the dynamics of delicate gender chemistry and love. There are Raags and dance forms dedicated to this fine sensibility which evokes many a verse and sustains human existence in a soulful way.
Humour & pranks, intertwined in romance:
Cut to the 70s and we find even cheating and humour as an inseparable paradigm of the romantic plot. Be it the prankster Dharmendra in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Chupke Chupke, or Amol Palekar in Golmaal; the ghats of Varanasi and the fertile plains of Ganges gave birth to many a fertile idea. Recently the plot of Ranjhana the movie, was set around these ghats and raised the bar of “stalking, obsession and inter-religious love” to an altogether new level of sacrifice and pristine selfless aura beyond human vagaries.
Cinematic Love: A nurturer in all its hues
Do movies mirror a society or vice-versa; this has always been a chicken and egg story and one may debate endlessly till cows come home. Nonetheless, Bollywood songs always caught the imagination of cine-goers and seamlessly manoeuvred its way in the socio-cultural context of our conditioning. It goes without saying that Indian mind-set is in some or the other way influenced by movies and from the song and drama ensemble it encapsulates. Movies and big screens are an art form that mould our existence in conscious and sub conscious ways. The larger than life personas and the eastmancolor imagery of love songs was no less than a delirious and intoxicating concoction as opined in the verse “Shokhiyon mein ghola jaaye phoolon ka shabaab, usmey phir milaayi jaaye thoddi si sharaab, hoga jo nasha jo taiyaar who pyaar hai”. Stalwarts like Kaifi Azmi, Gulzar, Shailendra, Neeraj, Javed Akhtar, Sahir and their likes aren’t just film lyricists but unmistakably, poets par excellence. The muse of their verse and their poetic license never disrupted our broader sociological context but rather enriched it in innumerable ways.
Manifestations of Love: Can it be bridled or reined in?
Having gone into the sepia tinted pages of romance of yore, as juxtaposed to contemporary times, the question remains- What is “True Love”? Is “love” permanent, transient, decipherable, measurable or explicable? However one thing is for sure that it’s ineffable and can’t be gauged by tangible or technical parameters of an administration. The “look in the eyes” paradigm is too ambiguous/hilarious to say the least and societies can’t be iron caged to rein in “love” in any form till it doesn’t infamously qualify as exploitation or crime in garb. Yes, law and order has its placement in a civilized society as does the socio-cultural context of our moorings. However religion, misogyny, patriarchy or any dictatorial smoke screen can’t snuff out the life breath of existence- Love.
Let Love be a personal affair and let people take onus of their failings. Let societies evolve from their achievements and misdemeanours equally. Let a collective society be akin to an individual who learns and evolves from all that life has to offer. Let’s not tackle existential dimensions with kid gloves or iron fists. Let’s not imitate those whom we critiqued and were privy to their fall from a zenith; the so called Talibanized civilizations. It doesn’t take time before harmless seeming endeavours that impinge on civil and individual liberties, cause catastrophic damage to societies. Let Love be; as the maestro Gulzar immortalized it- “Pyaar ko pyaar hee rehney do, koi naam na do”, unless it’s about “Tu haan kar ya na kar, tu hai meri Kiran”. Remember we still have a saving grace in Sahirs “Chalo ikk baar phir se ajnabi bunn jaayein hum dono” and no mechanism to chain it in a free democratic society.