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Chintu Ka Gaana

We zip back to 1980 to find out what was rocking the charts back then.

The Soundtrack to My Life: In which we look at the top Bollywood song from each year of our life, hoping to discover a little bit about the times, and a little bit about now.

My own pop culture memories from 1980 are non existent. Experts say that I spent the year babbling, gurgling, tearing my father’s copy of Don Quixote and overall being adorable.

But cable TV reruns, remixes and Chitrahaar between them have ensured that I am no stranger to the greatest hits of that time.
Some of the songs from that year that have stayed in constant circulation include Nazia Hassan’s sexy serenading in Qurbaani and Rishi Kapoor’s frantic guitar strumming in Karz (boy, does that movie age badly).   The year is also notable for such prize movie memories as those of a middle aged Dharmendra playing a young puckish Alibaba, Simi Grewal leading a multi-community hymn singing session ; and not one but two instances of a vaguely lecherous Dev Anand cavorting with a young Tina Munim

1980 was an interesting time for women in cinema- and nowhere is the transition more apparent than in Zeenat Aman’s Sheela  from Qurbani and Rekha’s Manju from Khubsoorat.  While Sheela is all voluptuous curves poured tightly into a dress making her living as an disreputable ‘disco club dancer and singer’, Manju still ties her hair in two braids and runs around prancing with the flowers. It bears mentioning here that Qurbaani is much more similar to modern movies in the way that the protagonists act in a vacuum propelled by their own agendas whereas in Khubsoorat every action has implications on the larger family and community.
Zeenat Aman is proto-Deepika both in her slightly wooden delivery and in her implicit knowingness about sex while Rekha’s character – more wholesome- is being played by  Sonam Kapoor in a scheduled remake . Our movies today are populated by hundreds of Sheelas, but the Manjus have all but disappeared (except perhaps from television?)

So what then of Hema (Jaya Pradha) – the heroine of 1979’s Sargam which -surprisingly- gave us the top song of the year 1980 ?

On the one hand she has little agency, being pushed around by her evil relatives and fate (and a terrible wardrobe); and being tormented by an inability to  express her love. On the other hand she is  girl defined not just by her male relationship or how she appears in the male gaze but also by her own desire (to dance with abandon). Whither the Hemas of 2013? Do they exist, and if they do, do we need to see their representation on celluloid?

But I digress.  On to the task at hand.

The song itself is a ear worm.  It’s not one of those songs you think of often but once I listened to it for this column I couldn’t stop humming it. Like almost anyway halfway decent song from that time it has been subject to its own unfortunate remix. This monstrosity (Sorry).And even though the movie was meant to be a launch vehicle for Jaya Pradha, the song is now most remembered for Rishi’s fervent dafli banging, a moment he recreated in Student of the Year (start at 3:30).  It’s perfectly pleasant (if a bit typical), and the only rather distinct feature to the music is the  beats of the ‘dafli’. The distinct “big band” sound of Lakshmikant Pyarelal  with dozens of instrumentalists may have lost favour to a more streamlined synthesized music in the later years but it’s charms can’t be understated.  1980 was also the year we lost Mohd. Rafi and that perhaps gives his one verse in the song a poignant air, though few would mention this song their his Rafi Top 20 (or 50)

The fashion:  Jaya Pradha could potentially wear a similar white sari  (except with sequins) and the blue bangles and get away with it today provided the blouse was a teensy bit smaller and her hair updo didn’t scream “80s”. I can’t fault her jewellery though and would buy those earrings for myself if I could find them. Rishi’s kurta though is out of favour now and I am trying hard to think of a recent hindi film with a hero in a kurta (unless it’s in a designer “Mahi Vey” wedding celebration). Also interesting is the large red bindi on Jaya Pradha’s face, a fashion code now used to represent that a movie’s story is set in bygone times or that the heroine is a Bengali.

The picturization:  Brindavan Gardens instead of an exotic foreign locale (Definitely not the 90’s or early aughts then)!!  No background dancers (Definitely not the later 80’s or the 90’s again) !! The hero and heroine actually lip syncing the whole song instead of it playing to a montage of many lovey dovey moments (Definitely pre-Farhan Akhtar’s cinema then) !! The song wears it era signifiers proudly. Sargam was one of a spate of Telugu remakes at that time, a practise that was largely forgotten for the last 20 years before seeing a recent resurgence. .

Jaya Prada , along with Sridevi, was almost the last big crossover actress from Southern to Northern cinema. Unfortunately today a lot of regional cinema also subscribes to the “urban looking North Indian girl” ideas of beauty and that trend looks unlikely to change, making it more difficult for someone who looked as distinct (yet beautiful) as her to become a prominent actress.

It is easy to eulogise the past as being more ‘pristine’ and ‘simpler’ . Or to look back upon it with a hipster sneer that 20 years of revisionism provides. It would be unfair to use either of those approaches when listening to this song though.
It is exactly what it is- a moment of time, neither brilliant nor terrible.  Binaca Geet Mala’s top song of 1980 is little more than a reminder of a time that was- imperfect as it may have been.

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