No place for Holi songs in Bollywood anymore?

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By Subhash K. Jha

Mumbai, March 20 (IANS) There was a time when Holi provided not only an occasion for outstanding song situations in Bollywood films but also a pretext for great drama. But today, the festival of colours seems to have lost its knack for producing great numbers.

Onscreen Holi is inseparable from Amitabh Bachchan, who not only participated in some spectacular Holi sequences of Hindi cinema, but also sang one of the most enduring Holi numbers - "Rang barse" in "Silsila".

Said the Big B: "That's a legacy of my father. I came to know of this song through him. I used to sing 'Rang barse' and 'Mere angnein mein' at all the Holi get-togethers in our house. That's where Yashji and Prakashji heard these songs, got them into 'Silsila' and 'Lawaaris' and asked me to sing them. So I'm in a way instrumental in getting these songs into the movies."

Is it any wonder then that Yash Chopra insisted that Amitabh sing the song in "Silsila" himself?

Some years later, he again lent his voice to another enduring Holi song - "Holi khele raghuveera awadh mein" in the film "Baghban", a folk song from Uttar Pradesh that composer Aadesh Shrivastava had heard both the Big B and his father Harivanshrai Bachchan sing on Holi occasions.

"I had heard Amitji and his father sing this traditional Holi song. So when the situation for a Holi number arose in 'Baghban', I immediately suggested we do a new version of 'Holi khele raghuveera' and I insisted that Amitji sing it," says Aadesh.

But Aadesh feels that the traditional Holi number has lost its relevance and resonance in present times.

"I heard a very odd Holi song in a film a few years ago with some strange lyrics in English. I feel today's generation lacks a connectivity with our culture and roots. They don't know what Holi signifies.

"This inability to understand what our culture is all about is reflected in our cinema. Holi songs are as irrelevant today as Holi itself. When we decided to do a Holi song in 'Baghban', we wanted to make it acceptable to the younger audiences. So I changed the traditional number to a rave composition. It worked, but I don't see myself composing another Holi number in the near future. There are no takers," he said.

Vipul Shah wanted a really young peppy Holi number in "Waqt". He got Anu Malik to compose "Do me a favour let's play Holi".

Explains Vipul: "It was the only way I could get the younger audiences interested in a Holi song. We can't have 'Holi aaee re kanhayee' in today's day and age."

Holi songs have a curiously long and chequered history in Hindi cinema.

Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali says: "I loved the sounds of those Holi songs. I loved 'Holi aae re kanhaiayee' from 'Mother India' and 'Mohe panghat pe nandlal' in 'Mughal-e-Azam'. When I made 'Devdas', I so badly wanted to include a Holi song. But I couldn't. But if you see, I've used the colours of Holi and the abeer and gulaal motifs throughout."

The festival of colours used to be a wonderful triggering point for movies in the past. Rajinder Singh Bedi's "Phagun" in 1973 centred on the theme of Holi.

In "Kati Patang" and "Sholay", directors Shakti Samanta and Ramesh Sippy made fabulous use of Holi colours to create a contrast between the spotless white of the widow and the rainbow colours of celebration.

And since such excellence is unlikely to be surpassed by films of today, here's a list of top five Holi songs:

'Holi aae re kanhai' (Film: "Mother India")

'Holi ki din dil khil jaate hain (Film: "Sholay")

'Rang barse' (Film: "Silsila")

'Aaj na chodenge bas humjoli' (Film: "Kati Patang")

'Holi khele raghuveera awadh mein (Film: "Baghban")