So the item song checklist would read something like this
• At least one big star (preferably female)
• Expensive set (read – garish)
• Female performer in skimpy clothes (enough to get it past the censors, that’s all)
• Remix-able (Kind of for the Long Tail to kick in)
• At least one signature dance step – to be easily copied by the most awful dancers in nightclubs
• One quirky line in the song which becomes a part of the lingo for that year
And Kajra Re from Bunty aur Babli had all of these
• It had not 1, not 2 but 3 huge stars.
• The set was that of one of Delhi’s most garish maikhanas- full Yashraj style
• Aishwarya’s Neeta Lulla choli was the deepest cut choli she had ever worn till that movie – something Neeta Lulla informed everyone who cared to listen
• Clap on left, clap on right, appreciate the beauty, appreciate the eyes (the weight of the body shifting from one foot to the other at every line)
• Aankhen bhi kamaal karti hain, Personal se sawaal karti hain
And yet, Kajra Re was more than all this. It, in fact, was more than just an item song.
And the hero of the song wasn’t on screen – he was the bespectacled man with the magical pen – Mr. Gulzar.
It is very difficult for old men to remain relevant to the changing times. Ask my dad – he has given up talking and started listening more to his sons, lest he say something unacceptable! If you are an artist, the pressure is even more intense. A lyricist trained in the highest traditions of Ghalib and a contemporary of maestros like Khayyam and Burman has to now suddenly compose music for bandits like Anu Malik and Pritam. The language has changed and it is to Gulzar’s credit that he remains as relevant today to me as he was to my mom in her time.
So what makes Kajra Re click?
The fact that the song retains the melody, the poetry and the mischievous interplay between the two. Gulzar injects the song with equal amount of Urdu and colloquial Hindi for it to remain both – poetic and hummable. This song is as much for mad dancing at the nightclub as it is for a Sunday afternoon hearing to appreciate the thought, the intrinsic wordplay.
There is no doubt in my mind that Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy are exceptional music directors – that I think one of them dosed off or didn’t turn up while composing music for Housefull, Hey Baby, et al is a fair assumption. Dil Chahta Hai, Lakshya, Taare Zameen Par, Rock On, Wake Up Sid stand testimony to the fact. Bunty aur Babli’s music was absolutely in sync with the language of the film - the look, the style and the characters. It is difficult to create a Mujra which sounds good to people of all generations – and this one does!
The selection of Alisha Chinai is what Geoff Boycott would call an inspired selection. The woman has done pop and disco with great aplomb but this song took her to a new level. I can’t imagine a Sunidhi Chauhan/ Shreya Ghoshal/Kavitha Krishanmurthy doing this song even half the justice it deserves.
And this brings us to the main reason why this song works – Aishwarya Rai. The woman in my opinion has done nothing of note before or after this song in her career. But in this song – OMFG – I was sitting in the first row of Gaiety and I kid you not, I have never felt so much in love with a human figure on screen ever! She was absolutely apsara-like in her movements, the kalgi worn sideways on the forehead made her look like the seductress Indian men must have dreamt about in the Mughal times. Her body as if carved out of stone. When the line “Meri angdai na toote tu aaja” used to be repeated the second time she would turn around and show her back and then she would, in one simple stroke, take all her hair in front revealing the beautiful back that im sure so many beauticians would have worked so hard to achieve. And she did things with her eyes in this song that would have made an “A” certification justifiable. When she would carry the lamp and take those graceful strides lifting her ghagra, I rose with every stride she took. And the kohl-rimmed eyes – the feature this song is an ode to – she has blue eyes, man! And yet the kohl just makes them so much more beautiful! It’s the sort of stuff Indian cinema is made of and without which we would be a very morose people.
And still, this song was also about a city of old – a Delhi my dad talks about, a Delhi I haven’t seen enough, a Delhi that Rakeysh Mehra wasn’t able to capture in an entire movie but Gulzar did in a matter of few lines.
Tujhse milna purani Dilli mein,
Chhod Aaye nishani Dilli mein
Ballimaran se daribe talak,
Teri-meri kahani Dilli mein.
God, Im in love with this place!