Holi kab hai, kab hai holi, kab? When the dacoit Gabbar Singh from Sholay (1975) asks about the festival of colour, he proves that he has been living under a rock, or among many rocks.

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Hindi films have been having a field day with the spring festival for several years, filling the screen with eye-popping colours and foot-tapping dance numbers hard to ignore. The song from Sholay itself, Holi ke din dil khil jaate hain, is a joyous celebration. Ganesh Chaturthi gets a Bappa morya re (Don, 2006) and Dahi Handi gets Govinda aala re (Bluffmaster, 1969). How is Diwali celebrated? Movies include scenes featured around the festival, but where are the songs about celestial lights and musical crackers?

Have you heard these tracks? They don’t seem to catch on during the festivities, or that could just be because of the din of firecrackers.

Diwali Phir Aa Gayi Sajni The pre-Partition hit Khazanchi (1941) was one of the first films to feature a Diwali song. Shamshad Begum sang for music director Ghulam Haider, who set the tune to a dhol and claps, stressing on a refrain to denote the importance of the festival.

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Ae Duniya Bata In Kismet (1943), one of the earliest blockbusters starring Ashok Kumar, Ameerbai Karnataki sings for composer Anil Biswas, lamenting, “Har ghar mein Diwali hai, mere ghar mein andhera” (Every house is lit for Diwali, my house in engulfed in darkness). She rages against the rich-poor divide: “Jee chahta hai sansar mein main aag laga doon” (I wish to torch the world), a sentiment echoed 14 years later in Pyaasa (1957) in Sahir Ludhianvi’s words “Jala do isse, phoonk daalo yeh duniya” (Burn it, reduce the world to ashes), taken from the track Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai.

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Aayi Hai Diwali Sakhi Shamshad Begum and Geeta Dutt sing a rare duet for Vasant Desai in Sohrab Modi’s Sheesh Mahal (1950).

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Aayi Diwali Aayi Composer Madan Mohan adds more melody and chorus to his version of the Diwali number in another film with the title Khazanchi (1958). The actress wears electric lights on her body as ornaments, much before Amitabh Bachchan decided to adorn a body suit of Diwali lights in Yaarana.

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Kaise Diwali Manaye Hum Lala Johnny Walker has the unique distinction of having comedy songs designed and sung by Mohammad Rafi for his characters. In Paigham (1959), he puts the ‘diwala’ (bankruptcy) into Diwali in an amusing track, in which he praises donkeys for bathing in the Ganges and questions God’s providence.

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Ek Woh Bhi Diwali Thi Diwali isn’t always an occasion for celebration. The festive lights are used to contrast the harsh realities of a dim existence, as proven by this song from Nazrana (1961). Raj Kapoor sings in the melancholic voice of Mukesh for composer Ravi, “Bahaar toh ujala hai magar dil mein andhera” (The world is illuminated but the heart is covered in darkness). However, the film did feature a brighter song, Mile hai chiragon ke rangeen Diwali hai in the dulcet voice of Lata Mangeshkar. She sings, “Mehka hua gulshan hai, hansta hua maali hai” (The garden is perfumed, the gardener joyous) to counter Mukesh’s “Ujda hua gulshan hai, rota hua maali hai” (The garden is ruined, the gardener lamentable).

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Aayi Hai Diwali The sheer noise of this track from Aamdani Atthani Kharcha Rupaiya (2001) featuring Govinda, Juhi Chawla and a shimmering Tabu performing a street dance number to the loud sounds of fireworks, is pretty much where Diwali ends in most Hindi film songs.

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