The exact moment that India finally embraced Flower Power is captured forever in the hypnotic and groping guitar riff that opens the hippie anthem “Dum Maro Dum” in the film Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971).
That this cultural milestone was designed by director and film lead Dev Anand to warn Indians about the loose, drug-addled lifestyle of hippies, rather than embrace it, is the very definition of irony.
“Dum Maro Dum” became an instant hit. Along with Asha Bhosle’s sultry vocals, the acrid smell of charas (hashish) seemed to seep out of radios all across North India. The composer, RD Burman, used the song as a platform to fly at the loftiest levels of popular music for the next 15 years. A young Zeenat Aman, on whom the song had been picturised, shot to “national sexpot” status overnight. Even Anand confessed he had fallen in love with his co-star.
The song remains one of Bollywood’s all-time favourites, as evergreen as eternal young man Dev Anand himself.
Over the years, as reputations of Bhosle and Pancham da (Burman) grew internationally, “Dum Maro Dum” became a source of inspiration for a slew of artists all over the world. Here is a small selection:
Robin and The New Revolution
The story of Hare Rama Hare Krishna was inspired by a hippie girl Anand met in Kathmandu, then one of the key stops of the fabled Hippie Trail. And when the time came to shoot the movie, Anand found Nepal to be a natural fit.
So, we begin our playlist with a high-rock version by Nepali legend Robin Tamang. The guitar ace was born and raised in Singapore in a military family. But he loved rock ‘n’ roll more than he did the military and eventually developed a guitar style that is a cross between that of Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page. This take-no-prisoners rendition completely reconfigures the original but in a way that matches the heavy rock ethos of the early ’70s perfectly.
In the late 1960s, when Indira Gandhi visited Romania, she was entertained by a Hindi-speaking singer known as Naarghita. Born Maria Amarghioalei, the singer had fallen under the spell of actor Raj Kapoor as a youngster after seeing him in Shri 420 (1955). She then began a journey of teaching herself Hindi by watching films, lip syncing the songs and befriending a linguistics professor who helped her refine her pronunciation. Gandhi was so impressed with Naarghita that she invited her to visit India which she accepted.
During her stay, in early 1970, Naarghita managed to meet Kapoor and perhaps other giants of Indian cinema, possibly Anand as well.
Naarghita returned to Romania even more inspired by the music of Hindi cinema. In addition to releasing a number of albums of Indian music, Naarghita was a regular performer on state television. One only wonders what the secret police would have made of the subject matter of this song had the lyrics been translated into Romanian!
The Beatles of Bollywood
Hailing from Surinam but residing in the Netherlands, The Beatles of Bollywood are led by the Bindraban brothers (Anil and Shadon). The unusually named band performs Bollywood as well as original compositions for the Surinamese diaspora. In this clip, they turn in a sophisticated and moody jazz-inflected version of Pancham da’s song. Slick is not the first word that comes to mind when you think of hippies getting high around a campfire, but the boys from South America produce a truly magical cover that keeps the original guitar hook right at the centre.
Method Man and Busta Rhymes, "What's Happenin'"
That guitar hook – and indeed, the guitar work throughout "Dum Maro Dum" – is among the most infectious to come out of Mumbai. Played by the legendary Bhupinder, it is the very essence of pop gold: simple, repetitious and punchy.
Little wonder, then, that it has been lifted and sampled by artists such as these two giants of hip hop. Bhupinder’s picking and strumming features throughout this hyperactive video and doesn’t seem at all out of place. Instead, it grounds and encases the entire rap in a warm sonic bubble.
"Dum Maro Dum" is nothing but a hedonistic anthem wrapped in faux religious robes and this clip gets the gong for capturing the original essence of the song the best. Internet sensation Shraddha Sharma teams up with Dharavi’s hip-hop proponents DopeadelicZ to update and relocate the Kathmandu hippie party to contemporary upper-class Mumbai. All done with a nice mix of Hindi, English and Tamil!
What Cheer? Brigade
What Cheer? Brigade is a humble outfit. Labelling themselves simply as a 20-member brass band from Providence, Rhode Island, in the US, they make the claim that “great parties need no electricity”. And that indeed seems to be the case, as this late night street jam of “Dum Maro Dum” shows!
We wrap up this set (too quickly, for there are many more very interesting versions out there) with a quirky rendition from the jazz trio known as Autorickshaw. Highly acclaimed in North America for their left-of-centre approach, Suba Sankaran (vocals), Ed Hanley (tabla) and Dylan Bell (guitar) thrill an audience in Bhopal with their humorous interpretation of “Dum Maro Dum”.
The Bhupinder riff immediately draws the crowd into familiar territory but soon enough, the unexpected happens. During the chorus, Bell shrieks out the high female parts while Sankaran handles the lower male register. Hanley’s table-playing is light and lively throughout and keeps the others from getting too far off track, especially during the scat break. The cheers from the crowd combined with the beeping of traffic add a wonderful extra layer of texture!