Queer cinema

Reading between the lyrics of straight love songs

Hindi movie tracks celebrate heterosexual romance, but some of them are ambiguous enough.

Most Hindi film songs are dedicated to traditional boy-meets-girl romance. What then should queer people in love do? Should they reclaim popular songs, as a somnolent Manoj Bajpayee does in Aligarh (2016) by tuning into forlorn Lata Mangeshkar ballads that express his feelings?

What choice does Bajpyee’s character have? Queer people in love have to lip-sync the same ditties and give a new spin to lyrics originally written for heterosexual couplings.

Much has been made and misread of the lyrics “Bas yahi apradh main har baar karta hoon, aadmi hoon aadmi se pyar karta hoon” from Pehchan (1970).

Neeraj’s lyrics describe a man in love with his kind, rather than another man. The lyricist was writing for the character Gangaram (Manoj Kumar), who is ostracised in the city for being a country bumpkin. He travels through villages voicing his homilies like a minstrel. Neeraj was nominated for a Filmfare Best Lyricist award but lost out to Varma Malik, who wrote “Sabse Bada Nadaan” for the same film, in which the lyricist warns tellingly about inexperience.

Play

“Bas Yahi Apradh” follows in the tradition of brotherly love that was the theme of Dosti (1964). Bromance has been a common feature of such songs as “Yeh Dosti” (Sholay, 1975). Neeraj’s song acquired a cult of its own, and the unintentionally loaded lyrics have been used both by gay subcultures as an rallying cry as well as by homophobes as a slur.

The song popped up in an unlikely place: Mast Kalandar (1991), in which Anupam Kher played a flamboyantly gay character known as Pinkoo (for his outré taste in all shades of pink). Pinkoo sings Neeraj’s song, only to be laughed at. Disturbed, he enters a bar where “Ek Do Teen” from the movie Tezaab (1988) is playing. The beats of the peppy number excite Pinkoo, unlike Neeraj’s mournful dirge, and he breaks into an uncontrollable dance of joy and seduction, whose target is Prem Chopra.

Play

Several romantic songs have lent themselves to queer articulation. Lata Mangeshkar’s viriginal pining voice and Asha Bhonsle’s amorous advances poured through a carafe hold more queer significance than Mukesh’s plangent paeans. “Ajeeb Dastan Hai Yeh” (Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai ,1960) does not only become a reference point for the plot in the Karan Johar chapter in the Bombay Talkies (2013) anthology. The song mirrors the anxieties of the short film’s burdened characters.

Popular female solos revolving around the machinations of the heart find new life as queer anthems. “Aap Ki Nazron Ne Samjha” (Anpadh, 1962), “Lag Jaa Gale” (Woh Kaun Thi, 1964) and “Yun Hi Koi Mil Gaya Tha” (Pakeezah, 1972), all sung by Lata Mangeskhar, as well as Asha Bhosle’s mujra number “Dil Cheez Kya Hai” (Umrao Jaan, 1981), give voice to pent-up homosexual desires.

Another buddy song from the 1990s, when the sexually suggestive song was at its peak, was far more ambiguous about yaari (friendship). In “Tere Bin Main Kuch Bhi Nahi” (I am nothing without you), written by lyricist Rahat Indori for Mahesh Bhatt’s Naaraz (1994), Kumar Sanu and Udit Narayan sing for characters played by Mithun Chakraborty and Atul Agnihotri. The characters are drunk and in fulsome embrace. Actress Sonali Bendre follows them into a temple featuring erotic sculpture. She captures their intimate moments on a camera as they lie next to each other . Chakraborty sings, “Do shahazaade raat akeli, reh na jaaye baat adhoori” (Two princes in the night, there is some unfinished business to complete), which is as homoerotic as it gets. A teary-eyed Chakraborty is not done. As he sings, “Main dil hoon dhadkan tu hai” (I am the heart, you are the heartbeat), Bendre emerges from her hiding spot, wondering about the extent of the bond shared by the men.

Play

The definitive gay dance number appeared late in the day. The outrageously campy “Maa Da Laadla” disco track from Dostana (2008) re-imagines the love story of Heer-Ranjha. It involves a twist in which the mother's favourite son meets Ranjha in the manner suggested by Kumaar’s mischievous lyrics: “Heer mile na issnu ye Ranjhe utthe mar gaya” (He fell in love with Ranjha as Heer was missing). Actor Kirron Kher, who plays the grieving mother, eventually learns to accept her son’s sexual orientation because he is no longer in the closet and she needs to “come out” of hers.

Play
Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Movies can make you leap beyond what is possible

Movies have the power to inspire us like nothing else.

Why do we love watching movies? The question might be elementary, but one that generates a range of responses. If you had to visualise the world of movies on a spectrum, it would reflect vivid shades of human emotions like inspiration, thrill, fantasy, adventure, love, motivation and empathy - generating a universal appeal bigger than of any other art form.

“I distinctly remember when I first watched Mission Impossible I. The scene where Tom Cruise suspends himself from a ventilator to steal a hard drive is probably the first time I saw special effects, stunts and suspense combined so brilliantly.”  

— Shristi, 30

Beyond the vibe of a movie theatre and the smell of fresh popcorn, there is a deeply personal relationship one creates with films. And with increased access to movies on television channels like &flix, Zee Entertainment’s brand-new English movie channel, we can experience the magic of movies easily, in the comforts of our home.

The channel’s tagline ‘Leap Forth’ is a nod to the exciting and inspiring role that English cinema plays in our lives. Comparable to the pizazz of the movie premieres, the channel launched its logo and tagline through a big reveal on a billboard with Spider-Man in Mumbai, activated by 10,000 tweets from English movies buffs. Their impressive line-up of movies was also shown as part of the launch, enticing fans with new releases such as Spider-Man: Homecoming, Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049, The Dark Tower, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Life.

“Edgar Wright is my favourite writer and director. I got interested in film-making because of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the dead. I love his unique style of storytelling, especially in his latest movie Baby Driver.”

— Siddhant, 26

Indeed, movies can inspire us to ‘leap forth’ in our lives. They give us an out-of-this-world experience by showing us fantasy worlds full of magic and wonder, while being relatable through stories of love, kindness and courage. These movies help us escape the sameness of our everyday lives; expanding our imagination and inspiring us in different ways. The movie world is a window to a universe that is full of people’s imaginations and dreams. It’s vast, vivid and populated with space creatures, superheroes, dragons, mutants and artificial intelligence – making us root for the impossible. Speaking of which, the American science fiction blockbuster, Ghost in the Shell will be premiering on the 24th of June at 1:00 P.M. and 9:00 P.M, only on &flix.

“I relate a lot to Peter Parker. I identified with his shy, dorky nature as well as his loyalty towards his friends. With great power, comes great responsibility is a killer line, one that I would remember for life. Of all the superheroes, I will always root for Spiderman”

— Apoorv, 21

There are a whole lot of movies between the ones that leave a lasting impression and ones that take us through an exhilarating two-hour-long ride. This wide range of movies is available on &flix. The channel’s extensive movie library includes over 450 great titles bringing one hit movie premiere every week. To get a taste of the exciting movies available on &flix, watch the video below:

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of &flix and not by the Scroll editorial team.