Sridevi is back on the screen in the upcoming vendetta thriller Mom. From a parallel universe comes news that one of her most popular film songs, Hawa Hawai, will be remixed for Vidya Balan’s December release Tumhari Sulu.
The supremely enjoyable dance number from Shekhar Kapur’s science fiction adventure Mr India (1987) has been previously massacred in Bejoy Nambiar’s Shaitan (2011). Will the makers of Tumhari Sulu be kind and rewind, or will they end up reminding us of the pleasures of the original?
Mr India, in which Anil Kapoor gains the power of invisibility through a magic bracelet, was a huge hit in its time. Kapoor is perfectly cast as the everyman with superpowers, but his contributions are equally matched by Sridevi. Some journalists even suggested that the film should have been titled Miss India.
Hawa Hawai is both the temporary name of the intrepid journalist Seema (Sridevi) and an expression of the je ne sais quoi that characterises the song. Many forces have come together to make the track a doozy: Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s foot-tapping music, Javed Akhtar’s breezy lyrics, Saroj Khan’s magnificent choreography, Shekhar Kapur’s direction, and Sridevi, who owns every frame.
Hawa Hawai is a pastiche of the nightclub song, all the way down to the use of blackface dancers. Seema, a journalist straight out of an American screwball comedy, is hot on the trail of a bunch of smugglers. A cross-connection on a telephone (one of many in a movie that makes hilarious use of the landline) alerts her to the arrival of Mr Wolcott (Bob Cristo), a smuggler of Indian antiques. She poses as an exotic Hawaiian dancer who sings in Hindi and tries to uncover Wolcott’s secrets through three costume changes and nifty footwork.
Hawa Hawai characterises the Hindi film song at its peak: it is woven into the story and also works as a standalone number. Akhtar’s lyrics start with a nonsense stanza before segueing into the assertion that “My hair is made up of clouds and lightning is in the stretch of my limbs”. Mr India was made at a time when filmmakers didn’t chop up songs with unnecessary cuts and permitted them to be viewed from a frontal viewpoint. The simple camerawork and editing in Hawa Hawai let Khan’s achievements shine through and give Sridevi’s natural comic timing the platform it deserves.
Khan’s polka-meets-jiving choreography matches beats with Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s upbeat tune. The choreographer’s lengthy collaboration with 1990s star Madhuri Dixit produced several breast-heaving numbers, but with Sridevi, every thrust and twirl is innocent and graceful.
Hawa Hawai is quoted in Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! (1988) and inspired the title of Amole Gupte’s Hawaa Hawaai (2014), about a skating prodigy. The remixes are a given, but good luck with trying to replicate the sheer fun of the original.