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For something completely different, here is Satrangi Re from Dil Se, the most romantic suicide bomber movie you’re likely to see.
I know that you’ve waited patiently for another Bollywood-related post. Believe it or not, it’s been over two months since I last wrote about anything of the kind. So, here is a nice patriotic song from Veer-Zaara. Razib Khan will be pleased that I have stopped fixating on Bengali actresses.
P.P.S. While I’m at it, I can’t leave out a note about Armenian. It will not be much of a surprise to find out that the two languages have virtually identical demonstratives meaning ”this” (ays and aisa), but it is an interesting thing to note in passing.
Rani Mukherjee from Paheli
Here she is in Kangana Re from Paheli.
From the film Nagin (1954), the instrumental theme composed by the great Hemant Kumar and Man Dole Mera Tan Dole.
A reader has alerted me to the pending nuptials of this blog’s heroine, Rani Mukherjee, to director Adi Chopra. As much of a blow as this is, I congratulate them (shaadi mubarako) and offer this final tribute to Rani, mera dil ki rani, mere sapno ki rani.
Today I was working on a couple new Sayat Nova poems, Khmetsoor dzerit tasemen (Give me a drink from the cup of your hand) and Ari indz angach kal divana sirt (Come, listen to me, mad heart), and another one of these Persian loanword links between Armenia and India appeared. This is not very surprising anymore, since there are so many mutual borrowings, but it is always interesting to see which words make their way into other languages. In this case, it is divana/deewana, which means “mad” or “crazy,” usually referring in poetry and song to the madness of love.
I am not one particularly drawn to an Ariel Levy or Isla Fisher. It doesn’t help that I had literally never heard of either one until today. (Make of that what you will.) Apparently, Ms. Fisher is the fiancee of Sacha Baron Cohen of Borat fame, which is very “naice” for him; she has also apparently ridiculed Scientologists, which is a testament to her good judgement (despite the business of being engaged to Sacha Baron Cohen). No, if we must talk about actresses/celebrities we will never meet, it simply has to be Rani Mukherjee whom we admire:
About such a woman, Sayat Nova might have said:
Ov che tesi, test e uzum, ov tesnoom e, miranoom e
(He who does not see wants to see you; he who sees, perishes.)
Or to use one of my favourites:
Patvakan angin javahir, lal badeshkhan is indz ama
(You are a worthy, priceless jewel, the very ruby of Badeshkhan for me.)
Update: Here is a higher-quality version of Rani performing Main Vari Vari from Mangal Pandey. Tumhari adao pe main vari vari indeed.
Watching the magnificently bad Indian nationalist movie-parading-as-message-of-peace, Dil Pardesi Ho Gayaa, which stars the stunning Salloni Aswani, I happened to notice the mention of the chinar tree, which is to be found in Kashmir and is apparently extremely important in Kashmiri culture and it is considered “the King/Queen of all the trees.” It would seem that the name “originated from the Persian word “Chihnaarst” meaning fiery red color.”
As Sayat Nova fans will know, the ashugh often will compare the lithe figures of women to the chinar tree, as he does in Ashkharooms akh chim kashi:
Mechkt salboo-chinari pes, rangt frangi atlas e.
Your waist is like the cypress and chinar, your colour is that of French silk.
Update: Aur ha, there is another shared borrowing in Armenian poetry and colloquial Hindi. Sayat Nova has a poem called Eshkhemet hivandatsil im (I have become sick from your love), where eshkh is the Armenian rendering of ishq, which I assume must be originally taken from Arabic. Language bleg: does anyone know for certain what language ishq comes from?
Because you are all dying to know what other words Armenian and Hindi share, I will tell you another one. Reading Namus (yes, I’m still reading Namus ever so slowly), I came across the colloquial expression ghalat chari, which is apparently still used in Armenia today and which is basically an imperative phrase that means, “Don’t do something wrong/bad.” The word sounded familiar to my Bollywood-trained ears, and sure enough my first intuition that ghalat was the same as galat in Hindi was confirmed when I checked my Hindi dictionary. To someone hearing it pronounced in Hindi for the first (or even the fifth or sixth) time, it sounds an awful lot like ghaland, but that is not actually what they’re saying, much as zarur (of course) comes out sounding to English-speakers (or at least to me) as zerul.
Language bleg: Does anyone happen to know which language galat originally comes from? Arabic, maybe?
Update: Yes, it does come originally from Arabic.
So a friend of mine here at Chicago recently recommended that I see Fanaa, the 2006 Kajol-Aamir Khan vehicle that saw the stunning Bengali actress return to the screen as if no time had passed since her last appearance in 2001. Two days ago I did happen to watch it, and I was impressed. Once you allow for the melodrama and improbable plot devices, which are inevitable, it is possible to appreciate it as a quite decent telling of a tragic love story. The story is one that our 24-obsessed nation could enjoy: will love win out over jihad? One of the songs has a line that is striking, and quite in keeping with what I understand to be part of a long tradition in Islamic and Indian religious and love poetry:
tere pyaar me.n ho jaa’uu.n fanaa
May your love annihilate me!
Apparently, as I discovered recently, the state of Gujarat banned the film in response to Aamir Khan’s comments on the state of some farmers displaced by a dam project. So, while I was up tonight at the local Dunkin’ Donuts, I got to talking to the man behind the counter there, and it turned out that he was from Gujarat. That reminded me of the story about Fanaa. From there we launched into a discussion of the movie and Kajol (the cousin of everyone’s favourite, Rani Mukherjee), pictured just below.
We then came around to the latest Bollywood news about the engagement of Abishek Bachchan and Aishwariya Rai, which everyone seems intent on bringing up each time I talk about Indian movies. If the Indian popular press is as unimaginative as ours, they will have already coined some hideous name like Abishwariya or Aishshek to describe their relationship.
It’s odd the sorts of conversations you will have in this neighbourhood, but then I suppose it is rather odd that I would have known enough about Fanaa to use it to start a conversation.
Did you know that there was a book about Queen Shirin, the Armenian queen of Khusrau II? Neither did I. She is remembered in the Shahnameh of Firdausi, but her story is better remembered because of the poet Nezami’s treatment of her story. Some of you may be more familiar with that widespread tradition of Shirin’s legendary idealised, tragic love affair with Fahrad, who lost Shirin to Khusrau when he was condemned by the king to carve stairs out of the cliffs of Behistun (the famous rockface into which Achaemenid and later Sasanian kings carved their monuments).
Their story became part of the literary traditions of the Near East, central Asia and India. (You can even pick up an echo of their story in the film Kama Sutra, which incidentally happens to star one of the great Bollywood heroine-actresses Rekha and was directed by the accomplished Mira Nair.) Speaking of Bollywood, Shirin Fahrad (1956) is an Indian adaptation of the tale starring the great screen legend Madhubala, who also played the female lead in the masterpiece Mughal-E-Azam.
The story of Fahrad and Shirin is one of those timeless stories of pure, unfulfilled love, and so serves as a natural reference for both the yearning of ghazals and the laments of the khagher of Sayat Nova, including one of his most memorable, Fahrad mirats Shirinn asats, which includes this nod to another famous pair of lovers:
Medjloomi nman man im gali, earen ervats im.
Like Medjloom I am wandering, I am grieved by my beloved.
Sayat Nova, like Shirin, laments because of the love that he cannot have:
Sayat Noven im, endoor goolam dardires arbab.
I am Sayat Nova, that’s why I cry, my griefs are unbearable.
Fahrad and Shirin appear again in another Sayat Nova poem, whose first line is Khabar gnats blbooli mot (The news went to the nightingale). The poem is a dialogue between the nightingale and the rose, a common symbolic representation of the lover and beloved in this genre, and at one point the rose says:
The pick killed Fahrad, the dagger remains for you, Shirin.
Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, I can inflict my weakness for Bollywood music on those readers inclined to listen. On a lighter note, here is the beautiful Rani Mukherjee from Mangal Panday, an otherwise unremarkable Indian nationalist retelling of the outbreak of the 1857 Mutiny.
What might that be? Bollywood, of course. With apologies to Tertullian (to whom the original credo quia absurdum quote is often wrongfully attributed), whose preference for veiled women would not have endeared him to Bollywood, I think that statement just about sums up my attitude towards Bollywood. There are very few Bollywood movies that can be taken more or less seriously. Among these I would count Lagaan (which was nominated for Best Foreign Film), the original Pyaasa and the classic Mughal-e-Azam, which is as pretentious and over the top as the great Cecil B. DeMille films, albeit nowhere near as compelling.
Most of the so-called masala genre are perfectly predictable love stories with carbon-copy dialogue (oh, that’s right, I could be describing Hollywood movies just as easily). The difference between the schlock Hollywood churns out in the romantic comedy genre and the average Bollywood film is that the latter is a lot cheaper, the acting is about the same quality and there is song and dance enough to make you forget how bad the plot you’re watching really is. Some of the songs are quite good (provided you like either traditional folk rhythms, as I do, or Asian disco-pop).
Rani, Mera Dil Ki Rani
The artifice, arbitrariness, predictability and often complete irrelevance of the dance scenes allow for a movie experience that is as fun as it is ridiculous. The genius of Bollywood is that it rarely pretends that film is this terribly serious medium for delivering important social messages. The Bollywood movies that make the mistake of trying to be “about” something are either ludicrously chauvinistic nationalist agitprop pieces or ludicrously secularist (in the Indian sense) agitprop exhorting us all to get along and be friends.
The great, or at least memorable, films of recent years, such as the ever-popular Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, the more modern hit Dil Chahta Hai and the budget-busting period piece, Devdas (mostly memorable for Madhuri Dixit’s enchanting performance), are the ones to go for if you have three or four hours to kill and have no desire to watch anything that pretends to be serious social commentary. Paheli, starring the lovely Rani Mukherjee (above), is this sort of movie. Bollywood is extravagant, entertaining fluff that knows that it’s fluff, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.