"Audiences who are unfamiliar with the codes and convention of Hindi cinema often find it difficult to make sense of song and dance sequences that, they believe, are inserted rather arbitrarily into a film's narrative. Even among audiences who are avid fans of the so-called Bollywood style of filmmaking, there is a great debate on whether song and dance sequences are unique assets or great detriments to the further growth of Indian cinema."
-- Shanti Kumar, "The Transnational Economy of Film Production in Rajmoli Film City, Hyderabad" in Global Bollywood: Travels of Hindi Song and Dance.
I once read what may be an apocryphal story (I've not been able to find a reference to it to include here) that once, the BBC, in an effort to facilitate their programming, decided to shorten the classic film Amar, Akbar, Anthony by editing out the songs, resulting in a slew of phone calls from people complaining that the movie made absolutely no sense. Apocryphal it may be, but it illustrates an essential point: in the vast majority of cases, song and dance in Indian movies serves the narrative in important ways.
Shanti Kumar (in the above quoted article) cites screenwriter Anjum Rajabali, who identified eight key ways that song and dance make important contributions to the narrative of films. These include such things as introducing us to characters; conveying love at first sight; underscoring agony/ecstasy and prolonging it for dramatic effect; giving viewers a break from all that drama-rama before plunging them back into the story; providing parallel narratives; allowing characters to express emotions that would sound silly, contrived or awkward in dialogue; marking the passage of time; serving as punctuation and allowing for smooth transitions and changes in the story.
Kumar quite rightly points out that it would be rare to see songs illustrating all of these points in one film, but many of them can be found in quite a lot of films. Kumar uses David Dhawan's 1998 film Bade Miyan, Chote Miyan (starring Govinda and Amitabh Bachchan) to illustrate how this works. I got thinking, why not see how it plays out in Imtiaz Ali's Jab We Met?
1. "Aao Milo Chalo"
By the time the first song appears in the film, we've met our two protagonists, Geet and Aditya, and we know a little bit about them. The film prior to this song has been marked by sequences of running to catch the train, racing in a taxi to catch a train, and missing the train not once, but twice. Geet insists Aditya will now accompany her home, and they end up finally boarding a bus. Aditya starts to sing:
"Aao Milo Chalo" serves several purposes in the narrative at this point: first and foremost, it condenses the journey they take into the space of a song, allowing for a quick transition in which, well, a lot of ground is covered. It also provides a welcome relief from the rhythm of the film, which up to now has been punctuated with mostly fast-paced, high energy sequences and a few short stops -- this song sequence slows the pacing down considerably and allows us a break from all the fast movement and quick transitions that characterize the film's rhythm up to this point.
The lyrics, too, provide us with a clue to the film's essential theme: it's not the destination, it's the journey that counts, and in the case of Geet and Aditya, it's a journey that will ultimately change both their lives in ways they couldn't imagine when they both stepped out on the road together.
Finally, "Aao Milo Chalo" gives us one further insight into Aditya's character. After the song finishes, Geet comments that he's a good singer, and this is when Aditya reveals to her his passion for music, and why he found it pointless to pursue that dream. Could that have been illustrated without the song? Maybe, but the song does it effortlessly, and allows Geet to easily raise the subject without preamble or a lot of dialogue to get there.
2. "Nagada Nagada"
Geet and Aditya arrive at her home, where she discovers that her family has decided to go ahead with her marriage to Manjeet. A celebration takes place, with both families in attendance. Aditya, who hasn't revealed his true identity to the family, has said he's a musician. The mischevious Geet insists he provide the entertainment:
"Nagada Nagada" is an awful lot of fun, and it's one of my favorite picturisations. Shahid Kapoor is a terrific dancer and he gets to show it off here, and I love the contrast of him in black against an amazingly colourful background -- your eye is constantly drawn to him, which, of course, is the point.
Or, one of the points. Because the song serves to underline a couple of things. Aditya has revealed to Geet that his mother is Punjabi, so it doesn't surprise us that when pushed by Geet, he's able to come up with a song that so beautifully fits into the moment. And this is when we begin to see how comfortable Aditya becomes with Geet's family, which will stand in stark contrast with Anshuman later in the film. Aditya appears to be an outsider, but this song serves to tell us that really, he belongs here in ways that will become more apparent as the film unfolds.
The song is also a tribute to Geet, a beautiful girl with eyes like daggers. However, what is most important here is that the song serves to underline what really is happening in Geet's life. The girl of the song is betrothed to someone, but in love with someone else. One story will end, the song tells us, and another one will start.
3. "Yeh Ishq Hai"
Geet decides the only option for getting out of the marriage to Manjeet is to run away and elope with Anshuman. She goes to Aditya to tell him she's leaving, and he decides to leave with her rather than having to face her family when they find her missing.
Aditya accompanies Geet to Manali, where she plans to marry Anshuman, and in this song, she sings about love:
Truly, though, Geet is doing more than just singing about being in love. Watch Kareena Kapoor in this picturisation -- her Geet is blissful and joyous. Love makes her glow, it makes her dance....if you've forgotten what that's like, what it's like to feel so much in love that you almost burst from happiness, then watch Geet and remember.
But also watch Aditya in this -- Geet is clearly not singing this to Aditya, she is clearly expressing how she feels about being in love with Anshuman and wanting to marry him, so she rarely looks at Aditya, even when she's right next to him in the frame. Aditya alternates between looking lost in thought, and watching Geet from a distance. This is the moment when we see he may actually have fallen in love with Geet, and the regret that appears on his face hints that he knows he will be leaving her behind. Note, too, Geet's wardrobe in this song. It will appear again.
4. "Tum Se Hi"
Aditya has left Geet in Manali, and he's returned to Mumbai. He's turned his business around. He's successful. And we learn a little bit more about how he's managed to do that in this song:
"Tum Se Hi" shows us clearly the effect that Geet has had on Aditya's life -- he's found the joy of music again -- he's found joy in everything again. But if we weren't quite sure he was in love with Geet before, we can be sure of it now. Everything he does, every moment is because of Geet, and he imagines her based on his last memories of her, mostly wearing what she wore in Manali, in the song "Yeh Ishq Hai". She's not there, yet she's always there with him. This will nicely echo what he tells her later in the film, that every time he had to make a decision, he wondered what Geet would do, and then he would do that. "Whatever I am," he says, "it's because of you."
5. "Aaoge Jab Tum"
Geet's distraught family contacts Aditya, believing Geet is with him -- they assumed the two of them were eloping together. Aditya assumes that she is with Anshuman, but her original plan was to get married and then go confront her family with the fait accompli. Aditya promises them he will bring Geet to them, and he sets out to find her. "Aaoge Jab Tum" is the song that reveals to us what actually happened when Geet and Aditya parted ways in Manali:
"Aaoge Jab Tum" is probably the most poignant and heartbreaking moment in the film. It neatly sums up Anshuman's rejection of Geet, her sadness, her attempts to change his mind, and we see her gradually become colourless, lacking confidence, listless, and so very, very, very sad.
The song is actually rather bittersweet. The words "When you come, beloved, the courtyard will be in bloom" are contrasted with lines like "My life is in your hands." It's as if the song is reflecting Geet's hope that Anshuman will finally come around, and her realization that things are not working out as she'd hoped. Geet is living in a world where she is stuck because she can't go back, and she now has no future, no way to get herself out of this situation she finds herself in. It's as if, in this song, Geet still hopes that her dreams will come true, yet somehow at the same time, she knows her hope is in vain.
6. "Mauja Hi Mauja"
Aditya takes Geet home, bringing Anshuman, who has finally come to his senses regarding Geet, along with them. The aim, of course, is to have Geet and Anshuman get married. But Geet saves a few surprises right 'til the very end, and the film ends with "Mauja Hi Mauja":
Okay -- this is where I admit that club dance setting picturisations are not my favorites, but they're very common for closing credit sequences. Let me tell you why I like this one better than most:
First -- they make an attempt to tie the song back to the film. The song opens with the preparations for a celebration, and partway through, there's a delicious moment where we revisit Geet's grandfather and his prophetic words: "At my age, one glance is enough to realize what is going between a boy and a girl".
Second -- hello? It's Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor dancing, and they look wonderful!
Third -- "Mauja Hi Mauja" is a terrific song, and it sums up Geet and Aditya's relationship perfectly. "The whole world is glittering now that love is in the air." "My love is like lemonade" -- in fact, when I was trying to think of how to describe Geet, I actually contemplated saying she was like my favorite salty lime soda, all sweet and tart and savoury and bubbly at the same time, so finding this reference in the lyrics here just tickled me to bits. "Let's celebrate," says the song, but also, "let's keep talking every moment." No more fitting way for this relationship, begun through talking, nurtured through talking, to continue. The film is over, and Jab We Met's final song just ties a bow on it and wraps it up neatly.