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What a clever idea for a post and how beautifully analysed!

To a certain extent what Anjum Rajabali (through Shanti Kumar) says produced a 'Duh' moment..but of course songs in Indian films do all that and more. But then I am thinking like a person who expects the music and knows how to 'read' it; if the music doesn't 'speak' to someone, then it wouldnt set the mood as it is indended to, causing lots of confusion no doubt. Your analysis very correctly points out what I took for granted when I saw the film. Well written!
Cheers. Suja


Thanks, Suja.

Yes -- this post came out of the fact that the IIFA Awards are being held in Toronto and all the local media is falling over themselves trying to analyse Indian films. They keep finding this concept of song and dance confusing. Also, I've been hearing a lot of talk about making inroads into the North American market, and editing songs out to make the movies more suited to Western expectations, and I thought maybe I should explain that sometimes that's not such a simple thing to do, and there are ways to read those songs that someone not familiar with them might not get.


What a great post. I'd never thought of categorizing songs this way, now I'll be watching the sings with new eyes. And there are a few academic works I need to track down.

And of course, I'm going to rewatch Jab We Met ASAP.


Thanks, Liz -- I think it's an interesting exercise -- I think, as Suja pointed out, when we understand the point of the songs (and once we've been watching films long enough, I think we really do get that point), then these are connections we make automatically.

I found it interesting that when I went to make up a song lists for JWM to start writing this post, I sat back and went: "Six songs? There were SIX songs?" They are so well integrated into the narrative that I didn't realize how many there were.

I'll probably do something like this again at some point, because I'm just geeky enough to like thinking about these things.


Thanks for a very informative post! It got me thinking about why I'm not a fan of most BW films made in the last decade or so, and why I really do like JWM so much. It seems to me that a great many modern BW films have songs that are simply there to (a) meet some perceived rule that there must be songs (b) provide a trailer for the film to drive marketing pre-release (c)indulge the director's fixation with the whorey gori trope or most commonly (d) all of the above. Your excellent analysis helped clarify for me what it is that makes JWM work so well - its songs BELONG. Even the one whose picturisation still disappoints me. THank you.


Thanks @Maxqnz.

I think I've decided I'm fine with movies that decide not to do typical song/dance picturisations (like Wake Up Sid); what I'm not fine with are the films that you outline.

At least WUS's music is well-integrated into the film. That's my bottom line. Make an effort, folks, don't tack it on as an afterthought. Better not to bother.


Whoops, I must have muddled up what I meant to say. I *really* like WUS, and have no problem with movies that don't have standard picturisations, or even no songs at all. I was trying to say that the films I don't like are the ones that have pointless songs and picturisations in them, not the ones that choose not to do so. Sorry for not making myself clear


Oh, no, no, I think you were clear, I think I was trying to reflect back at you, and muddled myself up. That's what I get for responding when my brains aren't firing on all cylinders.

Yes, we agree: *pointless*, ill-conceived songs are the problem, not whether a film has songs or not.


Great post! I love reading analyses like these, and i do hope you do it again sometime.


Thanks, DG -- in fact, I'll be doing it again, and sooner than I'd planned, thanks to TIFF and their showing a print of Barsaat without the songs subtitled :-)

Bollywood in Britain

This is an insightful article about the function of song and dance sequences. Personally, I couldn't imagine a BW film without them. Done well, songs bring so much depth and substance to the films. And I love the ritual of discovering great songs in new releases and golden oldies alike, then downloading and playing them on repeat for weeks afterwards.

I was particularly interested to learn that you got thinking about this in the wake of the IIFAs coming to Toronto. Just now, I've been thinking about the same theme but in relation to the IIFAs coming to Yorkshire (my home county) in 2007. While your blog focusses on the FUNCTION, I considered the importance of ROMANTIC BACKDROPS for song and dance sequences in my blog number 5.


Yes, the IIFAs were an interesting moment -- all of these things we take for granted if we've grown up with the films, or have been watching them for a while, they all get thrown into relief when you have someone trying to understand it all for the first time.

Looking forward to reading what you have to say about the backdrops, also interesting :-)


hi may I request the bibliographical details of the Shanti Kumar's quote above.


Hi, Vinu,

Here are the details:

Bollywood: Travels of Hindi Song and Dance.
Editors: Sangita Gopal, Sujata Moorti
Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press (June 16, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0816645795
ISBN-13: 978-0816645794

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