Enough has already been said about the misogyny and sexism that have defined the lyrics of Bollywood songs over the decades, and the damage they have done to ideas of consent and love among Indian youth. Though mindless item songs/atrocious remixes are still touted as the USPs of films, attitudes are changing. The recent Gaana rewrite competition and Breakthrough India’s Urvashi remix are cases in point.
For Women’s Day, we decided to make a playlist of Bollywood songs that celebrate the female agency without objectifying or glorifying the women in question. Or where women sing about themselves and their interests, not love and heartbreak. Here’s what we found:
Dhakkad (Dangal, 2016)
This song, picturised on a pre-teen girl wrestler, passes the Bechdel test of songs with flying colours. The lyrics describe the terror that the female wrestler spreads, with the singer (Raaftar) explaining what fighting this “cyclone” dressed in T-shirt and shorts would be like. Boys are told they should be very, very afraid because she is that good at the sport. Also, the refrain — yeh chhori hai — (this is a girl) seems to reverse the universally used insult of behaving “like a girl” (run like a girl, throw like a girl, cry like a girl) as no boy can fight like this one.
Piku (Piku, 2015)
Piku is short-tempered, Piku is affectionate, Piku makes her own rules, and given her changing moods, Piku can be hard to figure out at times. Piku is saddled with responsibilities, but no one can bully Piku into making sacrifices. Piku is trying to get better at adulting, but she will do things her own way. This peppy number, sung by Sunidhi Chauhan, celebrates Piku as she is – a real person with flaws trying to sort out her life one mess at a time.
Pataka Gudi (Highway, 2014)
The Jugni of this song by Irshad Kamil is something of a jogi/hippie at heart who couldn’t care less about what people think or say. She hops and dances her way around the world, following her heart. Jugni is God’s favourite child, who protects her. As Jugni becomes self aware and liberated from man-made customs, restrictions and ideologies, she becomes an idea ahead of her time — inscrutable to most and revered by the wise.
Aisha (Aisha, 2010)
Though Aisha may neither be a medal-winning sportsperson nor a woman navigating the challenges of being single, she does know how to have a good time. And this song written by Javed Akhtar is without doubt the most fun number on this list. The song gently ribs the kind-hearted yet meddlesome Aisha who cannot keep her nose out of other people’s lives. Though somewhat critical of her gullible nature, the song reminds us that the incomparable Aisha always means well.
Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna Hai (Guide, 1965)
Like the first one on the list, this vintage number checks all the right boxes. Better still, it has the female protagonist dancing on parapets and hopping across rooftops singing of her new-found zest for life. The male lead (Dev Anand), for once, is a mute witness to this dance of exuberance – limiting himself to gathering her sandals as he follows her around.
Have we missed out on any great numbers? Can you think of more Hindi film songs that pass the Bechdel test for song lyrics? Tweet to us at @htlifeandstyle and let us know.