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Bollywood's affair with the bottle

Has the peg lost its punch?

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In traditional Bombay cinema, songs were multi-utility vehicles (MUVs). From a sister's copious affection to a poet's dying declaration, from a spurned lover's angst to a moll's secret desires, there was a song for every situation. Songs were like sutradhars - they took the story forward.

While the function of a song has changed beyond recognition in modern day Bollywood, the lyrics are still a sign of the times. As renowned film critic Derek Malcolm once wrote, "It's primarily in the songs that the uncensored, inner meanings of Indian films reside. " The way songs are written and filmed reflect, and occasionally even forecast, popular social behaviour. They tell you what is currently socially acceptable and to what degree.

Nothing exemplifies this better than the evolution of sharabi songs in popular Hindi cinema. Back in the 1950s and '60s, inebriated ruminations in rhyme were often philosophical soliloquies : Zindagi khwab hai, khwab mein jhoot hai kya aur bhala sach hai kya (Jagte Raho, 1956) or as a catharsis of angst exemplified by poet Vijay (played by Guru Dutt) in Pyaasa (1957). When he walks the crowded night streets of Bombay's red-light district with a glass of whiskey in hand and Sahir Ludhianvi's caustic song on his lips, he is not spewing words of defeated love. Rather, he is indicting post-Nehruvian India.

That is history. Now, both in reel and real life, liquor is a vital accessory to every celebration. Without a peg or two down the throat and a leg or two up in the air, no party seems complete. Indeed, a shindig's success is sometimes gauged by the number of guests who vomited on the carpet or passed out pissing in the balcony. Such a mood of merriment is also reflected in every recent tipsy Bollywood track.

Rum and Whiskey from this summer's sleeper smash, Vicky Donor, is almost a tribute to tipplers. The boisterous foot-tapping Punjabi track is a celebration of indulgence where joyful, muscular men jive with beauties in short skirts. Another song succinctly articulates the pleasures of excess with the line Vilayati pee gaye par desi abhi baaki hai (Foreign-made liquor is over but hooch is still there) from last year's hedonistic hit, Chaar baj gaye lekin party abhi baaki hai (F. A. L. T. U. ). Guzzling daaru is cool even in uniform. In Dabangg's (2010) Humka peeni hai, many cops in uniform boogie with glee, glasses and gamchas in hand: Thane mein baithe daroga ji le hichki, lagta hai sahib ne maari hai chuski (The daroga is hiccuping, it seems as though he's had a sip).
That's not all. Earlier this year, Agneepath's hysterically hip-swaying chikni chameli was all abandon after gulping down a quarter (Pawwa chadha ke aayee). And, now, the easy dance track, "Daaru desi', from the forthcoming Saif Ali Khan-Deepika Padukone starrer, Cocktail, says: Chadi mujhe yaari teri aisi jaise daaru desi/ Khatti mithi batein hain nashe si jaise daaru desi (Your love has given me the high of country liquor/ This sweet-and-sour conversation is as intoxicating as alcohol). The female rejoinder goes: Ladkhadane lagi mushkurane lagi/ Bewajaah har jagaah aane jaane lagi/ Tu mujhe main tujhe jo bhi ho dil me woh khul ke bataane lagi (I am beginning to stagger and smile/ To come and go without reason / I am beginning to reveal whatever is in my heart).

The bottle seems inseparable from the idea of romance, or anything related to rejoicing. Popular cinema seems to be mirroring the spirited goings on in society. Statistics put out by the Indian Alcohol Policy Alliance (IAPA), an NGO that came out with an Alcohol Atlas of India, show that the age of initiation into alcohol has declined from 30 in the 1990s to 19 years now. The average age for beginners in Kerala was 19 years in 1986;it was down to 14 years in 2006. No surprise then that the alcoholic beverages market, says research firm Datamonitor, grew by 12 per cent between 2004 and 2009. The demand has also been spurred by a delinking of alcohol consumption from social values. A huge section of the middle class no longer frowns at liquor.
The new Bollywood booze numbers reflect the spirited highs of the urban Indian. They ignore the losers, the marginalised and the castaway. Which is why the sad drunken ghazal/ guzzle or the dreamy self-questioning track has given way to unimaginative, unidimensional revelry. The older songs were takeaways but the modern daaru song is a breezy item number often forgotten before the lights come on.

High point


Bacchus in Bollywood. . . Cocktail: (forthcoming) Daaru desi Vicky Donor | 2012 | Rum and whiskey Dabangg | 2010 | Humka peeni hai peeni hai humka peeni hai Naseeb | 1981 | Chal chal mere bhai Haath Ki Safai | 1974 | Peene walon ko peene ka bahana chahiye Prem Nagar | 1974 | Yeh laal rang kab mujhe chhodega Amar Prem | 1971 | Yeh kya hua Kati Patang | 1970 | Yeh jo mohabbat hai Inteqam | 1969 | Kaise rahoon chup ke paine pee hi kya hai Guide | 1965 | Din dhal jaaye haaye, raat na ja Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam | 1962 | Na jaao saiyan chhuda ke baiyaan Main Nashe Mein Hoon | 1959 | Mujhko yaaron maaf karna main nashe mein hoon Jagte Raho | 1956 | Zindagi khwab hai

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