There are many best list for Bollywood songs covering a wide range of topics – best dance songs, best romantic songs, best new songs, best song for the entry of the bride, etc. However, there are few with the title “best songs to watch.”
Let’s be honest, this “list” isn’t that. Mainly due to the fact I don’t like the word best. There is too much content out there to declare a select few as “best” (post for another time). One person’s best is another person’s “oh I haven’t seen that.”
Here are a few songs that are as great to watch as they are to listen to.
Haider is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The play has a scene where Hamlet puts on a “play” to see signs of his Uncle’s guilt for murdering his father. ‘Bismil’ is Vishal Bhardwaj’s rendition of this scene where movie screenwriting and songwriting are fused together. The tragic “play” is visualized by expressionistic choreography and puppets. The choreography and lyrics match well together, as the song gets darker Haider’s (Shahid Kapoor) dancing becomes more violent. It showed the troubled reaction shots of his friends and family witnessing Haider’s inner turmoil during a merry occasion. The puppets were effectively utilized in illustrating a love story with a tragic end. They also created the “play” within a play sensation – something Shakespeare accomplished long before Inception brought it mainstream. When the song is describing how the Jamal River turned red from blood the background dancer’s movement illustrate a river, Shahid gave off beats of anger and sadness, and a zoom tied all these elements together. Moments like these coupled with the art design and dancing make this song heartfelt to watch.
Film: Dil Se…
If dancing on top of a bus is cool then dancing on a train is even cooler. The song opens slowly awakening both the melody and the female performer (Malaika Arora); along with the “hero” (Shahrukh Khan) appearing as a dark silhouette against a steamy background. Mani Ratnam took great advantage of the moving setting. He used many wide shots tracking both the iron horse and the uninterrupted choreography which added to the awe. The song didn’t shy away from the darkness of tunnels, but instead embraced them. For example, a single cut showed a dance sequence starting in full sunlight, continuing into the dark tunnel, where a red light made the dance visible, and concluding with the train back in the sun. A tunnel was even used as a natural fade to black transition for the next scene. A well put cinematic song with fun choreography made it a joy to watch the train chu chu along with dancers chaiayya chaiiyaing.
Film: Jhoom Barabar Jhoom
This song depicts the “what if we were together” idea about two characters. The fantasy scenario starts with Alvira (Preity Zinta) tossing her luggage onto Ricky (Abhishek Bachchan) who is mistaken for a baggage handler. The editing reveals that he wasn’t a coolie, but kind enough to hire a real one to help the lady anyways. No choreographed movements or numerous background dancers are to be found. Instead a short story about the formation of a relationship is shown. A great moment for the camera occurs when it rotates 180 degrees showing the Taj Mahal reflected in a pool. The rotation mirrors the earth’s sun cycle as night is turning into a new day. The camera is left here showing a series of fades of their lives – getting married, kids playing and growing, and concluding with being together in their old age. Like the Taj, an entire Bollywood movie condensed into one song is a sight to see.
Easily the most stylized song on this list by its use of lights, shadows, a tracking zoom, and objects composing frames to draw attention. There are plenty of moments where both dancers are shot long and uncut because they can dance well without the aid of flashy techniques. The film’s tools – camera, music, and edit beats – show Anjali (Madhuri Dixit) wanting to be noticed by Jai (Anil Kapoor). She loves him and wants him to love her back; the song transitions into a daydream sequence showing this desire. In her fantasy, with a blurry background leaving only the pair in focus, they almost share a kiss. Shortly after returning to reality a new character, Pooja, is introduced luring Jai’s attention. When the song enters its final moments, Anjali is sad watching Jai dance with Pooja. While watching them she’s blocked by people in the foreground showing that she is no longer important and both figuratively and literally in Jai’s background. The song didn’t need dialogue, except for Pooja’s introduction, to show this short story arc. Everything was presented visually through the song with two great dancers.
Kar Gayi Chull – Honorable Mention (HM)
Film: Kapoor and Sons
You’re jonesing for your party song fix and find this gem – a dance song with a good beat and something not visible over the thumping speakers. The stage is set and a house party is awaiting to be dialed up. Tia (Alia Bhatt), after taking a shot, is positioned in the center and starts dancing with the other females following suit. Then Arjun (Sidharth Malhotra) joins in and activates his male companions in the frame. This dance sequence inside the home is what I found alluring. The background dancers aren’t just in the background and looking towards the camera. They’re everywhere and facing every which way by being positioned on both sides and the foreground. The main actors are crunched up by them; the blocking gives a nice sense of being in a house party. When the song moves outside it loses this visual charm. It turns into a generic party song and the cramped sensation I enjoyed is lost in the open space.
AIB Party Song – HM
This song isn’t Bollywood per se, but a parody on Bollywood Party Songs, like ‘Kar Gayi Chull’. With comedy being the purpose of the song it uses visual humor that would be lost if solely listened to. It pokes fun of the clichés in “party song” videos, like having people jumping and showing the bartender’s flair. The lyrics serve as the first half of a joke with the visual match delivering the punchline. Lyrics [translated] like “Clap along with the beat” and “put alcohol in the music video” are depicted accordingly. It even has good moral messages – stop objectifying women and misogyny isn’t cool. For a greater look this issue check out this great Youtube video explaining the numerous problems. Until then, one cannot watch this song without having a good chuckle.
Kabira – HM
Film: Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani
A familiar Bollywood song to those that know genre well, but atypical to those that associate it with dancing, bright colors, and happiness. This is a sad song or a dukhi gaana beginning with Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor) watching his love get away in a well-lit background setting. The lights in the background turn off one by one. Finally, the light illuminating Bunny is shut and darkness engulfs the entire frame. I liked the way this slow darkness depicted his loneliness. Watching a character self-reflect isn’t the most visually interesting and the film knows that. It instead uses the song to move the narrative forward by showing wedding preparations and the final ceremony being performed. Also ending with fireworks perfectly positioned behind him as he is leaving was a jolly way to show a sad departure.
Music videos are in a category of their own with a distinct feel rarely seen in movies. In the United States, feature film directors dabble and even have their start in music videos. These creators include the likes of David Fincher and Spike Jonze. However, these unique looks are rarely seen in their movies. That’s a freedom Bollywood has with their music – an opportunity integrating narrative or pure style into their songs. Next time you’re listening to a Bollywood song or any song for that matter take a moment to think if it would be just as fun to watch.