“Humka dekhe surati fanke
Chor nazar se lehenga jhanke
Hatte la najariya toh
Kheenche muua dor,
Sarak aarak sarkaile
Lehenga maare la zor”
The song is picturised on Swara Bhaskar in the upcoming film Anaarkali Of Arrah — Dressed in a glitzy yellow lehenga, she plays Anaarkali in the film, a singer who teases with her innuendo-laden lyrics. And the lehenga in question takes on a new meaning. “The lehenga here is symbolic of Anaarkali’s world — mischievous, naughty and bordering on an ambiguous sexual territory. But how can we shy away from that — she is an erotic singer, her songs are supposed to tease and titillate,” says Ravinder Randhawa, lyricist of the film, which is about an erotic singer who performs at public functions and ceremonies.
Randhawa, a Sikh born in Chittaranjan (West Bengal) and raised in Jharkhand, has also written a bunch of songs in Bhojpuri for the film which is set in Arrah. He is the youngest of three brothers, and followed in the footsteps of his elder brother to came to study at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. Initially, he dabbled in street theatre and soon became a part of the JNU Students’ Union. Randhawa says all of this came in handy while he was penning down the lyrics for the film. “While at JNU, as part of the political culture and theatrical practices, I sang songs from that part of the country. And the numerous friends and acquaintances that I had from that milieu familiarised me with that particular linguistic culture,” he adds.
“I had come on board as an associate director and was involved with every aspect of the film. I was asked by Rohit Sharma (the film’s music director) to write one song for the film as we were dealing with strict deadlines and budget issues; I ended up writing four,” says Randhawa, who has previously written the songs for the National Award-winning film Filmistaan (2012).
He says the songs are an important tool to further the plot of the film. The key here was to not overwhelm the audience with hardcore Bhojpuri words and jargon. “The songs have a desipanna in them — a twang native to Bihar. We have primarily used Hindi words, but the way they are sung is very Bhojpuri. Our struggle as writers and composers is to capture the milieu. There are certain words I have used which are hardcore Bhojpuri, but given the context and content of the song, one would surely understand what is being conveyed,” says Randhawa, who came to Mumbai in 2006-07 after completing his Masters in Mass Communications from Jamia Millia Islamia. In Mumbai, he worked on several short films and documentaries, and was also an associate writer for the screenplay of Aarakshan (2011).
The soundtrack of Anaarkali Of Arrah, he says, is “very colourful and interesting”. “I had never written such songs; previously, I have written political and philosophical songs. I had to write keeping in mind Anaarkali — who teases and yet strives to give out a political statement. And it needed to come from her — in her inimitable style, or else she would seem like a preachy outsider. For instance, the lehenga song even talks about migration in its latter part, how Anaarkali laments about a woman whose husband who has gone to work in Delhi,” says Randhawa.
But writing songs that reflect the political temperature of the country is nothing new for Randhawa. He is one the founding members of an artist collective called Swaang. They had come out with a song Ma ni meri after the Nirbhaya gangrape case in Delhi. “Art itself is very political in nature. And given the current political climate that we are living in — where freedom of expression is being so relentlessly attacked — this is our way of an cultural intervention,” says Randhawa. He says that in this wave of hyper-nationalism that our country is currently riding, there is a distinct lack of an alternate voice.
“If you look at the mainstream music in Bollywood, there is only one certain sound you hear. Either they are pyaar mohabbat ke geet, ya sharaab ke gaane (either love songs or those talking about alcohol). They don’t talk about society, about the current political situation. There is no political intervention that comes from art. That’s what are trying to do, fill that vacuum. We are still shying away from any political assertion through art,” he adds.