Bollywood songs through the decades – what we saw and what has changed

Bollywood songs through the decades – what we saw and what has changed

Bollywood needs its typical song and dance. Be it the romantic tracks, the dance numbers or the item songs, Hindi films cannot do without any of them. Here's a look at how the depiction and placement of songs have changed in our movies over the years.

Bollywood songs photos
The shyness of romance has given way to the fast-paced party numbers in Bollywood today.

What is Bollywood without its song and dance? From the “running around trees” to the age of remixes, Indian films have seen enough in terms of changing trends. And since Bollywood movies are musicals, a good packaging and picturisation of its songs become as important as its basic plot. We might agree that gone are the days when our films had enchanting tunes and the uniqueness of beautiful shots, but we cannot ignore that be it any age, shelf life or not, original or recreations, dance numbers or romantic ballets, songs have always been the soul of Bollywood.

Here’s a look back at how songs have remained an integral part of our films, be it woven into its screenplay, taking the story forward or just a random celebration giving some lighter moments to the movie.

1950s – The decade of extreme close-ups

Raj Kapoor and Nargis in Shree 420 photo
During the inception of Hindi films, songs were all about intense emotions sans any physical contact.

The black and white era of 1950s was marked by songs shot in static frames with all the action happening through the eyes and eyebrows of our lead actors. The only change came about was an eventual slight ‘movement’ within the given frame. So from extreme close-ups of the face to some relevant cut-ins of the moon, the flowers and the rustling of leaves, Bollywood songs welcomed more elements which added to the dynamics of the romance.

1960s – The decade of pure dance

Waheeda Rehman in Guide song photo
Actors like Waheeda Rehman and Vyjayanthimala introduced pure dance forms to Hindi cinema.

Actors like Vyjayanthimala, Waheeda Rehman and Mala Sinha slowly brought dance in the 1960s. They might be clad in sarees, but their dance was as pure as gold. Songs like “Honton Mein Aisi Baat” and “Piya Tose Naina Laage Re” resonate not just the beauty of these divas but also the sanctity of songs of this era.

1970s – The decade of enchanting eyes

Helen songs photo
The 1970s was a phase when cabaret and disco dance took a front seat.

Even in their guest appearances Helen, Bindu and Aruna Irani became the perfect face of RD Burman’s tracks in the 1970s. This might be the cabaret or the disco phase but the placement of these numbers highlighted the plot. They either happened inside the villain’s den or were meant to add thrill to the climax. Most of them were filmed as party songs where these beauties danced their way trying to get through the main lead’s heart with their piercing eyes or body movements, literally trying to hypnotise everyone watching them. A lot of zoom shots were used for the same, both on their faces and their hip shakes. And rarely did that looked odd.

This has been called the golden phase of Bollywood not just because of its blockbuster films, but also for its legendary songs. From “Piya Tu Ab To Aaja” to “Mera Naam Hai Shabnam” and “Chadti Jawani Meri Chaal Mastani”, the songs of this phase still hold a place in our party playlist.

1980s – The decade of growing romance

Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha in Silsila film photos
Amitabh Bachchan films gave us some of the biggest romantic numbers Bollywood ever had.

Come 1980s and the royal reign of RD Burman continued. The only thing which changed was how a film’s female lead began doing exactly what Helen did a decade back. They romanced the actors in a setting that perfectly fit into the smooth screenplay. Parveen Babi and Zeenat Aman lead the epic playlist of this era. “Pyar Mein Dil Pe Maar De Goli” had as much stuff happening in the song as in “Pyaar Karne Wale”.

Music and songs in this period were intimately connected to the storyline. They were written and woven as per the requirements of the film and in the respective situations. The structure of songs had a relative stability. While Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammad Rafi, Asha Bhonsle, Kishore Kumar and Hemant Kumar were the mainstay of the playback singing scene, big actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor and Rishi Kapoor gave them the apt face value. This perfect combination reciprocated well onscreen too. Bachchan’s songs were either playful or had intense action happening (not literal fighting but the thrill of the climax). On the other hand, both the Kapoors wooed their ladies in their super romantic numbers.

Aamir Khan and Pooja Bhatt in Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin film photos
Aamir Khan and Pooja Bhatt film Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin is one of the biggest musical hits recently.

Towards the second half of 1980s and early 1990s, we had films like Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Ram Lakhan, Saajan and Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin – all musical blockbusters. On the other side of the camera, it introduced us with the voices of Udit Narayan, Alka Yagnik and Kumar Sanu, on the front these songs majorly had a dreamy set-up, making anyone fall in love. There was romance, longing, betrayal and confessions and every aspect was shot with a proper screenplay of its own. Each song, be it “Pehla Nasha”, “Ae Mere Humsafar”, “Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin” or “Bahut Pyar Karte Hain”, made us believe in love.

1990s – The decade of celebration

Hum Sath Sath Hain film photos
Sooraj Barjatya and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s films are loaded with celebratory songs.

As 1980s drew to a close, the softness and subtle nuances of these songs began giving way to fast and orchestral forms too. A portion of the 1990s also introduced us to the three Khans, Madhuri Dixit, Karisma Kapoor and others. There was dance, a lot of it! There were celebrations too as onscreen romance became more fearless. There was open flirting as guys and girls broke into a dance number at the drop of a hat. Luckily, all of it never looked jarring. Sooraj Barjatya’s films seemed written around a dozen of songs with the plot connecting each number. There was DDLJ too which was a mixed bag of tracks – one for party, one for shaadi and one for the ‘sarson ke khet’ too! And among all of it, its manner of picturisation also changed with more proximity between the actors. Now, there wasn’t any need for any cut-ins as actors were close enough to fit in the single frame!

Shah Rukh Khan in DDLJ photos
The songs of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge have acquired a cult status.

As 1990s brought curtains down on the decade and even a millennium, Bollywood songs became bigger. This era also had television opening up to private productions. The coming of VCR and cable networks impacted not just films but even its songs. The reach grew and so did the money that went to produce songs.

2000s – The decade of quick moves

Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai in Dhoom 2 photo
Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s Dhoom 2 had smartly carved songs fitting into its screenplay.

In the 2000s, there was increasing skin show, quick moves and loud compositions. New faces like Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai added to the star value. Both being brilliant dancers with beautiful personalities shone onscreen. No film was complete without their dance number. And while these two filled up for the performance part, others like Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan kept the romance intact. While SRK kept spreading his arms, Aamir’s antics in tracks like “Aati Kya Khandala” even if it lacked lyrics, made each of their song a national favourite. And amid all this, filmmakers like Karan Johar kept giving us Kabhie Khushi Kabhi Gham to fix any loose ends.

Sometimes the songs were used to introduce a character, sometimes, in the end credits to show the “happily ever after”. They were all shot larger than life on a budget which could be enough to produce a separate film altogether. This phase saw the canvas of songs grow to exorbitant levels.

2010s – The decade of objectification

Bollywood item songs Munni Badnam and Sheila Ki Jawani photos
‘Munni Badnaam’ and ‘Sheila Ki Jawani’ remain two of the most popular item songs seen in recent times.

As 2000s entered its second decade, the “item songs” were back and with more action. 2010 alone gave us two of the biggest recent tracks – “Munni Badnaam” and “Sheila Ki Jawani”. While the heroines kept twisting and turning, the debate around objectification of a female body kept intensifying. The lens zoomed in and out of their torsos and bellies, from their lips to their hips. But who cared, as filmmakers kept hard selling their movies on these songs and cinefans kept dancing to them at every party.

In 2010s, songs lost their storytelling part too. Its screenplay wasn’t really worked upon. All our actors had to do was get into some gymnastic-like dance, which was fast cut on the editing table. And before you could see their faces or judge their moves, the shot had changed 5 times! Romance too became indulging in the actual ‘act’. Suggestive shots and symbolism vanished and Bollywood began propagating “see it to believe it”.

Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone in Yeh Jawani hai Deewani photo
Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone starrer Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani boasted of youthful songs and music.

This was the Ranbir Kapoor-Deepika Padukone-Anushka Sharma-Ranveer Singh phase. They were the highly polished bodies representing a mannequin-ish frame onscreen. They were too beautiful even when they played Holi or too spick and span even sweating it out under the sun. Their songs emphasised their beauty as the camera moved in and out of their face to their chiselled appearance.

Jacqueline Fernandez in Baaghi 2 song Ek Do Teen photo
Jacqueline Fernandez’s song ‘EkDo Teen’ from Baaghi 2 received a lot of flak.

Whatever happened to the era when close-ups meant that of eyes and the shyness that came with every glance. Today, close-ups would mean seeing the flat abs of Jacqueline Fernandez on the 70 mm. The new age fixation with remixing and recreating old classics has also in a way marred the true magic of not just the original compositions but even the way they were produced. Today, “Laila O Laila” won’t remind us of the enchanting Zeenat Aman but of Sunny Leone from Raees. And this trend will only grow. In the absence of originality, our memories of the iconic song videos from the years gone by will be replaced with some revamped number and the faces of new age actors, even if they don’t have a shelf life!


Also read | Baaghi 2’s Ek Do Teen: Another lesson from Bollywood in terrible remixes