My earliest memory of rains on the big screen is the sequence from Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, where the two siblings Apu and Durga get drenched in the rain before going and taking shelter under the shade of a tree. The scene is played out to the muted sound of the falling rain, the soulful stirrings of Ravi Shankar’s sitar quietly taking over. As the music of the maestro took over the space of the meticulously framed screen, I realised that I would always associate rain with music.
A few years later, Rituparno Ghosh’s Titli: The First Monsoon Day, starring the mother-daughter duo of Aparna Sen and Konkona Sen Sharma, featured yet another iconic song related to rain. Penned by Ghosh himself, the song Megh Peoner Bag er Bhetor (Inside the Bag of the Cloud Mailman), the lilting notes of song spoke of a fantasy cloud-messenger who carried letters of heartbreak. The song made complete sense in the larger context of the film that was about two estranged lovers and their sudden meeting on a drive down the hills – heavily inspired from the Sanskrit text of Meghdutam, where an exiled yaksha is reminded of his lover at the sight of the first monsoon laden clouds.
While unconsciously monsoon became associated with these small markers of cultural currency at such an early age, it was only later that my musical associations with the monsoons became further solidified with my entry into the landscape of Bollywood rain songs. The first one, and the one that will always be the crowning jewel in any monsoon playlist, will be the monochromatic frames of Pyaar Hua Ikraar Hua from Shree 420.
Just as Nargis walks away from an ever-affable Raj Kapoor, heavy downpour ensues. Raj Kapoor grabs the umbrella from the hands of Nargis and shelters the two of them beneath its ample shade. He then proceeds to kiss his lady love Nargis, and she like a true Bollywood coquette turns away her face. Cue for our hero, in the almost-baritone of Manna Dey to sing the above, asking that if there is love, then what is there to be scared of? A hesitant Nargis, this time in the nightingale-like voice of Lata Mangeshkar replies, “Kehta hai dil rasta mushkil, maalum nahi hai kahaan manzil (the heart says that the road is tough, there is no destination in sight after all).” The tight close-ups of both the actors give the viewer a sense of being inside the confining shade of the umbrella itself – a small world of momentary seduction and flirtation. All the while, the rain continues to pour – but this isn’t an angry tempestuous downpour. Instead, it is one that is quietly stirring – welcoming even of the first flush of romance that has now finally blossomed between these two people.
If this sequence captured rain as a propellent of romance, Raveena Tandon and Akshay Kumar’s scintillating number from Mohra established the same as a site for equivocal lust. Raveena, dressed in a translucent yellow chiffon saree, gets totally drenched in water. As Akshay Kumar romances her, the rain proceeds to accentuate the many curves of the heroine – turning the sequence into an unabashed display of female sexuality. If the hip thrusts were not suggestive enough, the lyrics further accentuate the metaphors of lust in the song by talking about water that has the power to strike fire (paani ne aag lagayi).
But beyond the prohibitive joy of enjoying this Mohra piece, Bollywood surprised me yet again with another song about a rain-drenched couple – but this time the scene was set for the union of estranged lovers. In Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, rain marked scene of Shah Rukh romancing Kajol in the gazebo, amplified the sub-textual sexual tension between the two actors manifold. With Kajol dressed in a resplendent red and Khan in black, the two were a treat for sore eyes as the rain, and piano chords they danced to, now became punctuated with the joy of estranged lovers rekindling a romance they had long thought was dead.
But the rains have not always been about romance and love in Bollywood. With Ghanan Ghanan, from Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan, A. R. Rahman brought back the element of the glorious megh raag to songs about the rains – only this time it was about the effect the monsoons had on surrounding fauna. The music perfectly mimicked the beats of thunder, with quick taals and an electric sound track that audaciously combined the rusticity of the onset of the monsoons with a deep-seated poetic lyricism.
In a few years, he followed it up with his other famous rain song – Barso Re from Mani Ratnam’s Guru, which was based on the megh malhar raag. Legend has it that Tansen’s rendition of the same would actually cause the clouds to shower their rains – such was the power of his rendition. Filmed entirely on Aishwarya Rai Bachchan dancing with abandon in the rains – this sequence brought back the youthful vivacity that poets have for years associated with the monsoon. There was not any element of romance or lust in this sequence. Instead it played on elements of mischievousness and playful abandon – giving us a track that we will remember for ages to come. Dressed in a deep shade of brown with just a hint of yellow – Aishwarya pretty much owned this song sequence for me.
But the crowning glory of encapsulating the true romantic character of the rains is perhaps captured perfectly across two song sequences in Imtiaz Ali’s Jab We Met. Following the separation of Geet and Aditya, played by a brilliant Kareena Kapoor Khan and Shahid Kapoor, we hear the soulful rendition of Aoge Jab Tum. This song, which talks about the probable arrival of an absentee beloved figure, promises that, in classic Kalidas style, the rains will accompany the return of the beloved and the reunion of two estranged hearts. But this song is entirely filmed on landscapes and characters – bereft of any hint of the rains.
We are made to feel the scorch of their separation and our auditory senses are made to yearn for the comfort of their union with the dampness of the rains. But when the couple does unite, in a fantasy sequence the lyrics talk about the centrality of the beloved in the life of the heart-broken yearning lover. But this time, the fantasy of the heart is given wings through a literal visualisation of the two lovers dancing in the rains. There is an abundance of joy in this sequence as the pent-up pain finally reaches fruition in the flood gates of fantasy.
Despite all the harsh criticism we more than often subject our cinema industry to, one must remember the seminal role the industry has had in shaping our own perceptions of love and lust through the metaphor of the rains – a trope that through its moments of separation and union never fails to soothe the heart on the days we need it the most.