In which we provide an illustrative tutorial on song and dance routines in Hindi films.
Alright. Gather around peoples. It’s time to get on the soapbox.
Every time I see someone use the phrase running-around-trees to refer to current Bollywood song-and-dance routines, I get annoyed. Yes, Bollywood is escapist and unreal. But news flash. We do NOT run around trees. Not anymore. They stopped doing that, circa 1992. They’ve chopped up all the trees and replaced them with ostentatious sets that resemble space-age metropolises. (Or ostentatious red and gold, stained-glass sets if you go the Bhansali way.) Even the sarson ke khet loving Yash Chopra productions have retired their gaggle of giggly sahelis and instead prefer to feature hotties on the beaches of Sydney and Rio.
Now for those of you who don’t understand words, we have a simple illustrative example of song-and-dance routines in Bollywood, then and now. First Exhibit A, from 1970.
As you can see above, the 70s were a time when trees served many a purpose in Hindi films —
- To run around and sing songs.
- To hide behind and (presumably) kiss.
- To fill up background space when you didn’t have the budget to hire backup dancers. (Standard formula used — one banyan tree = 5.2 apsaraa girls.)
- For hero to hide behind, while chasing the villain with a gun containing a single bullet. (The hero being twice the width of the tree is of scant significance.)
- To sway menacingly to warn the audience of the storm (figurative and literal) that is soon to strike the hero-heroine. (A device used excessively in ghost stories just before villain puts buri nazar on heroine, kills her, and leaves her bhatakti aatmaa to torment audiences for rest of movie.)
- To topple over onto an obviously-fake miniature house to indicate a natural calamity of choice (earthquakes and floods being most popular) thus separating the hero and his family, only to have them be united in the end, after singing the ubiquitous family song. (For all of you who scoff at the idea — exactly how many of you have a pre-determined group song as part of your family contingency plan? Hah. I thought as much.)
Bottomline, trees were important in Hindi films and their importance in romance was no less. Without the tree, the hero had nowhere to trap the heroine so he could lean into her for a kiss. Without the tree, the heroine had nowhere to back into, before coyly giving in to the kiss. Without the tree, Jaya Bhaduri couldn’t annoyingly hide from Randhir Kapoor while singing main yahaan to his tum kahaan. Without the tree, Vyjayanthimala couldn’t hang off a branch, coyly swing her ghaghraa back and forth, and sing dil tadap tadap ke keh rahaa to Dilip Kumar. Well, you get the point. Trees — important.
Now we move on to Exhibit B. This is 2008. Notice. No trees. No nature. Just oodles of symbolism. Whoever said Hindi movies cannot be subtle?
So now you know. Movies of the 70s and 80s were more eco-friendly. And that is the convenient truth.