Home >Opinion >The ‘jhinga lala’ note

In India, the understanding of several contexts and experiences is so deeply influenced by their formulaic depiction in Hindi films that often the celluloid depictions become virtually the only references we identify with.

The courtroom in Hindi films is a case in point. Court proceedings are what we see of them in films, and if the celluloid courtroom is far removed from real-life courtroom drama, we still tend to refer to the indelibly etched memory of the cinematic depiction. The tawaif’s kotha or courtesan’s salon is yet another space that has received formulaic depiction in Hindi films and for many, films like Pakeezah and Umrao Jaan are the reference points for information on courtesan culture. This is not to say that all depictions of courtrooms or the courtesan’s salon in Hindi films remain identical, but the recurrence of formulaic depictions establishes stereotypes.

With the irrefutable mass appeal enjoyed by Hindi film music, it would not be incorrect to say that our aural memory and associations have also been similarly influenced by the sounds of Hindi film music and song. In its hybrid approach, Hindi film music borrows from multiple sources and genres, including folk music, from different regions of the country. It is very likely that our understanding of a particular genre of music may be coloured by its depiction in films. For example, the qawwali, an intrinsic part of Sufi worship ritual, has, in its filmic avatar, been plucked out from its conventional performance space of the khanqah or dargaah, to all manner of spaces, including a concert proscenium, as in the popular Hai agar dushman zamana from the 1977 blockbuster Hum Kisise Kum Naheen or Purdah hai purdah from the multi-starrer Amar Akbar Anthony, also released in 1977.

In a far cry from the samaa ritual that qawwali is associated with, Reshma Aur Shera, released in 1972 with award-winning music by the acclaimed Jaidev, includes Zaalim meri sharaab mein ye kya mila diya, which shows the lead singer of the qawwali group with a glass of alcohol in his hand! Bollywood also succeeded in converting the qawwali into a muqabla or song contest between rival performers or lovers, distancing it further from its spiritual origins. The qawwali became synonymous with muqabla and it is only in recent times, when Sufi music has gained popularity, that qawwali tracks in Hindi films once again focus on Sufi ritual and worship.

Popular perception of tribal culture too has been similarly influenced by Bollywood films. Think of the hit track Hum bewafa hargiz na they from Shalimar (1978) and the jhinga lala hoo chorus that accompanies the song almost throughout its length. Liberally peppered with humming, bizarre sounds like hurr hurr, and nonsensical phrases such as abu gachu kaba chabu kusu baka … (at 0.31 seconds in the track), the visuals show groups of men and women dressed in colourful but outlandish costumes and headgear engaged in some primitive ritual of sorts. Bombada from the 1980 film Nishana provides a similar depiction of tribal costume, culture and music. With such limited access and exposure to diverse forms of music, including tribal music, the stereotypes depicted in films are further reinforced to the point where the Bollywood model establishes primacy. Traditional practitioners of qawwali often adopt and adapt the filmi qawwali in their quest for better opportunities, as is seen in this crass example.

Meanwhile, jhinga lala hoo enters the urban dictionary as a term denoting a happy, carefree state of mind.

This is the fourth in a series of Shubha Mudgal’s columns on Hindi film music

Also Read | Shubha’s previous Lounge columns

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