Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Piya Tu Ab To Aaja (Monica, Oh My Darling!)

This is the first post of my blog, so I might as well give a quick run-down of what's going on here. In short: I am somewhat obsessed with Bollywood movies — especially ones of a particular '60s through '80s vintage. If you're looking for gossip on Shah Rukh Khan or Aishwarya Rai, you're probably not going to find it here. But, if you stay tuned for my weekly updates, I think you'll agree that there's something special about these older movies. I'm not entirely sure what it is, and that's part of the reason I started this blog — I want to try to articulate what it is about these gorgeous, kitschy, strange, fantastic movies that I love.

I'm starting out with one of my favorite clips — a song called "Piya Tu Ab To Aaja (Monica, Oh My Darling!)" from the 1971 film Caravan. In my collecting of Bollywood films and music, I've followed several actors and actresses that I became fascinated with, and one of them is Helen, the central dancer in this clip. She basically knocks the socks off of any other Bollywood dancer, then or now. Her moves are just genius, and the hyperactive energy that she musters is incredible.

When I first saw this clip, I was confused and stunned — by the hysteric dancing, the odd juxtaposition of English and Hindi lyrics, and the giant set with pink flamingos, a human-sized golden bird cage, and a replica of Big Ben that somehow fits into a tiny nightclub. I think that a common outsider reaction to Bollywood is to prize its bizarre and incomprehensible quality — a celebration of the entertainment value of the "what the hell?" absurdity of it all. But as I watched more movies I found that understanding a little bit more about the culture and the context actually made it even more entertaining and enjoyable. So, a few notes about this clip: Helen was not ethnically Indian, but rather French and Burmese, which may explain why she never had a successful leading role in Bollywood films. However, she was unquestionably the most talented dancer in Bollywood over her 3-decade career, and was in high demand for secondary roles and explosive dance sequences. Helen could be sensual and suggestive without ever crossing over into direct provocation — a skirting of restrictions that seems to have been highly prized in '60s and '70s Bollywood, which took pains to respect social mores — and government censors — with regard to displays of sexuality. Notice, for instance, that around 4 minutes in to this clip, when Helen's outer garments are dramatically removed, it is not actually her bare stomach you see — she's wearing a body sock!

Anyway, enough blabbering from me. Enjoy the clip, and come back next week for the next entry.

Update: I posted a translation of the lyrics.


Justina said...

Yay! I look forward to seeing and learning more.

Cal said...

Awesome. The restaurant patrons look like they're in a different universe or something!

My RSS reader is all primed and ready to go sir, looking forward to future posts!

amityb said...

Thanks for the clip--really enjoyed it! I loved how Helen kicks the mariachi dude out of the cage and then totally rocks it. Kinda like turning the whole Rapunzel story upside-down gender ass-backwards and slapping it around a bit.

Maria said...


I gotta say, your blog is simply amazing!
I am myself a huge (classic) Bollywood fan as well - great to see some of my favourite clips on here :)
Hope you don't mind if add a link of your blog on mine?

Evanthia said...

You said it all perfectly! I felt the same way when I first saw this clip. Helen is one of the greatest Bollywood dancers and I look to her to inspire me to make my Middle Eastern dance routines as exciting!