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Love, lust and heartbreak: From Shree 420 to Jab We Met, Bollywood’s love affair with monsoons


My earliest memory of rain on the big screen is a segment of Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, two brothers Apu and Durga The sisters got wet in the rain and went to take shelter in the shade. The scene is played out to the soft sounds of falling rain, and the soulful agitation of Ravi Shankar’s sitar quietly takes over. When the master’s music takes up the carefully framed screen space, I realize that I 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, released another iconic rain-related song. The song Megh Peoner Bag er Bhetor (in the cloud mailman’s bag) written by Ghosh himself, the brisk notes in the song tell of a fantasy cloud messenger who carries a heartbroken letter. The song makes complete sense in the larger context of the film, which tells of two estranged lovers who suddenly meet while driving down a mountain – heavily inspired by the Sanskrit Meghdutam, where the exiled Yaksha remembers his lover’s first monsoon clouds.

While unknowingly Monsoon was associated with these little markers of cultural currency at such a young age, it was only later that my musical connection to Monsoon was further cemented as I entered the Bollywood rain song landscape. The first, always the crowning jewel of any monsoon playlist, will be Pyaar Hua Ikraar Hua’s monochrome frame in Shree 420.

Photo: Movie Stills

Just as Nargis walked away from the affable Raj Kapoor, a downpour ensued. Raj Kapoor snatched the umbrella from Nargis, shielding them both in ample shade. He then went on to kiss his lover Nargis, who turned away like a true Bollywood slut. Cue our hero, sing the song above with the almost baritone Manna Dey, and ask if there’s love, what’s there to be afraid of? Nargis, who was hesitant, replied this time in the nightingale-like voice of Lata Mangeshkar: “Kehta hai dil rasta mushkil, maalum nahi hai kahaan manzil (the heart says the road is difficult, after all, there is no destination in sight).” The close-up of the actor gives the viewer a sense of being in the confining shadow of the umbrella itself – a small world of momentary seduction and flirtation. All the while, the rain continued to pour—but it wasn’t an angry downpour. Instead, it’s quietly stirring—even welcoming the first ray of romance that’s finally blooming between the two.

If this sequence captures rain as a romantic impetus, Raveena Tandon and Akshay Kumar’s flickering figures from Mohra establish the same place as ambiguous eroticism. Raveena was soaking wet in a translucent yellow chiffon saree. Rain continues to accentuate many of the heroine’s curves as Akshay Kumar falls in love with her – turning the sequence into an unabashed display of female sexuality. If the hip thrust wasn’t suggestive enough, the lyrics further emphasize the metaphor of desire in the song, by talking about water (paani ne aag lagayi) that has the power to start fire.

But aside from the joy of appreciating this Mohra piece, Bollywood surprised me again with another song about a couple getting wet in the rain – but this time the scene was set for the union of estranged lovers of. In Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Shah Rukh’s romantic rainprint scene with Kajol in the gazebo amplifies the subtext tension between the two actors. Kajol is dressed in flamboyant red and Khan in black, the pair’s eyes are aching like rain, the piano chords they dance to are now rekindled by estranged lovers of romantic joy they long thought were dead.

But in Bollywood, rain is not always associated with romance and love. Along with Ghanan Ghanan from Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan, AR Rahman brings the glorious megh raag element back to the song about rainfall – only this time it’s about the effects of monsoons on the surrounding fauna. The music perfectly mimics the thunder beat, and the fast-paced tarr and electronic soundtrack boldly combines the rusticity of monsoons with deep-rooted poetic lyricism.

A few years later, he released another famous rain song – Barso Re from Guru of Mani Ratnam, which is based on megh malhar raag. Legend has it that Tansen’s rendition actually causes the clouds to rain – that’s the power of his rendition. Shot entirely on the scene of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan dancing recklessly in the rain—a segment that brings back the youthful energy the poet has associated with monsoons over the years. There is no element of romance or lust in this sequence. Instead, it plays up the naughty and playful abandonment element — giving us a track we’ll remember for years to come. Dressed in dark brown with a hint of yellow – Aishwarya pretty much owns this song sequence to me.

But in Imtiaz Ali’s Jab We Met, two song clips perfectly capture the crowning glory of encapsulating the rain’s true romantic character. After the separation of Geet and Aditya, played by the talented Kareena Kapoor Khan and Shahid Kapoor, we hear a soulful rendition of Aoge Jab Tum. The song, about the possible arrival of an absent beloved, promises that in classic Kalidas style, the rain will accompany the return of the beloved and the reunion of two estranged hearts. But the song was shot entirely on landscapes and people—there wasn’t any sign of rain.

We are forced to feel the anxiety of their separation, and our hearing yearns for the comfort of their union in the wetness of the rain. But when the couple does come together, the lyrics address the beloved’s centrality in a heartbroken lover’s life in a fantastical sequence. But this time, through the literal visualization of two lovers dancing in the rain, the fantasies of the mind are given wings. The sequence is filled with joy when pent-up pain finally bears fruit in the floodgates of fantasy.

Despite all the harsh criticism we often subject the film industry to, one must remember the seminal role the film industry played in shaping our own perceptions of love and desire through the metaphor of rain – through its moments of separation and in our Unions are always soothing on the days when they need it most.

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