Holi Hai! A look at Holi in Hindi cinema

Akshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar in the Latthmaar Holi sequence in Toilet—Ek Prem Katha (2017). Photo: Hype PR

The Festival of Colors has run riot in its own way in Hindi cinema. With rocking songs and (even if limited) films in which it played a significant or plot-changing role, Holi has made its multi-shaded splash in the movies.

Also called the Festival of Love, Holi has traditionally been all about Radha and Krishna’s romance, but also signifies the annihilation of the demon Hiranyakashyap by Lord Vishnu in his avatar as Narsimha.

For starters, Holi Aaee Re (1970), produced by the legendary Vijay Bhatt, and Holi (1984) directed by Ketan Mehta (with Aamir Khan seen as an adult for the first time) are films that were named after the Spring festival.  While the former was the story of a rich man impregnating a woman during the Holi festivities and refusing to marry her, Holi was about student unrest happening when a college announces that the festival holiday is canceled, the events ultimately leading to a tragedy for the students.

Incidentally, the 1973 Dharmendra-Waheeda Rehman-Jaya Bachchan-Vijay Arora film Phagun revolved around this occasion, as Holi falls in the Hindu month of Phagun. A not-so-successful writer leaves his rich wife when she insults him for spraying her expensive saree with colors on Holi. She discovers that she is pregnant and her husband only returns years later, when their daughter is married.

Hindi cinema’s tryst with the festival could be said to have truly begun with the 1940 A.R. Kardar drama Holi starring Motilal and Khursheed. This film too told the story of a rich boy-poor girl love, but balanced it with a rich girl-poor boy’s romance as well—the story began on Holi during its celebration. This was followed by Amiya Chakravorty’s 1944 Jwar Bhata, known to be Dilip Kumar’s first film, in which a group of girls spraying colors makes for a crucial turning-point in the plot.

However, Holi was employed in many other, more contemporary movies as a plot driver. In Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013), for example, the introverted Deepika Padukone discovers her true self and sheds her inhibitions as she is being sprayed with colors by Ranbir Kapoor during the song Balam pichhkari jo toone mujhe maari.

Movie buffs will also remember the iconic Gabbar Singh line, “Holi kab hai (When is Holi)?” as the forerunner of the action sequence (besides the popular song, Holi ke din dil khil jaate hain) in Ramesh Sippy’s all-timer Sholay (1975). And speaking of another Amitabh Bachchan-Jaya Bachchan film, in Yash Chopra’s Silsila (1981), the rekindled love between Amitabh and his first love Rekha (in the film) finds them confessing to Jaya (Amitabh’s wife) and Sanjeev Kumar (Rekha’s husband) in the Holi song Rang barse bheege chunarwali.

Three more Amitabh films saw Holi figure in key sequences: in Yash Chopra’s Mohabbatein (2000), Shah Rukh Khan (playing the music teacher) insists on applying color as a pink teeka on the stern principal (Amitabh)’s forehead, probably the first concession the latter makes to going beyond strict discipline, as Shah Rukh intends.

And in Waqt…, Amitabh and his wife (Shefali Shah) throw out their thoughtless son (Akshay Kumar) when they find out that his wife (Priyanka Chopra, now Jonas) is pregnant, and he is still not thinking of their future and working hard at earning a living, taking their lifestyle for granted. This discovery happens after the Holi song, Do me a favor let’s play Holi.

In Baghban, the Amitabh Bachchan-Hema Malini song Hori khele Raghuveera showed the lead players’ family happily celebrating together before a crisis happens that affects their lives forever.

And speaking of Yash Chopra and Shah Rukh Khan again, as an obsessed lover smitten by Juhi Chawla (who is Sunny Deol’s love), he dares to smear her with color in Darr (1993) during the festival ceremonies, making her scream as she senses his touch for the first time. And after the Holi song Ang se ang lagana is over, Sunny chases Shah Rukh.

Another film, Zakhmee (1975), and another iconic song, Dil mein Holi jal rahi hai: This time Sunil Dutt, seeking revenge from the villains who tore apart his family, seemingly sings in abandon with other revelers on the streets, but is actually on this mission during the festivities.

Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone smitten by love in Goliyon Ki RasLeela—RamLeela. Photo: Music Video Grab

Then we have Goliyon Ki RasLeela—Ram-Leela (2013) in which Ram and Leela, portrayed by Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone, smear color on each other not just because of the festival but also because love has smitten both of them. Their clans are hostile to each other, and the two fall in love. The song Lahu munh lag gaya graphically conveys their nascent passion for each other.

We have two more films of Akshay Kumar, besides Waqt…, that have a Holi connection: Jolly LLB 2 and Toilet—Ek Prem Katha, both 2017 releases. In the first, the Holi song Go pagal finds Sayani Gupta’s character realizing that Jolly, the lawyer, that is Akshay Kumar, has deceived her. It shatters her, and the consequences ultimately reform him and makes him take to the right path.

In the second film, we have Akshay trying to woo back his estranged wife (Bhumi Pednekar), who has left him because there is no toilet for women in his home. On the day of Holi, Bhumi and her friends follow another Holi tradition from Uttar Pradesh, Latthmaar Holi, in which gopikas (Radha’s friends) beat up the gopas (Lord Krishna’s pals) as Krishna wants to flirt with Radha. In the song Gori tu latth maar, he entreats with her to punish him for his mistakes, beat him with the stick, but return home.

In Kati Patang (1971), Rajesh Khanna sings and dances with abandon as he attempts to spray Asha Parekh, a grieving widow in white, with colors, thus liberating her from a colorless existence.

We reserve the best Holi sequence (impact-wise) for the last: in Damini (1993), the heroine (Meenakshi Seshadri) helplessly watches her maid being raped. From there begins her journey as an exceptionally strong and fearless woman who cannot allow the guilty to go unpunished, even if it involves her rich husband’s brother and his friends who have committed this heinous crime. 

Sunil Dutt enacts the Holi song in Zakhmee. Photo: Music Video Grab

15 other famous Holi songs

Ari jaa re hat natkhat—Navrang (1959)

Badri ki dulhania—Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017)

Chhanke mohalla—Action Replayy (2010)

Holi aayi re Kanhayi—Mother India (1957)

Holi aayi re—Padmaavat (2018)

Jogira Holi kehle Nandlal—Godaan (1963)

Maaro bhar bhar ka pichkari—Dhanwan (1981)

Mal de gulaal mohe—Kaamchor (1982)

Meri pehle hi tang thi choli—Souten (1983)

Nandlala Holi khele—Mastana (1970)

O Holi aayi Holi aayi—Mashaal (1984)

Rang di rang di—Dhanwaan  (1993)

Saat Rang Mein Khel Rahi Hain—Aakhri Kyon? (1985)

Soni soni ankhiyonwali—Mohabbatein (2000)

Tan rang lo ji aaj—Kohinoor (1960)





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