How to Sing Your Way to Manhood

Pop Culture

How to Sing Your Way to Manhood

Illustration: Cleon Dsouza

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agga Jasoos, Anurag Basu’s upcoming film, which has been threatening to up and come for a couple of years now, promises to release enough songs to put the average fifties Hindi musical to shame. The saga of the film is already the stuff of a Shakespearean comedy – and “Galti Se Mistake”, one of its 29 songs, is likely to become one of the most interesting scenes in Much Ado About Jagga Jasoos. To the great surprise of absolutely nobody, Pritam has been accused of plagiarising a Mexican soundtrack for its melody.

Amitabh Bhattacharya’s lyrics, however, paint a portrait of masculine rites of passage that is resolutely Indian. The song features Ranbir Kapoor as the man-child he plays best, singing about exciting things like stubble, flourishing chest hair, and body odour – all of which many Indian men continue to hold as definitive marks of masculinity. In doing this, Kapoor echoes several other filmic men who have sung about their burgeoning manliness with varying degrees of devotion to testosterone and sexual innuendo and taught generations of boys how to become men.

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In the world of the Hindi film, it is de rigueur to break into song-and-dance routines at the onset of maleness. Much like an exaggerated swagger or expensive cologne, the singing and dancing is an overt and tangible assertion of a series of changes that are largely internal. Growth pangs, and the conflict that they breed in male hearts, have been summarised in “Main Aisa Kyon Hoon” from Lakshya. As a bound man dreams of breaking into a free-flowing dance and he asks Providence why he doesn’t know what he is supposed to do with himself. Life would have been easier for him had a grown-up informed him that the concept of adulting proficiently is an urban legend.

Growing up is hard, primarily because it is rife with change and discontinuity. Which is why perhaps, several cultures have constructed coming-of-age rituals for men: Their symbolism is meant to help young adults prepare for and accept massive life changes. In Gulaal, a yagna marks Ransa’s coming of age, who embarks on an election campaign at a college campus. As the campaign unfolds to the strains of “Aarambh Hai Prachand”, the lyrics reference the Mahabharata to describe how violent sacrifice defines manhood. The song offers a disturbing and insightful account of traditional ideas of masculine strength, and the kind of havoc they can wreak.

Most songs offer slightly dubious indicators of a blossoming manhood that almost always involve women. We’ve come a long way from the croonings of a young, eager Aamir in “Papa Kehte Hain” who sang about maturing in terms of filial expectations. Now we mature only when a finely shaped body enters the screen.

papa

We’ve come a long way from the croonings of a young, eager Aamir in “Papa Kehte Hain.” Most filmic men now attain maturity when they aren’t just ogling at but practically devour the woman.

Image Credit: Nasir Hussain Films

Hindi film songs follow a dictum which asserts that men on the cusp of adulthood must ogle at women (extra adult points for a man who can actually get a woman to talk to him). In songs like “Paathshala”, “Dum Laga”, “Hai Junoon”, and “Life Sahi Hai”, all of which feature plenty of bonhomie and booze (because men cannot be men without taking lessons from that Old Monk), boys proclaim their boyhood by looking at women. These songs are an illustration of the relationship between burgeoning masculinity and blooming femininity: men are taught to assert their gender by looking and women by being looked at.

It would be fine of course if we stopped right there. After all genders come into play in cognisance of each other and great literature has been devoted to this fine tradition. But Hindi movies go, not one, but several steps forward. Most filmic men now attain maturity when they aren’t just ogling at but practically devour the woman. In “Chokra Jawaan” from Ishaqzaade, Arjun Kapoor celebrates his first step into manhood after fraudulently deflowering the daughter of his grandfather’s political rival. The song is replete with iconography that is traditionally associated with testosterone, including the popular symbolism of the gun as phallus. The lyrics of “Baja Ke Tumba” from Phillauri blend brazen sexuality and covert euphemisms in the trademark style of Hindi songs. It features a pre-Independence singing rockstar who quite literally comes of age multiple times by copulating with multiple women.

ishaqzaade

Arjun Kapoor celebrates his first step into manhood after fraudulently deflowering the daughter of his grandfather’s political rival in Ishaqzaade.

Image Credit: Yash Raj Films

Eventually, however, these men are shown growing out of the blatantly sexual and into the gently consensual and their songs tune to higher levels of evolution where the female protagonist changes their journey of self-discovery, pushes them to reform their rakish ways, and redefines their idea of masculinity. Several songs like “Phir Se Udd Chala” from Rockstar, and “Main Kaun Hoon” from Mp3 detail how men change with the entry of a woman in their lives.

But these elevated ideas of fulfilment are few and far between. Most filmic men are destined to be either roaring tigers or preening peacocks in service to the eternal mating dance. And since the average Indian male is a nationally celebrated species, mating is encouraged and the song works in service of setting stage for eventual seduction.

Except if you’re actually a peacock… in which case just tears are enough.

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