Papa Kehte Hain: The Anti-Poetic Anthem for the Angsty Soul


Papa Kehte Hain: The Anti-Poetic Anthem for the Angsty Soul

Illustration: Akshita Monga

There are few things as difficult as watching your parents grow old and vulnerable. Coming to terms with your own ageing is one of them – and there is not a more stark, shocking reminder than to see a film from your childhood complete a landmark anniversary. Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, the film from my childhood that launched the virginal teen romance with brutal consequences, completed 30 years yesterday.

Even though QSQT tread the familiar path of star-crossed lovers, it’s hard to keep track of the many firsts associated with the film. It gave us the chocolate hero in the midst of all the angry young men we were still recovering from. It marked the arrival of a beauty queen who would go on to distinguish herself in a variety of roles, very far removed from the quivering-lipped upper-class babe in the woods she played in her debut. It was a convincing portrayal of a Shakespearean tragedy and the everyday cruelty the ideal Bollywood family could inflict. Most crucially, it might have been the film to revive a faltering Bollywood.

But it was the music, and mostly that one song that was a breakaway, that really swung things around for everyone. QSQT gave the nation an anthem whose strains we can still hear today. Anand-Milind’s “Papa Kehte Hain” changed the country’s music for good.

Sample some songs from the ’80s that came before Papa Kehte Hain and you get the feeling that it was either the decade of grief or romantic reconciliation of some sort. Numbers like “Jawani-Jan-E-Man” (Namak Halal) and “Om Shanti Om” (Karz) contrast well alongside the gravitas of “In Ankhon ki Masti” (Umrao Jaan) and that one voice that put all anxiety to rest: Jagjit Singh’s “Hothon se Choo Lo Tum” (Prem Geet).

The music of the ’80s wasn’t Bollywood’s best, not by any stretch of imagination, but it still tried recreating the poetic and the tragic while remaining true to its idea of depth attained through language. To enjoy music, but for a few exceptions, meant reading as much as listening to it. Granted the laboriousness of the exercise was its own gift, but it didn’t always amount to the joy that only a certain dissonance can offer. Love and grief were the pillars around which that music was largely built before the ’80s.

To enjoy music, but for a few exceptions, meant reading as much as listening to it.

But a young and restless India needed anthems for disengaging the system. Do love and grief the reckless way, the poetics of which asked for abandonment, a toss of the order of the wistful cage of the aesthete.

Though QSQT was Anand-Milind’s first full soundtrack together they had shown us a sign of things to come through songs like “440 Volt ki Ladki” (Ab Aayega Maza) in 1984. “Papa Kehte Hain” might have been middle-class teenage rebellion to most, but it was also a departure from the debt music seemed to owe poetry. Ordinary in its lyrics yet assertive, simple but universal, this was a strange mix. Words like “engineer” and “doctor”, in a song? Why not. Music suddenly became conversational, modest, as if trying to get off the stage for a change and having a tete-a-tete with the listeners.


Even though QSQT tread the familiar path of star-crossed lovers, it’s hard to keep track of the many firsts associated with the film

Image Credits: Nasir Hussain Films

“Papa Kehte Hain” set the tone for other Anand-Milind songs. They took the spoken-word poetry character of the song, and ran with it – often down the path to ludicrousness.

Perhaps the strangest, at times inexplicably kitschy music that Anand-Milind ever made was composed for the ridiculously entertaining Govinda. They devised a collection that shifts the focus of the exercise of listening from the heart, to the mind and the body. I remember watching Govinda’s films on TV (I have watched them all) and wondering even in those early years what it was about these songs that made me want to hate them – that I knew deep down that I was meant to hate them – but still kept me hooked. Other than preserving a certain perception of preferring finer things, I realised only years later that it takes time to want to break free of something… to treat the heaviest, most subliminal of arts with the lightest of touches.

For a generation of people who grew up during the ’90s, our interpretation of love and relationships either came from within the family, and were tuned to a serious tenor of things like responsibility and respect. Or it came from Bollywood, which had somehow turned the very concept of love into a story of odds. Not too dissimilar was the story of music, a large pantheon of which only the most cultured consumers were supposed to enjoy. In that mehfil of cultured consumers, Anand-Milind threw bombs named “Main Toh Raste Se Jaa Raha Tha” (Coolie No 1) and “Ek Chumma Tu Mujhko Udhaar”. These tacky perversions were accessible to even the least literary of listeners.

Among the classics would be “Ankhiyon Se Goli Maare” and “Kisi Disco Mein Jaaye”, with their rabid loquaciousness and freewheeling frivolity. You possibly enjoy them now – ironically or earnestly – in the company of people you’d trust your worst with. Not in public for sure. The plain diction of these soundtracks opened up a window for listeners who, though they did not reject the depths of lyricism, did not always want to submit to its asphyxiating bind. Sometimes, the surface is all we need to float a little by.

And to think it all started with “Papa Kehte Hain”. In retrospect, Anand-Milind’s most prominent discography remains their Govinda phase, at its core lies the same idea: An unassuming array of words that virtually disown poetic license and the crooning that comes with it, for a thoroughly joyous, ecstatic form. Who would have thought at a point of time that words like “disco”, “bhel-puri”, “UP-Bihar” could be woven into songs, which while seedy at first, would eventually be deemed liberating?  In laughing at and loving these unassuming oddities, we might have been late to the party. But at least we’ve arrived.