“Trigger Dabaya… Aur Khel Khallas!” 20 Years Ago, Vaastav Truly Mainstreamed Gangster Lingo

Bollywood

“Trigger Dabaya… Aur Khel Khallas!” 20 Years Ago, Vaastav Truly Mainstreamed Gangster Lingo

Illustration: Aishwarya Nayak

What does Bombay sound like? Below the treble of traffic jams and the thumping bass of a jayanti or an utsav, the soundtrack of this city comes from a motley crew of ordinary men, who produce the curious medley of inflection we call “Bambaiya Hindi”. This bastard love child of demure Urdu, virginal Hindi, and boisterous yet passionate Marathi that the residents of the city use to communicate, was mainstreamed by the underworld, and more specifically movies like Mahesh Manjrekar’s Vaastav. Loosely based on the life of Mumbai don Chhota Rajan, the film, written by Imtiyaz Hussain (who also wrote Ghulam-E-Mustafa, another cult gangster saga) helped parlance such as “ghoda” and “50 tola” seamlessly seep into our Hindi. And the average Mumbaikar somehow took to it like moths to a halogen light in a Navratri pandal.

I would know. I’ve lived in Bombay all my life. I was nine when Vaastav released. Back then, theaters in my neck of south central Bombay – Byculla, Parel, Lalbaugh – reeked of body odour and stale wafers. There was no way to discount bed bug infestations, and the danger of encountering a stranger with his hand in his pants, eyes glued to the lovesick couple in the corner seats instead of the screen, loomed large. This meant that going to the movies was an entirely avoidable exercise. So I developed a shortcut: I’d watch the pirated prints of the latest releases, like the uncut version of American Beauty, on VHS borrowed from my local library. 

Vastaav

Vaastav’s dialogues are a gift that keeps giving. My friends and I would try and slip a “pachaas tola” here and a “khalaas” there no matter what we were talking about, girls or goons.

Adishakti Films/ Eros Entertainment

That’s how I ended up watching Vaastav – a couple of us huddled together in Pappu dada’s kholi, since he was the only one on our maala (floor) who had a VCR. Like the rest of the boys, I too was enamoured by Sanjay Dutt’s swagger, as he showed parts of a gun to Reema Lagoo. That’s when I picked up the word “ghoda”, and now every time I watch the scene, it takes me back to Al Pacino’s “always weapon or piece Charlie, never gun” from Scent of A Woman. That year, “Ghoda nikalu kya?” and “Aey ghoda kad re lavdya” became words du jour when Bombay wanted to vent its ire. None of us, of course, were in possession of a “ghoda”, but that did not stop us from brandishing our toy guns and pretending to shoot each other as we ran down the corridors of our chawl. The popularity of the Vaastav vocab hit home one day when my mother — while clutching her favourite broom that she used to be beat me with — threatened to pull out the “ghoda” to counter my pre-teen assholiness. I too channeled by inner Sanju Baba, looked at my mama and said, “Kya itna khunas derilye hai tu.” Needless to say that only prompted her to hurl the broom in my direction.

Vaastav’s dialogues are a gift that keeps giving. My friends and I would try and slip a “pachaas tola” here and a “khalaas” there no matter what we were talking about, girls or goons. My favourite was “Pachaas Tola”, which roughly translated to”500 grammes of gold” (one tola is 10 grammes or 180 troy grains, depends which side of the freedom struggle you were on). Sanjay Dutt’s manic laugh as he tugs to his gold chain and says, “Pachaas tola” is the first thing that comes to my mind when anyone says Vaastav. Even today, in the chawls of Mumbai, you’ll regularly hear boys saying, “Arré, first class, pachaas tola,” regardless of whether someone is asking them, “How was your day?” or “Is the vada pav here any good?”

Anyone with a broken limb was called “fracture Bandya”, the dada who could settle disputes earned the moniker “mandawli bhai”, and “peti pack” (sealed package) is what is still used to tease boys who get no action. The language of the galli is replete with homegrown gems such as “vantaas ki goli” which was how you told someone to GTFO, or “khajoor” to address a particularly annoying person. Vaastav reminded us that in a sticky situation, you either called your “public” or your “shooters”, which usually meant your closest friends. Twenty years after the movie was released, it’s impossible to look at Vaastav’s dialogues in isolation, for they are merged into our everyday lexicon. This is the language Mumbai speaks, the language the street kids understand. 

Vaastav set a template that went beyond the usual apun-tapun; it showed us that, though not lyrical, the tapori language oozed bonhomie and brotherhood.

Vaastav set a template that went beyond the usual apun-tapun; it showed us that, though not lyrical, the tapori language oozed bonhomie and brotherhood. Years later, Munnabhai MBBS and most recently, Gully Boy did what Vaastav set the trend for – give Bollywood dialogues a coloquial veneer that’s generally missing. Today, punter log have become bantais and street slang has made its way to Twitter, but there is nothing that matches Sanju Baba’s guttural “Pachaas tola”. 

These phrases coalesce to become tidal waves that are representative of Mumbai’s identity. They are a snapshot of what this city beyond the Queen’s Necklace and its plush skyscrapers is really like. Films like Vaastav are rich photo albums that, just like Mumbai, are a crude amalgamation of different cultures, ideologies and classes, held together by a couple of “aailas” and a bit of “bhenchod”. I imagine, it’s a fusion hard to fathom for chaste tongued newcomers, but for Mumbaikars, it’s an unwritten code, a secret language that bridges all divides and brings us together. It is the sound of home.

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