How To Understand Consent Through Anu Malik’s “Do Me a Favour, Let’s Play Holi!”

Pop Culture

How To Understand Consent Through Anu Malik’s “Do Me a Favour, Let’s Play Holi!”

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Spring is in the air, which means it’s time for the flowers to bloom, the trees to grow verdant with foliage, and Anu Malik to resurface on our airwaves, asking for anyone listening to do him a favour and play Holi. Not many people want to play Holi with Malik, thanks to his past indiscretions – and also his tone of voice. To me, his voice sounds like the cheapest Sunday brunch in Lokhandwala where 50-year-old married uncles sporting deep V-necks and a crop of chest pubes get drunk enough to drive on watered-down liquor. How this voice and the throat from whence it came became an integral part of Bollywood’s music scene deserves its own Netflix true crime documentary.

But this isn’t a takedown of Anu Malik, it is a critical analysis of his seminal work, “Do Me a Favour, Let’s Play Holi”, a song that might someday be found by a future civilisation after the end of life as we know it. History textbooks of this time will contain references to the original inhabitants of Earth being a primitive race, which played a game called Holi with each other, but not before respectfully asking for consent. Until they find news reports of the accusations against Anu Malik, at least.

Let’s break down the lyrics: The opening verse is reminiscent of every Bollywood Holi song from the ’60s right up to the ’90s. It follows the tried-and-tested theme of a guy on Holi, enforcing his right to cut loose and be the quintessential Lothario in laal on a day he thinks consent blindly ticked the “I Agree” box without actually reading the fine print. The lines, “Bheegi chunari yeh laal, de bhar pichkari daal, shaam nahi aaye” employ innuendo to create the urgency to speed-mate, before the proverbial shaam of their lives arrives. It is this go-getter attitude that’s putting the pop in our population. This verse ends with the ladies singing, “Bheegi chunari humaar,” which is the Bollywood version of a wet t-shirt contest. This verse was overshadowed by the song’s true turning point, where it went from ho-hum Holi song, to culturally significant landmark of pop prose.

“Do me a favour, let’s play Holi!” What went through Anu Malik’s mind as he wrote these seven words? How did he capture the zeitgeist of the early 2000s when the notion of consent was as nascent as the need to ask for it, with this innocuous request? The line gets even more complicated to unpack as you approach it from different angles. If Anu Malik asks you to play Holi with him in the forest, and no one’s around, would you do him the favour? Or, once you do him the favour, does he intend to return it? How?

At the end of it all, the girl’s so worn down by the incessant requests to play some Holi that she professes to being a deewani all along.

His career is like that lift in the proverbial unchi building he sang about, bandh and hanging by a thread, so monetary remuneration is definitely off the table. But then again this was the early 2000s when whatever us men did to or for women, we rationalised as being for their own good. Thankfully times have changed, and whether we’ve changed with them is a universally raging debate. Also, since he’s asking for a favour in public, does societal pressure dictate you to bend to his will and partake in come rambunctious colourplay with Anu Malik? You hope so, don’t you Anu?

By now if you’re thinking this song is more than its two-line hook you’re probably wrong. Through the rest of the song, Malik builds a narrative about a guy who relentlessly courts a girl by asking her to play Holi with him. The girl is reluctant at first, but warms up to the charm and finally relents. Is it me, or did Anu just describe every Indian male’s dating game in a nutshell?

While the guy is being a creepy chameleon, the girl realises she is more than a pretty face and laments the fact that he is stalking her as is evident from the lyrics, “Mere peeche peeche-peeche kyun aaye?” She also makes a reference to her elevated stress levels and rapidly rising anxiety through the line “Mera jiya-jiya kyun dhadkaye,” before admonishing him not to touch her choli because it’s probably from Fabindia, and the wage gap precludes his understanding of the value of ethnic clothing that can cost more than an intern. All her concerns are simply cast aside like a broken pichkari because the main man just wants to be done a favour and played some Holi with — everything she says is just noise.

The next verse uses a bit of old-fashioned flattery, where Anu talks about her kaali kaali aankhein, gore gore gaal, and her mesmerising chaal. Either this motherfucker’s been recycling his lyrics, or Bollywood needs to learn that women are more than two gaals and some baal with a booty shaking-chaal, which could also be the title of Bollywood’s next club banger. But the woman here isn’t as daft as Bollywood would like you to believe; she knows all this fuckboy wants to do is smear her chand sa chehra with his colour, both literally and metaphorically.

The final verse ends as a testament to Stockholm Syndrome. At the end of it all, the girl’s so worn down by the incessant requests to play some Holi that she professes to being a deewani all along. This same strategy is applied every time an uncle on Facebook asks for bobs, or some hipster sends someone a picture of an interesting tile pattern with his dick in the foreground. When what seems like a song about two adults respectfully playing Holi, is actually an endorsement for throwing consent to the wind, it’s time to question the type of behaviour that has been programmed into our psyche through years of conditioning and subliminal messaging. The answers might be difficult at first, but at least we won’t have to hide behind Holi as an excuse to get laid.