Discussion Post: Best Songs For Enriching the Narrative

This is a suggestion from BollywoodNewbie/Alisa, which I am going to steal so long as I am still hacking my lungs out and unable to do “real” posts. What are the best songs for moving along a film narrative? Helping us understand the characters and situations better, not just creating a random unrelated moment? Or, to put it another way, what are songs that make you go “I really liked that, and now I want to know what else happens in the film”. And then you watch the film and aren’t disappointed, because the song accurately described what happened during part of the movie.

So, first, I am not talking about songs where things actually happen. Or at least, not exclusively about them. Indian film doesn’t have too many of these songs anyway, a song like “Kabool Kar Le” from Jaan-E-Mann that shows the whole process of Preity being convinced to get engaged and the engagement actually happening.

I am also talking about mood songs, ones that let us feel what the characters are feeling in that moment and therefore be better able to understand and predict what they will do next in the plot. Like “Sau Dard” from Jaan-E-Mann.

Or about emotion/relationship songs that give us the background for how two characters feel about each other so we can better understand their internal conflicts. Like “Ajnabi Shehar” from Jaan-E-Mann.

But the songs I am NOT talking about are ones like “Jaaneman Jaaneman” from Kaho Na Pyar Hai, which just has Amisha dancing on a cruise ship in a sexy short skirt and could have been lifted right out of the film without losing anything from the narrative.

Hmm, where should I go from here? I think I will give you a series of examples of a variety of songs, and then you can branch off from there, either suggesting your own in the comments or picking your favorites from the ones I posted. For instance, in terms of concisely introducing a character, “Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani” is maybe one of the all time best. We don’t need to know anything more about Raj Kapoor’s hero after this one song, it told us everything about who he is and how he sees the world.

Or for a song that is about a relationship turning point and things actually happening, that effect the plot, “Pardesi Pardesi”.

Expressing character’s inner emotions and shifting relationship in a way dialogue never could, “Radha” from Jab Harry Met Sejal.

Giving you the inner feelings of characters in a way dialogue never could, “Dhaakad” from Dangal.

Showing character growth, not just an introduction to the character but a change in them, through song. “Dhivara” from Bahubali.

Actually moving the plot along, through song, “Jab Tak Hain Jaan” from Sholay.

Expressing the perfect mood of the two characters in a way that changes their relationship there after without ever needing to be spoken of, “Pehle Pyar” from Hum Aapke Hain Koun.

Conveying a depth of emotion that is beyond words and cannot be conveyed in words, “Aikbareesa”

A song which actually happens diagetically in full in the film, and changes the ending, “Ek Thi Ladki”

A song which is such a powerful shared hallucination between two characters that it bonds them for ever, “Bol Na Halke”

A song which creates a mood and a theme for a whole film, setting it apart and teaching the audience how to experience it. “Bangaluru”.

Out of all of these that I have listed, which do you think is most important, most necessary to the film narrative it is within?

I vote for “Pardesi”, the whole movie would be different without it.

And what did I miss? What songs can you think of that make the narrative work, tell us about the place or the characters or move the plot along?

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25 thoughts on “Discussion Post: Best Songs For Enriching the Narrative

  1. How about Hamesha Tumko Chaha from the bad Devdas? It’s pretty much the only point at which I bought the whole tragic Dev-Paro love story.

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    • But then maybe it is a bad example? because it doesn’t fit well within the narrative, it is better at building the relationship than the rest of the film.

      On Mon, Jan 7, 2019 at 3:16 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Good point! The other thought I had was Vennilavae Vennilavae from Minsara Kanavu, but that might just be because Prabhu Deva is such a genius.

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    • But would that disqualify it? It is such a little movie within the movie, it could even be removed without changing the rest of the film. Or maybe not? What do you think?

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      • I think this song tells us a lot about Madhuri, about the village, and how she left India. I think it can be cut, but the movie would not be the same without it.

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    • Plus, wacky disguises and accordions!

      I was considering AAA as an alternative to JTHJ in this post, and I decided to go classy instead of wacky. So glad you brought it up in the comments! Great minds think alike!

      On Mon, Jan 7, 2019 at 4:22 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Thanks for the suggestion! I am so tired, this kind of fun song posts are about all I can handle, so this was perfect.

        Plus, tomorrow is a composer’s birthday that I haven’t done a post for before, so I’ve got that I can roll out too! The planets are all lining up for me!

        On Mon, Jan 7, 2019 at 4:24 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. Starting a new thread since the previous one was getting long: Munna Bhai MBBS, it’s a turning point in the plot (he gets into medical school) and shows you how excited he is but also that he is still from the streets, dancing with his thug friends and the fishmongers, etc. The contrast between his aspirations and the reality of who he is but also charming and infectious, you realize it’s ridiculous but you’re still rooting for him.

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    • Yes! And it gives a lightness to his character that wouldn’t fully be there otherwise, after that song we can watch him threaten the school bullies and otherwise cross lines without really feeling a sense of danger.

      On Mon, Jan 7, 2019 at 5:01 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Kamariya from Stree. The song establishes the milieu, the behaviors of the main characters (Rajkummar is the only man who asks permission to dance with the girl which is super relevant to the plot later) and at the end the dancing girl is escorted away by bodyguards which illustrates the threat that even young innocent men present to women.

        I’m so annoyed that Raj & DK had to apologize for including an “item” song in the film. The critics completely missed the point!

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        • I was considering that one, because generally Item Songs don’t fit into the narrative of a film, but it feels like an exception, an Item Song that is really a character introduction song.

          On Mon, Jan 7, 2019 at 7:34 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I would actually say Chaiyya Chaiyya and all the songs of Dil se show the inner workings of Shahrukh’s character at that stage in his love. Chaiyya Chaiyya is jubilant, sexy and flirty, Tu hi tu satrangi re is dangerous and obsessive, Ae ajnabi is pensive and thoughtful.

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    • One of my favorite things about Dil Se is that Manisha is sunk so far into PTSD that she can’t even feel emotions any more. It’s not just that all the songs are showing Shahrukh’s emotional journey, it’s that none of them show Manisha’s, because she can’t feel any more. Even Preity gets a song, but not Manisha. That’s why I find the title song so beautiful, Shahrukh finally manages to break through, just a little, and make her feel again. It’s kind of the same in Guru with Vidya, she gets a song, but just the very faintest echo of a song, not a real one, because her pain has so buried her feelings that they can barely break free.

      On Mon, Jan 7, 2019 at 8:43 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. How about Parandhu Sella from OK Kanmani? So original, and shows the joy and playfulness that brings them together, even after she’s revealed part of the pain she carries from childhood. It establishes that they will deal with trouble by dancing around it (until they can’t anymore).

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    • Yes! And in one scene, it makes sense of the leap from “almost strangers, just met” to “sleeping together”. Their first time making love feels joyful and natural and happy, because they already had “made love”, sort of, in Parandhu Sella.

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  5. Good list. Based on the first para, a genre of songs that hits me in similar way – The family re-unite songs – the baap of all from Yaadon ki baaraat -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXtd7TzC9Uk

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