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08 March 2021

The Perils of Alcohol: Hindi Films' Moral Lessons and Tips for Women

A long time ago, Shalini, my partner-in-crime, gave me an idea for a song list. Well, she said it was an ‘idea’ but it was more in the nature of an assignment. “Make a list of ‘drunken women songs’ “, she said, cheerfully, and because she is deliciously evil, added enough caveats to drive me to drink myself.

  • Caveat 1: The woman must be the heroine, not the vamp. That knocked Hoon abhi main jawaan out of the running.
  • Caveat 2: She must truly be drinking, not pretend drinking. (That took care of a host of 'sharabi' songs, but never mind, I found a loophole.)
  • Caveat 3: It has to be alcohol, no other forms of intoxication allowed. No Dum maaro dum or Ye aankhen uff yumma.
  • Caveal 4: All songs had to be from pre-80s’ films.

But, said Shalini, she could be happy drinking, or Devdas-style angsty drinking, or drinking to forget her sorrows, or failures in love. To be fair, she also gave me a couple of songs to start me off.

But there it stayed for nearly a year. I’d made a list of ‘drunken songs’ previously, but this was much harder. Once in a while I would come across a song that fit – or almost fit – the theme and I would add it to the list. The problem was that just watching the song wasn’t usually enough to discover if the heroine was actually drunk or pretend-drunk. And because Hindi film heroines didn’t usually drink, the task was harder than I had envisaged when I agreed to do this post. At last, one day, the list was complete. It's the perfect post for Women's Day too.

Not all the songs are my favourites, but they fit the theme; the songs I really like are clustered on the top of the list.

So, Shalini, this one’s for you!

Inebriated heroine 1: Meena Kumari /Na jao saiyyan
Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (1962) / Singer: Geeta Dutt / Music: Hemant Kumar / Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
Poor Chhoti Bahu. All she wanted was for her husband to spend some time with her. But women of her class rarely had that felicity. As her husband tells her, they make ornaments, they break ornaments. That’s all they should expect. When Chhoti Bahu persists in wanting more, to know what the women her husband frequented had that she didn’t, her husband tells her in detail – they know how to please a man; they can sing, they can dance, they can even drink with him. And so, in a bit to woo her husband, Chhoti Bahu begins to drink. And sings, but even through her alcoholic haze, she can feel her husband’s contempt. It sears her.

This was the first song that occurred to me when Shalini told me the theme.

Inebriated heroine 2: Nargis /Na chhedo kal ke afsaane
Raat aur Din (1967) / Singer: Lata Mangeshkar / Music: Shankar-Jaikishan / Lyrics: Shailendra
I’ve always wondered how the ‘drunk’ people on screen – hero, heroine, vamp, comedian – can sing in such perfect sur, after imbibing liquor. Apart from an occasional ‘hic’, they don’t seem to be vocally impaired at all even if they are stumbling all over the place. Never mind. Don’t ask questions. Just enjoy the song as Nargis changes from a pleasant, homely Baruna into the seductive, devil-may-care Peggy right in front of her disapproving husband’s eyes.

Inebriated heroine 3: Babita /Aao huzoor tum ko
(1968) /
Singer: Asha Bhosle / Music: OP Nayyar / Lyrics: Noor Dewasi
Not a heroine I like very much (or hero) but this song is one of my favourites. I love the way Asha sings it, the seduction implied in her husky voice, the absolute control she has over the notes, rising and falling seemingly at will. Unlike most heroines who drink, deliberately or otherwise, Babita is merrily drunk, falling first into one man’s arms, then the other's, and causing a (comic) fight at the end, much to Biswajeet’s horror and displeasure. She’s dressed to the nines in a sparkly red dress, gloves, faux fur stole and heels – I’m sure she thought it was worth it just to see Biswajeet sulk in the corner.

Inebriated heroine 4: Waheeda Rehman / Rangeela re
Prem Pujari (1970) / Singer: Lata Mangeshkar / Music: SD Burman / Lyrics: Neeraj
What’s a girl to do when her beloved appears at a party with another woman in tow? Well, drink – for one. Sing a song filled with hurt, jealousy, anger and sarcasm, for another. In perfect sur, mind you. And when that girl is Waheeda, then she not only sings but also dances with the utmost grace, no matter that she’s inebriated. (And has a glass of whiskey thrown at her face.)  Unlike Babita, Waheeda is an angsty drunk.

Inebriated heroine 5: Leela Naidu / Aaj ye meri zindagi
Ye Raste Hain Pyar Ke
(1963) / Singer: Asha Bhosle / Music: Ravi / Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan 
Leela Naidu is not one of my favourite heroines; she is a beautiful doll not an actress. Here, she is an accidental drunk, having fallen prey to the machinations of her husband’s best friend (Rehman), who doctors her drink. Like every other heroine, while she stumbles all over the dance floor (she seems sure enough on her feet to navigate the dance floor and even twirl around), she sings beautifully, with Asha aiding her in that attempt, little knowing that her life is going to shatter the next morning.

Inebriated heroine 6: Nanda / Pii ke hum tum jo chale
(1965) / Singers: Asha Bhosle, Usha Mangeshkar / Music: Shankar Jaikishan / Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri
Everyone deserves a drink (or two) before they die. Besides, what else can one do when they are marooned on a lonely island and an unknown someone is murdering them one by one? Well, drink to forget that they might be the next victims, of course. So they do drink, with a vim and a verve, and seem to be having a blast doing so. Helen joins Nanda, and it’s really nice to see Nanda cut loose from her goody two-shoes image. As usual, there’s a man who looks disapprovingly on – in this case, Manoj Kumar. But because Manoj Kumar looked disapprovingly on at everything (seemingly), I don’t think our heroine minded much. (I’ve decided that I would very much like to have a drink with Helen.)

Inebriated heroine 7: Rekha /Main ne to paani piya tha
(1973) /
Singer: Asha Bhosle / Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal / Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Another accidental drunk, though in this case, it is a genuine mistake; she drinks a glass of gin instead of water. (I do have to wonder about her sense of taste.) And now, horrors, she is seeing multiple Rajendranaths (as if one wasn’t enough!) and the room seems to be shifting under her feet. So she’s forced to ask the door, the windows and the walls what the hell is happening to her… after all, she only drank a glass of water. Rajendranath is merely puzzled, not disapproving, as far as I can tell. So is Dharmendra who shows up to see Rekha’s comic timing in full effect as she cavorts – drunkenly – across the room questioning everyone and everything.

Inebriated heroine 8: Asha Parekh / Main na miloongi (1969)  
Pyar ka Mausam
(1969) /
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar / Music: RD Burman / Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Be careful what you wish for, is a maxim that most people would do well to follow. In this case, Sunil (Shashi Kapoor) has decided that he’s in love with Seema, the foster daughter of his biological grandfather. (Don’t ask! It’s a Nasir Hussain film.) She, on the other hand, refuses to marry anyone called ‘Jhatpat Singh’ (actually Rajendranath, but Shashi K is pretending to be him – see ‘Don’t ask…’). And so, in a bid to be one up on him, Seema goes off with another man, who after having tricked Sunil into going ahead, decides to give Seema a doctored soft drink. (What’s with all these women not having any sense of taste?) She has two, after which, she’s of course too drunk to fend off his advances, leaving her to be rescued (of course!) by Sunil. So, in gratitude, she continues to make life hell for him.

Inebriated heroine 9: Waheeda Rehman / Chhod mera haath mujhe peene de
(1972) /
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar / Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal / Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
It is rare that a film begins with the scene of the heroine drinking. Rarer still that she’s actually drinking, not pretend drunk. In an Indo-Iranian film (The first? The only? Certainly can’t be many), Waheeda plays Shireen, a danseuse who has been rejected by her lover (Mohammed Ali Fardeen) who thinks she’s unfaithful to him. (Naah! She’s merely a doormat who’s obeyed his mother’s strictures.) But this is before all that unfolds; here, she drinks to forget her unsavoury past, so she can be 'rescued' by the hero rescued from herself, that is.

Inebriated heroine 10: Hema Malini / Jaane kya pilaaya tu ne
(1973) /
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar / Music: SD Burman / Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
One lesson that Hindi film villains must learn – and quickly – is that when they doctor a drink, they must ensure that their chosen victim actually drinks it. Unfortunately, Prem Chopra doesn’t, and the doctored drink is imbibed by a rather cheerful Hema Malini, who wonders – after downing it – what there was in the drink. Such self-awareness. Dharmendra is alternately horrified, amused, exasperated, and besotted – and who could blame him? Hema looks gorgeous, but her antics are enough to turn a saint into a sinner. Hema has to be carried to the car where she proceeds to wind herself all over him.

“I’m so bad” songs

The other category of ‘drunken’ songs is those in which the heroine is pretending to be drunk – usually because she is martyring herself so the hero can be ‘saved’ from dishonour (of marrying her, I suppose). Sometimes, it is a clever ruse to escape. This was the list I originally had, so I decided to club it together in this post on ‘drunken women in cinema’ songs. So here is a selection of songs where the heroine is pretending to be intoxicated. I am still sticking to alcohol as the intoxicant, however, so inadvertent sampling of bhang-laced paan (Tumhaari mast nazar) or divine intervention (Zindagi kitni khubsoorat hai) or intoxicant in bath water (Mohabbat mein aise qadam dagmagaaye) don’t make the list.

Inebriated Pretend-drunk heroine 1: Sadhana / Kaise rahoon chup
(1969) /
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar / Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal / Lyrics: Rajendra Krishan
Revenge is certainly a dish better served cold. Like Rita, who was falsely implicated in the threat of a diamond necklace. She bides her time, changes her name, seduces the ex-boss’s son into a relationship, and now – at last – at a party at his home, manages to shame him and his family in public by introducing herself as a convicted thief, and by being so extremely inebriated that she falls to the floor at the end, and has to be helped to her feet by her ‘uncle’ (Ashok Kumar) and friend (Helen). But, she is only ‘drunk’ on watered-down Coca Cola.

Inebriated Martyred heroine 1: Asha Parekh / Ye meri zindagi ek paagal hawa
(1964) /
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar / Music: SD Burman / Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri
What happens when your younger sister (Nazima) falls in love with the man (Joy Mukherjee) you love? What happens when you (Asha Parekh) are, gasp!  the daughter of a criminal and a prostitute? What happens when you love your beloved’s honour more than he loves you? Well, you pretend to be drunk (read ‘of loose morals’) and waltz around the room in front of his parents, much to his horror and their disgust. Yay! Plan successful? 
Inebriated Blackmailed heroine 1: Hema Malini /Haan ji haan maine sharaab pii hai
Seeta aur Geeta
(1972) /
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar / Music: RD Burman / Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
She is not who she pretends to be, and as Seeta, Geeta (Hema) has fallen in love with Ravi (Sanjeev Kumar), the man who should be the former’s fiancĂ©. Her cover is blown however, and now she’s being blackmailed – ensure that Ravi and his family are disgusted by her behaviour or face the consequences. Of course, the only way to do that is to pretend to be drunk. Hema does a wonderful job in this as she sways and stumbles in the most happy-drunk manner ever. But she allows you a glimpse of her pain – just a glimpse, before she sashays down the staircase in monochrome maxi. Sanjeev Kumar does exactly what the other men in this list have done - look disgusted and disapproving. (Enough to drive a woman to drink, I tell you!)

Inebriated Martyred heroine 2: Meena Kumari / Sharaabi Sharabi mera naam ho gaya
Chandan ka Palna
(1967) /
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar / Music: RD Burman / Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Chandan ka Palna is full of moral lessons for women, including what to do if you happen to be (gasp!) ‘barren’. First, try to kill yourself. If that doesn’t work, forget your sanskaar and turn ‘modern’ with a vengeance. Which, in Hindi film parlance, means becoming pouring yourself into a skintight dress so you resemble a potato sack. And since Hindi film makers consider drinking a sign of ‘modernity’ (which, of course, is a pejorative), Shobha (Meena Kumari) takes to drink with a vengeance. Or pretends to – remember, ‘good’ women don’t drink, and Shobha is nothing but a good woman. And so this song… to show her husband (Dharmendra) and in-laws just how ‘bad’ she is, so she can be separated from him. Dharmendra looks… disapproving. (Of course!)

Inebriated Martyred heroine 3: Moushumi Chatterjee / Sabse buri sharaab hai
(1975) /
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar / Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal / Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
When a woman (Snehalata) doesn’t want to marry the man (Vijay Arora) her father has chosen for her, she makes up a story befitting Nasir Hussain’s plot lines. She pleads with her friend (Moushumi Chatterjee) to pretend to be her. And spends the whole film trying to ensure that nobody tweaks the pretence. But Moushumi hadn’t (we had) been prepared to fall in love with the man herself. Now, honour-bound (!) she’s forced to pretend to be ‘bad’. How does she do it? Well, you guessed alcohol is bad but she is worse.

Inebriated Pretend-drunk heroine 2: Nazima /Saaqiya thodi thodi bekhudi hai
(1965) /
Singer: Asha Bhosle / Music: Usha Khanna / Lyrics: Jawed Anwar
Her beloved (Sanjeev Kumar) has been cast into the kaal kothri by his evil twin (also Sanjeev Kumar, duh). In order to keep him incognito, he’s been imprisoned in an iron mask (someone’s read Dumas), and the key is hanging around the evil twin’s neck. So the princess (Nazima) sets out to seduce him with song, so she can extract the key and save her lover. Even princesses can be resourceful if you give them a chance, even if that means she has to throw the alcohol over her shoulder and pretend to be drunk.

Inebriated Pretend-drunk heroine 3: Shakila /Arre re arre re main to giri re
Post Box No. 999
(1958) /
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar / Music: Kalyanji Virji Shah / Lyrics: PL Santoshi
When Nilima (Shakila) agrees to help Vikas (Sunil Dutt) investigate a long-ago murder and clear an innocent man’s name, I’m sure she hadn’t bargained on having to become a magician’s assistant. Once her reservations melt, however, she joins in the deceit with a vim and a verve, even falling all over herself in a ‘drunken’ state at the villain’s den. As is always the case, she manages to keep pitch and tone intact, even if she’s too drunk to walk.

Inebriated Pretend-drunk heroine 4: Mumtaz / Do ghoont mujhe bhi pila de
Jheel ke Us Paar
(1973) /
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar / Music: RD Burman / Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
She (Mumtaz) has already finished with the martyred act, pretending to be blind even after she’s regained her vision, so the man she loves (Dharmendra) wouldn’t ruin his life marrying ‘someone like her’. That hasn’t prevented her open abduction by Villain no: 1 (Prem Chopra), who claims she is affianced to Villain no: 2 (Anwar Hussain). And now, resourceful girl that she is, she is saving herself from dishonour by pretending to be inebriated, while getting her supposed fiancĂ© drunk. (So she's both pretend-blind and pretend-drunk.) If that sounds convoluted, you should watch the film!

Inebriated Martyred heroine: Mumtaz / Pyaas meri bujha na paayega
Upasna (1971) / Singer: Asha Bhosle / Music: Kalyanji Anandji / Lyrics: Indivar
I never knew the power of alcohol to change people’s minds. The only way a heroine can make a hero despise her, apparently, is if she drinks. One can only wonder at the foundations of such a relationship that no man ever bothers to try and find out the reason for his beloved acting so uncharacteristically. Here, Mohan (Sanjay Khan) is shocked… shocked! to discover that his beloved seemingly loves a peg a little too much. Shalu (Mumtaz) is bent on driving him off, and is of course, shocked and mortified when she succeeds. (A little more trust and a lot less alcohol thrown over one’s shoulder may be the solution, methinks… hmm?)

And before I sign off, here's one song that I love, picturisation and all, despite it being well after the time frame stipulated by Shalini. In Chaalbaaz, a kick-ass version of Seeta aur Geeta, Sridevi aced the role of twin sisters separated at birth. But it is as Manju that she truly sparkles. Manju drinks because she likes to drink, she chooses to drink (not because she's angsty, or someone forces her, or she imbibes by mistake), and come what may, she will have a peg, even if she has to bamboozle someone to get them to pay for it.

So, here’s Kisi ki haath na aayegi ye ladki – for one of the most unapologetic, bindaas female characters on the big screen, a heroine after my own heart. You’re missed, Sri!

I hope this very comprehensive post meets with your approval, Shalini…. Raising a toast to more watch-alongs, more Shammi/Amitabh/Shashi/Dev films, and more oohs and aahs.

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