life where she throws caution to the monsoon winds and locks hands with a
man she chooses….she defies elders…for her bit of bliss…Against this backdrop, the current drought of Bollywood’s wet saris
is a matter of concern. …
Srijana Mitra Das clearly has impeccable credentials, a PhD in Social Anthropology from Cambridge. And what do you know…the (in)famous rain songs in Bollywood….the heroines and their wet sarees…..a tradition of spotlighting male lust going all the way back to Kalidasa in the 5th century…..now we have a feminist (third wave?) deconstruction…all these are but symbols of “pure romance” and women’s liberation….
We are a fan of old Bollywood songs (the play-acting not so much) but the ones that Srijana talks of are indeed screen classics: Raj Kapoor and Nargis in Shree 420 (Pyar Hua Ikrar Hua) and Amitabh Bachhan and Smita Patil in Namak Halal (Aaj Rapat Jaye). And while we are not too familiar with Nargis as a free-thinker, Smita was a top-drawer feminist and her acting reflected this in full glory. Her millions of devotees were heart-broken when she died so young (see below for details).
All this really proves is how far the world has moved ahead in depicting “industrial-quality sexiness” (her words). No wonder, feminists like Srijana have succumbed to the pull of nostalgia and finding love in all the wrong movies…..even Sharmila Thakur and Rajesh Khanna in Aradhana (Roop Tera Mastana).
As the monsoon caresses India with seasonal darkness, it’s remarkable
how faint the rain song is in Bollywood today — a marked difference
from earlier times when the rain song was the apogee of filmi romance,
capturing love stories of heroes with heroines and heroines with
themselves. Ironically, Bollywood’s rain songs and wet saris were
considered fundamentals of voyeuristic thrills. But Bollywood’s singing
in the shower mirrored more than this — just like the drying-up of wet
saris now reflects romance growing parched.
But first, Bollywood began with salutations to the skies. When plots
revolved around rural protagonists, cinema acknowledged the monsoon’s
urgency to farmers, sunburnt by callous states looking everywhere but at
canals under their feet. Hence, Guide’s villagers beseeched, ‘Allah,
megh de, paani de’, Lagaan’s hamlet danced as badras rumbled with
These songs marked a despondent dependency but as films portrayed
more urban legends, monsoon showers became a link between once-agrarian
characters in cities of anonymous footpaths.
From there, Bollywood
focussed fully on the rain’s sensuality capturing Indian romance. From
the shy umbrella-twisting of Shree 420’s ‘Pyaar hua’ to Three Idiots’
exuberant ‘Zoobie, zoobie’, rain became the ultimate filmi metaphor for
an Indian couple’s love.
This slowly evolved from nervous fears to a full-on French kiss. In
newly independent India, choosing your own partner — and your own fate —
was an act of daring, sighs of apprehension shaking Nargis’s trembling,
‘Kehta hai dil, rasta mushkil, maloom nahin hai kahaan manzil’.
frequently came true. A couple stepping outside social sanctions,
crossing class and caste barriers, was severely punished, censors rather
liking the rain as a metaphor for trespass. Hence, Aradhana’s ‘Roop
tera mastana’ climaxed in a rainy night, a young couple making love, the
hero later killed, the heroine doing penance as an unwed mother.
It took the swinging ’70s with Amitabh Bachchan and Smita Patil —
angry young actors, defiantly declaring while drenched, ‘Aaj rapat
jayein, toh humein na uthaiyyo!’ — to signal change. Alongside, in a
subtle replay of Raj Kapoor-Nargis, Bachchan and Moushumi Chatterjee
walked through a rain-soaked Bombay, humming ‘Rimjhim gire saawan’, the
couple’s umbrella missing, the unbothered pair holding hands as the
Arabian Sea rose to soak them.
This was a new India, more courageous, more confident of itself, its
ability to choose — its right to love. This defiance breezes through the
1990s too. In Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Shah Rukh Khan and his see-through
shirt share a hot moment with Kajol — while she’s engaged to another
man. The hero filching another’s girl was a favourite SRK theme, the
rain presenting that crucial moment where a couple decides there’s no
one else they’d rather get soaked with.
This was an important juncture for heroines. Traditionally, the
soaked heroine was erotica for male eyes, conventions stylishly framed
by 5th century Sanskrit superstar Kalidasa. In Kumarsam-bhava, Daniell
Ingalls translates, Kalidasa describes rain gently drenching his
heroine, ‘‘With momentary pause, the first drops rest, upon the highland
of her breast, across the ladder of her waist, then slowly, at her
navel, come to rest.” It’s clear where Yash Chopra got it from, placing
chiffon-clad heroines under swollen clouds, conveying what Roland
Barthes dryly terms ‘obvious symbolism’.
But Bollywood’s rain songs also offered Barthes’s ‘third meaning’, a
counter-narrative that escapes language, producing the ‘filmic’ — so
much more than the film. In Bollywood’s rain songs, the third meaning is
the heroine discovering herself. The rain is a crossroads in a woman’s
life where she throws caution to the monsoon winds and locks hands with a
man she chooses. In this, she defies elders — not necessarily betters —
for her bit of bliss. She doesn’t know if this will even last
post-rain. But she chooses the right to savour the second — and enjoy
And there is much to enjoy. With every drop naughtily running into
places no one but lovers know, the rain makes a woman come alive to
herself, her physical body, her soul that a cool breeze infuses with new
life. In a violently misogynistic land, this rain-fuelled renewal is a
marvellous thing, powerfully subversive in Bollywood, Mr India’s ‘Kaate
nahin kat te’ famous for an absent Mr India, Sridevi writhing in the
rain all on her own.
Against this backdrop, the current drought of Bollywood’s wet saris
is a matter of concern. It signifies romance growing more plastic,
increasingly complex — instead of a drenched couple intertwined on a
lonely lamp-lit street, ardour now involves motorbikes, brassy bras,
designer heels. But it also expresses marked trepidation around
While industrial-quality sexiness is expressed via assembly-line
‘items’, pure romance — which involves both confrontation and bliss — is
nervously sidestepped. The fear is understandable with even elected
representatives talking like khap captains about women’s deportment and
dress today. Hence, Bollywood heroines look oddly acquiescent now,
acceptably saucy, yet lacking the self-belief to lie back soaked in the
rain, a la Sridevi who cooed, ‘I love yoooou’ — to herself.
Yet, after every oppressive spell comes renewal, when creative winds
blow away the dust of dry, prohibiting minds. As civil society sticks
out its tongue at hypocritical diktats, Bollywood’s lovers will soon
defy more than their diet plans, leading ladies again learning to love
themselves the most.
Until then, preserve those wet saris — they have stories in their folds.
Smita Patil (17 October 1955 – 13 December 1986) was an Indian actress of film, television and theatre. Regarded among the finest stage and film actresses of her times, Patil appeared in over 80 Hindi and Marathi films in a career that spanned just over a decade. During her career, she received two National Film Awards and a Filmfare Award. She was the recipient of the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honour in 1985.
Patil graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune and made her film debut with Shyam Benegal’s Charandas Chor (1975). She became one of the leading actresses of parallel cinema, a New Wave movement in India cinema, though she also appeared in several mainstream movies throughout her career. Her performances were often acclaimed, and her most notable roles include Manthan (1977), Bhumika (1977), Aakrosh (1980), Chakra (1981), Chidambaram (1985) and Mirch Masala (1985).
Apart from acting, Patil was an active feminist (in a distinctly
Indian context) and a member of the Women’s Centre in Mumbai. She was
deeply committed to the advancement of women’s issues, and gave her
endorsement to films which sought to explore the role of women in
traditional Indian society, their sexuality, and the changes facing the
middle-class woman in an urban milieu.
Patil was married to actor Raj Babbar.
She died on 13 December 1986 at the age of 31 due to childbirth
complications. Over ten of her films were released after her death. Her
son Prateik Babbar is a film actor who made his debut in 2008.