Music, especially in Indian cinema, has always been a way of expressing emotions. You have apt songs for every emotion that a human being can ever experience. Love,pain, hurt, anger, jealousy, anxiety, ecstasy. You name it and you will have a zillion songs that go perfectly with your mood. But this trend of using music to soothe souls has been decimated by a bunch of people who suddenly started using music as a tool of materializing women in order to top the chartbuster’s list. What’s even worse is the fact that these people do top the chartbuster’s list which is a plain indication of how ‘item songs’ are nowadays the only thing audience likes to watch. There was a time when ‘item songs’ were served as a side-dish. A dish that was served tactfully to reveal some kind of secret during the course of the movie. But now we have reached the point where item songs are probably the only dish on the menu. And this sudden deterioration of the purpose and quality of music is the reason bollywood music has reached a dead end. A point where technological advances cannot be used as an excuse to make cheap,pathetic and meaningless songs.
Bollywood has got some of it’s most evergreen songs in form of ‘item numbers’. But that term was used in a different context back then. These songs were sung by a woman whose body was covered from head to top but whose soul was badly stripped off by people around her. You guessed it right, I am talking about Mujras. Mujras were used as a way of cricizing the hypocrisy of the society. A society where women are tortured if they get married and stigmatized if they don’t. A society which forces a woman to make all the compromises in life without allowing her to expect anything but pain in return. Think of any famous bollywood mujra and you will realize how powerful, how painful can a woman’s cry be. Love has always been the essence of these mujras and that is the factor that differentiates them from the current item songs. And that’s the reason we still prefer ‘inhi logo ne le liya dupatta mera’ over ‘ dil mera muft ka’.
The tremendous contribution that these mujras have made to Indian music can not be ignored. Songs from Pakeezah are still considered as some of the finest compositions of bollywood. Listen to ‘chalte chalte’ or ‘thade rahiyo’ and you’ll know what I am talking about. Meena kumari’s mesmerizing beauty coupled with Gulam Mohammad’s melodious music and Majrooh Sultanpuri’s poignant lyrics will literally make your heart bleed. The journey of mujras was further glorified when Umraao Jaan was released. The excruciating pain of a lucknow based courtesan was perfectly reflected in the songs of the movie. Asha Bhosle’s soul-stirring voice and Khayyam’s divine music made umraao jaan a milestone in Hindi music. ‘In aankho ke masti ke’ and ‘Dil chhez kya hain’ are songs which resonate with the pain of a woman who is deeply in love with a man who can never love her back. Be it ‘Salaam-e-ishq meri jaan’ from Muquaddar ka sikandar or ‘raina beeti jaaye’ from Amar prem,you’ll notice that the purpose of mujras was not to objectify women,but beautify them and bitterly criticize the society which fails to understand her. In fact, tawaifs were often portrayed a women of formidable reservoirs of strength who eventually break the conventional image of Indian women. And the mujras sung by those tawaifs were nothing but tirades against the injustice done by the society on women. Even in the era where bollywood music was rapidly being westernized, it was mujras who kept the ‘Indianness’ in bollywood intact. And it was in the form of these mujras that bollywood was blessed with some of the most mellifluous tunes of all times.