Bollywood’s Queen of Trolling

Last week, almost a year after actually watching Queen, I realised that the lyrics of its opening song, London Thumakda, are blowing big, big, raspberries at Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayengein.

Before I start explaining how it does this, let’s check out the song itself. In fact, I might get carried away explaining, so anytime you get tired or need a break, come back and check out the song which is a hugely fun song.

Right. So. London Thumukda. Long before I had this sudden realisation, I had thoroughly liked the song. Admittedly, a lot of this liking came out of familiarity, because it is such a Delhi Punjabi song, and I am myself a Delhi Punjabi. And Queen‘s use and depiction of the Delhi Punjabi culture is quite genuine. I wouldn’t call it accurate, because I thought it exaggerated Punjabi culture instead of playing it straight – but at least it started with something genuine and exaggerated it. This is much preferable to abominations like Singh is Kingg and Jab We Met, which both featured Hindi speaking sardars with token “tussis” and “mainus”. Jab We Met even had an entire ‘Punjabi’ family incapable of pronouncing Bhatinda the correct way. So Queen is a fairly genuine depiction of the Delhi Punjabi culture. And London Thumukda is itself very much in the tradition of wedding sangeet songs, though not actually a traditional wedding sangeet song.

A note about the tradition of wedding sangeet songs. In the nineties, the malign influence of Hindi movies that were effectively three hour long wedding videos turned weddings themselves into movie style extravaganzas. (Though I note from reading Miss Manners advice columns that this problem isn’t unique to the Hindi movie watching world.) Since the nineties, wedding sangeets have been vulgar events where people wear expensive outfits and dance to movie songs. However, back in the day, sangeets themselves were simple, low-key events – but events which involved extremely vulgar songs.

How vulgar? Well, they fell into two categories: songs that had suggestive lyrics about sex, and songs which were either daughters in law singing about how useless the mothers in law were, or the other way around. The songs in a traditional sangeet have the potential keep the moral police so outraged that they would be filing FIRs for a year.

That the moral police has not yet done this is perhaps because traditions usually get a free pass that newfangled comedy collectives don’t, but also perhaps because Punjabi ladies sing so terribly that it is impossible to actually make out the lyrics. When my brother got married about a year ago,  we had one such traditional ladies sangeet at home, and it was a traumatic experience on many levels. Apart from the sheer concentration of family members, there were also around twenty ladies singing tunelessly and out of harmony in a confined space.

My feelings towards my female relatives are very much like those of Fulliautomatix towards Cacofonix. I am fond of them and will go berserk if somebody else tries to do anything to them but I refuse to let them sing.

Anyway. Back to London Thumukda. It falls into the first category – that is, songs going nudge nudge wink wink about sex, what with that entire verse about transparent muslin kurtas and inadequately sized bed linen. But it’s composed and sung professionally, which means that it has far more going for it than traditional sangeet songs. So much going for it, in fact, that for over a year I utilised it as the perfect background music for such tasks as waking up and showering, pricing conveyor belts, and checking spare stocks of raw material against unexpected orders. And last week, while pricing one such conveyor belt – about six hours after I had watched the Pretentious Movie Review of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayengein – I realised that the song didn’t just have a catchy beat and innuendo filled lyrics, it was mocking Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayengein mercilessly.

To a small extent, the movie Queen itself is a sort of antithesis to Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayengein considering its lead character moves from being a romantic who wants a big wedding and a European vacation to someone who gets that vacation and then realises that she’s an independent woman who don’t need no wedding. But that is mostly at a philosophical level. London Thumakda gets blatant about it. How, you ask? Well, I’m sorry to make you do this, but cast your mind back to the beginning of DDLJ.

We see Amrish Puri telling us in voiceover that he lives and works in Southall but that actually London is rubbish, and what his heart thirsts for is India because fuck yeah India! India is the greatest! This raises two questions:

  1. If Amrish Puri hates London and loves India so much, why doesn’t he just go back to India? Even if his finances are straitened, he surely owns either his shop or his house, if not both. And even in 1995, London property had to be massively expensive. And although the rupee hadn’t sunk in value to a single British penny by then, he could still have cashed out, bought property in India, and retired to a life of ease and having Farida Jalal and impoverished Biharis at his beck and call. As it is, he liked rural Punjab, where land is far cheaper than Gurgaon, where most other NRIs were buying property.
  2. If he was walking home from Southall to Southall, just how did his route take him past so many landmarks of Central London? (This question came courtesy RoKo.)

Now, in swaggers London Thumakda with these lyrics:

Saanu te lagta, Southall toh changi
Jaga koi nahi hai badiya

Translating for make benefit non-Punjabi speakers: “To us it looks like, out of all the good places, there’s none more amazing than Southall.”

What a slap in the face for Amrish Puri! After his extended monologue about the wretchedness of Southall and the awesomeness of India, a bunch of Punjabis in Rajouri Garden, who actually live in India and so have a better idea about India snap back that actually, no, Amrish Puri is wrong, and Southall is just amazing. Not just amazing, it’s the greatest place in the world.

Even that might just be coincidence, you say. But look at how that verse starts:

Trafalgar de
Kabootar vargi, O meman phir di
Gootar goo kardi

That’s a DDLJ opening reference right there! The song isn’t just doing nudge nudge wink wink about wedding night bonking, it’s doing even more nudge nudge wink wink in the direction of Amrish Puri!

It’s so obvious when you look at it that at first I was ashamed of myself for not realising this earlier. And then I googled to see if anybody else had written about it and found nothing. So now I’m amazed that I seem to have come up with an original insight. Whatay.

Having googled to see if anybody else had made this connection, I then googled to see who was responsible for this masterful trolling, and found that the lyricist of London Thumakda is Anvita Dutt Guptan. That name sounded familiar, so I googled her, and realised that, holy shit, she was also the lyricist for the last song I was moved to write a long, rambling, blogpost about: Radha. Which makes perfect sense: once you’ve undermined the Bhagvad Gita by means of a catchy dance number, undermining Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenegein (also extremely popular and also about a powerful authority figure) the same way is probably all in a day’s work. Maybe even an hour’s work.

What is most charming about the whole affair is that hardly anybody notices the trolling that Anvita Dutt Guptan carries out. As I wrote in the earlier blogpost, people were outraged not that the song was refuting the Bhagvad Gita, but that it was calling Radha sexy. And with London Thumakda, nobody except me seems to have noticed, or at least been moved enough to write about it online. So Anvita Dutt Guptan is not just irreverent, she’s also extremely subtle about it. What a woman.

A Drop of Honey

There is a story in the Mahabharata which I am retelling below. I may have added some details, forgotten others, or even grievously changed yet others; but I trust that I will have reproduced the essence of the story.

Once, a man is being chased through the forest by hungry wild beasts who want to eat him. Fleeing in terror, he finds himself at the edge of a high cliff. He slides down, and finds a young tree growing out of the side of the cliff. He grabs at it desperately and arrests his fall.

Unluckily for the man, the tigers, lions, bears and/ or other carnivores who have been pursuing him are also at the edge of the cliff, and waiting for him to climb back up. If he goes up, he will be messily devoured. If he lets go of the young tree, he will plunge to his death.

In fact, letting go is not even a choice, because just his own weight is beginning to pull the tree out by its roots, and so he will have to fall soon.

Looking around desperately for some means to escape his predicament, the man realises that above him, on a higher branch of the tree, there is also a beehive.

At that instant, the man accepts his fate; and stops worrying about whether he will die by tiger or by impact. Instead, he stretches himself, and catches a drop of honey as it falls from the beehive onto his tongue.

The story ends there.

Today, Delhi finds itself in a situation similar to the man hanging from the tree.

The wild animals here are the venality, divisiveness, and the sheer contempt for the electorate prevalent in the Congress and the BJP.

The horrifying fall that awaits him is the inexperience, lack of fiscal rectitude, and Somnath Bharti’s racism and thuggish disrespect for due process that the AAP brings to Delhi.

But in all this, there is a drop of honey and the drop of honey is that Amit Shah is now looking like a complete idiot.

It will not last very long, and at some point we must undergo the fall.

But it is important to enjoy the drop of honey while it is there.