Q se Qawwali, Q se Queer Quties

Time for another Sexy Saturday Songs playlist!

1. Nigahein Milane Ko Jee Chahta Hai

If there is something that captures that thrilling flutter of early romance, it’s a filmi qawwali. It is full of play and role-play. It is simultaneously coy and bold, arch and fulsome, teasing and battling, push and pull, heave and sigh. It is licks and nibbles followed by a sudden bite.

I think filmi qawwalis are sexy most of all because they are fun. They are reckless – pushing teasing insults to a dangerous edge, then pulling back with a smile. They are both direct and oblique, full of backhanded compliments and front-loaded with desire – all about call and response, back and forth, you and me. They are clever – banter in musical form. They are graceful and relentless till climax – dance in the form of a song. That they take place in groups gives them a lightness. That there is a contest between central singers, gives them the intentness of eyes sending secret smiling messages in full rooms.

Or as this qawwali proffers before it takes off: raaz ki baat hai, mehfil mein kahein ya na kahein? (It’s a private secret, should I say it in a gathering?). There is no back and forth as such in this qawwali, but the discussion of love in a public place plays on the fun of a double meaning known only to the singers, while everyone else takes it as the single meaning of sweet entertainment. The sexy in this qawwali is in the innocent, twinkling yet sensual enjoyment that lies in talking about love.

 

2. Teri Mehfil Mein

Although many filmi qawwalis are muqablas, or contests, often between men and women, they aren’t always a battle of the sexes. Sometimes – whether between troupes of men and women, or across troupes of the same gender, they are an argument about different approaches to love. In this one, Madhubala, sweet, young, innocent, more flowing in both dress and style, is fully committed to love as sensual surrender to intensities, tears and painful desire, while the stately Nigar Sultana is sophisticated and knowing, suggesting there are more calibrated enjoyments possible. She does not dismiss love but suggests that if love is a dragon she can ride it rather than be ridden by it. Her movements are restrained yet flowing in their own way. Her attractiveness is androgynous and her ability to hold a gaze with command is transfixing. (I admit to having a soft spot for her because she is the actor in one of my favourite songs – Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon).

The qawwali is of course being performed for Prince Salim’s viewing pleasure – and some of its sexiness lies in the pretense of naturalness tautly threaded with awareness of being watched, halka halka exhibitionism ka suroor, thoda thoda voyeurism bhi huzoor. I also love the way that the contesting troupes hand over the stage to one another – exemplifying that even in combativeness there can be togetherness.

 

3. Jee Chahta Hai Choom Loon

This qawwali is a pure poetic muqabla, where poets feed verses to the singers. I think it’s sexy in a warm and collegial way. It’s all friends having a good time. But it’s also a song about being quite proud of one’s own capacity to love and desire someone, “Jee chahta hai choom loon apni nazar ko main” (I feel like kissing my own eyes – filled as they are with you) and “Surat kaa savaal hai/Na sirat ki baat hai/Ham tum pe mar mite/Ye tabiyat ki baat hai” (It’s not your face, nor personality my friend/ I’m crazy for you thanks to my temperament).

But, as there are androgynous women in qawwali, so too are there androgynous men to be seen, at least until the mid 1960s. I just heart the entire gents party here, so debonair, expressive and non-macho. And I heart that the qawwali casually accommodated different expressions of gender, so many queer quties, debonair and dressed up (check out the dashing single earring) in an atmosphere of celebration.

 

4. Na toh Karavan ki Talaash Hai

Is this the greatest Hindi film song ever? I wonder sometimes. It’s definitely my choice for best filmi qawwali ever. If a song can be defined as queer, in the full sense of the word, not only in terms being connected to sexual orientation, but in the sense of those who/that which slides in and out of categories, allows itself to be defined by intangible things like affect and emotion, lingering in liminal spaces, then this is that song, for me. Therefore I am going to go on about it a bit.

The song begins already with the assertion that all fealty is to ishq – love and desire as a journey – not to the comforts of a caravan, nor the overt monogamies of a humsafar/companion/partner.

As one person notes in the comments on YouTube – it is a bouquet of ragas. In fact the song assails us with so many moods you are left completely undone. It’s first phase is heady and light and twirls us around – tera ishq main kaise chhod doon, mere umr bhar ki talaash hai – before escalating to the near-devotional chant ishq ishq ishq ishq ishq ishq.

Here it switches intensities – addressing the shama (flame), not the mehfil (the party). The idea of destroying oneself in love is brought in with moths and flames, introducing a heart-stopping sense of danger, maybe even the forbidden. The idea of love as a social force that can storm the bastions of propriety, the recklessness of lovers, who can give up everything, and so, cannot be stopped by the requirements of the world. “Jaan, kya, imaan chhod de.”

It is a crescendo of queerness – genders, styles, urdu, braj, Manna Dey, Rafi, notes, words – all enter and swirl together, kissing one then another. Krishna’s bansi plays and the abhisarika nayika, Radhika set out towards love. Majnu becomes Radha, wearing prem ki mala (the necklace of love) and drinks vish ka pyaala (cup of poison) maybe becoming Shiva. It’s head-spinning, what ishq does as a transformation.

By the end it announces – that the Hadith and Quran is ishq, that the true desire (armaan) of Buddha and Christ was ishq. Eventually creation is a body, and life is ishq. The limit is that ishq makes god a statue and a statue into god, and humans into gods too.

One woman sees another and almost swoons. Someone thrashes about on a bed. An orgasm of ishqs rends the air at the end of the song. Everything becomes one, there is no contest anymore, and no conclusion except coming together.

I guess that is kind of sexy, ya 🙂

 

5. Tumse Milke Dil ka Hai Yeh Haal 

Farah Khan’s films with Shahrukh Khan have always managed to capture his particular appeal of being emotionally and sexually sincere without sacrificing the fun of irony. Some of this comes from her remixing traditional Bollywood set pieces – like the qawwali. I love the sequined, lotus pink and sea-green romanticness of how this song is picturised. It is ashiqui-lite, qawwali kitsch, which nevertheless retains beauty. It pretends to be ironic while it is really played for its sincerity in a time when we are more comfortable with making fun of all emotion. I also love it when Sonu Nigam sings for SRK for the exact same reason – he is an excellent singer who can take little bits and pieces from Western and Indian musical styles and study the song with those throaty ‘hai’s while hitting the high notes of the refrain. Most of all this qawwali makes me smile the same wide smile we smile when we are with someone we really like. What to say.

 

6. Jo Bor Kare Yaar Ko

This is a qawwali not shot like a qawwali, but presented as a duet between two men, of whom one seems to be romancing a woman. It’s one of the many Bollywood songs where the romantic interaction seems to be as much between the two men as between one of the men and the woman, and at times even both the men and the woman in the song. So contrary to songs where couples dance alone, a third is incorporated in an ambiguous role, queering this romantic moment, where the (beautiful) Rahman mocks the besotted lovers, swearing off love, but seeming to quite enjoy following them around. The woman too seems to relish the banter between the men, everyone is happy in some queerly non-normative way, and I’ve always felt that a great romantic truth has been spoken in this song: jo bor kare yaar ko, us yaar se tauba. If love is about pleasure, why let yourself be bored by what the world permits you?

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