Like many Indians I have grown up with the dichotomy of Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsale. Scratch that. Make it like many South Asians I have grown up on that great Lata-Asha binary – witness Pakistani writer Mohammed Hanif discussing it in his 1000 ladi bomb of a novel A Case Of Exploding Mangoes: across the country lines are drawn between those who like Asha and those who like Lata. Tea of Cofee? Coke or Pepsi? Maoist or Leninist? Shia or Sunni?
The preference is supposed to categorise you instantly, like the Hogwarts sorting hat in Harry Potter. If you are a rootless cosmopolitan, who believes in fun and flirtation, sexual freedom and give a fig for moral orthodoxies then why, you must like Asha. Like Lata? You’re conventional, sentimental, stick-in-the-mud, and probably hide a little prudishness within. It is the good old- fashioned virgin and vamp, good woman and bad girl binary. Uske oopar Lata Mangeshkar has been called desh ki didi and voice of the Nation with all its conservative implications
Chalo, like everything there is obviously some truth in these things, but but but…
I’m not very padha likha in general but pleasure is my subject and Hindi films songs are a big fat textbook in that syllabus.
I did always love Asha Bhonsale and there is no Sexy Saturday Songs list on which she does not make an appearance. She was mischievous and throaty and sometimes so sweetly, collegially beckoning. A playlist in her sexy name another day. But is this really the only way to be sexy? Doesn’t it remind you of all those dodgy guys who, when they can’t cope with you saying no, instantly accuse you of being a prude? Know what I mean na?
Like many young people, women in particular, let me freely admit that for a while I bought into this idea. Both the prude business and the Asha is the only sexy business.
Now I know better and feel differently.
So, inspired by the recent discussion on The Ladies Finger which reiterated this vamp-virgin narrative and another which contextualized it, I thought I’d also join the karaoke party and say why I think this dichotomy is also little bit bhaicotomy. It’s like an old fashioned body-mind-heart divide which succeeds more in dividing ishq rather than exploring its different rasas.
What is sexy anyway? Are we saying a married or monogamous person can’t be sexy? Is intelligence sexy? Is dreaming sexy? Are we saying longing is not sexy? Is sexy always extroverted? Can there be a more contained, not always evident sexy? Just because you don’t have a come-hither note in your voice does that mean your voice doesn’t have chashni in its pants? I don’t think so – and I’m sure you don’t either. For that matter aren’t emotions sexy? Isn't falling in love and longing longing longing for someone also sexy? And this emotional sexy is something Lata Mangeshkar, I think, sings so very well - among other kinds. So here are some sexy songs that are Unexpectedly Lata Mangeshkar.
1. Sansar Se Bhaage Phirte Ho
Intellectual, philosophical, composed, sarcastic, lofty, with a seam of pain. You don’t have to officially be a courtesan to know what this feels like. Any woman who has been told she wants sex too much knows this feeling. Any woman who has been told women ‘love too much’ knows what I’m talking about. Oh, and any one who's been told men have loftier things to think of than love (you know, money, war, Batman, sportscars, Fitbits and beer with the bros) knows this. Any woman who has been made to feel like it’s ok to be sexy, par itna bhi kya knows it. And a woman who knows it, who has pinpointed the expact point of bullshit, is kinda very smartly sexy.
Uske oopar Meena Kumari, queen of sexy despair. There they go, Meenaji and Lataji saying “yeh bhog bhi ek tapasya hai, tume tyaag ke maare kya jaano?”
2. Phaili Hui Hain Sapnon Ki Baahein
The personal reverie, experiencing nature as sensual, the desire to be alone with a beloved. It is a rainy afternoon spent fantasizing, that fantasy is romance and eroticism together. It is an internal monologue. “Vahi meri manzil, vahi teri raahein, aaja chalden kahin door” – call it a dirty weekend if you want, but there is nothing more sensuous than this song, of kuch khoye kuch paayeing. It too is a certain kind of song of the siren, when it says - “Masti mein jhoomein, aur sabhi gham bhoolein.
Dekhen na mudke kahin pe nigahein
Aaja chal den kahin door”
I will go where it beckons knowing there will be sex in a mountain meadow at the end of the song. Most probs.
3. Dilbar Dil Se Pyaare
Caravan is one of my favourite soundtracks – because the whole soundtrack is sexy. Every song, no matter what it’s mood, has a sense of far away loss and haunting to it, as if you know betrayal lurks behind each kiss, but if there is something irrresistable, it is this, it is this, it is this. The more famous of its ‘item songs’ is Piya Tu Ab Toh Aaja (Asha of course) but I’ve always liked the rather young and spirited sounding Dilbar Dil se Pyaare. It reflects some of the inexorability of passion in its trailing off ‘lehri nainon waale” and has a very eyes meet eyes quality. I admit, when I first discovered it was Lata Mangeshkar I too was surprised and it was the song that first pushed me to reconsider my assumptions (and other people’s)
4. Yeh Dil Aur Unki Nigahon Ke Saaye
This song by Jaidev is unusual and I think a great example of a particular kind of sexiness which is highly private, interior and female. One that does not seek to be understood but is oddly self-contained. It is an unhurried reminiscence of romance and passion, of the breathlessness of pounding heartbeats “dhadakte hain dil kitni aazadiyon se” and a complete immersion in the feelings. The voice even has that tired morning-after all night before absent-mindedness about it.
5. Lag Ja Gale
Without doubt this is one of the most melancholically sexy Hindi film songs where longing and desire mix with a kind of fatalistic surrender to loss and impossibility. There isn’t a queer person who doesn’t identify with it in some way. Oh wait. There isn’t a straight person who may not identify with it too. It’s certainly very much a surrender, but certainly a call to a night of sexy love because well, the chance may never come again. If it is raining outside you’re going to feel the slow heat of this song more.
6. Dil Ko Milake Dil Pyaar Kijiye
More Carpe Diem in this rather breezy, light-heartedly no-pressure sexy song. Let’s have a little fun. Let’s get mildly buzzed says this sweet voiced girl. It’s easygoing and that can be very sexy on some days.
7. Raat Bhi Hai Kuch Bheegi Bheegi
The night is moist, the moon is langorous. The measured rhythm of this song is like when the breath constantly catches in your throat and you try to bring it to something like normal. There is only a very, very slight smile in the voice, which warms up its sensual directness. The hypnotic quality of desire, the moment after eyes have locked with eyes and are not pretending, but only savouring intent are all present in this song - chham chham chham chham
8. Ni Main Yaar Manana Ni
This may be my favourite song on the list. It is about wanting what you want and the devil take the world. The desire may be illicit,but it’s inexorable. I don’t care if you call me a slut, I don’t care if my rival tries to poison me, I don’t care what happens, but I am going to get it on with the yaar I love, yaniki I want to have sex with him, no matter what. It adds to the intensity that the film is about an extra marital love affair whose sexual pull is hard to resist. As Dr. Anjali Arondekar said when I tried to explain how the song always feels hedonistic yet painful to me, “Yes because it is both desire and lament.”
Both desire and lament sums up a certain kind of sexiness that Lata Mangeshkar often brought to her songs.
I don’t mean to dismiss the understandings of what Lata Mangeshkar’s and Asha Bhonsle’s voices meant for the project of Nation and idealized or permissible Indian woman. But I also think we are no longer in our infancy so let’s look back with a little more grown-up reconsideration of how many ways sexy can exist (answer: infinite)
In desire as in politics there is no creativity in false pieties. To decry Lata and deify Asha – why, that is a reduction of both their compelling womahoods. To flatten them into normative identities and nothing else, is #BoreMatKarYaar Asha is vixen and jogan, Lata is jogan and vairagin – both of them have been many personae in the songs they have seduced us with over the years. As we consider how their reign may have limited womanhood, let’s not limit the idea of womanhood ourselves, no?
So, let us now grow up when it comes to this Lataji is boringji and Ashaji is hotji double roti– who time beet chukka hai, jise hum desh ka bachpan samjhein. We are in messier times before a more complex sexual banquet. Messy times ask for for queerer solutions.
Let us be all things at once. Let us be different things at different times. Or as the great poet Sameer once said “just chill, chill” – make love not binaires.
Tune in to the playlist of all of Paromita Vohra's Sexy Saturday Songs here.
Paromita Vohra is a filmmaker, writer and antakshari player. She is also founder and creative director of Agents of Ishq.