Understanding The Story Behind Those Iconic Bollywood Tulips
Bollywood, by default, is a corner of the global film industry classically associated with lengthy movies, colorful costumes, and grand-scale dance sequences. At least that is the general and quintessential perception of it. While most contemporary Bollywood films of today will consciously deviate from that template, there are still movies produced each year that stick closely to tradition, pairing spontaneously musical numbers with elaborate choreography. My mother will often watch promotional snippets of these films, and sigh: “Its not like what it used to be: old is gold”. When I hear her make that claim, I wonder– what exactly is it about the older Bollywood movies– the precursors of today’s Hindi cinema– that makes those films incomparable to today’s productions?
With this question in mind, I think of one song in particular, a romantic ballad that encompasses all aspects of a traditional Bollywood music score. It is about love, and features two illustrious actors of Hindi cinema (Amitabh Bachan and Rekha), in what is perhaps one of the most poetic sets of lyrics to be sung by the evergreen playback singers, Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar. Part of the reason why this song persists in memory is because of the location: generally, there are light-hearted jokes made regarding the “romance” portrayed in Bollywood movies, in which two lovers inevitably run across a field (of either mustard or wheat) only to meet in the middle and embrace one another. While one will assume the mustard or wheat fields are located in some part of India, mostly likely in the Punjab region, Yash Raj Chopra, a legendary director and producer of Hindi Cinema (often dubbed as a “romantic”) transitioned that concept to the Keukenhof Tulip Gardens in Holland. The yellows and greens of the Indian landscape were replaced with the lush reds, whites, and pinks of rows upon rows of swaying Dutch tulips.
When Silsila (Series of Events) was released in 1981, it became one of Chopra’s most renowned romantic dramas. With its running time of well over three hours, the film has an ensemble cast including the now-married Amitabh Bachan and Jaya Bachan, as well as Rekha. Chopra paired Rekha and Amitabh Bachan for one of the most well-recognized songs of that epoch: “Dekha ek Khwab” (“I Saw a Dream”) directed by Shiv-Hari, with lyrics penned by Javed Akthar. The two actors were rumored to have been involved in a romantic affair throughout most of their careers, and this movie marked the finale of their on-screen and off-screen relationship. The lyrics to the songs, shot against the backdrop of lush tulips, offer up some insight on the emotional, tumultuous nature of love.
“Dekha ek khwaab to yeh silsile huye..dhoor thak nigahon mein hain gul khile huye/ Yeh gila hai aapki nigahon se…phool bhi ho darmiyaan to fasle huye”–
This set of lyrics translates to the dream seen by the lovers (particularly the male). All is beautiful, and there are flowers everywhere. If one were to ponder the association of love with flowers, one may correlate men buying their beloveds bouquets as an expression of that love. It is a romantic gesture, and the emotion embedded within that experience may be perceived as “hearts and flowers”– but in the last line of prose, the female is countering that notion: regardless of the omnipresence of flowers, there is still a distance within relationships.
As the song continues, and the cinematic shots of the Keukenhof Tulip gardens are shown from close ups as well as aerial views, at one point Amitabh Bachan’s character sings:
“Kal agar na roshni ke kaafile huye…Pyar ke hazaar deep hain jale huye”–
As a response to Rekha’s proclamation, he explains that if there is no chance of light (love) in the near future, there are still a thousand lamps of love surrounding them: the tulips.
Overtime, Hindi cinema has evolved, and if the Bollywood contemporaries of the present day were to return to the exact same location and produce a similar song sequence, it would not necessarily incur the ethereal affect my mother described in regards to the earlier films. “Dekha ek Khwaab” is a score that was shot in the correct setting, with a set of poetic lyrics that took full advantage of the landscape surrounding the music– a sense of place that is coded not only into our love and appreciation of flowers, but society’s relationship with Nature as a whole.