Bollywood's dependence on the Urdu shaayar and the Hindi kavi for lyrics is a reason we find a widespread obsession with the Moon in love songs of yore. Cinema itself was more poetic back in the day than it is now, and a nuanced romantic track or two were always a must in Hindi films, irrespective of the overall theme and plot. In turn, since romance had to be rendered with gentle imagination, lyricists looked to symbolise the emotion with anything that could represent soft moods. The Moon, flowers, the rains and the season of spring were common motifs.
Symbolism in the depiction of romance was important, because mainstream Hindi cinema has never really been mature discussing the concept of love as a natural human process between two individuals. In this context, it is interesting to note that some of the best romantic songs featuring symbolism of every kind - including the Moon - were written between the forties and the sixties, when love and love marriage weren't things meant to be discussed openly.
Those were the decades when Bollywood songs were penned by towering poets including Sahir Ludhianvi, Shakeel Badayuni, Hasrat Badayuni, Majrooh Ludhianvi and Shailendra. Among lyricists to follow, Anand Bakshi, Indeevar, Anjaan and Yogesh were notable in their retaining the classic pattern of songwriting. By the time Gulzar and Javed Akhtar were experimenting with the idiom of love in the seventies and the eighties, romance was no longer the most popular genre of the Hindi screen. While romantic numbers were still very much a part of the angry young man's universe, triggered off by the rise of Amitabh Bachchan, songs had become less poetic. The presence of chand and chandni naturally started becoming lesser in our film songs, like all other symbols of mush.
As a motif for romance, the Moon has meant different things to different poets penning Bollywood hits. Describing one's lover remained the most common form of symbolism while using the Moon in a love song.
"Chaudhvin ka chand ho ya aftab ho" and "Yeh chand sa roshan chehra" remain the obvious recalls in this genre of songs. The title song of "Chaudhvin ka Chand" (1960) had Shakeel Badayuni strike vintage form, and his burst of imagination was duly harmonised by Ravi's tune and Mohammed Rafi's voice. As Guru Dutt serenaded Waheeda Rehman by comparing her countenance to the Moon and her locks to clouds in the sky, the impact was poetry in motion.
In "Kashmir Ki Kali" (1964), the effect was playfully euphoric as Shammi Kapoor lip-synched S.H. Bihari's lyrics set to O.P. Nayyar's music and voiced by Rafi, to describe his on-screen heartthrob Sharmila Tagore's look as "yeh chand sa roshan chehra", in order to attract her attention.
Around the same time, Manoj Kumar crooned it out loud to Mala Sinha, to tell her she was every bit his dream girl, describing her as "Chand si mehbooba" in "Himalay Ki Godmein" (1965). The words were imagined by Anand Bakshi and set to melody by Kalyanji-Anandji, for Mukesh's sonorous rendition.
Back in the day, when cinema was all about dreams, the Moon and moonlight were evident manifestations of the perfect love and also the lover. Numerous instances abound. "Gore gore chand se mukh par kaali kaali aankhein" sang Mukesh, for the Laxmikant-Pyarelal-composed tune written by Arzoo Lakhnavi in "Anita" 1967. An early instance would be "Chandni aayi banke pyar", voiced by Shamshad Begum to the lyrics of Shakeel Badayuni and set to tune by Naushad for the 1949 hit, "Dulari", starring Madhubala. Moonlight in this song becomes a symbol of the love missing from the heroine's life.
Sometimes, the Bollywood poets has used the Moon as a witness to the hero's romance or romantic conversation with his lover. Shailendra's lyrics, "Khoya khoya chand khula aasman" in "Kala Bazar" (1960) or Hasrat Jaipuri's "Dheere dheere chal chand gagan mein" in "Love Marriage" (1959), reflect such a mood. A relatively recent example inthis genre would be 'Chand sifarish jo karta hamaari", in the 2006 film, "Fanaa", penned by Prasoon Joshi and composed by Jatin-Lalit.
Numerous such examples abound, exploring the mystique of the Moon and moonlight to express various shades of mush. "Raat ka samaa jhume chandrama" in "Ziddi" (1964; written by Hasrat Jaipuri), "Chand phir nikla magar" in "Paying Guest" (1957; Majrooh Sultanpuri), "Chanda re mori patiyan le ja" in "Banjaran" (1960; Pandit Madhur) and "Chand aahein bharega" in "Phool Bane Angaare" (1963; Anand Bakshi), are a few random recall.
By the seventies, the Moon was balancing its status well as a symbol of admiration among urban and rustic protagonists in commercial cinema. So, while Naseer Hussain's 1977 blockbuster "Hum Kissi Se Kam Naheen" saw the lovestruck city boy croon "Chand mera dil chandni ho tum" to the beats of his guitar in a discotheque, "Sawan Ko Aane Do" (1979) had the simple village boy showering affection on his lovergirl by describing her with the words, "Chand jaise mukhde pe bindiyaa sitara".
Post eighties, we have had less of moonshine in our film songs. A reason is with every passing decade, romance and subtlety has been vanishing from our films. With themes of violence, terror and other harsh realism taking over, the space for songs - more so, feel-good love songs - started shrinking.
Over the past decade, many Bollywood filmmakers have learnt to do away with lip-synched songs. Still, others started making songless films if the genre is action or thriller.
On the rare occasion, the Moon became the symbol of a hero shattered by the brutalities of life. In the 1990 film "Awargi", Ghulam Ali's inimitable voice sang the Anand Bakshi-penned "Chamakte chand ko toota hua taara bana daala", to introduce Anil Kapoor's protagionist, a criminal with no hope.
As the new millennium rolled in, new-age romantic filmmakers such as Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra started focussing on ideas that connect with the GenNow youth. Serenading the lover by equating her with the aura of moonlight is probably not what today's target audience looks forward to.
There have been few songs over the past couple of decades or so, falling back on the Moon for imspiration. One can recall Javed Akhtar's "Chanda re chanda re" in "Sapnay" (1997), composed by A.R. Rahman. Filmed on Prabhu Deva and Kajol, the song is about a guy in love with a woman reluctant to commit in relationship. He equates her to the Moon, begging her to come down to earth, so that the two can just sit for a while and chat.
In "Zakhm" (1998), Anand Bakshi compares the lover's advent to Moonrise in the song "Gali mein aaj chand nikla". Alka Yagnik sang the soothing number to MM Kreem's tune. In the "Dil To Pagal Hai" number "Chand ne kuch kaha", chand and raat (night) are lovers who exchange sweet nothings. Uttam Singh's tune and Anand Bakshi's lyrics was focussed on setting up a trendy Shah Rukh Khan party dance number with the song, poetry not being the priority.
In Sanjay Leela Bhansali's 1999 superhit "Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam" the Moon's movement amid the clouds is used to set up a mood for playful romance in the song "Chand chhupa baadal mein". As the Moon coyly disappears among the clouds, the hero takes it as an opportunity to seek an embrace from his lovergirl.
Very few songs have even referenced chandni or chandni over the years that have followed, in the 2000s - let along use these as motifs to express love, passion or desire. In an era when hip-hop songsters riding flashy cars and sporting designer bling sway in music videos with oomphy sirens, romancing the Moon seems like an out-of-the-world idea indeed.
(Vinayak Chakravorty can be contacted at email@example.com)