Film buffs relived memories of a pre-internet and pre-social-media era film last week. It has been 25 years since Rangeela was released and we just can’t believe it, some of them wrote. A number of them shared the songs from the film and wrote passionately about Urmila Matondkar. Some others rued why Ram Gopal Varma could not keep his hit-maker crown in the years that followed.
Those of us down south who were in college 25 years ago, were not looking up to Bollywood as the benchmark for anything, be it content, style or music. The music, with the exception of a few films such as R.D.Burman’s 1942 A Love Story, had largely become repetitive and the lyrics were revolving around a handful of words. Some of us used to make up new lines with those oft-repeated terms for fun, though we could hardly write any Hindi. To cut the long story short, the impact of Bollywood in our lives was limited to catching an odd super hit Bollywood movie that would release once in a couple of months and watching Rangoli, Chitrahaar and the old Hindi films on Doordarshan.
A.R. Rahman altered that pattern with his debut album in Hindi. As soon as Rangeela’s audio cassette hit the music stores, word of mouth spread that Rahman has composed for a Hindi film starring Aamir Khan and the songs are among his best so far. Many of us enthusiastically picked up the album hearing the first song in the music store and then the film just refused to leave us, even after weeks of its releasing. Rahman’s electrifying music won him his first Filmfare award. The first of many that followed thereafter.
Catching the film’s FDFS (First Day First Show) was a no-brainer for college lads, though some of the girls in the gang were not too sure of entering the theatre on the first day after seeing the posters with Urmila in skimpy clothes. Urmila’s outfits were a class apart. Those who had their eyes on fashion would have paid attention to the name Manish Malhotra, the fashion designer who would become an international brand later. Manish won the first Filmfare award for costume design for the makeover he designed for Urmila in the film. Nevertheless, the ladies made it for the sake of the songs and the film that we were sure of becoming a trendsetter. Those were the times the theatres started turning into a huge dance floors. We had seen it coming during the days of Kadhalan and Gentleman before Rangeela.
Loud cheers erupted in the theatre right from the first visual on screen that said ‘Jhamu Sughand presents’. It didn’t matter that Rangeela was his first film as a producer and nobody around knew who he was. Those cheers were vindicated in the next few years. Jhamu Sughand’s name on the poster slowly became an indicator for quality entertainers and good indie films. Sughand spread the fragrance of Indian cinema not only in every nook and corner of the country, but abroad too. Some of the projects he lent his weight to as producer and distributor were Mani Ratnam’s Bombay, Deepa Mehta’s Earth, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chukey Sanam, Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Lagaan, Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday and Gulaal (which he had to sell before completing) and Mahesh Manjrekar’s Astitva.
Fresh music and lyrics
It was also the first project of lyricist Mehboob with Rahman. The duo went to compose for a number of important Hindi films and albums, including the dubbed version of Bombay, Yuva, Vande Mataram and Doli Saja Ke Rakhna. If Rahman’s music gave Bollywood the freshness it has been longing for, the lyrics Mehboob had penned for Rangeela freed it from the cliched lines concocted out of limited vocabulary the likes of Sameer were churning out at the time. The words in the songs that are composed like conversations between characters or as monologues were as simple as the “tapori” and the wannabe Bollywood heroine in the story would hum. Rangeela is one of the few movies for which Mehboob’s name is still remembered as the lyricist. Ismail Durbar (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam) is the other music director with whom Mehboob had a fruitful partnership.
Rahman’s choice of singers that would never go wrong. He picked Asha Bhosle who was in her sixties to sing for a girl in her twenties. The two main solo tracks of the film, Rangeela Re and Tanha Tanha were sung by Asha Bhosle. Rangeela resurrected her career. Indipop singer Shweta Shetty’s Mangta Hai Kya was another track that sounds fresh every time you listen.
Right from the titles that roll with the hustle-bustle of the city, the girl dancing through the street spreading cheer and the Mumbaiya Tapori who mouths a flawless Mumbai local accent, Rangeela captures the spirit of the dreams and aspirations of young India and pays tribute to the city of dreams. Ram Gopal Varma also pays his respect to the legends of Indian cinema by featuring the yesteryear actors and actresses in the title credits.
It carried some amount of authenticity about the lives that revolve around films though it was never meant to be a realistic drama. RGV never made or never succeeded in making similar light-hearted entertainers thereafter (as Aamir Khan’s Munna in Rangeela would say “Uska bad luck hi kharab tha”) and shifted his focus to thrillers based on real-life gangsters after his next outing after Rangeela. Daud failed in the box office despite having Rahman’s hit songs and Urmila. Varma’s tryst with gangster dramas produced some biggest hits, such as Satya and Company.
With a wafer-thin plot around a love triangle spotlighted on a woman, Ram Gopal Varma presented an entertainer that became a landmark in the post-liberalisation era. Watch it again to see whether this breezy 90’s film without any cultural baggage works for you in this age.
(Dress Circle is a weekly column on films. The author is a communication professional and film enthusiast. Read his past works here)