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5 occasions Hindi cinema used Holi to propel the plot forward

With its colours and gaiety and connection with romantic love, it is no surprise that Holi has been an integral part of Hindi cinema through the decades.

Manisha Vardhan

The colourful festival of Holi lends itself to being captured on camera. And Hindi cinema has exploited the vibrant mood and different flavours of the festival for decades.

A Holi sequence in a Hindi film provides a perfect opportunity for song and dance, depicting either romantic love or lusty courtship. By its very nature, that of unbridled celebration, it is one of the few festivals in India that allow both sexes to come together and celebrate, a rarity for an otherwise repressed society.

Hindi films abound with Holi sequences and songs and every generation probably has its favourite. Filmmakers have managed to use Holi and its celebration not just as a romantic device but also as a plot twister that furthers the drama. We look at five films which had amazing Holi songs that played a crucial role in the plot progression.

1. Kati Patang (1971)

Shakti Samanta's Kati Patang, starring Rajesh Khanna and Asha Parekh, sees Parekh's character Madhavi run away from home on her wedding day to be with her lover. But circumstances find her taking on the identity of her dead friend Poonam. She lands up at Poonam's in-laws' house with the latter's son. Here she runs into Khanna, the man she was to be married off to.

Forced to live as a widow, Madhavi finds herself drawn to Khanna, as he is to her. In the song, he tries to woo her and get closer taking advantage of Holi. Believing her to be a widow, he tries to persuade her to live life again and acknowledge her desires. The song was composed by RD Burman and sung by Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar.

2. Phagun (1973)

Rajinder Singh Bedi's Phagun starred Dharmendra, Waheeda Rehman, Jaya Bhaduri and Vijay Arora. In the film, the idealistic but poor Dharmendra is married to Waheeda, only daughter of rich parents. On Holi, he colours her Banarasi saree and she strikes out, saying he had no right to spoil her saree when he is unable to buy her one. Insulted, Dharmendra walks out on his wife, leaving her to bring up their daughter by herself.

The daughter, played by Jaya Bhaduri, marries Vijay Arora and finds herself caught between her mother and husband. Of course, all's well that ends well. The young couple reconcile but not before they have both had their moment of realization about life and relationships. An older and hopefully wiser Dharmendra and Waheeda also reunite towards the end.

Phagun, which was written and directed by Bedi, was a sensitive take on the fragile nature of relationships. Like the month of Phagun, which heralds the end of winter and the onset of spring, relationships are rejuvenated in the end, making them stronger.

3. Zakhmee (1975)

Zakhmee, produced by Tahir Husain and directed by Raja Thakur, starred Sunil Dutt, Asha Parekh, Reena Roy, Rakesh Roshan and Tariq. The Holi sequence and song occur much later n this film, but they form the backdrop for Dutt's escape from prison. The Holi colours act as camouflage as the character evades the cops as well as the villains to make his way home, where his sweetheart and kid sister are being held hostage by a gang led by Imtiaz Khan.

Dutt's character was wrongly accused of murdering his business partner and sent to prison. His brothers, Rakesh Roshan and Tariq, abduct the daughter of a judge in order to prove their brother's innocence. The song, written by Gauhar Kanpuri, composed by Bappi Lahiri. and with Kishore Kumar as the lead singer is not just a celebratory song about Holi but has so many seething layers underneath.

4. Sholay (1975)

No Hindi film fan can be unaware of Ramesh Sippy's Sholay, the 1975 blockbuster. And if, like this writer, you were growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, then you would probably know the film line by line, scene by scene. But that's not the reason Sholay is included in this list.

The Holi sequence in Sholay is full of joy and celebration by the denizens of Ramgarh. On the one hand, there is the boisterous courtship between Basanti (Hema Malini) and Veeru (Dharmendra), on the other there is the quiet acknowledgement between Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) and Radha (Jaya Bhaduri). But, in the plot, the song also marks the last celebratory scene of the movie; as the song ends, the bandit Gabbar Singh (Amjad Singh) descends on the village with his gang. The sequence that follows leads to the back story that explains Thakur's thirst for revenge and turns the mercenaries Jaidev and Veeru into volunteers for a noble cause.

5. Silsila (1981)

'Rang Barse' from Yash Chopra's Silsila is a memorable number because it captures not only the mood of Holi very well, but also the flaming chemistry between Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha. The song can be watched for these elements alone. But the juncture at which it appears in the fllm and the manner in which it triggers the graph of the plot is crucial.

All this while, in the movie, the love between Amit and Chandni, both of whom are married to people they don't love, is hidden ffrom their respective spouses. But under the effect of gulal, bhang and passion, the lovers let go in this number, leaving both Sanjeev Kumar's Dr Anand and Jaya Bachchan's Shobha shocked. What was hidden is now out in the open, all thanks to Holi.

Silsila was the last time Rekha and Bachchan were cast together in a movie. Given some of the rumoured real-life parallels, the film gained cult status. The 'Rang Barse' song was sung by Bachchan himself while the music was composed by Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and Pandit Shivkumar Sharma.