Dedh Ishqiya is Bollywood erotica really, wrapped in the sophisticated robe of tameez (good manners) and tahzeeb (high culture) of the Muslim Social genre, popular from the 1940-70s. You can read all about the genre here on this great article by Madhulika Liddle. So much sexual tension rides under the surface of this song and many other moments in the film that is easy to miss, unless you pay attention.

Dedh Ishqiya is a black comedy featuring versatile Indian actors including Madhuri Dixit and Naseeruddin Shah. Dixit, who looks absolutely ravishing and ageless as a noblewoman, Begum Para, plots an elaborate plan with her accomplice Muniya (Huma Qureshi), to extort money from a nawab (nobleman) to absolve herself from bankruptcy. Though the story seems quite simple at first, some scenes reveal the way a lesbian romance been Begum and Muniya is being played out in the shadows, quite literally. There is an obvious tribute to Ismat Chugtai’s story about a lesbian romance called Lihaaf (the Quilt), which (not co-incidentally) tells the tale of a lonely Begum, ignored by her husband who prefers young boys instead. She begins a homosexual relationship with her maid and its revealed through giant shadows on the wall (obviously of the two getting close under the quilt), that resemble an elephant, according to a little girl who is visiting the Begum.

In a kind of concluding scene of the film, the male protagonists are trapped in the Begum’s plot and tied up in the courtyard, while Muniya and Begum Para celebrate by frolicking in the other room. One can only hear giggles and massive shadows on the wall to indicate intimacy between the two female protagonists. Right then, as if on cue, Khalujan (Naseeruddin Shah) asks Babban (Arshad Warsi), “Lihaaf maang le? (“Should we ask for a quilt?”). Dialogue writer and demi-wordplay­-god, Vishal Bhardwaj slips in a reference to Chugtai’s story so deftly and inconspicuously, that one cannot help but marvel at his genius. At the end, Begum Para escapes with Muniya to another town, using the word humsafar (companion/soulmate) for her. It doesn’t become any more overt for a film that is rooted in a tradition where romance often resides only in the words.

The examples of mainstream Bollywood picking up homosexual themes are really few and far in between and, the ones that do, are met with intense protest and violence. In such a scenario, a very delicate Thelma and Louise type of plot line treads the path of such censorship-prone content quite carefully. It’s another reminder of the obscenity court case that Chugtai fought and won, for no one could find a real suggestion of anything vulgar in Lihaaf, for it was all ‘under the quilt’, so to say. The film is available to watch on YouTube for small payment (less than $1), so do watch and let me know what you think. Meanwhile, Abhishek Chaubey’s latest film, Udta Punjab (Flying Punjab) is getting rave reviews and I love the music. I will be posting a translation from that film soon!

This song, Hamri Atariya (on my rooftop) which appears along with the ending credits is a re-working of renowned Hindustani classical singer Begum Akhtar’s song based on the Dadra tradition (light vocals) from Agra and Bundelkhand region of India. The song is an erotically charged number about a woman waiting for her lover, eager for his romantic company , while insecure about some ‘other woman’ or sautan (actually means a co-wife) charming him away.

The song displays the dancing genius of Madhuri Dixit in the classical Kathak choreography by Indian dance exponent Pandit Birju Maharaj. The song amply showcases facial expressions (abhinaya), delicate hand gestures, footwork and spiraling movements that are a hallmark of this dance form from northern India. The earthy, rustic voice belongs to ace singer Rekha Bharadwaj, my utter favorite since a long time. Her voice has the most unique combination of sensuality and melancholy. A part of the song had me reminiscing about Roysten Abel’s multimedia collaboration with musicians from Manganiyar community of Rajasthan, called Manganiyar Seduction (that in turn somehow reminds me of the seduction windows in Amsterdam, the world is so small!) See the below images to notice the similarities:

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                                                A still from Hamri Atariya song


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Roysten Abel’s Manganiyar Seduction


The song has plenty of restrained and some more overt mentions of the woman’s desire for a sexual union. Apart from being fun and catchy, when Muniya (Huma Qureshi) joins Begum Para (Madhuri Dixit) in the performance, the song sort of becomes representative of the film itself. Along with the video from the film, I am posting the link to a belly-dance based choreography to the same number by Banjara School of Dance, run by India’s foremost belly dance artist, Meher Malik. Call me a voyeur, but I really couldn’t keep my eyes off those beautiful dancers! Enjoy and let me know your thoughts in comments!

Song Credits
Lyrics: Gulzar
Singers: Rekha Bharadwaj
Music: Vishal Bharadwaj (re-worked Begum Akhtar’s original)

Movie Credits
Directed by: Abhishek Chaubey
Starring:   Madhuri Dixit, Naseeruddin Shah, Arshad Warsi, Huma Qureshi
Produced by: Raman Maroo, Vishal Bharadwaj
Release: 10 January 2014

Original Lyrics – Hamri Atariya Pe

Saj ke sajaaye baithi
Saazinde bulaaye baithi
Kahaan gum hua anjaanaa
Aale aale diye bhi jalaye re jalaye na
Atariya pe aaya parwana
Kaun sautan haaye bharmaaye re

Hamari atariya pe
Aaja re sanwariya
Dekha-dekhi tanik hoi jaaye
Hamri atariya pe
Aaja re sanwariya
Dekha-dekhi tanik hoi jaaye
Hamri atariya pe

Kiwadiya se lag ke piya kare jhaanka jhaanki
Bahut kaudi phenke piya udaave jahaan ki
Kasam deve jaan ki
Aaja gilauri, khilai doon kimaami
Laali pe laali tanik hui jaaye

Padosan ke gharva jaiho
Jaiho na sawariya
Sautan sapoli mori kaate jeheriya
Jeheri najariya…
Aaja atariya pe pilai doon angoori
Jora-jori tanik hui jaaye

Saajne lagaaye baithi
Chuttiya ghumaaye baithi
kahan gum hua

Translation of Hamri Atariya Pe by bollywoodtarjuma

Dressed and adorned,
with musicians ready all around,
I wait for that stranger,
where did he go missing, I wonder.
I lined the porch with lamps of desire,
yet the moth didn’t come for the fire.
Another one has bewitched him, I fear,
Is that why he has disappeared?

O tan –skinned one,
run into me on the roof.
Let’s look at each other,
while the world is aloof.

Standing by the lattice door,
my mischievous lover quietly peeps.
Swears repeatedly by his life,
throwing copious wealth at my feet.

Let me paint your lips red,
with a perfumed betel spread.
Let our crimsons blend,
until the night comes to an end.

Don’t step into house next door,
don’t see the other women, I implore.
A nibble of that wicked serpentress slays,
her venom-eyes defuse my magic for days.
Come instead, to my porch,
and let me pour you some wine.
Let’s peek a bit and play some tease,
Some naughty and some benign.

Dressed and adorned,
hair pretty and plait bound,
with musicians ready all around,
I wait for that stranger,
where did he go missing, I wonder.