Why is Bollywood not celebrating Holi anymore?

Holi provided not only an occasion for interesting song situations in Hindi films but also a cue for great drama. But it's been years that we have been treated to a saucy Holi sequence on celluloid

A still from the chartbuster 'Balam pichkari...' song from YJHD
A still from the chartbuster 'Balam pichkari...' song from YJHD
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Subhash K Jha

The last time we saw a really memorable Holi song and dance on screen was in Ayan Mukerji’s Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. And 'Balam pichkari...' was back in 2013. Since then the Ranbir-Deepika starrer’s producer Karan Johar has been pining to put the colour back into his films. But the Holi situation just doesn’t show up in the scripts that he produces.

In the past, Holi was always a special occasion in our movies. It frequently occurred with a solid dramatic motivation. It could signify tragedy or joy. But Holi was always a reason for the plot to veer dramatically towards a new situation in any film.

Today, the festival of colours seems to have lost its knack of producing great song situations or drama.

In the early 1970s, Mala Sinha got pregnant in Holi Aaee Re while playing Holi. By the 1980s Holi was a time of stress and hooliganism, both in and out of the movies. In Rajkumar Santoshi’s Damini, the employer’s drunken son rapes the maid of the house on Holi.

Move forward to the new millennium and we see the Holi song becoming almost defunct. In Vipul Shah’s Waqt in 2005, the lead pair Priyanka Chopra and Akshay Kumar played Holi while she was pregnant. The pair got a real dressing down from papa Amitabh Bachchan.

One of Hindi cinema’s most memorable Holi sequences is to be found in this Shakti Samanta’s Kati Patang. The heroine, a widow, played by Asha Parekh, stands apart from the Holi revellers led by Rajesh Khanna who sings ‘Aaj na chhodenge bass humjoli, khelenge hum holi…’ while the lady in white sings back in subdued sorrowful regret about not being part of the celebration.

At the end of the song, Khanna suddenly puts colour all over the widow’s hair—a defiant act that implies he has proposed marriage to the widow. The colours of Holi are used here to signify social reform.

In Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay, the song-and-dance ‘Holi ke din dil khil jaate hain…’ is rightly celebrated for exuding an ominous energy as the gaonwale celebrate Holi unheedful of the attack Gabbar Singh is planning on them.

But there is a much more evocative Holi sequence in Sholay where Jaya Bhaduri’s character, a widow in spotless white, is seen in a flashback swathed in the bright colours of Holi. The contrast is chilling.

If Holi is fun in films, it’s also an occasion for hectic hooliganism. The dark side of Holi was revealed in Yash Chopra’s Darr where Shah Rukh Khan with his face smeared with colours to avoid recognition gate-crashes into Juhi Chawla’s Holi bash and misbehaves with her. This has got to be the scariest Holi sequence in our cinema.


Rajinder Singh Bedi’s Phagun was based on a mishap that happens during Holi. Waheeda Rehman playing a rich businessman’s daughter, dances in ecstatic splendour on Holi to the song ‘Piya sangg khelun holi…’ when her economically humble husband Dharmendra sprays her with colour.

She first responds with coy delight. When she sees her father frowning disapprovingly, she berates her husband, ‘If you can’t buy me an expensive saree, what right do you have to soil it?’ The wife loses her husband forever. This was the most tragic Holi sequence seen in Indian cinema.

Ho(o)liganism at the most shocking level of debasement was seen in Raj Kumar Santoshi’s Damini where the family maid is raped by the scion of the family and his friends who are high on bhang and low on morals. The gruesome rape was shot with remarkable intensity. Santoshi intercut the scenes of Holi revelry—the colours, the boisterousness, music and dance—with shots of the young girl being ravaged.

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When it comes to using the swirl of Holi colours in a torrent of passion and romance, Sanjay Leela Bhansali is next to none. Colours have always been important to the cinema of Sanjay Leela Bhansali. In Goliyon Ki Raas Leela Ram Leela—a Gujju take on Shakespeare—Deepika and Ranveer meet during Holi. The way Bhansali encircles the lead pair in a smorgasbord of colours makes Holi the most erotic festival seen on screen.

Colours have always fascinated Bhansali. He waited for years before doing a Holi sequence. To him, it was like denying himself a favourite dessert until he earned it.

Bhansali says: “I loved the sounds of those Holi songs. I loved ‘Holi aae re kanhaiayee…’ from Mother India and ‘Mohe panghat pe Nandlal…’ in Mughal-e-Azam. When I made Devdas, I so badly wanted to include a Holi song. But I couldn’t. But if you see, I’ve used the colours of Holi and the abeer and gulaal motifs throughout. I finally got to do a full-fledged Holi song in Ram Leela and I was delirious drenching my frames in passionate colours.”

Many conservatives feel Holi in cinema is no more than a pretext to drench women for titillation. However, Shabana Azmi thinks imputing Holi with lasciviousness is too harsh.

“Drenching both men and women has been a tradition over centuries. There is abandon and gaiety associated with Holi. It’s all done for fun. And very infectious. ‘Morey Kanha jo aaye palat ke…’ from Shyam Benegal’s Sardari Begum, written by my husband Javed Akhtar, is my favourite. The lines are saucy and sensual and show the woman as an active participant and not a passive recipient of pleasure.”

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