There are some pretty amazing hidden things about the song Chhaiya Chhaiya from Dil Se… (1999) which reveal themselves over time. It’s the kind of song you don’t necessarily play on loop by choice but if you chance upon it on radio, it makes everything magical.
It takes some key elements like good music and great lyrics for a song to become immortal, but it’s quite another thing for a song to evoke a feeling, recreate an ambience and teleport the listener into a different world altogether. Turn the volume up on this beauty and you’ll figure.
1. The sound of the lyrics
No, not just the lyrics, but the sound of the words. Everyone may not get the meaning of Gulzaar saab’s exquisite lyrics in this song, but have you noticed how beautiful the ‘lafz’ are? Take for instance,
Yaar misaal-e-os chale
Paaon ke tale firdous chale
Kabhi daal daal kabhi paat paat
Main hawa pe dhoondu uske nishaan
2. The background beats of the train rattle
In between the antaras of the song, listen carefully and you will hear the score of the train rattle – a perfect fit with the video of the song. How clever! If there is one song which proves A R Rahman’s genius, it is Chhaiya Chhaiya NOT Jai Ho for which he received the Academy Award.
3. The bizzarely beautiful concept of the song’s setting and choreography
How improbable does it sound to have the hero lip syncing a song on a train rooptop with a random village belle and a bunch of other folk dancers in the background? The concept of the song on paper must have sounded bizzare but director Mani Ratnam and his team executed it flawlessly.
4. The stereotype breaking item girl – Malaika Arora Khan
Think item girl, think Malaika and the only mental image you are likely to form post Munni, is that of her pelvic thrusts. Flashback to Dil Se – the serene beauty of the woods from where the train passes is matched perfectly by Malaika’s rustic getup. Just SRK and her dancing to the thumps of Rahman’s beats…no objectification, no in-your-face bosom heaving, no nothing.
5. A dance song, yet not a dance-dance song
Yes, we do see SRK dancing throughout the song in the movie, but it’s not exactly a song which can be easily choreographed for the stage. Interestingly and thankfully, it’s not one of those songs that your cousin will perform to, in your great Indian shaadi. Kudos to Farah Khan for achieving that.
6. The gift of a singer called Sukhwinder Singh
Although Sukhwinder Singh was around in Bollywood much before he sang Chhaiya Chhaiya for Dil Se, this was the song that earned him fame, name and instant recognition. He became a national sensation and a household name just because of this song. And the rest as they say, is history. Listen to he song right here!
7. The debunking of the mukhda and antara symmetry
You don’t need to be a musical guru to figure out that the composition of Chhaiya Chhaiya is not straightforward. All the stanzas don’t follow the same tune and hold strength even when sung individually. There are many compositions that have debunk this symmetry, but what Chhaiya Chhaiya has achieved so organically is astounding.
8. Showcasing the beauty of India subtly
Shot entirely over a moving train which is the Nilgiri Mountain Railway in Ooty, the song showcases what any other Bollywood song has rarely showcased so beautifully. It showed the smoky mist and beautiful backdrops between Connoor and Ooty without making it seem like an OTT touristy music video. And the Nilgiri Mountain Railway? More people might have gone to the Alps today than this lovely vintage-looking train.
9. The fact that SRK is not a typically dancer
The fact that Shah Rukh is not a typical dancer always seems to help him everywhere. Watch the way he dances in the song with his shabby hair falling on his face – just like you and I would dance at home when no one’s watching.
10. No change of clothes for Malaika and Shah Rukh, thank God!
See all the items songs of this day and age and you’ll observe that the stars in question are seen changing into at least three to four different looks – be it Sheila Ki Jawaani, Jaaneman Aah or Fevicol Se. Chhaiya Chhaiya was so organic, so beautiful with absolutely no change in clothes for the stars – thank the Heavens for that.