There is lots to like about Indian popular cinema. Buxom actresses in colourful saris choreographed to move like mercury set free on a hot plate, are some of my favourite things. The uniquely South Asian ‘item number’, a sexy dance sequence set in a dimly-lit cabaret, full of moustachioed villains making their eyeballs ever more bloodshot by downing huge tumblers of Vat 69 and Cutty Sark, is also a treat. Music too (obviously) is a major attraction.
But there is one phenomenon which holds a very special place in the movie-goer’s heart: dayalog. Even those who couldn’t give a damn about sexy dances or electrifying music love dayalog, the Hindi version of the English word, ‘dialogue’. In Indian cinema, a ‘dayalog is a snippet (often also, a rather large section) of a spoken scene that is committed to memory and then reprised to bolster (or undermine) a philosophical argument. Or to elicit support for a moral or humorous argument.
I grew up surrounded by friends who in addition to humming filmi tunes and raving about the songs of Mohammad Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar or Mukesh, quoted long passages of dayalog with a seriousness usually afforded only to the recitation of Scripture.
‘Kya dayalog sunaaya, yaar!’ (What a piece of dialogue, man!) was a common exclamation whenever the conversation turned toward films and filmstars. The speaker would immediately and quickly rattle off the title of the film, give a concise synopsis of the scene, and then launch into a verbatim reprisal of the revered passage. At the end we would all move our heads back and forth, as if stunned by the gravitas of what we had just heard. Or we would slap each other’s open palms at the punch line just delivered. For many of my friends, dayalog and its recitation, was more important than the songs, music or artistic merits of the film.
There are some lines in English-language cinema that have been immortalised: ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn;’ ‘Go ahead. Make my day!’; ‘Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore’. Though these (and more) are frequently quoted by politicians and plebians alike, the lines are, for the most part, long-divorced from the original film. Each of these lines is considered to be a self sufficient entity, something that is complete in and of itself. The lines do not need the original cinematic context to be powerful. In fact, there are probably many people who have no idea which movie they came from. And very few people would be able to remember the lines that preceded or followed the well-known one. Almost no one would be able to remember the 5 minutes of dialogue that came before or after the quote. And that too, word perfect.
Aficionados of dayalog, on the other hand, remember not just the lines but the scene, the actors and how the bit of speech advanced or blocked the story’s progress. Without the cinematic context the dayalog means nothing. In fact, the dayalog is a fan’s homage to his favourite actor and film. When the President warns a Congressman, ‘I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse,’ few would know, or care, that this line (or something close to it) was spoken by Marlon Brando in The Godfather.
But when dayalog is loosed upon eager ears, it is very much ‘that scene when Amjad Khan played Gabbar Khan in Sholay. And his underlings were so terrified. What a villain Amjad played!’ The context is entirely about the film. And in its repetition, the fan demonstrates his awe and love for the actor, film or director.
Dayalog is a many faceted pleasure. Love scenes, as much as torture scenes are repeated. Comic monologues as well as dramatisation’s of social injustice are equally loved and memorised. What is remembered is the emotion, the pathos, the cruelty, the compassion, the desperation.
And the voice.
Not every big star’s speeches are repeated again and again. Only those who have a commanding voice or whose presence can be felt when they open their mouth. Villains like Pran and Amrish Puri were super dayalog spinners. They say of some singers, ‘she could sing the phonebook and it would sound gorgeous’. Well, Pran and Amrish Puri could read a nursery rhyme and make you recoil in horror. With voices as deep as Johnny Cash, they could weaken the knees of anyone within a hundred meters. On the other side of the moral fence, Amitabh Bachchan Bollywood’s greatest superstar, put his resonant baritone to multiple uses: angry young man, lovable drunk or earnest and tender lover. Others, especially, Raaj Kumar were considered so skilled at vocalisation, their speeches are held up as being among the finest ever recorded. True dayalog diamonds!
Among female actresses, Rekha, the Tamil tart, is a huge favourite for many of the same reasons as Amitabh, with whom she often co-starred. She is able to bring to life the whore and the wronged woman with equal feeling and credibility. Nargis and Madhubala, starlets of the 1950s, are dayaloged because their on-screen roles often mirrored the ones they struggled with off the set.
In celebration of this unheralded aspect of Indian cinema, I’ve put together a special collection, which I hope will be enjoyed by many audiences. For the seasoned dayalog wala I’ve included some of the all time classic dialogues which will never be forgotten. For the novice, there are brief contextual notes for each dayalog that will help you get a feeling for the scene. In between the talking I’ve inserted film songs and music, some of it quite rare, to suggest a bit of the aural maahol (atmosphere) that one encounters in a dark Indian cinema hall.
01. Title music from the film Dharmatma (1975). Composers Anandji Kalyanji dominated the 1960s and experimented with new ‘rockish’ sounds coming out of the West. Here they bring a sweet ‘south of the border’ feel to the horn charts.
02. Dialogue: You Are Simply Great. Film: Nirnayak (Crucial) 1997. Amrish Puri plays a Government Minister whose daughter is missing. Om Puri, who shot to fame in the late 70s in India’s parallel (art) cinema, is a honest, if slightly drunk cop who promises (not without some disgust) to help the Minister find his daughter. This results in the title of the dayalog, when the Minister exclaims and embraces the police officer. Late in his career by this point, Amrish Puri, made his name as a villain (including in one of the Indiana Jones movies) but in this film plays a somewhat morally ambiguous politician.
03. Banarsi Babu Beats. More film incidental music from Anandji Kalyanji.
04. Dialogue: Teesre Badshah Hum Hain. Film: Kaala Pathar (Black Stone) Shatrugan Sinha’s best years were as a villain. An actor from Bihar who later became a conservative politician, Sinha in this scene, plays a shady character who pulls a fast one on one of his accomplishes in a game of cards. His opponent cheats by hiding a Jack in his sleeve and should beat Sinha’s hand, of two Kings and a deuce. But he knows the other guy is a cheat so tells him “I’ve got three Kings.” When asked to show his hand, Sinha tosses two Kings on the table before jumping up and grabbing the cheat and shouting, “I’m the third King!” (Teesre Badshah Hum Hain!)
05. Main Hun Don. Opening title track from the huge 1978 hit sung by Kishore Kumar.
06. Dialogue: Don Ko Pakadna Mushkil Hi Nahi, Namumkin Hain. Film Don (Don). Amitabh plays a Godfather in Bombay, in this blockbuster from 1978. In this scene his moll, played by Bollywood’s finest dancer, Helen, tries to entrap him and have him arrested. But using his superior intelligence and ruthlessness, Don eludes the authorities with the statement, “It isn’t hard to capture the Don. It’s impossible!” Hence the title of this dayalog.
07. Tumhari Mulaqat Se. Film song by Mohammad Rafi. Film: Mohabbat Zindagi Hai (Love is Life) 1966.
08. Choo Kar Mere Man ko. Instrumental interpretation of film song by guitarist Sunil Ganguly.
09. Dialogue: Ab Chooti? Film: Tarana (Melody) 1951. Dilip Kumar and Madhubala who feature in this dayalog were superstars. Both were Muslim Pathans and single and at the top of their game. This is their first film together and the beginning of a torrid off-screen romance that deeply affected both stars for years to come.
10. Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho. Film: Hanste Zakhim. (The Laughing Wounded) 1973. Song by Mohammad Rafi.
11. Dialogue and Song: Justju Jis Ki Thi, Film: Umrao Jaan (Umrao Jaan) 1981. One of India’s finest films and film scores. Rekha plays the courtesan Umrao Jaan who is haunted by personal loss and tragedy. Here she discusses leaving behind a wealthy and kindly patron. Asha Bhosle sings what has become one of Indian cinema’s most beloved songs.
12. Kya Hua Tera Wada?. Instrumental interpretation of film song by saxophonist Joe Gomes.
13. Dialogue: Mujhe Pata Hai ke Aap aur Qanoon ke Beech Film: Hulchul. 1995. Amrish Puri is up to his old villainous ways in this thriller. Ajay Devgun, as Angry Young Man, gives the rather corrupt Puri a piece of his mind.
14. Mere aankhon mein. Film: Videsh (Foreign). Early guitar-driven rock n roll sung by the inimitable Mohammad Rafi.
15 and 16. Dialogue: Mujhe Bulaya Nahi. Film: Pagla Kahin Ka (Some Kind of Madman) 1970. A classic psychological thriller starring the fantastic Shammi Kapoor who in this scene is driven mad by the unexpected betrayal of two old friends who decide to get married. On the bandstand he leads everyone is a frenzied song and dance.
17. Dialogue: Gabbar Khan’s speech. Film: Sholay (Flames) 1975. One of the greatest and most successful films ever to come out of Bollywood this was a multi-star studded Western. This scene in which the cruel boss Gabbar Khan played by Amjad Khan is probably the number one dayalog in history. Gabbar here plays Russian roulette with three of his flunkies who have failed their boss. When the gun does not fire the relieved flunkies burst into laughter, as does Gabbar himself, who then quickly kills each one of them.
18. Dance Music. Film: Bairaag (Asceticism) An upbeat dance number from a 1976 picture.
19. Dialogue: The Show Must Go On. Film: Mera Naam Joker (My Name is Clown) 1972. Though a commercial failure Mera Naam Joker was a huge labor of love for the grand old man of modern Indian cinema, the fabulous and influential, Raj Kapoor. Autobiography and pathos. Raju is a clown who despite the hardship and pain of life must make others laugh. Here he loses his mind after the death of his mother but being forced by the circus boss to perform.
20. Title Music. Film: Shalimar (Shalimar) 1978. Opening credit music by the one and only R.D. Burman
21. Dialogue: Aap Ke Liye Tohfa Laya. Film: Ghungroo (Anklets) 1974. Shashi Kapoor pledges his love for a courtesan whom he wants to redeem by marrying her.
22. I Love You. An English song from the Hindi film, Sangam (1964). Sung by Goanese singer Vivin Lobo.
23. Dialogue: Maafkeejeeega, Aap ke compartment mein chala aya Film: Pakeezah (Pure). 1972. The king of dayalog Raaj Kumar accidently enters the carriage where the troubled but beautiful courtesan played by Meena Kumari is asleep. Moved, he leaves a letter with her which she discovers when she awakens. One of the best movies of all time and one of the best dayalogs too.
24. Yeh Mausam Ashiqana. Film: Pakeezah 1972. Lata Mangeshkar gives voice to what it feels like to fall in love.
25. Dialogue: Mere Bache Bhuke. Film: Mother India 1957. Nargis plays the quintessential, oppressed, long suffering but loving mother, here being harassed by a lecherous, creepy priest. My children are hungry, is the title.
Mother India is a regular contender for Best Indian Movie of All Time.
26. Awara Manjhi Jayega Kahan Film: Pyaasi Shaam (Thirsty Evening) 1969. Hindi song by Mohammad Rafi.
27. Pyar Zindagi Hai Film: Muqaddar ka Sikandar (The Alexander of Luck). A song from this superhit. Love is life sing Asha Bhosle and Mahendra Kapoor.
28. Dialogue: English is a very funny language. Film: Namak Halal. Another one of the great dayalogs. Amitabh Bachchan plays a country hick who comes to the big city to look for work. His relative introduces him to an executive of a company. In an effort to impress Arjun (Bachchan) begins a rapid fire monologue in English.
29. Bombay Palace Nr. 1. Groovy 1960s Indian flavoured guitar funk piece by Muhavishla Ravi Hatchud & the Indo Jazz Following.
30. Dialogue: Waqt Badal Chuka Hain Film: Saudagar (Bargain). Considered to be one of the great voices of Hindi cinema, Raaj Kumar shows a young punk and his fat companion who’s who.
31. Na Na Na Yeh Kya Karne Lage Ho. Hemalata, a classically trained playback singer does a Donna Summers impression in the film Bombay 405 Miles. Kalyanji Anandji the composers blend west and east beautifully in this ‘item’ number.
32. Listen to the Pouring Rain. Another night club number sung by the amazing Usha Iyer (Uthup) from the 1970’s film Bombay to Goa.
33. Dialogue: Darru Peene Se Liver Kharab. Film: Satte pe Satta (Seven on Seven). Another classic example of the comedic dayalog ability of the wonderful Amitabh Bachchan. Here he is a drunk who keeps repeating the phrase, ‘Drinking is bad for you. You know why? Because it destroys your liver.’
34. Jazz Style Malkauns. A 1960’s jazz version of one of India’s most ancient ragas composed for a non-filmi album by the dominant team of Shanker Jaikishan.
35. Dialogue: Ho Gaya Khush? Film: Amar, Akbar, Anthony (Amar, Akbar, Anthony). This was a massive hit in 1977 starring Amitabh, Vinod Khanna and Rishi Kapoor. The superstars played three brothers brought up in different homes. One of the public’s most beloved dayalogs is this scene in which Anthony (Amitabh), drunk and beaten bawls himself out in a mirror.
36. Pollam Pol. A rocking rarity from Mohammad Rafi from the film Laxmi. (Laxmi).
37. Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu. S. Hazarasingh gives a lively interpretation of the evergreen hit from the 1966 blockbuster, Howrah Bridge.
38 Dialouge: Stupid Common Man. Film: A Wednesday. One of India’s most brilliant and accomplished contemporary actors, Naseeruddin Shah gives a stunning dayalog in which he voices the frustration of a Muslim in modern India who is both suspected of being a terrorist and fearful of being a victim of terror.
39. Dil To Pagal Hai. A contemporary Indian pop instrumental.