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If you like the Sad Hindi Diamond Song in Moulin Rouge, you’re not alone: it’s actually Chamma Chamma, a huge hit in India, from the movie China Gate, reports Nyay Bhushan, Editor, CONNECTMAGAZINE.COM, India.

International audiences - and foreigners in India - who chance upon Indian films are always perplexed by the seemingly endless stream of songs that pepper every local film. Despite being the butt of many a joke and parody – the cliche of an Indian actress drenched in rain, writhing away sensuously to a sultry beat is a favourite with international observers of Indian cinema - the importance of song and dance in Indian cinema is as relevant as spices in Indian food (Oh God, not another cliche).

Baz Luhrmann is the first brave international director to have caught the bull - or rather, cow - by the horns and catapulted a song from a Bollywood (shameless name given to the Indian cinema industry by lazy western journalists) film into the razzmatazz of Moulin Rouge. When Nicole Kidman arrives on stage singing Sad Hindi Diamond Song, she is actually miming to a massive hit of 1998, Chamma Chamma (the sound of anklets on dancing feet) which was featured in the film China Gate.

“gets the hormones flying”

The song was picturised on Urmila Matondkar, one of India's sexiest actresses, a fact confirmed by the readers of a UK men's magazine a couple of years ago. The original song provides a break from the action in the movie which was loosely based on The Seven Samurai. The male leads arrive at a sort of gypsy camp and the ravishing Urmila breaks into the song which gets the hormones flying, even for some of the fiftysomething men.

Such breaks are essential to the plot of every Indian film. Songs push a story, enhance the characters and boost the plot while keeping viewers riveted, assuming the combination of dance and rhythm is spicy enough. This tradition stems from India's folk culture where travelling troubadours and dancers perform in open-air theatres at village fairs, even to this day. Stories from mythology and royalty are usually the inspiration for folk theatre.

“Maybe, other international directors will look at Bollywood more seriously”

But in the western context, the majority of Moulin Rouge viewers will probably see Chamma Chamma as yet another madcap dalliance by Luhrmann. Indians living in the west will probably tell their friends how great it is to see a Hindi song crossing over, assuming they are indeed proud of Bollywood considering half the films are straight lifts of Hollywood storylines.

Maybe, some curry-freak in the English Midlands will actually go out to rent China Gate. Maybe, other international directors will look at Bollywood more seriously. But here's the catch. At the Cannes Film Festival this year where Moulin Rouge was the opening film, the Indian government hosted the first ever India country pavilion to boost commercial cinema. When asked how Indian films with their songs could be marketed to the west, Indian Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj said that it’s probably wise for directors to make two versions - one with the songs for domestic release and one without songs for international release.

Which means that in the not too distant future, Moulin Rouge will probably end up as the first and last encounter the world will have with the dazzle of India.

Baz Luhrmann, you earned good karma, my friend.

Published June 21, 2001

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SOUNDTRACK REVIEW with audio clips


ANIMAL LOGIC at the Moulin Rouge

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