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Using Old Hindi Songs in New Films is an Underrated Art, and Overpriced

In the recent web series Aarya, starring Sushmita Sen, old Hindi film songs are a constant presence. Playing in the car stereo, playing in the wedding, on the LP at Aarya’s home and in the mind of the protagonist and of everyone else’s. One song stands out in particular. “Bade Acche Lagte Hai” (from the 1976 film Balika Badhu) is played in almost every episode. It’s the song Aarya’s husband, Tej (Chandrachur Singh), liked to sing for her, and it keeps reminding her, their children—and us—of him even after he’s gone. Sometimes it’s the version sung by Tej (in Singh’s voice), recorded by him in a mobile video. At one point, their little son, Aadi (Pratyansh Panwar), tells Aarya if he can watch the video of his ‘Papa’ singing. As Aarya grieves over her departed husband, she finds solace in his favourite song. It becomes a kind of coping mechanism. 

Ram Madhvani, who has co-directed and written Aarya, says that they wanted to use old Hindi film songs as a device to “keep Tej’s character alive even after his death” as they “didn’t want to use flashbacks”. But there is another element at play here. Madhvani and Co were also paying homage to Sriram Raghavan and Quentin Tarantino, who he describes as the filmmakers who have shown the way in terms of using old favourites in new contexts. And indeed, in Raghavan’s Johnny Gaddar, Dharmendra’s character keeps alive memories of his dead wife by playing a tape of her singing “Mora Gora Ang Laile” (from the 1963 film Bandini) over and over again. Madhvani was not only paying a tribute, he was paying a tribute within a tribute. “Ram was copying Sriram,” he jokes.

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