Hello Again, Billo
Music television, new in the mid-90s, was Tinder for music, Lays for music-lovers, and falling in love with songs picked up speed
Is there anything nicer than being in love with a song? All songs arrive ready for love, their arms outstretched like Shah Rukh Khan's. I fall in love with songs a lot and listen to them on repeat—a habit we are supposed to leave behind in youth. But, I don't think anyone really leaves that habit behind, any more than they leave behind the tendency to fall in love.
Music television, new in the mid-90s, was Tinder for music, Lays for music-lovers, and falling in love with songs picked up speed. One song I fell for was Billo by Abrar ul-Haq, about a highly earnest fellow who wants to go to Billo's town, having dressed up and organised 500 kababis. He asks all his friends along, I assumed as potential baraatis. They proceeded to dance with comical ebullience in mustard fields. However, all plans of eating kulfis in trains and doing joyful bhangras, come to naught when, as he reaches her town, curfew (Section 144 in the song) is declared and he lands in lock-up. The video always made me laugh.
My friends found these tastes of mine amusing. It was more fashionable to love bands like Junoon, Sufiyana, angsty-ana, dadiwalas crying in the rain, wearing their politics like an ethnic cloak. Pleasure seems to cast political seriousness into doubt.
Last week, I re-encountered Billo, on Coke Studio Season 12. I feared Billo would be weighed down with intellectual gravitas (yaniki #BoreMatkarYaar) which Coke Studio favours. But, the version brilliantly re-formulated the potent physical quality of the song and drew my attention to things I'd never noticed before.
I noticed how well constructed it was, with bits of rap, its lyrics filled with contemporary experience. In the BTS video, Abrar talks about how he built the song up from hearing a bus conductor's litany of "kinne kinne jana hai, line lagao, ticket katao" (the chorus line of the song).
I noticed too how many traditions sat effortlessly in the song—the tradition of sweet and sexy masculine beauty, where men dress up for their loves, "gel-shel laake, kali kali akhiyan te surma paake" (gel my hair, line my dark eyes with surma) and contemplates their beauty in the mirror awhile (let me say Abrar's beauty is worth contemplating for quite a while). One friend pointed out how the singer curses a dog who comes in the way of his progress. This is a familiar trope in traditional poetry, where lovers curse animals whose cries alert families to their secret trysts. I realised how many songs which seemed to be about silly boys and timid girls and romance were really songs that railed against the tabooing of love in our societies – in this song about the political situation leading to curfews too.
Most of all, the fluidity of Abrar's body language, the mouth watering way he renders the lyrics about dressing up, enjoyment of the song writ large on his body, vigorous yet unhurried, held me transfixed. It is pure pleasure, and pure pleasure brings a deeply human sense of release and acceptance of our selves.
In youth, we waited helpless before the TV hoping to catch an unexpected glimpse of our song-crush. As grown-ups, we can meet openly on youtube. I've been meeting Billo on repeat. I guess you can fall in love again.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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