November 19, 2011

Context and Subtext of ‘Sleepy John’

Using songs with a great context is something Hindi cinema has traditionally been proud of. But this trend has been gradually disappearing. So, it was wonderful to watch ‘Kun Faaya Kun’ and ‘Hawaa Hawaa’ in ‘Rockstar’ – two songs, among others, to have been used with great contextual significance. However, it is ‘Hawaa Hawaa’ that impressed me the most – and the reason is that it went beyond the context into an intelligently communicated subtext. And this inspired me to write this post.

Spoiler Alert: Please do not read further if you have not watched ‘Rockstar’ and plan to.

When Janardan (Jordan) reaches Prague for a cross-cultural music show, he meets Heer – now married but not happily so. She is not well and seems to have lost interest in the ‘fun’ of life – a taste of which she had had in the dirty bylanes of Delhi where she had spent a few weeks with Jordan. Now, he inspires her again to do all that she wants to do. And they make a plan. What follows is a song, ‘Hawaa Hawaa’, with local street musicians, while a montage shows us Jordan and Heer visiting the forbidden places of pleasure – the cheapest of bars, striptease clubs, red-light areas and all, and the two enjoy that time with a childlike rebellion against the social norms. We are not supposed to approve of what they are doing, especially because Heer has not informed her husband or in-laws, but we do not complain either. These two are like innocent and harmless rebels, who only want to have some fun and do not care about the ‘norms’ of society. (This is also in tune with the theme of the movie, and the mid-point of Jordan’s relation with Heer, and thus works very well here).

However, I’m not sure how many of the audience paid attention to the lyrics of the above-mentioned song, which underlines this sequence with a great subtext. The song is based on ‘Sleepy John’ – a local folk legend of Czech culture. Click here to read the short story. And please hear that song paying attention to the wonderful words.

The lyrics have been adapted for the film. It tells the story of a queen who wears out twelve pairs of shoes every night. The king gets suspicious and tries to find out where she goes. It is discovered that every night she descends into hell and dances with devils, uninhibitedly, unashamedly. The king is shocked to hear this and prohibits the queen from leaving the palace. The queen replies by saying that she is not happy confined within these walls of gold. She wants to be free and is willing let go of all wealth for freedom. As she says this, the earth gives way to her and she descends into hell forever, to live with ‘bad people’. And then she dances freely ever after…

P.S. I only wish the intended subtext behind the film were as beautifully and convincingly portrayed as this song. I would have loved the film then.


  1. hmmm... lagta hai sir ji ko picchar pasand nahin aayi! :)
    well good for me, may be after hearing a lot of outright bad ('it is trash') and diplomatic (from imtiaz ali fans who didnt like the movie but tried to sell it to me as 'different') reviews from friends and family about it, i probably knew what not to expect, and it probably worked in a way as i really liked the love story!!! watched it today and i really liked it :) to my surprise, it even got a wave of clap from a small section of audience!..

  2. Same here! seemed like an ordinary watch to me!

  3. I knew of the Sleepy John fable and loved the song even more because of this. I loved Rockstar enough to have seen it thrice already. I pity the intellectually impaired who are reared on the Housefulls and Golmaals of this world and seem to have forgotten that cinema is art...not cheap entertainment.
    Ranbir Kapoor is extraordinary as Jordan. If he is Jordan's body, Mohit Chauhan is his soul. A.R. Rahman, however, is the real hero of the film. I salute him...

  4. Agree with comment by Anonymous dated June 16, 2012. It is pity that some idiots (using the language understandable to INTELLECTUALLY IMPAIRED - *SMILEY*!), think that cinema is cheap entertainment.