Let me put a disclaimer upfront that I am a teetotaller by choice but have no qualms about others indulging in it albeit within civic limits. Not sure why but alcohol consumption has never been a ‘normal’ activity in the Indian society. By default those who consume (rather stealthily), justify it either to escape extreme mental stress or to celebrate ecstatic moments in life. Although perceptions are beginning to change, alcohol consumption remains a social and a cultural taboo.
It is no surprise therefore that the first elected provincial governments in 1939 attempted to bring about prohibition, despite more pressing concerns at that time. Despite any tangible impact, this trend of enforcing prohibition in different states has continued even today. Amusing though it may sound but it is said that despite such attempts to limit alcohol consumption, Indians consume more Scotch than what Scotland produces!
Literature and arts, including films, have suitably captured the changing contours of alcohol consumption in the country. Nothing could be more closer to reality than Sarat Chandra Chatterjee iconic novel ‘Devdas’, written under the influence of alcohol and published in 1917, which continues to resonate both in print and on celluloid ever since. Cinematic scripts have relied on ‘alcohol’ to push the story forward on numerous occasions. And, why not?
What is interesting though is how poet-lyricists dealt with the subject over time. Back in 1955, there was perhaps no better way to justify drinking the manner in which Shakil Badayuni rhymed in film ‘Azaad’ – मुझे दुनिया वालों, शराबी न समझो. मैं पीता नहीं हूँ, पिलायी गयी है. So, even when one is drunk let the onus be on others. In next 40 years, however, the approach to the issue had transformed. In 1984 blockbuster ‘Sharabi’, lyricists Anjaan brought the matter closer to reality – लोग कहते है मैं शराबी हूँ, तुमने भी शायद यही सोच लिया है. Anand Bakshi cut across such self-deprecating feelings by presenting alcohol as an ‘elixir of life’ by making the protagonist sing – ना जाने क्या हो जाता, जाने हम क्या कर जाते, पीते हैं तो ज़िन्दा हैं, न पीते तो मर जाते.
Another aspect that featured in parallel was the issue of alcohol use by women. Elite families being an exception, alcohol consumption by women was a big NO in average households. Why this gender bias when alcohol was flowing almost freely in society? Poet Verma Malik couldn’t resist putting forward woman’s perspective in a song from 1974 unusual film ‘Anhoneee’ – देखो न लोगों ने, बोतलों की बोतलें ख़त्म कर दी तो कुछ न हुआ, मगर मगर…मैंने होठों से लगाई तो, हंगामा हो गया. Lyricist Rajendra Krishan put the growing gender demand forward in 1969 film ‘Inteqaam’ – कैसे रहूं चुप के मैंने पी ही क्या है होश अभी तक है बाकी, और ज़रा सी दे दे साकी, और ज़रा सी और….such women centric songs were often punctuated by ‘hitchki’ (hiccup) to give the desired impact.
I am sure that with ‘alcohol drinking’ gaining wider social acceptance, films will have little space for such sequences in script and in songs. Pity! All said, such songs have continued to appeal to everyone, be s/he into it or not. My most favourite song in this category is sung by a teetotaller, legend Rafi Saab, but the effect it generated makes one feel as if the singer is partly drunk.