5 Reasons Why Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya is the Ultimate Love Anthem

“Why be afraid when you are in love?” is what Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya literally translates to. It appears in the iconic film Mughal-e-Azam which was released in 1960 after 14 years of production. Here’s why it might just as well be termed as India’s song of defiance.

1. It defies persistent gender roles

Gender, as Judith Butler (1960) contends, is constructed through a set of repeated performances. The dance by Madhubala’s Anarkali serves the male gaze appropriately- you will find the camera focusing on her many a time during the sequence. However, Anarkali does not shy away from this gaze. She confronts it and this is a major point of departure from what would otherwise be expected out of a woman of her times in India. She liberates herself from the framework of gender that she operates in.

2. A symbol for LGBT rights movement

Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya has now become a slogan for the emergent LGBT (Lesbian, Gay,Bisexual, Transgender) rights movement in India. It is an anthem about the triumph of love across social boundaries. The song surpasses time and space. It has gained significance as a form of protest voiced by more than an Anarkali. Madhubala’s Kathak is today a symbol of love against conservative forces. It is not long before this song can be an effective answer to those who are so worried about love-jihad.

A line from the song on a poster for Rainbow Walk on Delhi Road. Image Source


3. A Drag Queen of sorts?

A drag queen is a man who ostentatiously dresses up in women’s clothes. Going by queer theory, a male drag queen in stylizing normative femininity simultaneously deconstructs it too. Madhubala’s drag queen not only challenges dominant discourses of power contained within a patriarchal nation-state, but she also threatens the discourses on sexualization of the body. She is aware of her class, religion, nationality and gender, yet she chooses to digress from the destiny paved for her.

Like all women who do this, her demise in the tale is also not very surprising. The song is that struggle for the identity of the subaltern which keeps returning to the Bollywood celluloid.

4. Anarkali is a brave subaltern

She is a courtesan. She is Muslim and what’s worse is that she is a woman. In short, she embodies all that you would not like to be in a royal setup comprising men during the Mughal period in India. Salim had, in fact, just before the performance, accused her of being a bujdil laundi (cowardly slave). A play of power recurs through the song-and-dance performance but even that fails to deter the spirit of love in the status of a subaltern that Anarkali finds herself in. She is a woman with little agency dancing across an empire’s patriarch.

5. The sequence reflects India’s tryst with destiny

Anarkali’s performance for the court can be compared to Bollywood’s performance for Jawaharlal Nehru. The movie Mughal-e-Azam opens with a baritone proclaiming, “I am Hindustan”. The then Hindustan was associated with sentiments different from those it now is. The film was made during India’s period of nation-building. Despite being set in the Mughal period, the sequence vividly portrays what was despised by the nationalist elites of post-colonial India- films (they were equated with gambling). What is now called the Golden Age of Indian cinema was then not a cakewalk for the film industry because it used to be regarded more as a perversion or disruption to advancement than as a form of cultural expression. This hurdle is encountered by Anarkali as well.

The song is a breakthrough from several dominant social norms. This does not make it any less appealing to the masses. It enthralls audiences all the same despite being as revolutionary as it is. This is what makes it the ultimate love anthem.

Do share if you find any other reason why this song-and-dance should be called so.


Heels in Search of Goddess

Photograph by Rajatabha Ray

There is something about dance that makes it as much a medicine for the soul as literature. I remember the beginnings of being trained in Kathak as a child. Even though I hated taking those lessons and soon left the coaching, one thing I clearly recall about those few classes is how my teacher would emote with the music, and in no time, she would get across a state of mind to me. Back then, I used to imitate her steps, but now I know that the passion of a dancer in any auditorium is endemic. It has the power to send out waves of similar passion amongst the sea of audience. I was witness to one such endemic very recently.

Mallika Sarabhai is an activist and Indian classical dancer. She will perform a piece at the last session of day 2 at the Kolkata Literature Festival 2016. It will be a session different from the rest of the sessions because it will be a live performance. Well, if that is all you have expected from “Stri Shakti- In Search of the Goddess”, you are in for a surprise that will not only render your expectation as an understatement, but also awe the senses out of you.

There are only two temples of Draupadi in this country which otherwise makes a temple at every crossroad.

-Mallika Sarabhai

“We have to understand one thing”, began Sarabhai, “and that is, we look at everything, whether it is thought or action or language or culture or cooking from one single prism and that prism is patriarchy.” This was the theme throughout her dance drama that guided a mesmerised audience on one of the final days of Boimela through tales of those women who were not made into goddesses and those whose sufferings were deified with sexist intentions. Hence, she rhythmically narrated snippets from the Mahabharata. What universalised this narration of an Indian text set eons ago from now is the vantage point which the performer chose to narrate from. The prism of Draupadi, the princess who was commoditized several times in a ‘male-stream’ world, appealed to me- a Draupadi who, while walking through dark alleys late at night, while watching a barely dressed model campaigning for a real estate company, or even while reading in textbooks that 928 is a “satisfactory” sex-ratio, has felt disgraced. Sarabhai certainly struck a chord with her audience by switching between several characters within a matter of seconds with incomparable poise.

Every form of art, I believe, is revolution. If it does not challenge the existing norms that plague lives of many, then it is as futile as ornamentation of a naturally beautiful body. Thus she revolted, and how! From Sati’s frantic conversation with Yamraj to the childish portrayal of Nakula and Sahadeva during their encounter with a shared wife- the lady did it all. Each part of her body moved like pieces of a larger mirror- her body, reflecting a society constructed and manoeuvred by men. Her soul and her body were not isolated, but one meaningful entity that led us in the search for goddess. She redefined who a goddess is, and what parameters qualify a person as a one.

‘The Revolution introduced me to art, and in turn, art introduced me to the Revolution!’

-Albert Einstein

The vocalist and musicians aptly complemented the meaningful Search of the Goddess as Sarabhai deployed rhythm to draw home through Draupadi some often ignored arguments such as “Yes, Krishna gave me cloth but then where was Gita’s truth? Was it not needed then?” Similarly, she explicated that Sati is a ‘Sati’ not because she refused to live, but because she challenged death. This event indeed gave to us (especially those intrigued by feminist retelling of mythologies) much food for thought.

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Photo by Rajatabha Ray

It was while narrating a mythological allegory to the societal reluctance to crimes based on sexism that the brilliant dancer literally did something that we till a while ago had only been citing as an appreciation of her art; she painted an image with her footsteps, and how! When the painting was over, we, as audience, witnessed a lion (symbolic of the strength of the Goddess) before us. No doubt the performance received a standing ovation from the entire house which, I am sure, like me, will take home an inner speculation in Search of the Goddess.