Folk to film: Bollywood remakes traditional ballads
Editor’s Note: Here’s a modern folk lesson. Arunima takes you through the history of folk compositions and their several renditions that finally land up in the glitzy and danceable world of Bollywood music. Listen in, take in the folklore—and feel free to compare them to the filmy versions!
Written by: Arunima Joshua, Advisory editor
Bollywood has often retold folk and oral traditions glistening them alive to the silverscreen. This is also true for the musical traditions of the largest film industry in the world. We introduce you to the original folk songs that have been reworked and brought to life to entertain billions.
We have created a handy playlist with all the tracks mentioned on splainer’s Youtube channel.
Rang Sari : The most notable rendition of this ‘Hori’ folk song was recorded by Shobha Gurtu in 1982. Hori is a semi-classical sub-genre set in the taals of the thumri style and hails from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. These are composed especially to celebrate the festival of Holi.
The remake: The Bollywood cover–titled ‘RangiSari’— is featured in 'JugJugg Jeeyo' (2022)—with slick production and fast-paced choreography. Sung by Kanish Seth and Kavitha Seth, it is nothing like the original.
Mera Laung Gwacha: The earliest and most popular recording of this Punjabi folk song featured the legendary Pakistani singer Noor Jehan—and is perhaps closest to its rural tradition.
The many remakes: More recently, the song regained popularity when it resurfaced in the Pakistani film ‘Dulari’ (1987)—performed by Musarrat Nazir. And that version has now become a popular wedding track
One of the most popular versions in India was a remix by Bally Sagoo–who went full bhangra-meets-reggae in 1991.
Club goers and millennials are more familiar with this indie rendition created by Nucleya featuring the vocals of Avneet Khurmi. The hook of the song is the bass drop and features a vocal-less chorus.
Sas Gari Dethe: Originally a Chhattisgarhi folk song, this 1972 recording is sung by Gangaram Shivarey in the Dadadria style–traditionally sung during harvest season as men and women work in the paddy fields. You may know it by its more popular title: ‘Sasurar Genda Phool’.
Modern maestro A R Rahman adapted this song for the film Delhi-6 (2009) with the title ‘Genda Phool’. The composition commences with traditional sounds and heavy percussion, before transitioning to a punchy bass beat for an electro-folk mix.
Jugni: Popularised by the Pakistani-Punjabi singer Alam Lohar, the traditional version features the folk instrument chimta. Yes, it is exactly like the kind you use in the kitchen:)
The remakes: Alam’s son Arif Lohar sang on a Sufi-influened version–often performing it on Coke Studio Pakistan.
Lohar then sang it again in the Bollywood flick ‘Cocktail’—alongside Harshdeep Kaur. It is mostly faithful to his interpretation of the song:
Khanmoej Koor: A popular wedding song in Kashmir, it is used as a ‘bidaai’ song to bid farewell to the bride as she leaves her home to join her husband. This recording features the vocals of Kashmiri singer Gulzar Hajam.
The remake: In the Alia Bhat starrer ‘Raazi’—the opening Kashmiri lyrics from ‘Khanmoej Koor’ loosely translate to “I’m your dearest daughter, now it’s time to bid me farewell, O my beloved father”—in a wedding scene. The song is titled ‘Dilbaro’—not to be confused with the other Kashmiri folk song of the same name which is an entirely different composition.
Ambarsariya, Mundiya Ve: A duet between Ramesh Sialkoti & Mohini Narula, the Punjabi folk song was penned by Ram Sharan Joshila. There is no traceable date to this recording, however we can assume it was sometime during or before the ‘70s.
The remake: The song that put singer Sona Mohapatra on the map ‘Ambarsariya’ from the film ‘Fukrey’ (2013) features the same chorus and an improvised accordion interlude.
Ghoomar: This is a Rajputana wedding song from the Marwar region–and the lyrics are about a woman asking her mother for a Rathore husband. The song is always accompanied by the traditional dance with its signature circular motion.
The remake: The Bollywood version in ‘Padmavat’ (2018) has Deepika Padukone staying close to the traditional dance–but sets aside the original storytelling.
Pallo Latke : This is also a Rajasthani folk song–rendered here by The Karthal– a Rajasthani folk troupe. The ‘khartal’ is also a folk instrument—much like a wooden clapper—and used in this and other devotional songs.
The remake: The 2017 film ‘Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana’ offered up a masala version–with a very obvious Punjabi influence. Also thrown in the mix: a rap verse from Fazilpuria–who is a Haryana hip-hop star.
Jhumka Gira Re: The famous folk song set in the Raga Peelu was first immortalised in 1931 by this recording by Miss Dulari. Her nasal vocalisation, the repetition of “Bareilly ke bazaar” in a minor note sets the rendition apart from all future recordings.
The many remakes: The first was by Shamshad Begum for the 1947 film ‘Dekhoji’—which speeds up the chorus.
The most iconic, of course, is the version sung by Asha Bhosle—featuring the coquettish Sadhana in the 1966 film ‘Mera Saaya’. It remains one of the greatest Hindi film songs of yesteryears.
The most recent remix was rolled out this year in Karan Johar’s ‘Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani’—except it’s called ‘What Jhumka?’. This version also confuses the Bareilly (Bans-Bareilly) with Rae Bareilly—which is a whole other place in UP!
Bumbro Bumbro: Kashmiri composer Mohan Lal Aima first used this folk song for the first Kashmiri opera performed in 1953 called ‘Bombur ta Yemberzal’. The opera centres around the bumblebee Bombur and his love–the narcissus flower Yemberzal. The song is meant for the mehndi night—calling out to shyam coloured bumblebee to deepen the colour of the bride’s mehendi. The song is often performed with a traditional dance that can be seen below:
The remake: In the 2000 film ‘Mission Kashmir’, Preity Zinta and Hrithik Roshan twirled along to a Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy version that plays homage to the original–but is very distinctly Bollywood in essence.
Nimbooda: The Jaisalmer Merasi are a community of Muslim artists also known as Manganiyaars that were patronised by royals—and have sung songs devoted to Hindu gods and goddesses for centuries. Here is a performance by a Merasi troupe that has performed the original folk song–along with khartals, harmonium, dholak and a choral section.
The remake: Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s tour de force ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’ (1999) threw in Aishwarya Rai, folk vocals, a sarangi and a choir to make this one of the catchiest songs of the 90s.