Cha Cha Cha! Bahut Accha! Award: dance like an Egyptian

[This post is continually updated with new finds and I always love to receive more! Here is a playlist of all the songs. Also, I'm aware that some of the embedded and linked videos in this post no longer work; I'll try to keep the playlist updated.]

As many of you know, I work in a museum of world cultures, and one of my major teaching responsibilities, in the few hours a week they let me upstairs to talk to visitors, is ancient Egypt.* On the morning of a recent invasion by small children demanding to know about mummies and the Rosetta Stone, I spent a few minutes idly wondering why I don't see the Pyramids more often in film songs. Nothing says epic romance like an exotic wonder of the world! Of course there's "Suraj Hua Maddham" from Kabhi Khushi Khabie Gham, featuring excellent use of the Nile, and one of my favorite A. R. Rahman songs, "Enna Solla Pogirai" from the Tamil film Kandoukondain Kandoukondain (I Have Found It) with gorgeous, gorgeous Tabu and Ajith. What I love about this setting is that it gives extra context to its story within this couple's larger arc in the film; there's nothing particularly Egyptian about it, but the exotic location adds to the mystery of what's going on in this little dream/fantasy sequence. Plus, you know, Tabu and Ajith. They are fabulous together in this movie.

As beautiful and sensuous as these two songs are, I knew there had to be more. I tweeted the query and almost instantly got back the following list: some filmed in Egypt, one with an Egyptian character, and one...well, you'll see. I haven't seen most of these films, so the commentary is about the songs in isolation.

• "Wonders of the world" is the theme in "Poovukkul Olinthirukkum"/"Ajooba" from Jeans, starting with the Great Wall. Egypt appears starting at 4:02; at about 4:25 Aishwarya appears in full-on golden pharaoh gear, looking stunning as ever. I give this one the prize for best use of Egyptian-esque ideas in a song costume. This song reminds me that there is a habit in song picturizations of women getting all the interesting costumes, particularly thematic ones (historical periods, different cultures, etc.), while the men stay in whatever romantic heroes are wearing the year the film was made and may or may not be color-coordinated with their partners. Hmmm.

• Shahid Kapoor and Amrita Rao in "Chahenge Tumhe" from Vaah! Life Ho Toh Aisi. This looks like a very watered down, almost junior version of the K3G song above. Arm fling, embrace, peep around the ruins, kick up some sand, arm fling, embrace, and done. They could be anywhere that has walls and dirt. Shahid and Amrita could never give the sizzle that Kajol and SRK do; I don't even have strong feelings about SRKajol as a couple, but they are on fire in that song, no doubt about it. Maybe if I hadn't already seen "Suraj Hua Maddham" I'd like this better. Given the age difference of the films, I wonder if the later one is a nod to the first? Anyway. Perfectly fine but not noteworthy.

"Jee Karda" from Singh Is King gets points for great shots of more than just the Giza monuments - Hatshepsut's mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahari, for example. This too seems like a song that could be set anywhere, but at least they made good visual interest out of their romp through Egypt. Zahi Hawass might have a few things to say about how cast members are treating some of those ancient stones - or the lead couple themselves in "Teri Ore" from the same film!

"Gana Gana" from the Telugu film Yogi sticks to the Pyramids and some desert landscape, but as seems to be usual for Telugu songs, there are plenty of spangly backup dancers and excited choreography. All of these songs seem to have been costumed by a wardrobe department that enjoyed playing off the sand and sky colors of Egypt, using high-contrast colors like black, white, and hot oranges and reds.

"Magavada Matipoyara" from Allari Bullodu from  is heavy on the panting amid some monuments from Fauxgypt (as the wonderful Jenni who sent me this song describes it) before detouring into a very weird sequence at a water park that also involves a nearly strangled duck. Really. Poor duck.

• I am thrilled to have a particular reason to post about Silk Smitha. Here she is in Paatti Sollai Thattathe playing a Cleopatra-ish character starting at about 1:14.

Frankly, I love this. It's bonkers and tacky and gleeful. Just look at that giant all-white Coliseum-y building they're dancing on! Topped by some Georgian-ish windows, as well as Egyptian palm- or papyrus-inspired columns (2:18). Plus dry ice. As you do. This whole song is well worth a watch for its imaginative traipsing through...well, I was going to say "historical epochs" but a better description might be "interiors inspired by themed casinos." Whatever. It's awesome.

• She's also in "Raalugayi Praayam" from Roshagadu in Telugu.

Temple, who sent me this song, says "I think this is one of the worst sphinxes I have seen in Indian film. And the dude looks so dowdy in his knee length toga. It's all so wrong." Couldn't agree more. Read her take on the film here.

• Egyptian motifs appear in smaller decorative elements in nightclubs and cabarets, such as in this NTR song from Gajadonga, this set in Maha Badmaash
this one in Patthar aur Payal (via Memsaab)
and Loafer (also via Memsaab)
and "Jaane Mujhe Tune Yeh Ka Cheez" from Naina with Shashi Kapoor, Padma Khanna, and Moushumi Chatterjee.

• This scene in DharmatmaFeroz-ji would never let us down on such an important and potentially gaudy and sleazy topic. This room shows up in other films too.

• I haven't seen Intequam (1969) but Memsaab wrote it up here with a mention of its Casino Egyptiana.

• In a similar vein is this song from Veta with Jayaprada and Chiranjeevi (can't be embedded—sorry!). 80s Chiru means this whole song is great, but the miniature Egyptian set pieces appear at 2:45, including a giant head perhaps inspired by Tutankhamun's burial mask, probably ancient Egypt's most famous single artifact. Warning: Chiru's outfit in this segment is very, very short.

"Dil Mein Badi Badi Baten Hain" from Kahin Aar Kahin Paar features guys in pharaonic headgear. Read Memsaab's amazing post on the other wonders this film holds.

"Mere Naam Ballerina" from Charas is filmed entirely in an Egyptian-inspired set features Hema Malini in excellent costumes striding out of the Sphinx's head down a stairway in a Cleopatra-y wig while raising her arms and unfolding the blue and gold stripes of her cloak (surely inspired by the Tut mask). Her backup girls pose on smaller sphinxes and Hema herself seems to transform into Isis at the climax of the first scene. Note also the wall decor (it seems a little too generous to call it a mural) depicting hunting in chariots. Excellent integration of choreography, costuming, and set! I finally saw the excellent masala-James-Bond-y Charas in January 2012 and wrote it up here.

• In "Zalim Duniya Ham Pe" from Wardat (1981), Mithun, Shakti Kapoor, and others dance in a villain HQ with an amazing indoor arena type room, covered with sand and ready for masala-gladiatorial combat.
Please note the combination of Egyptian architecture and statuary with ooga-booga "tribal" costuming and a disfigured villain overlord in jodhpurs.

• Feeeeel the 90s pulsing away in "Woh Kaam Tune Kiya Tha" from Qahar. 

I haven't seen this film, but this set looks as much like Paresh Rawal's living room from some angles as it does a more standard villain lair from others. Bonus points for all the white kilts, such energetic shimmying, and instrumentation that makes me feel like I'm at a really terrible college bar.

• From Gaddaar (1973), Padma Khanna and Oscar Unger in "Wayi Wayi Main Jal Gayi," or, as my Shemaroo DVD calls it, "Yeh Aag Hai." This one is mostly sort of belly-dance-ish, I'd say, but there are pyramids in the background and some great snakes (both real and gem-encrusted).

• Sridevi in "Dushman Dil Ka Jo Hai Mere" from Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja
Fantastic from the get-go with that entrance from a giant mask. I also like her angry sprinkler dance moves and an overall commitment to gold.

• Sridevi with Sunny Deol (who mostly stands around or walks slowly) in the first half of "Yaara Dilbar Dildara" in Sultanat. I love this movie, but it must be said that this sphinx is really janky.

• More Sunny Deol in "Habibi Twist Karein" from Himmat. Everything about this seems odd to the point of it having been designed by pulling ideas out of a hat, including the notion of Sunny doing the twist. I kind of love it though.

• Zeenat Aman and Rajesh Khanna in "Electricity" (or so youtube calls it) from Chhailla Babu. Before you click, be warned that Rajesh has some of the worst hair I've ever seen in a movie. Zeenat makes a brief appearance in an ancient Egyptian type get-up, as well as several others. I haven't seen this film but it seems that Rajesh is hallucinating some of what we see, possibly by what Zeenat has put in his water as she hunts him through one of those 70s masala giant living rooms. Clearly this is going on the "to watch" list.

• Finally: GOVINDA! "Mazaa Karle Meri Jaan" from Andolan.
• I don't know who all is in this awesome Tamil song "Pattathu Rani" from Sivantha Mannbut it is great (if a bit sadomasocistic).

"Raajave Raaja" from Viduthalai. We seem to have Egyptian plus a bit of Roman, kiiiind of Viking, and...Rajnikanth.

"Manathe Chandiran" form Priyadarshan's Chandralekha. Full pith helmets and tomb robbing!

• Kamal Hassan in "Siriya Paravai Siragai Virikka" from Andha Oru Nimidam. This one has a lovely selection of styles, with the Egyptian segment, complete with tinsel-coated pyramids, at 0:50.
Of course Kamal Hassan is going to be involved in more than one of these songs, right? I have no idea what this next one is called or what movie it's from, but it has some Egptian, some...Roman?, and some...disco? elements. Click here to see it in all its golden blinking glory. Both of these fabulous finds are by Jenni from the Bollywhat forums! And here he is again, this time amid various ancient mavels, in "Pattukkannam Thoddukolla" from Kakki Sattai, dancing flamenco (among other things), as you do when in ancient Egypt.

"Oho Madhumagale" from Ranaranga. There is much to love in this one, including blue-green pyramids, lots of hand-painted art, and an actual camel.

"Poo Medaiyo" from Aayiram Pookkal Malarattum (it gets Egyptian at about 1:35—and not just visually!).

"Idhazhai Virithathu Roja" from Pattanathil Bootham. So much of multiculturalism, with an Egyptian background at 1:20.

•  Sadhana in "Zubaan-e-Yaar" frrom Ek Musafir Ek Haseena. The Egyptian part starts at 2:29 in that link. This is the oldest entry I have so far, and it's the only one in black and white. It's fun to see how the traits of ancient Egyptian aesthetics are translated without gold and bright blue—and pleasingly, sphinxes and cobra headdresses do not need color to make their impact.

"Neeya Pesiyathu" from Thirumalai. Jyothika!

"Sham Bheegi Bheegi" from Gehri Chaal. This movie looks fantastic overall but I include this song because of Bindu's amazing wallpaper at about 3:50. And no, that is not a metaphor.

• "Aa Sapnon Ki Rani" from Teen Bahuraniyan at about 1:43 (though the rest of the song is good too).  Rajendranath is my favorite comedy uncle from any period or language of fillums, and I'm developing a real appreciation for Shashikala's antics too. Plus a great headdress and Egyptian-sounding instrumental riff.

"Haath Na Lagana" from Jeene Ki Arzoo has just a splash of ancient Egypt in the background but also seems to include a Mesopotamian-ish statue and some Greco-Roman-ish busts.

"Megam Udaythu" from Maayi gallops through several historical epochs with accompanying short togas.

"Rakkala Velaiyila" from Mythili Ennai Kadhali. Pleasingly disco-y and complete with black socks that remind me of Disco Dancer. You'll also notice a nod to at least one other ancient Mediterranean culture: I think some of the giant gold statues are...Roman?

"Iruvathu Vayasu" from Arasatchi. The Egyptian stuff is only in the set walls, and frankly the costumes are more exciting, but the mural effect is quite good (though hard to see due to green nightclub lighting).

• "Salma Pe Dil Aaga Ya" from Kudrat Ka Nazara.
In addition to its commitment to gold, what I like about this one is it makes very clear a tendency that many of these songs have to layer Ancient Egyptian visual arts with a generalized Islamic culture. The nice part about this habit is that it reminds us that the cities and lands around some of these monuments are populated today and that there are unbroken connections of populations thousands of years back in history. The bad part is that it's wildly inaccurate to smoosh all areas of the world that are majority Muslim or even Arabic-speaking—even just the ones at the east end of the Mediterranean—into one same-same blob. Belly dancers, Bedouins, and Mughals are not the same people. Even if we assume these songs are flights of fancy with a TARDIS, one raises an eyebrow.

• Bengal finally makes an entrance with "Balir Shohor" and "Aro Ektu Dur" from the 2013 film Mishawr Rawhoshyo.


 • And best for last: Rajnikanth in "Om Zaarare" from Kuselan (which may or may not have inspired Billu) doing the kinds of things Rajnikanth a glorious, completely staged/CGI Egyptian-ish palace.

This may be very very Vegas, but I like to think that pharaohs would appreciate all the bling, colors, shiny surfaces, impressively coordinated slo-mo walking, ability to multiply themselves, and dishoom sound effects, as well as the heroine's headpieces. Imagine Ramesses II racing through the desert smiting enemies WHOOSH WHOOSH. I also really like the aquatic platform with what look like giant Horus statues and dancers in color-coordinating lunghi and shirts. I'd like to know why Rajnikanth's hair is so red in parts of the song; on the other hand, why frustrate yourself seeking the unknowable? As if all this weren't enough, the hopping guards are downright Monty Python. Squeeee!

• Honorable mention: they're not from a song, but there are a few scenes in The Great Gambler of Amitabh and Zeenat in Cairo, including these with the pyramids in the background.

• This isn't from a film that I know of, but it's fun: "Mehbooba" by Pakistani singer Haroon.

I like the little scrap of aged paper (papyrus?)! But psst! Don't climb on the ruins! Similarly, Lucky Ali's "O Sanam." I've heard this song many times and never thought to look for a video. 
And there's Raageshwari's "Pyaar ke Rang," complete with helpful tour guide and fresh-scrubbed backing crew straight out of Beverly Hills 90210.

A gold-encrusted, plume-waving, fig-eating royal thank you to everyone who sent suggestions! If you have any songs to add, please post them in the comments. I'm also collecting submissions for a similar Greco-Roman post (which means I get to use that Silk Smitha song again!) (led by Dharam-Veer, of course).

* Why yes, I am really lucky and have the best job ever!


Ness said…
You really DO have the best job ever!
Anishok said…
What a great collection, Beth!

And Shahid/Amrita and even Akki/Katrina were definitely inspired by Suraj Hua Madham...SRK even made a joke about it in of the interviews for the MNIK promotion.
Anonymous said…
We all wish we had the Rajni-touch! Haye!
Banno said…
so that's one morning taken care of, watching all those songs. :)
Temple said…
How could you forget Chiru???

I certainly haven't been able to forget this little gem :)

People - please note a General Beverage Warning applies throughout.
Amaluu said…
Ajooba (Hindi) or Adisayam (Tamil) from Jeans where Ash frolicks about the 7 wonders of the world, 2 costumes per wonder!!! Prasanth is there too, but who cares about him when Ash is dressed as Cleopatra???
memsaab said…
I don't know if it counts b/c I don't remember a song in it, but the last part of Wardat takes place in a land populated by what look like Egyptian monuments guarded by space men.
Unknown said…
loving the Egyptian theme! How do you track these down! :) great stuff!
Ness - I do :)

Anishok - Funny! It's a pretty grand and lovely song, even to me.

dishoomdishoom - We sure do!

Banno - And now there are MORE to see :)

Temple - Tragic. Tragic, tragic oversight. And thank you for the GBW reminder as well. That's one shorty outfit he has.

Amaluu - You even told me about that one on twitter, I think, and I completely spaced it! Corrected :)

memsaab - That sounds very promising!

djash - Isn't it fun? I had those first two songs in mind and then just tweeted the idea and got all these great responses. I gather this strategy is called "crowdsourcing" and it is my absolute favorite way to answer any question about films.
Lazy said…
Ah, the first song I saw on the Pyramids was Lucky Ali's O Sanam.. It was back in the days when India actually had pop albums.. shocking! :P
Anonymous said…
I like very much and you have a realy great collection.
Amey said…
Don't know if you know this, but Ajooba = wonder. So the song is filmed in front of all the wonders (or maybe it's other way round, they wanted to put a song with all the wonders and hence created this. You never know with Bolly and Tollywood songs).

Ahem, the verification word: saxial.
nphard said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
nphard said…
Here's a great one you're sure to like, all done in a campy way of course, it features Hema Malini in a cleopatra outfit and Egyptian style braids dancing around studio Sphinxs and Pyramids
And from my friend Nilanjana, here's an Egyptian song (by Hisham Abbas) filmed in India!!
Cindy said…
I just discovered another song set in Egypt, from the Tamil film Thirumalai. Here's the link:
neha vish said…
Zubaan-E-Yaar starring the lovely Sadhna - (from 2:29 on).

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