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Photograph by Anshu A.

Holi is a spring festival celebration that varies across India, even going by different names. I simply call it Holi- The Festival of Colours. Holi brings together different stories, the key one being of Lord Vishnu protecting his devotee, Prahlad, by burning his murderous aunt, Holika, and, then taking the form of Narasimha, to kill Prahlad’s father, King Hiranyakashipu. But for many, the festival is dominated by the Braj celebrations of the love of Radha and Krishna.


Photograph by Mohit Suthar

Holi has fueled several elements in our films since times immemorial. Holi has been presented in many shades and colours in our films, and from the time India started making films. From being a moment to rejoice to introducing a major twist or letting passion have its play, Holi has been an integral part of Bollywood narrative device for decades. However, as the times changes, its representation changed as well.

The films from the black-and-white era mostly depicted the festival of colours in long shots, in its full glory with the entire cast literally playing with colours. But did it add anything to the plot? Very rarely. 

Sholay’s (1975) “Holi Ke Din” is like a ticking time bomb, ready to explode as Gabbar Singh’s (lead villain) henchmen attack Ramgarh.

Giving a new dimension & a fresh meaning to Holi in Bollywood were Amitabh Bachhan and Rekha when they shed all inhibitions in “Rang Barse”. For the audience, Silsila (1981) was a real reflection of the reel life couple, the song was also a major breakthrough in the iconic film. It was about love and only love, even if it meant challenging the so-called societal norms.

Video: Holi Ke Din Dil Khil Jate Hain | Sholay Song (1975) by Mohit Suthar

While the events in Damini’s (1993) Holi sequence changes the entire storyline, Shah Rukh Khan’s obsession with his lady love interest reaches new heights in Darr’s (1993) “Ang Se Ang.”

The audience’s love for festivities became so strong that the 2000s kept Holi majorly for song and dance. This was the 90s generation adapting to the new millennium, embracing dance floor culture. Community Holi was gaining prominence, and so was the demand for frolic and fun. Both Mohabbatein (2000) and Baghban (2003) had chartbuster Holi songs – “Soni Soni” and “Hori Khele Raghuveera” giving us a moment of vibrancy, even if it meant them not really adding anything to the plot.


Photograph by John Thomas

And then came the 2000s, where Holi was not just another festival anymore. Deepika Padukone isn’t just celebrating Holi in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’s (2013) “Balam Pichkari”, the song also marks the transition of her 'nerdy & glasses-wearing’ character into a confident girl who is ready to take on life full throttle.

Gladly enough, folk songs also again came into picture by early 2010s. Tracks like “Balam Pichkari” and “Badri Ki Dulhania” fused together traditional Holi songs with new-age music arrangement. And as they say, folk can elevate absolutely anything, and we got two hit songs in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013) and Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017). It was a good way to introduce the new generation with its roots. And plus, it’s foot- tapping enough to make my kiwi husband get up & groove to its rhythm, even though he couldn’t understand any Hindi words as such.


Photograph: Ranbir Kapoor & Deepika Padukone in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013

Most recently, when Bollywood’s best dancers – Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff, were brought in for a dance off in the movie; War (2019), the makers ditched Hip Hop or acrobatics and opted for a Holi sequence in the song; “Jai Jai Shivshankar”.

The journey of Holi in Bollywood surely proves that we cannot take the festival out of our films. From being the go-to song situation to a catalyst of change, Holi has been, and continues to be, prominent. How will the new decade shape Holi sequences in our movies? We are awaiting to see, with a splash of colour.


Photograph by Souvik Laha

But wait, all this talk about Holi & Bollywood, and no Holi Special Playlist? Not possible. So here you go fellow Holi lovers, below is a list of my top 10 Holi songs from Bollywood till now. Happy Holi grooving!

  1. Holi Ke din- Sholay - 1975 -

  2. Rang Barse- Silsila - 1981 -

  3. Ang se Ang- Darr - 1993 -

  4. Soni Soni- Mohabbatein - 2000 -

  5. Holi Khele Raghubeera - 2003 -

  6. Do me a favor let’s play holi - Waqt - 2005 -

  7. Balam Pichkaari- Ye Jawani Hai Deewani - 2013-

  8. Lahu Muh Lag Gaya - Ramleela - 2013-

  9. Badri Ki Dulhaniya - Badri Ki Dulhaniya - 2017-

10. Jai Jai Shiv Shankar - War - 2019 -

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