Teaching Hindi Film Song Sequences

CJ_Final.indd Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier
 Vol. 1 (3) Fall 2013
 Monika Mehta
 Binghamton University, SUNY


Teaching Hindi Film Song Sequences Video Presentation

In this video presentation, Monika Mehta explains how she uses paratexts to teach Bollywood song-and-dance sequences and includes a sample assignment below.

(click image to play presentation)

Teaching Hindi







Essay Assignment: Analyzing Song Sequences
Assignment Parameters

For the second essay assignment for this course, you will be analyzing song-sequences.  The purpose of this assignment is to be able to examine how song-sequences are constructed, to identify their functions in the filmic narrative and to investigate the song’s circulation beyond the film narrative (cassettes, cds, mp3s, reality shows, etc.).  To begin the assignment, you will select a film featuring your star.  Please do not select a film that we have all ready watched in class or will be watching prior to this assignment’s due date.   You will analyze three song-sequences in your chosen film; these song sequences should feature your chosen star.   I would urge you to make a decision about the film as soon as possible so you can view the film and the songs multiple times.  Also, you will need to find out information about the playback singers.  You will have more time to find out this information the sooner you select your film.  If you’d like assistance in making a decision, I would be glad to offer suggestions.  You may rent the film via Netflix or Blockbuster.  You might also check the Binghamton library for a copy.  Alternately, you can purchase the film from  http://www.bhavanidvd.com/ or www.amazon.com.

To prepare for this essay, I have attached a song-sequence assignment which we will be doing in-class. We will be watching a song from Pakeezah/The Pure One and subsequently, in small groups, you will be answering the questions in the assignment.

The song sequence assignment will provide you with a set of guiding questions and themes for formulating the thesis for your essay and analyzing songs in your chosen film.  For your essay (and chosen film), you will address questions that are listed under the section Genre and Star Image in the song sequence assignment. This will allow you to incorporate the information and analysis you have produced in you star assignment.  In addition to this, you will choose questions from one more section (e.g., Narrative, Editing, Space & Costumes etc.). While you can discuss space and costumes in an essay that is on the Genre & Star Image and Narrative, the focus of essay and its argument must remain on Narrative and Genre & Star Image.

In the thesis, you will present an argument based on the topics you have selected (e.g. Genre & Star Image and Narrative). The thesis should be one or two sentences at the most. It is generally placed at the end of the introduction. Subsequently when you write the essay, you will develop an argument which supports your thesis, providing appropriate evidence.  Furthermore, when appropriate in your essay, you will refer to articles we’ve read, films we have watched or class discussions. You may also do further research and look at outside sources.

The essay needs to 6-8 pages, double-spaced (12 points, Times New Roman or Garamond). A bibliography needs to be attached to the essay.  This is in addition to the 6-8 pages.  You may use MLA, Chicago or APA style.  Please be consistent with regard to the style.  Please make sure that you cite properly and give credit to appropriate author(s).

You will turn in a thesis statement, along with the Basic Information (the first sheet of the song-sequence assignment), on Friday, November 5.   In the Basic Information, you need to fill out the information for the film that you’ve chosen.  You can find out this information via a Google search or Wikipedia.  We will be holding a writing workshop for this assignment on Wednesday, November 17. Please bring 3 copies of your rough draft and 2 copies of the feedback-evaluation sheet (I will distribute this later). Your rough draft should be as complete as possible.  The final, polished draft of the assignment is due on November 22. Please bring a hard-copy to class and upload a copy on blackboard.


Friday, October 29:  Song Sequence Assignment Workshop; Work in Small Groups.

Friday, November 5:  Turn in your thesis statement and Basic Information on your film.

Wednesday, November 17:  Bring 3 copies of your draft and 2 copies of the feedback evaluation sheet

Monday, November 22:  Final, polished draft is due.  Please upload a copy on blackboard.


In-Class Song and Dance Sequence Analysis Worksheet

[This portion of the assignment is adapted from an assignment designed by Nilanjana Bhattacharjya, Honors Faculty Fellow, Arizona State University.]

In preparation for your essay assignment, we will be doing an in-class assignment devoted to song sequences.  The topics in this assignment will serve as a set of guiding questions for the essay that you will write on your chosen film featuring your star.  For the essay, you are expected to address questions under the section, Genre and Star Image.  In addition, you can pick one more section (Narrative, Space & Costumes, Editing etc.).  Along with thesis statement, you will need to hand in the following Basic Information about your chosen film.

BASIC INFORMATION (document outside sources in this section)

  1. Title of film
  2. Briefly summarize the film’s story (3-4 sentences at most).
  3. Year
  4. Film director
  5. Music director
  6. Choreographer
  7. Lyricist
  8. Singers
  9. Name major characters in the film and actors who are playing these roles
  10. Provide titles of songs, name singers who sing each song, and name the main actors/actresses who lip-synch each song in the film.


  • How is this song organized musically in terms of different sections, instrumentation, and lyrics? Is it a verse-chorus form? Do the same melodies reappear with different lyrics? (e.g. “x” is a song that evokes both big-band type of sound and techno. As a song that takes place in a discotheque, it is a contemporary sounding song that makes little or no reference to traditional Indian instruments from the classical tradition).
  • What dance styles are used in the song sequence?  (e.g. hip-hop, classical Indian, Bhangra, a mixture)? Do the dance movements complement the lyrics and the music?


  • Briefly state what the song is about.  (e.g. The main characters declare their love for each other in the song).
  • What is happening in the story at this point, and the function of the specific song sequence?
  • Does this sequence work in tandem with the narrative? Does it advance the narrative?  Does it function as an interruption?  Does it enable covert action?
  • In addition, try to determine what function and significance this segment has for the film as a whole and your understanding of it (foreshadowing, climax, transition, exposition, etc.)
  • Does the song sequence reinforce or challenge social and cultural codes advanced in the narrative? (i.e. gender, religion, class etc.).  For example, in the narrative the heroine might be a submissive, quiet girl but in the song sequence, she verbalizes her desires through both lyrics and dance movements.


  • Space: Is space—landscape or interior—used as a “comment” on the character’s inner state of mind?  Does it figure as a character-like presence?  Does it exude a certain atmosphere, etc.?
  • Where does the song take place?  Is space in the song-sequence continuous or does the song take place at multiple locations?  List the locations and their potential functions (e.g. it is more thrilling to have a romantic song travel across and varied spaces so we become virtual tourists)
  • In a related fashion, do the costumes change along with the locations?  What might be the function(s) of multiple costume changes?
  • How do costumes contribute to the construction of the characters, the stars and nature and atmosphere of the song-dance sequence? (e.g. cabaret song sequence)
  • Are the costumes of the characters color-coordinated in the song-dance sequences?  If so, why?
  • Do the characters wear the costumes and inhabit the locations in the song sequence in their ‘real narrative worlds’?  Explain.


  • Position of segment (what comes before, what after the segment?)
  • Length of Individual shots: (extremely long or particularly short; does the director hold on a certain face or landscape after the action has been played out, etc.)
  • Rhythm/Pace (flowing/ jerky/ disjointed/ more panning shots than cuts/ acceleration of cuts/ fast-paced/slow-paced/ unusually long takes)


  • Does the song sequence acknowledge the spectator or do events transpire as if no one were present?  Do characters look into the camera or pretend it is not there, for instance?
  • How does the song sequence position the spectator vis-à-vis the onscreen events?  Are we made to favor certain characters, to respond certain ways to certain events (e.g. we along with the male audience or male character are supposed to enjoy the female dancers? Or we along with characters are positioned as devotees for a religious song sequence).   Here, consider the concepts of gaze and darsan that we have studied in class.


  • Does the song sequence appeal to certain expectations, i.e. generic conventions?  (e.g. We don’t expect a song situated in a strip-club in a historical)? What kind of conventions are they?
  • Does the song sequence follow convention or does it attempt to challenge them in any way?  If so how? (e.g. A contemporary romantic film might be feature a conventional song sequence where the romantic couple is cavorting on Swiss hills or a similar looking outdoor location).
  • How does the song-dance sequence advance, challenge, or support star images?
  • Does the song-dance sequence enable the display of a star’s performance style?  Provide examples.  (e.g. Shah Rukh Khan’s outstretched hands).
  • Given Majumdar’s argument in “The Embodied Voice,” examine the relationship between the visual and aural stars in the song-sequence.  For the essay, you need to think about the relationship between your star and the playback singer who is singing for your star.  Do the qualities of the aural star (playback singer) match the image of the visual star?  Is their a consonance or dissonance?  What might be the consequences of either a fit or a lack of fit?  For the essay, you will to find out which playback singer or singers have sung for your star in your chosen film.   You will need to find out what information circulates about the aural star (play back singer).  Here, Wikipedia might be a useful source.  Some playback singers have their own website and/or blogs devoted to them.


  • In more recent films, there are many more non-diegetic songs, that is to say songs that are not lip-synched by an actor or actress but ones that are free-floating.  How does this unmooring affect the relationship between what Majumdar calls “aural” and “visual” stardom?
  • What role might gender play in crafting and producing song and dance sequences? (e.g. It might give an opportunity for the female choreographer and female dancers to take charge of production and screen respectively).
  • Is the song-dance an item number?  If so, does it feature a prominent star or stars?
  • Was the song-dance important to the film’s publicity?
  • Are their multiple versions of the song available (i.e. original, unplugged, remix)?
  •  Did the song become popular?  What aspects might have been important in its popularity (choreography, lyrics, music, stars, photography, location etc.)?
  • Examine the use of lighting and framing in the song sequence.



I am grateful to the editors Ted Hovet and Lisa Patti for allowing me to do this video presentation.  Thanks to Lisa Patti for introducing me to Screencast-o-matic, offering useful suggestions for the video, and most of all, for encouraging me to undertake this project.  I am indebted to Nilanjana Bhattacharjya who shared her fantastic essay assignment and allowed me to adapt it for my course.  Rajesh Bhaskaran generously loaned me his hi-fi head-set and shared his seasoned video production skills.  My daughter Sahana Bhaskaran ably assisted in choosing the appropriate video clips.

Select Bibliography


Majumdar, Neepa. “The Embodied Voice: Stardom and Song Sequences in Popular Hindi Cinema.” In Soundtrack Available: Essays on Film and Popular Music edited by Arthur Knight and Pamela Wojcik, 161-181. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001.

Mehta, Monika.  “DVD Compilations: (Re)Shuffling Sound, Stardom and Cinephilia,” South Asian Popular Culture 10, no. 3 (2012):  237-248.


Lata a Journey: Best of Lata Songs.  Prod. Yash Raj Films. Perf. Mangeshkar, Lata. Yash Raj Films, 2008. DVD.

Mujras & QwallisFrom Films Old & New.  Prod.  Shemaroo Video. Ltd.  DVD.  n.d.


“Bhavani DVD.”  Bhavani DVD.  Accessed on October 5, 2013.  http://www.bhavanidvd.com/index.php?cPath=46

“Nightingale of India Lata Mangeshkar turns 84.”  artistaloud.com.  Posted on September 28, 2013.  Accessed on October 3, 2013.  http://www.artistaloud.com/news/details/id/427.

“Singing Legend Asha Bhosle turns 80.”  Indian Express.  Accessed on October 3, 2013.  http://www.indianexpress.com/picture-gallery/singing-legend-asha-bhosle-turns- 80/3359-15.html.

Online Videos

“Dil Cheez Kya Hai-Umrao Jaan Song [HD] (1981) W/E Subs.”  YouTube video 6.01, from the film Umrao Jaan (1981).  Posted by “KabulHDvideoCenter.”  December 28, 2010.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3oFm4MYbb9o.

” ‘Ghagra Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’ Song Making |Madhuri Dixit, Ranbir Kapoor.”  YouTube video, 4.46.  Posted by “T-Series.” May 25, 2013. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73AdN41Y-n0.

“Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par Woh Kahan Hai HD.”  Youtube video 6.30, from the film Pyaasa 1957.  Posted by “MannuDreamer.”  February 25, 2012.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlDwgYWnJWY.

“Journey of India’s melodious voice Lata Mangeshkar.” IBN LiveWatch video, 1:43.  Posted by CNN-IBN.  August 13, 2013.  http://ibnlive.in.com/videos/413884/watch-journey-of- indias-melodious-voice-lata-mangeshkar.html?utm_source=ref_article

“Lata Mangeshkar – Jo Wada Kiya (Live Performance).”  YouTube video 3.31, from a performance by Lata Mangeshkar from her “Lata An Era In An Evening” concert in Bombay on March 9, 1997.  Posted by “gussie5555.”  June 27, 2008.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ou0B9T89L0g

“Pakeezah – Inhi Logon Ne Le Liya Dupatta Mera.”  YouTube video 5.53, from the film Pakeezah (1972).  Posted by “yasjan2012.”  August 23, 2013. . http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQRbPBk-wUw.

Monika Mehta is Associate Professor of English at Binghamton University, SUNY. Her research and teaching interests include new media and film studies; cinema in South Asia; theories of nation-state; postcolonial critique; and globalization and cultural production.  She is the author of Censorship and Sexuality in Bombay Cinema (University of Texas Press, December 2011; Permanent Black, January 2012).





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