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'Nothing Vulgar In Choli Ke Peeche'

September 01, 2023 10:15 IST

'Many people pointed fingers at me.'
'They would ask, "Why did you sing such a song? Why did you do this 'double-meaning' song?"'
'My mother also asked, "Yeh kya gaaya??"'

IMAGE: Madhuri Dixit in the Choli Ke Peeche song from Khalnayak.

Thirty years later, Subhash Ghai's Khalnayak is still etched in people's minds.

The song Choli ke Peeche from Khalnayak is one of the best remembered Hindi songs despite its controversial history.

It was a turning point for singer-actor Ila Arun who sang the folk version filmed on Madhuri Dixit and Neena Gupta.

It is this song that gave Ila her footing as a singer in the Hindi film industry.

"It contributed a lot to my bank and my personal life," Ila tells Mayur Sanap/ with a laugh, explaining, "When the song became a huge success, I started getting a lot of live shows.'

What are your memories of Choli Ke Peeche?

I remember when Subhash Ghai called me to Laxmikant-Pyarelalbhai's place. At that time, sittings used to be really important.

The songs were not just the way it happens now.

Joining the sitting was such a great happening.

The lyricist, the singers and the director used to sit alongside the music director. Sometimes, the actress was also there.

The whole journey of the song and how it would be like was conveyed to the artists.

I remember I was with Alka (Yagnik, co-singer) at this sitting, and when I heard the line 'Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai', I was taken aback for a second.

But then, I'm an actor and didn't react because the second line was very good: 'Choli me dil hai mera'.

It was a very big thing for me to record this song along with Alka and so many other musicians.

Anand Bakshi (lyricist) was present, and so was Subhash Ghai.

The way Laxmiji composed the song and the way it was uplifted by Pyarebhai in his orchestration is just amazing.

IMAGE: Ila declined the offer to perform in the film and the role went to Neena Gupta. Photograph: Kind courtesy Ila Arun/Instagram

Was it upsetting when the song was embroiled in controversy?

Kafi logo ki ungliyaan utth gayi thi mujh pe (Many people pointed fingers at me).

They would ask, Why did you sing such a song? Why did you do this 'double-meaning' song?

My mother also asked, 'Yeh kya gaaya? (What did you sing?)'

But I was never guilty of the song. I was very proud to have sung it.

I saw it as a folk song, and there was nothing vulgar in it. The song is between two girls.

You see, in small towns, when the baraat has left, women used to spend time with each other with some playful music.

Also, so many big names were involved in this song. They knew what they were making.

It was so nicely picturised, and Madhuri (Dixit) danced so well.

When I couldn't do the song, Neena Gupta performed in it. My voice suited her personality.

It contributed a lot to my bank and my personal life. (Laughs)

When the song became a huge success, I started getting a lot of live shows.

IMAGE: Khalnayak Director Subhash Ghai, centre, flanked by Ila Arun, left, and Neena Gupta. Photograph: Kind courtesy Ila Arun/Instagram

Do you discuss the song with Madhuri Dixit and Neena Gupta?

Both are very good friends of mine, especially Neena.

I did a show in Kolkata with Madhuri, where she performed on the song. She is a very graceful person. She always says, 'Maaza aa gaya (I had fun)'

But I am really missing three key people.

First and foremost, Saroj Khanji. She choreographed this song so well. Nothing vulgar, but very sensuous. And Madhuri always did justice to her choreography.

I wish Anand Bakshi and Laxmikantji were alive today.

The 30 years celebration of the song and film would have been something else in their presence.

Many singers used to sing like Lata Mangeshkarji during that time. Do you think the uniqueness of your voice helped you back then?

It did benefit me. Change sabko accha lagta hai (Everybody likes change).

My mother always thought I didn't have a singer's voice. She never encouraged me.

When I came to Bombay, I sang a few songs for fun and people saw the difference. I was lucky that I got a chance to record my first song Morni alongside Lataji. It was a big deal for me.

People liked that song and it became a hit.

Let me tell you, all my private albums have done wonders.

Despite no visuals attached to it, it's a voice that was appreciated by the common people.

IMAGE: Ila Arun, left, in the recording studio. Photograph: Kind courtesy Ila Arun/Instagram

What is the legacy of Choli Ke Peeche?

The song has aged very well. It fits all age groups from 16 to 76.

I had a show on July 29 at NCPA in Mumbai and it was house full. Women danced on my number.

Wherever I go, the song is a part of my live concerts. I always perform the full song exactly the way Madhuriji and Neenaji did.