When Pehla nasha, from Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, first played on screens large and small in 1992, and Aamir Khan appeared in a loud red shirt and flung his sweater into the picturesque landscape behind him, in slow motion, you knew something had changed and that something new was beginning. Pehla nasha went on to establish many firsts, firsts that would change the way Hindi songs were made and visualised for the decades to follow.
On the most visual level, Pehla nasha was the first Hindi song to be shot almost completely in slow motion. That in itself is not a great feat, but then you realise that Hindi songs have actors mouthing the lyrics, and they seem to be doing so at regular speed in this song. This required them all to mouth a vastly sped-up version of the song as they danced, and the high speed film was then slowed down by an equal factor to slow down the motion while having the words appear at a normal pace. A complicated maneuver, which after this song became a fairly standard effect, still used often in Hindi song videos today.
This song launched Farah Khan into the role of lead choreographer, having only been an assistant before it. It also introduced the Bollywood world to her brand of casual dance, far removed from the synchronised, stage-show antics that had been the main-stay of Hindi cinema for many decades preceding this song. With Pehla nasha, the film song once again became a spectacle and it’s own art form rather than mere supporting material, with the dance choreographer playing a much larger role in the direction of song videos than ever before, This directly led to some of the very experimental work by Farah Khan in Dil Se some years later.
Most of all, though, Pehla nasha is remembered, and will always be remembered, for being one of the most magical songs to ever grace the Hindi screen. The veteran Majrooh Sultanpuri gifted it with his usual brand of concise poetry in the lyrics, and the duo of Jatin-Lalit exploded into the scene after a couple of luke-warm outings as music directors. The beautiful piano that forms the spine of this song and the supporting guitar riffs became a sort of signature sound, and they went on to a very prolific musical career over the next decade.
To most, Pehla nasha is not the technical and cultural marvel that I’ve just described, but simply one of the most potent romantic melodies of an era. As with such songs of every time, many will have fond or painful memories of their life etched around this song, and that more than anything will live on. With such lines as:
Ek kar doon aasman aur zameen
Kaho yaaron kya karoon, kya nahin
I’d make the sky and the Earth one, if I could
Tell me, my friends, what I shouldn’t do, or should
… the song captured a certain confused, raw, innocence, perhaps even naivete, about love that few songs had done so well before, and a whole generation identified with it, enough to ignore the gangly adults pretending to be school kids on screen. The emotion was captured well, and in the end, that’s all that mattered.