As much of a startling change to the landscape of Hindi film music as A.R. Rahman was in the mid-1990s, his transition from Tamil films to mainstream Hindi cinema was also a gradual one from the audience’s perspective. He only showed up on the average film-fan’s radar with the release of the Hindi dub of Roja and its music in 1994. The film had been released in the original Tamil two years earlier and was Rahman’s first outing as music director, but the Hindi songs that came out of the later release sealed his place in minds of a much larger audience. It also explains the popularity of the songs of Thiruda Thiruda at the time; the people wanted to hear more, even if it was in a different language. However, it all really started with Roja, and Yeh haseen wadiyan remains one of the memorable tracks from the film that’s still played often after nearly two decades.
The song is a great example of how and why Roja created an impact at the time. It was shot in Kashmir, which by that time was already a powder-keg of troubles. While its picturesque locales had been a popular filming location in past decades, the growing violence and terrorist activity had all but put a stop to that. And Roja was a film precisely about this issue. The cast also helped to an extent. While Arvind Swamy was an unknown to Hindi audiences, the actress Madhoo had starred on one Hindi film, Phool Aur Kaante, which had been quite the hit. To top it all off, the film managed to tackle a hot topic, be melodramatic and patriotic, while also at its core being a romance. It allowed the entertainment seekers to be entertained, those looking for meaning to be satisfied, and everyone was happy.
Yeh haseen wadiyan is beautifully shot by Santosh Sivan and directed by Mani Ratnam, because in another strange choice for the time, the song is a music montage of sorts rather than the more traditional mouthing of lyrics and dancing deal. And there’s only a lot of walking between trees. The song was also different because as Indian actresses go, Madhoo was not the most outrageous looking, and here clad in a simple saree for the most part, the song appears positively homely. Here’s a normal South Indian girl with her husband in Kashmir, and then cut to scenes of them in bed. After a very straight-jacketed 1970s and 80s, this very frank acknowledgement of sex even existing would have been a startling change. As conservative as South India was and is still considered, at the time, the cinema from the south was a lot more frank about all matters sexual, and this transplantation into Hindi film culture was sure to not have gone un-noticed.
In spite of being his debut in films, the music already had A.R. Rahman‘s signature electronica and uses of eclectic sounds as instrumentation. The singers S. P. Balasubrahmanyam and Chithra were the other oddity. They were both South Indian playback singers of repute, and while Balasubrahmanyam had sung several Hindi songs before, Chitra was new at it. The singing was excellent, but the South India flavour of the diction was unmistakable, making this a strange and new experience on every level. P.K. Mishra wrote the Hindi lyrics, filled with romantic staples such as:
F: Jee karta hai saajna, dil mein tumko bitha loon
M: Aa masti ki raat mein, apna tumko bana loon
F: Uthne lage hain toofan kyun, mere seene mein ay sanam
M: Tumhein chaahoonga dilon jaan se, meri jaanejaan teri kasam
F: My fervent desire, my love, is to place you in my heart.
M: In this night of pleasure, let me make you mine, let us never be apart.
F: Why have storms begun to rise in my chest, my dear?
M: I will always love you with all my life, I swear, you need never fear.
… mushy, as it should be in a romantic film, even if it has terrorists, and thoroughly entertaining. In spite of all the historical contexts and how Roja was a milestone in Hindi film history, however, Yeh haseen wadiyan remains a popular song because of beautiful music, heartfelt singing and its ability to mentally transport you to a different place.