There are some films that are a huge deal when they are released, and fade away into obscurity over time. Sometimes it’s because of the marketing machine and sometimes the film is something different enough for people to take notice, but there are always ever shinier trinkets to pay attention to and their time in the limelight passes. The 2002 film Kaante is one such film, whose large star cast and novel execution for the time made it an important milestone. It still is a milestone in some ways, part of which is the piece of the film that most survives in present memory, the song Mahi ve.
Kaante was a strange film, to say the least. A copy of Reservoir Dogs, slickly produced, shot entirely in Los Angeles (a first for Hindi films), colour graded to the extreme (at a time when colour grading was just beginning to make itself more visible in the rest of Hindi cinema), and sporting a large star cast, including the then resurgent Amitabh Bachchan. It was not unexpected that this garnered a lot of attention. If all that wasn’t enough, there was this song danced to by the ever popular Malaika Arora doing what she does consistently well, but in the relatively alien environment of a strip-club surrounded by exotic dancers and quirky lighting. While she played a more minor role in the film than the men of the cast, this song earned her a place on the theatrical posters of the film. Because you could be sure this song was what many would have gone into the cinemas to actually see.
The song itself is a quirky beast. In retrospect it might seem perfectly normal because it is like any number of songs you see in Hindi cinema today, but it was the first of its breed. You have some very traditional folksy singing by Richa Sharma and Sukhwinder Singh both of whom sing with a great amount of power and emotion, and yet the music and instrumentation by Anand Raj Anand are exceedingly modern and electronic, using some very non-traditional synths and sound samples to produce a complex chorus to the voices.
To add even more to the traditional column is the extremely old-school romantic poetry of the lyrics, in equals parts Hindi and Punjabi, penned by Dev Kohli. They are filled with pathos and longing, in keeping with the mood of the movie, with such lines as:
Ek taraf ishq hai tanha tanha
Ek taraf husn hai ruswa ruswa
Dono bebas hue hain kiuch aise
Kare to kisse kare hum shikwa
There lies love forlorn
Here beauty stands disgraced
We’re both so utterly helpless
We have no one to turn to, to mourn
In 2002, Mahi ve from Kaante was a strange song in a strange film. While the movie might not have lasted too long in popular memory other than as a quirky footnote, this song survives and is still listened to with enthusiasm. Sanjay Gupta‘s derivative but extremely strong cinematic style, shot by cinematographer Kurt Brabbee might explain some of the lasting magic, as would Malaika Arora‘s unmistakable presence. But mostly, Mahi ve is just a very good song sung with a lot of heart, with music whose every incongruous distort is remembered long after it stops playing.