31 May 2018

A Greek song about Madhubala

My obsession with Greece began ten years ago, when, in my second year of college, I opted for Greek and Indian Classics as one of my papers. I borrowed a book on Greek mythology, avidly discussed Homer and Euripedes and Aristotle's views on friendship, and made a wonderful Greek penpal, Sophie - my first friend from this beautiful country. From her, I learned that there is an island in Greece just like my name*, and about Yannis Markopoulos' Liturgy of Orpheus, based on Orphic poems and possibly my favourite character from Greek mythology.

I did not write that

I travelled to Greece seven years later to finally visit Sophie, who is a singer, among many other things. Every drawing of Orpheus and his lyre stood out to me, whether at museums or on a set of coasters (I bought the latter). I attended a concert in the awe-inspiring Odeon of Herodes Atticus theatre. And while visiting Santorini, I had the luck of being there during the Caldera Arts and Literature Festival in Oia and attended a concert of Cretan folk music by the Ross Daly Quartet. I was wonderstruck.


The Ross Daly Quartet performing at Atlantis Books in 2014 (not the one I saw).

2015 Caldera Arts & Literature Festival from Atlantis Books on Vimeo. I can be seen a few times but I won't say when!

I miss Greece, with its blue waters and kind people. I found a Greek restaurant in Delhi that somewhat made up for it, but it has since closed. I am yet to taste good moussaka here. But in February this year, when I found out, after a lot of investigation, that four Greek musicians would be performing rebetiko and other Greek tunes in Delhi, I knew I had to go. And it was at this concert, amidst melodies of old mountain songs, fire-walking rituals and Cretan dancing, that I found out that there is yet another connection between our countries: Bollywood music of the 1950s and 60s.

About halfway through the programme, the four musicians (Nikos Paraoulakis - ney; James Wylie - politiki lyra; Avgerini Gatsi - voice, accordion; Thimios Atzakas - oud) paused and explained to us that they would now play songs that were not quite folk, but a special category altogether: Indian movie songs from the 1950s/60s, that were reintroduced to Greek audiences with Greek lyrics. They proceeded to play a song in which the only word I recognised was "Madhubala", but which was fascinating nonetheless.

I decided to learn more about this bit of history, aided by a playlist that Sophie sent me. Apparently Hindi movies were cheaply accessible, and screened in Greek cinemas with new titles and translated subtitles. Nate Rabe wrote in Scroll.in:
Though they understood not a word of Hindi, Greek audiences connected with the themes of films such as Mother India (renamed Land Drenched in Sweat), Paapi, Aan, Awara and Shri 420. The unrelenting crush of poverty, a fast-changing society, new roles for women, not to mention the glamour and fantasy all captivated the heart.

The Greek version of the popular Hindi song "Pyaar Hua Ikraar Hua" by Petros Anagnostakis

The influence of Bollywood's music blended with the popular Greek music of the time to form a whole new genre called "Indo-prepi" (Hindi-style). In an interview with The Times of India Blogs, Helen Abadzi, a scholar on the subject, said:
The number of songs that were adapted from Hindi movies is considerable. From the 111 movies known to have come as well as from others whose importation is uncertain, 105 Greek renditions were identified. Many came from the best known movies: Awaara, Sri 420, Mother India, Ghar Sansaar, Laajwanti, and Aan
Many Hindi songs engendered duplicates, triplicates, and quadruplicates. For example, "Pyar hua ikraar hua" (Sri 420) and "Gao tarane man ke" (Aan) have four renditions. "Unchhi, unchhi duniya ki deewaron" (Naagin) and "Aa jao tadapte hain armaan" (Awaara) have three. At least 10 others have duplicates. 
Of all songs, 57 (55%) have a great similarity with pre-existing songs; 25 (24%) deviate significantly from the originals, 16 (16%) are partial renditions, where other melodies are mixed with Hindi, and 5 (5%) use only some musical bars. Most Hindi song copies were temporary hits or remained obscure. However, 11 were still known among the general public in 1998, about 35 years later.
She later added that because "Indian composers at that time typically gave up their rights to the music and movie companies and they only kept performing rights, they would not have gotten any money from Greece" - though she did contact an old company that issued many of the songs and managed to get some royalties. (Download a PDF by Abadzi titled "When India Conquered Greece" here.)

However, in a Greece that increasingly wanted to identify as a part of western Europe, both Indian cinema and indo-prepi tunes faced a backlash from those who felt that this was holding them back from modernisation (it was rendered in a musical style largely favoured by refugees from Asia Minor and poorer people, with Urdu considered too close to Turkish), as well as, it seems, annoyed by the popularity of Indian actresses overshadowing local stars ("tearful Nargis is much more popular than Vouyouklaki").

I hope to someday research and learn more about this exchange. In the meantime, there's a playlist to loop.


*Crete, spelled and pronounced "Kriti" in Greek. I also found that according to at least one source, "Kriti" means "creation" in both Greek and Hindi. As a side note, "Kriti" is also a form of composition in the Indian Carnatic music tradition. And while we're talking about music, my birthday is on World Music Day. It's coming up.

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