I remember my dad taking me to the movie theater when the Bollywood film “Om Shanti Om” came out 16 years ago. This was a monumental experience — it was the first time I saw the dance sequence to the song “Dhoom Taana.” The harmonizing of the first new notes from the orchestra to the sound of the gong introducing the loud beat of the drums is still by far my favorite hook in music.
I had no idea what the artists were singing, but I didn’t have to — the powerful energy captivated me enough to fall in love with Bollywood music and claim “Om Shanti Om” as my favorite movie at just five years old. From begging my parents to play “Dhoom Taana” in the car as a kid to now hearing them play it on the speakers every time I come home from college, I’m not the only Desi-American who used and still uses Bollywood music as a connection to their culture.
Bollywood music, also known as Filmi Geet, is the soundtracks from movies made in Mumbai, India. The popularity behind the Bollywood film industry unifies the South Asian community as a celebration of their cultural identity no matter where they are in the world, according to computer science junior and Cal Poly Indian Association President (ISA) Dev Masrani.
“It’s a bond that we have regardless of who we are or what we do,” Masrani said. “Bollywood music has the impact of uniting many different individuals and putting them in the same room.”
Bollywood music was not just a genre to Masrani during his childhood, but an experience. Going out to watch Bollywood movies with his family and performing at Bollywood dancing competitions made the genre an important part of experiencing his culture.
He was even able to form close relationships over one night at a Bollywood dance show, bonding with the other performers.
“We decided to hang out and just drive around blasting Bollywood music. These people I had randomly met at a Bollywood show quickly became my best friends,” Masrani said.
Masrani recommends listening to the Bollywood song “Kabira” from the movie “Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.”
“The vocals on the song are truly beautiful,” Masrani said. “You don’t hear songs with those kinds of vocals anymore.”
Even though Bollywood music is a way for Desi-Americans to bond over their cultural identity, Masrani said Bollywood music is celebrated in other cultures across the world such as in African and Middle Eastern countries.
“There are many people worldwide who love Bollywood music,” Masrani said.
Graphic communications senior Ayesha Gokhale recommends listening to any song from the “Main Hoon Na” soundtrack.
“It’s got some popular early 2000s bangers and is very nostalgic,” Gokhale said.
The Bollywood film industry has produced soundtracks since the 1930s, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. The beauty of the genre’s long history is it unifies people across multiple generations, Gokhale said.
“My brother [learned] how to play the song ‘Iktara’ on the guitar for my grandpa’s birthday while I sang the lyrics,” Gokhale said. “Three generations of our family are obsessed with that song.”
Gokhale considers Bollywood music not just a connection to others but also a way to understand her own cultural identity.
“Bollywood was extremely important in keeping me connected to a place that, in other ways, felt far away,” Gokhale said.
While Bollywood music is sung in Hindi, the predominant language in Northern India, the genre is influenced by the music that makes up the different regions in India and the rest of the world. Gokhale said she wishes people knew about the versatility of different cultures that make up the genre.
“Many songs that brand themselves as Hindi and Bollywood are actually bitten and translated from South Indian songs,” Gokhale said. “Much of the most popular Hindi music was originally made for South Indian movies in South Indian languages that never get recognition [such as] Tamil, Kannada and Telugu.”
Business administration junior Sanjana Dadi recommends listening to the Bollywood song “Ye Ishq Hai” from the movie “Jab We Met.”
Bollywood music has been a way for Dadi to build memories, such as having a silent disco night in her room with her roommate listening to their favorite Bollywood songs.
“It brings my friends and family together and allows us to appreciate each other’s presence,” Dadi said. “It’s something I can enjoy with those who enjoy it as much as I do and I will forever cherish those moments.”
Bollywood music is known for its high energy and infectious rhythms which makes it a staple in Desi celebrations, according to computer science freshman Pallavi Das. It’s an aux go-to for South Asian festivals, weddings and social gatherings “where people come together to dance and sing.”
Das recommends listening to the upbeat and energetic “Sadi Gali” from the movie “Tanu Weds Manu.”
Das is currently on Cal Poly’s competitive Bollywood dance team, Andaaz. She enjoys the moments when she can be with her community and celebrate her culture through Bollywood music, especially at a predominantly white institution (PWI) like Cal Poly.
“It’s rare to see our culture widely appreciated,” Das said. “When I went to my friend’s birthday party recently, the only music she was playing was Bollywood music, which was such a nice change. Everyone was singing and dancing along to the songs and it was a fun environment I felt very connected to.”
The genre also plays an important role in understanding other aspects of Desi culture such as filmmaking. Bollywood music in films is usually performed as extravagant musical numbers that are a crucial part of their storytelling. Audiences are able to emotionally connect to the messages behind the music in films, Das said.
Bollywood music is constantly changing and evolving with a wide range of languages, cultural influences and styles, according to Das. However, all Bollywood music acts as a symbol for the expression of one’s cultural identity.
“It serves as a powerful medium of cultural expression, reflecting the traditions, values and emotions of the Indian community,” Das said.
Listen to KCPR’s Bollywood playlist to hear some song recommendations from Cal Poly students.