As many of you know, I work in a museum of world cultures, and one of my major teaching responsibilities, in the few hours a week they let me upstairs to talk to visitors, is ancient Egypt.* On the morning of a recent invasion by small children demanding to know about mummies and the Rosetta Stone, I spent a few minutes idly wondering why I don't see the Pyramids more often in film songs. Nothing says epic romance like an exotic wonder of the world! Of course there's "Suraj Hua Maddham" from Kabhi Khushi Khabie Gham, featuring excellent use of the Nile at around 5:00,
and one of my favorite A. R. Rahman songs, "Yenna Solla" from the Tamil film Kandoukondain Kandoukondain (I Have Found It) with gorgeous, gorgeous Tabu and Ajith.
What I love about this setting is that it gives extra context to its story within this couple's larger arc in the film; there's nothing particularly Egyptian about it, but the exotic location adds to the mystery of what's going on in this little dream/fantasy sequence. Plus, you know, Tabu and Ajith. They are fabulous together in this movie.
As beautiful and sensuous as these two songs are, I knew there had to be more. I tweeted the query and almost instantly got back the following list: some filmed in Egypt, one with an Egyptian character, and one...well, you'll see. I haven't seen most of these films, so the commentary is about the songs in isolation.
• This isn't from a film that I know of, but it's fun: "Mehbooba" by Pakistani singer Haroon.
I like the little scrap of aged paper (papyrus?)! But psst! Don't climb on the ruins!
• Similarly, Lucky Ali's "O Sanam." I've heard this song many times and never thought to look for a video.
• And Raageshwari's "Pyaar ke Rang," complete with helpful tour guide and fresh-scrubbed backing crew straight out of Beverly Hills 90210.
• "Wonders of the world" is the theme in "Poovukkul Olinthirukkum"/"Ajooba" from Jeans, starting with the Great Wall. Egypt appears starting at 4:02; at about 4:25 Aishwarya appears in full-on golden pharaoh gear, looking stunning as ever.
I give this one the prize for best use of Egyptian-esque ideas in a song costume. This song reminds me that there is a habit in song picturizations of women getting all the interesting costumes, particularly thematic ones (historical periods, different cultures, etc.), while the men stay in whatever romantic heroes are wearing the year the film was made and may or may not be color-coordinated with their partners. Hmmm.
• Shahid Kapoor and Amrita Rao in "Chahenge Tumhe" from Vaah! Life Ho Toh Aisi.
This looks like a very watered down, almost junior version of the K3G song above. Arm fling, embrace, peep around the ruins, kick up some sand, arm fling, embrace, and done. They could be anywhere that has walls and dirt. Shahid and Amrita could never give the sizzle that Kajol and SRK do; I don't even have strong feelings about SRKajol as a couple, but they are on fire in that song, no doubt about it. Maybe if I hadn't already seen "Suraj Hua Maddham" I'd like this better. Given the age difference of the films, I wonder if the later one is a nod to the first? Anyway. Perfectly fine but not noteworthy.
• "Jee Karda" from Singh Is King gets points for great shots of more than just the Giza monuments - Hatshepsut's mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahari, for example.
This too seems like a song that could be set anywhere, but at least they made good visual interest out of their romp through Egypt. Zahi Hawass might have a few things to say about how cast members are treating some of those ancient stones - or the lead couple themselves in "Teri Ore" from the same film!
• "Gana Gana" from the Telugu film Yogi sticks to the Pyramids and some desert landscape, but as seems to be usual for Telugu songs, there are plenty of spangly backup dancers and excited choreography.
All of these songs seem to have been costumed by a wardrobe department that enjoyed playing off the sand and sky colors of Egypt, using high-contrast colors like black, white, and hot oranges and reds.
• "Magavada Matipoyara" from Allari Bullodu from is heavy on the panting amid some monuments from Fauxgypt (as the wonderful Jenni who sent me this song describes it) before detouring into a very weird sequence at a water park that also involves a nearly strangled duck. Really. Poor duck.
• I have only recently learned about Silk Smitha and was thrilled to have a reason to post about her. Here she is playing a Cleopatra-ish character starting at about 1:14.
Frankly, I love this. It's bonkers and tacky and gleeful. Just look at that giant all-white Coliseum-y building they're dancing on! Topped by some Georgian-ish windows, as well as Egyptian palm- or papyrus-inspired columns (2:18). Plus dry ice. As you do. This whole song is well worth a watch for its imaginative traipsing through...well, I was going to say "historical epochs" but a better description might be "interiors inspired by themed casinos." Whatever. It's awesome.
• Egyptian motifs appear in smaller decorative elements in nightclubs and cabarets, such as in this NTR song from Gajadonga, this set in Maha Badmaash, and "Jaane Mujhe Tune Yeh Ka Cheez" from Naina with Shashi Kapoor, Padma Khanna, and Moushumi Chatterjee.
• In a similar vein is this song from Veta with Jayaprada and Chiranjeevi (can't be embedded—sorry!). 80s Chiru means this whole song is great, but the miniature Egyptian set pieces appear at 2:45, including a giant head perhaps inspired by Tutankhamun's burial mask, probably ancient Egypt's most famous single artifact. Warning: Chiru's outfit in this segment is very, very short.
• "Dil Mein Badi Badi Baten Hain" from Kahin Aar Kahin Paar features guys in pharaonic headgear. Read Memsaab's amazing post on the other wonders this film holds.
• "Mere Naam Ballerina" from Charas is filmed entirely in an Egyptian-inspired set features Hema Malini in excellent costumes striding out of the Sphinx's head down a stairway in a Cleopatra-y wig while raising her arms and unfolding the blue and gold stripes of her cloak (surely inspired by the Tut mask). Her backup girls pose on smaller sphinxes and Hema herself seems to transform into Isis at the climax of the first scene. Note also the wall decor (it seems a little too generous to call it a mural) depicting hunting in chariots. Excellent integration of choreography, costuming, and set! I finally saw the excellent masala-James-Bond-y Charas in January 2012 and wrote it up here.
• From Wardat (1981), Mithun, Shakti Kapoor, and others dance in a villain HQ with an amazing indoor arena type room, covered with sand and ready for masala-gladiatorial combat.
Please note the combination of Egyptian architecture and statuary with ooga-booga "tribal" costuming and a disfigured villain overlord in jodhpurs.
• From Gaddar (1973), Padma Khanna and Oscar Unger. This one is mostly sort of belly-dance-ish, I'd say, but there are pyramids in the background and some great snakes (both real and gem-encrusted).
• Sridevi in "Dushman Dil Ka Jo Hai Mere" from Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja.
Fantastic from the get-go with that entrance from a giant mask. I also like her angry sprinkler dance moves and an overall commitment to gold.
• Zeenat Aman and Rajesh Khanna in "Electricity" (or so youtube calls it) from Chhailla Babu. Before you click, be warned that Rajesh has some of the worst hair I've ever seen in a movie. Zeenat makes a brief appearance in an ancient Egyptian type get-up, as well as several others. I haven't seen this film but it seems that Rajesh is hallucinating some of what we see, possibly by what Zeenat has put in his water as she hunts him through one of those 70s masala giant living rooms. Clearly this is going on the "to watch" list.
• I don't know who all is in this awesome Tamil song "Pattathu Rani" from Sivantha Mann, but it is great (if a bit sadomasocistic).
• "Manathe Chandiran" form Priyadarshan's Chandralekha.
• Kamal Hassan in "Siriya Paravai Siragai Virikka" from Andha Oru Nimidam. This one has a lovely selection of styles, with the Egyptian segment, complete with tinsel-coated pyramids, at 0:50.
Of course Kamal Hassan is going to be involved in more than one of these songs, right? I have no idea what this next one is called or what movie it's from, but it has some Egptian, some...Roman?, and some...disco? elements. Click here to see it in all its golden blinking glory. Both of these fabulous finds are by Jenni from the Bollywhat forums! And here he is again, this time amid various ancient mavels, in "Pattukkannam Thoddukolla" from Kakki Sattai.
• "Oho Madhumagale" from Ranaranga. There is much to love in this one, including blue-green pyramids, lots of hand-painted art, and an actual camel.
• "Poo Medaiyo" from Aayiram Pookkal Malarattum (it gets Egyptian at about 1:35—and not just visually!).
• Sadhana in "Zubaan-e-Yaar" from Ek Musafir Ek Haseena. The Egyptian part starts at 2:29 in that link. I think this is the oldest entry I have so far, and it's the only one in black and white. It's fun to see how the traits of ancient Egyptian aesthetics are translated without gold and bright blue—and pleasingly, sphinxes and cobra headdresses do not need color to make their impact.
• "Sham Bheegi Bheegi" from Gehri Chaal. This movie looks fantastic overall but I include this song because of Bindu's amazing wallpaper at about 3:50. And no, that is not a metaphor.
• "Megam Udaythu" from Maayi gallops through several historical epochs with accompanying short togas.
• And best for last: Rajnikanth in "Om Zaarare" from Kuselan (which may or may not have inspired Billu) doing the kinds of things Rajnikanth does...in a glorious, completely staged/CGI Egyptian-ish palace.
This may be very very Vegas, but I like to think that pharaohs would appreciate all the bling, colors, shiny surfaces, impressively coordinated slo-mo walking, ability to multiply themselves, and dishoom sound effects, as well as the heroine's headpieces. Imagine Ramesses II racing through the desert smiting enemies WHOOSH WHOOSH. I also really like the aquatic platform with what look like giant Horus statues and dancers in color-coordinating lunghi and shirts. I'd like to know why Rajnikanth's hair is so red in parts of the song; on the other hand, why frustrate yourself seeking the unknowable? As if all this weren't enough, the hopping guards are downright Monty Python. Squeeee!
• Honorable mention: they're not from a song, but there are a few scenes in The Great Gambler of Amitabh and Zeenat in Cairo, including this one with the pyramids in the background.
* Why yes, I am really lucky and have the best job ever!