Mirch Masala to Ram-Leela: B’Wood Nails Navratri on the Big Screen

Hindi cinema has been portraying Navratri and Durga puja on screen since decades. 

Indian Cinema
3 min read

For the last so many years, Navratri festival has been very special for the film fraternity, thanks to dancing to Bollywood tunes in garba pandals for nine days. Producers nearing October releases make sure to distribute audios of their forthcoming films to these venues so the soundtracks become popular with the audience.

Not any longer, because in the last few years copyright has become a major issue and organisers can no longer afford to play film songs. Therefore, star performers like Falguni Pathak have gone back to singing original Gujarati garbas. In a way it is a blessing in disguise because the new law has brought the festival back to its original avtaar.

Looking back, it was music composer Viju Kalyanji Shah who started the trend of playing live band for nine days at navratri pandals in Mumbai. They were often visited by big stars like Amitabh Bachchan in the ’90s. Gradually the trend caught on and in the coming years, younger composers like Aadesh Shrivastava and Himesh Reshammiya made most of the celebratory mood on the dandiya nights.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who portrayed vibrant garbas in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, is a much-in-demand director during the festival because he makes it a point to travel all over Gujarat during these nine days to study and appreciate new dance forms of India. Bhansali believes that if we can travel across continents to attend film festivals, why not cities to absorb our festivities and culture.

I have decided to spend every Navratri in the interiors of Gujarat. The masti, the magic and the sound of dhol is enough to get the adrenaline flowing.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Director

As the city gears up for nine musical nights, I list my memorable navratri moments on the big screen.

The first time the audience was introduced to Gujarat’s traditional garba was in Govind Saraiya’s Saraswatichandra in 1968. Even though Main to bhool chali babool ka desh was not exactly an ode to the goddess, it was a musical moment that marked a turning point in the film.

Almost a decade later, it needed another Gujarati director to convert the household folklore Hey rang lo into Hey ram re featuring Rekha and Amitabh clicking dandiyas in Manmohan K Desai’s Suhaag.

Ketan Mehta revealed glimpses of the authentic art form in Bhavni Bhavai and a few years later in Mirch Masala, where garba was portrayed in its purest form with magical visuals of the village belles bending and twirling in mirror work skirts, clapping and racing in circles.

In the ’80s Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla comfortably converted the folk dance in to the universally accepted disco dandiya for Love Love Love and in the ’90s, filmmaker Vinay Shukla celebrated Shabana Azmi’s victory as a political leader with a robust all female dace Raja ki kahani in Godmother.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Dholi taro in Hum Dil de Chuke Sanam ushered a new era of magnificence in melody, costumes and choreography, representing a vibrant Gujarat and the audience was mesmerised. Bhansali lived up to the promise again in Ram Leela also based in Gujarat.


Bengal’s Durga uja has been a recurrent motif in parallel cinema, be it Satyajit Ray’s Devi or Aparna Sen’s Paroma. Hindi mainstream cinema too has portrayed myriad moments of the mighty goddess through the decades, be it Shakti Samanta’s Barsaat Ki Ek Raat, Rakesh Roshan’s Karan Arjun, Kalpana Lajmi’s Daman, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas or recently Vidya Balan’s Kahani.

Hindi cinema has been portraying Navratri and Durga puja on screen since decades. 
Durga puja plays an important role in the climax of Vidya Balan’s Kahaani
Senior actress Hema Malini has played all the avatars of the goddesses in her dance ballets on stage; she enacted goddess Amba in a teleserial and goddess Kali in a southern remake that was a blockbuster in all the languages.

Down south, Navratri is celebrated as Gollu when the goddess comes home and the host invites friends and family to seek her blessings. The extraordinary custom was beautifully portrayed in Naya Din Nayi Raat, where the heroine Jaya Bhaduri meets Sanjeev Kumar as nine remarkable characters on one single night. In the climax, all the eight characters reappear to bless Jaya Bhaduri and Sanjeev Kumar at their wedding and Jaya sitting before the fire discreetly briefs her groom about all of them.

(Bhawana Somaaya has been writing on cinema for 30 years and is the author of 12 books. Twitter: @bhawanasomaaya)

(This article is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 4 October 2016. It is now being republished to mark Navratri.)

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