420 in India of the 1970s: Dum Maro Dum & Zeenat Aman

420 in India of the 1970s: Dum Maro Dum & Zeenat Aman

Retro Bollywood is usually only associated with flowery romance or hyper melodrama. However, the 1970s stand out for how far Bollywood experimentation was taken during this decade. The queen of all things bold was certainly Zeenat Aman and if there’s one song that could be said to have captured the zeitgeist of the era, it won’t be any other than ‘Dum Maro Dum’ from Dev Anand’s 1971 hit ‘Hare Rama, Hare Krishna’..

Hare Rama, Hare Krishna’ was based on the Hippie Trail in Kathmandu, Nepal, the overland journey taken by members of the hippie subculture from the mid-1950s to late 1970s from Europe to South Asia.

Sidharth Bhatia, author of Cinema Modern: The Navketan Story (2011) writes, “During one of his periodic visits to Kathmandu, Anand was taken to a hippie commune where he saw groups of unwashed, underdressed young men and women, all of them white, passing around chillums and swaying to the music. Among them was one solitary brown face, a young girl who intrigued the actor enough for him to make enquiries. She met him at his hotel and told her story: She had left Canada after her immigrant parents had divorced and had joined a group of hippies, eventually finding her way to the eastern Shangri-La. Her name was Jasbir but everyone knew her as Janice. Yes, she had heard of Anand. But no, she had no intention of joining the film business.”

Dev Anand found his Janice in the 20-year-old USA-returned Zeenat Aman who had very recently won both, Femina Miss India and the Miss Asia Pacific in 1970. The whirlpool-like psychedelic beats of the song coupled with Aman, at her sultry best, smoking a marijuana pipe whilst singing euphorically, provided a cult-like status to the song and almost became a youth anthem. Aman, with her international looks and seductive style, almost became the poster girl for the hippie culture in India.

The 1970s was also when the Western dissent had found its way into India. An increasingly modernising youth sought a break from tradition and ‘Dum Maro Dum’ seemed to provide just the right gateway to it.

Bhatia further says, “Hare Rama Hare Krishna was sunny, in keeping with the popular culture of the time, with lush locales, pertinent fashion and great songs. But there was a dark undercurrent to it, reflected in the moodiness of the hippie gatherings and the tragic end of it all.” The decade that saw the most intense doldrums of political action, the most memorable Emergency in the history of India, and the most “cynical coalition politics”, as Bhatia calls it, had begun with a smooth sense of desire for freedom. Little would anyone have known what would become of a decade that had begun with this swirling psychedelic hit.

Perhaps, however, it was the spirit of “tune in, turn on and drop out” that made us survive the tumultuous decade.

Some interesting facts about the song:

  • The song was originally intended to be a duet with Lata Mangeshkar and Usha Uthup. However, it came to be sung by Asha Bhosle with bits of Usha Uthup remaining.
  • It stayed for more than 18 weeks on the Binaca Geetmala show and became a ‘Sartaj Geet’
  • It has been covered by several influential national and international collectives, one of those being Soul Frank Band Botown adapting it on the album ‘The Soul of Bollywood.’

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