After watching Jab Tak Hai Jaan, my husband asked me what I thought "challa" meant.
The "Challa" song - composed by A.R. Rahman with lyrics by Gulzar and sung by Rabbi Shergill - is one of the most important songs and item numbers in this film. The song portrays the daily routine life of the character Samar Anand (Shah Rukh Khan) who resides in London. To lend the role more authenticity, Shah Rukh learned the guitar chords of the song so he could strum along. Gulzar received a Filmfare award for best lyrics.
Based on the English subtitles, I supposed "challa" meant "wanderer". It turns out that "challa" has multiple meanings. Bollymeaning.com explains:
Challa is as such a simple thing, a ring. However, this challa comes from the word, Jhalla, which is Hindi, used for someone who is mad, someone who's not orderly.
The meaning of Challa may vary across poetry, across compositions, however, mostly it means a young man, someone who's a little crazy, someone in love, or someone who just roams around freely.
This definition works on many levels - at the time our hero is a young man who seems to be wandering about doing different things with his life just to make ends meet but with no clear direction. He also seems a little crazy because he generally puts his heart above his head. Of course, this approach to life ultimately helps him connect with people he meets in a deeper and more memorable way.
But I focused in on the idea of "someone who is mad ... who's a little crazy" concept because, for me, the three main characters all display a kind of madness borne out of their various passions.
For Samar Anand it was his love for people and particularly for Meera Thappar (Katrina Kaif). For Meera it was her love and faith in the hand of God in her life. And for Akira Rai (Anushka Sharma) it was her desire to be a filmmaker.
Samar accuses Meera of going mad after she tells him of her choice following his motorcycle accident. And you can see the madness deepening within Samar as he listens to Meera's words.
The madness of our heroes comes out strongly in the confrontations between Akira Rai and Samar Anand. After learning about Samar's back story, Akira gets herself embedded with with the Indian Army Bomb Disposal Squad to film a documentary for the Discovery Channel. When Akira accidentally sets off a bomb, Samar shields her from the explosion then reprimands her:
Samar: Now you will not come with us, you'll go back from here!
Akira: No, soldier, I am not going back, I am coming with you.
Samar: The road ahead is dangerous, you will not be able to manage.
Akira: Soldier, this is my life's one and only chance. I'll cope with anything. Please, I'm sorry!
Samar: Akira! Look, you're an okay girl, you're brave too, but this is not possible for untrained girls or boys. Listen to me and forget this story.
Akira: If I asked you to forget Meera, will you forget her? There is always this one passion, that a person has. For you it's Meera, for me my passion is your story. I'm not going!
Realizing Akira won't give up so easily, Samar accepts that she will stay on and she becomes more engaged with the rest of the members of the squad. A few days later, Akira's camera is damaged and it looks like this is the end of her documentary dreams.
But the next morning as she is getting ready to leave, several members of the squad run up to her with a now-functioning camera. They explain that Samar is brilliant with electronics and stayed up all night to repair the damage. Akira, who has begun flirting a bit with Samar, approaches him to find out why someone who seems so resistant to her cared enough to do this.
Akira: First tell me ... why did you stay up all night and fix my camera?
Samar: You spoke about passion. When someone is passionate about something and doesn't get it, he spends a lifetime going mad chasing it. There's one mad man standing in front of you. There is no place here for another mad person. So pick up your camera, fulfill your passion and leave.
Akira: Try as hard as you can, you won't save me from going mad.
Of course, the final word on the term "challa" should come from Jab Tak Hai Jaan's director, Yash Chopra. In his 2012 conversation with Shah Rukh Khan, Chopra explained:
Challa means: What are you looking for? What are you searching for? It is love, this passion, this search ... and you are the creator.... What are you looking for? Who are you looking for? This is the character Samar Anand's song in the whole film, this song is in the Punjabi language and ... a beautiful song. You belong to everybody but nobody's yours. ...This song is the song of the film, of Shah Rukh Khan as the character Samar Anand. In the whole film he's in search of love. When you sing in terms of a romantic song ... it is a special song, it is a painful song.
But actions often speak louder than words, so one has to appreciate that near the end of the film Samar fashions a ring out of wire - a challa conclusion to a challa story.
Enjoy the "Challa" song from Jab Tak Hai Jaan followed by a version with the lyrics so you can appreciate the Punjabi poetry and maybe sing along!
Read the lyrics and find out more about this song at Lyrics Mint.
If you liked this, check out some of our other A.R.Rahman, Yash Chopra, or Music Monday posts.