‘Hawaa Hawaa’ from Rockstar (2011) is one of A R Rahman’s most playful tracks with intricate musical arrangements and melodic twists that won my heart the very first time I heard it eight years ago this month. Have you ever wondered what’s up with those quirky words in the song and the strange tale that Ranbir’s character Jordan sings about? Well, there’s a story behind that!
By the time the director Imtiaz Ali briefed the lyricist Irshad Kamil, A R Rahman had already composed the tune. Imtiaz Ali wanted to retain some of the gibberish that A R Rahman had used in the draft version of the song. In addition, Imtiaz Ali had another request for Irshad Kamil. In the movie, this song takes place on the streets of Prague (Czech Republic) where Jordan goes for a musical tour to collaborate with local musicians and artists. A R Rahman had given this song a gypsy vibe with major strings portions. (In one of his interviews, he referred to this track as “the gypsy song”!) Given this context, Imtiaz Ali wanted to adapt a Czech folk tale called ‘Sleepy John’ into the lyrics of this song.
Irshad Kamil, being a masterful wordsmith that he is, brilliantly adapted elements of this story into the lyrics of this song which has more twists and turns than a country road! He discarded some irrelevant parts of the story and turned the spotlight away from the eponymous character. Instead, he chose to focus on the queen’s character who clearly had parallels with Heer (Nargis Fakhri) in the movie. He retained a few interesting things from the story. In the original story, the queen squandered as many as twelve shoes every night during her escapades (“baarah jooton ko ghise rani”). The king hired a spy to find out where she eloped every night (“khabri ko paas pukaara, yeh kya hai maajra”) The spy discovers that the queen descends into the Hell every night to dance with a crowd of devils (“rani ko ghar se…raaton ko dozakh mein jaate dekha”).
In the movie, Heer frequently flees from her home to party, visit night clubs, and dance with Jordan (Ranbir Kapoor), just like how the queen chose to dance with the devils instead of spending her nights with her husband (the king). Jordan is tangentially referred to (in the song) as the devil, perhaps because he is having an affair with a married woman. The queen in the original story doesn’t have much of an agency; she’s just a reckless person who enjoys dancing with the devils every night. Irshad Kamil, however, gives her voice in the song. When she is caught with her secrets and the king is furious to find out what she’s been up to, in the original story she plainly asks the earth to swallow her, and she does get swallowed by the earth. However, in Hawaa Hawaa, the queen’s reply is ruminative and makes you sympathize with her: “These walls of gold can’t give me happiness. Please set me free, my lord! Take my wealth away and let me go.” (“sone ki deewarein, mujhe khushi naa yeh de paayein, aazaadi de de mujhe mere khuda, le le tudaulat aur kar de riha”) Apart from the delightful melodic detour of this line, this woeful disclosure from the queen really elevates the song emotionally. It makes it more poignant and relevant to Heer’s plight in the movie.
In one of his interviews in 2013, Irshad Kamil mentioned that it took him as many as ten days to complete the lyrics of this song, which, according to him that was the longest time it took him to write a song! Coincidentally, according to A R Rahman, this was also the most difficult song (to compose) for him in this album.
The Czech folk tale can be found here: https://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/kog/kog08.htm