If you want to feel old, just know that it’s been 20 years since ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’ or ‘Thayya Thayya’ released. The song from Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se (Uyire in Tamil), is best remembered for Malaika Arora dancing on top of a moving train with Shah Rukh Khan.
Probably the most popular number from the album, AR Rahman‘s ‘Thayya Thayya’ and the Hindi version ‘Chayya Chayya’ became overnight superhits. The Hindi song, in fact, featured as one of the top 10 songs of all-time in an international poll conducted by BBC World Service. People from 155 countries voted for the song, making it bag the ninth place in the list. This was no mean feat, considering there was no Internet back then to make local songs go viral internationally.
Fast forward to 2011, and the song became famous in Indonesia after a policeman recorded himself lip-syncing to it and uploaded the feat on YouTube. Called ‘Crazy Gorontalo Police’, the song became a sensation in the island country.
Interestingly, the song was originally composed for AR Rahman’s Vande Mataram album which released a year earlier, in 1997. However, it didn’t quite fit in and the composer decided to play it for Mani Ratnam when the director came to him with Dil Se.
The Tamil song was sung by Malgudi Subha, Sukhwinder Singh, and Palakkad Sriram and is based on Sufi folk music. The Hindi one was sung by AR Rahman, Sukhwinder Singh, and Sapna Awasthi. While the peppy beats meant that it immediately caught on with young people, the dramatic visuals made sure that it still has great recall value.
The song was shot on top of the train to Ooty and the dance was choreographed by Farah Khan. Though it looks incredibly dangerous, the cast and crew have said that no camera tricks were used, and that except a unit member who tripped and got hurt, the shooting was rather uneventful. Santosh Sivan was the cinematographer.
In the last 20 years, the song has seen several remixes, including one which was used for Inside Man. It also featured in the American sitcom Outsourced (in the background) and even CSI: Miami. It was played during the opening ceremony of the 2010 Commonwealth Games held in Delhi in 2010.