The old intensity of love for the nation that smouldered in our parents’ hearts is missing in ours. As patriotic songs grow faint in our films, MUNMUN GHOSH spools back the soul-tugging music that can still set hearts aflame.
In this age of globalisation, double citizenship and netizenship, with cultural lines blurring fast, it’s sometimes difficult to gather what it means to be an Indian, for surely India like every country is more than a geographical entity. What marks us out from people of other nationalities? What are the core values and philosophy that drive Indians? What is so good about India that we can be proud of? What aspects do we need to hold on to fast, cherish and grow diligently, as responsible citizens, to contribute to the well-being of the entire human community? Independence Day behoves us to pause and reflect.
Interestingly enough, Bollywood has answers to all these questions. Bollywood, that can be roundly credited for putting Hindi on the lips of almost every Indian living in far-flung states and unifying us in a way, has faithfully carried forth the torch of patriotism down the years, primarily through numerous songs embedded in films that kindle love for the motherland and inspire you to throw yourself into the work of nation-building with passion, long after the films recede from your mind. Soaked in modern fashionable scepticism, you may ask with a shrug what is so special about India? Good old Bollywood will remind you of what is special and what you have forgotten, in words and music that cannot but move you. Just recall the song ‘Jish desh mein Ganga behti hai…’, penned by lyricist Shailendra, from the film of the same name; recall the verse:
Mehma jo hamara hota hai, woh jaan se pyaara hota hai,
Zyaada ki nahin lalach humko, thode mein guzaara hota hai…
Jo jisse mila seekha humne, gairon ko bhi apnaaya humne,
Matlab ke liye andhe hokar, roti nahin puja humne…
Hum us desh ke wasi hai, jis desh mein Ganga behti hai…
Or mull on these lines from the much-crooned ditty ‘Preet jahan ki reet sada…’, from PURAB AUR PASHCIM, written by the ace-lyricist Indivar, in which he has so succinctly parleyed India’s unique civilisational richness, in lines like:
Jab zero diya mere bharat ne, duniya ko tab ginti aayee…
Itni mamta nadiyon ko bhi, jahan maata kehke bulaate hain
Itna aadar insaan toh kya, paththar bhi pujey jaate hain…
Us dharti pe maine janam liya, yeh soch, soch ke main itraata hoon
Bharat ka rehne wala hon, Bharat ki baat sunaata hoon
Or tune into Rajendra Kishan’s evocative song ‘Jahan daal daal par sone ki chidiya karti hai basera…’’ from the 1965 film SIKANDER-E-AZAM:
Jahan satya, ahinsa aur dharm ka pag pag lagata dera
Woh Bharat desh hai mera, woh Bharat desh hai mera
Ye dharti woo jaha rishhi muni japate prabhu nam ki mala
Hare Ram hare Ram hare Ram hare Ram
Jaha har balak ek Mohan hai
Aur Rradha har ek bala
Woh Bharat desh hai mera woh Bharat desh hai mera
There’s a virtual treasure-trove of these melodies, that laud this great country, often history sewn into their fabric beautifully as in the famous JAGRUTI (1954) song ‘Aao bachchon tumhe dikhaye jhaanki Hindustan ki…’, written by the poet Pradeep, who also penned ‘Ai mere watan ke logon…’, the humdinger rendered by Lata Mangeshkar following the 1962 Indo-China war, in memory of the gallant Indian soldiers who died in the war. The JAGRUTI song capsules history in its verses such as:
Jallianwala baug yeh dekho yahan chali thi goliyaan
Yeh mat phucho kisne kheli yahhan khoon ki holiyan
Yahan lagaa tha behnon ne bhi baazi apni jaan ki
Is mitti se tilak karo yeh dharti hai balidaan ki
Vande Matarm, vande Matram.
Any mention of history, and one can’t but remember the film SHAHEED (1965) featuring Manoj Kumar as Bhagat Singh and its poignant songs, celebrating the sacrifice of life by our jawans, in pursuit of freedom from the shackles of foreign rule. Who can remain immune to the heft and pull of ‘Ai watan, ai watan…’ (penned and composed by Prem Dhawan) that invariably booms out of almost every loudspeaker on August 15 till date? Who can fail to respond to its lyrics that extol the martyrdom of our youth and declare our oneness and our commitment to protect the country at the cost of our own lives:
Koi Punjab se, koi Maharashtra se, koi UP se hai, koi Bangal se
Teri puja ki thaali mein laayen hai hum, Phool har rang ke aaj har daal se
Naam kuch bhi sahi, par lagan ek hai, jyot se jyot dil ki jaga jaayenge.
Or to these lines from the other famous song from SHAHEED, ‘Mera rang de basanti chola…’:
Jis chole ko pehne Shivaji khele apni jaan se, jise pehen Jhansi ki Rani mit gayi apni aan pe,
Aaj usi ko pehen ke nikla, hum maston ka tola, mera rang de basanti chola.
To me, August 15 essentially means India’s freedom from a system that dichotomised rulers and the ruled and placed the ruled in a subservient position. August 15, 1947 spelt a new age of equality, destruction of the superior/inferior metrics, and the country’s governance by elected people with due consideration for the needs of all its citizens. This new equation was stressed in many a film song like ‘Takat watan ki humse hai…’, from the Dev Anand-directed and acted PREM PUJARI (1970) – written by the great poet Neeraj:
Ek jaan hai, ek pran hai, sara desh hamara
Nadiya chal kar sabhi ruki, par kabhi na Ganga dhara…
Taqat watan ki hum se hai, himmat watan ki hum se hai
Izzat watan ki hum se hai, insaan ke hum rakhwalein
Or in lyricist Gulshan Bawra’s ringing ode to the nation ‘Mere desh ki dharti…’ in the film UPKAR (1967):
Jab chalte hain is dharti pe hal, mamta angdaiyaan leti hai
Kyon na pooje is maati ko, jo jeevan ka sukh deti hai
Is dharti pe jisne janam liya, usne hi paya pyaar tera
Yahan apna paraya koi nahi hain, sab pe maa upkaar tera
And in the more recent blockbuster KARMA (1986) by Anand Bakshi in ‘Dil diya hai, jaan bhi denge…’ :
Hindu Muslim Sikh Isaayi hum watan hum naam hai
Jo kare inko judaa mazhab nahi ilzaam hai
Hum jiyenge aur marenge aie watan tere liye
Dil diyaa hai, jaan bhi denge aie watan tere liye
Independence also meant and still implies a responsibility to work for peace and prosperity of the nation. Having won Independence in 1947, the country was young and agog with optimism and idealism; comprehensibly, the films of the next few decades mirrored strong nationalistic sentiments, brimming over with the ardour of nation-building. The hero almost always was a man of high principles and committed to doing good, in whose life trajectory, the director could easily graft such inspiring songs as ‘Chhodo kal ki baatein, kal ki baat purani…’ (HUM HINDUSTANI) and ‘Yeh desh hai vir jawano ka…’ (NAYA DAUR). Also, films of these decades exuberated with songs addressed to children (‘Insaaf ke dagar pe…’, ‘Nanha munna rahi hoon…’, ‘Yeh haath hi apni daulat hai…’, etc.), exhorting them to grow into capable individuals and work for the country. The films fully leveraged the power of music to rouse the soul to meaningful action.
As the country matured in age, developing its own peculiar problems and losing some of the shine of post-Independence idealism, the nationalistic fervour of our films dimmed somewhat. With the opening of the Indian economy in the early Nineties and consequent greater engagements with the rest of the world, reflected clearly in the quiet replacement of ‘Hindustan’ and ‘Bharat’ with ‘India’ in movie lyrics, patriotism plateaued. But it flared up every once in a while, stirring up emotions with new-age, brazen lyrics, served in new piquant flavours, like Salman Khan’s dance number in JUDWAA, ‘Go east or west, India is the best…’, written by Dev Kohli and composed by Anu Malik as a rap number:
Yahan ki ladki wah wah
Badan pe saari wah wah
Maathe pe bindia wah wah
Pedestrian the lyrics maybe, but the spirit was the same as when Raj Kapoor had tramped to the beats of ‘Mera joota hai Japani, patlun hai Inglisthani, sar pe lal topi Russi, phir bhi dil hai Hindusthani…’, the popular SHREE 420 number, way back in 1955.
And the trend has continued into the new millennium though patriotic songs are unfortunately often lacklustre. I remember watching BOSE: THE FORGOTTEN HERO (2004) by Shyam Benegal and coming out wondering why no song in the film had touched me. Even Bose’s signature tune, ‘Kadam kadam badhaye jaa…’ was presented tepidly. The least AR Rehman could have done was to treat us viewers to the whole song; instead of just one stanza riffed without passion. There have been some good musical offerings albeit like the vibrantly visualised ‘Aisa des hai mera…’ in VEER ZAARA and ‘Kandhon se milte hai kandhe…’ in Lakshya, both 2004 releases with wide canvasses. ‘Aisa des hai mera…’ still paints the quintessential rural India’s picture in vivid colours. Sample this:
Geinhoo ke kheton mein kanghi jo kare hawaaein
Rang birangi kitni chunariyaan ud ud jaayein
Panghat par panhaaran jab gagri bharne aayeh
Madhur madhur taanon mein kahin bansi koi bajaaein
Increasingly as the millennium rolls out, patriotic songs grow faint in our films, and even if they appear, fall off our ears easily. An important spoilsport today is film music itself; contemporary film compositions are mostly not hummable and so do not coast on our lips or in our memories like old Hindi film songs did.
For what made songs like ‘Ai watan ai watan…’ or ‘Jis deh mein Ganga behti hai…’ instant hits were not just their lyrics, but their powerful music, as also their adroit picturisation by directors and all-out performances by actors. Many versions of ‘Vande Mataram…’ have been sung, but I believe, still none can rival that first version sung by Lata Mangeshkar in the film ANAND MATH (1952), composed so brilliantly by Hemant Kumar, who debuted in the Hindi film industry as a music director with this film. Remember, the way Lata stretches the word Vande…, the vibrations of ‘Ma’ at the very beginning of the song, the breathless cascading of the notes of each stanza, the beauty of the Sanskrit words ‘sujalang, sufalang malayaja shitalam, sashya shyamalam, mataram…’ – all intricately conflated to thrill every patriotic chord of your being.
Or consider the sheer gravity of the song ‘Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil hai…’ rendered by the inimitable Mohammed Rafi in his sonorous voice in SHAHEED, the slow undulations, the pendulum-like swaying between low-octave and high-octave notes, Rafi’s voice soaring magnificently to Prem Dhawan’s music. Or think of Manna Dey’s marquee rendition of the heart-wrenching ode to Afghanistan in the film KABULIWALLA, ‘Ai mere pyaare watan…’ Recall the tremors in ‘Maa ka dil banke kabhi, seene pe lag jaata hai tu…’, the deep pathos and yearning with which he sings ‘Hum jahan paida huey they us jagah pe nikle dam, tujhpe dil kurban…’, or the quivering ‘arzoo’ in ‘Tu hi meri arzoo…’, and ‘abroo’ in ‘Tu hi meri abroo, tu hi meri jaan…’ That kind of staggeringly soul-tugging music is missing from Hindi films today. Could it be because that old intensity of love for the nation that smouldered in our parents’ hearts is missing in ours, diluted by our regular and intimate liaising with the world outside India?
If so, it’s a concern. Ideally, love for the country and the world should blend. For just as charity begins at home and extends outwards into society, so one has to love one’s country and care for it to love the whole world. Though it’s a fact that often you recognise your motherland’s strengths and your feelings for the same, only when we exit it, as faithfully highlighted in films like the Shah Rukh-Khan fronted SWADES. It’s time our films whipped up some robust, hummable numbers to shake up our dormant patriotism. Till that happens, let us revel in yesteryears’ gems as Independence Day comes around.