Hindustan Ki Kasam

In celebration of India’s Republic Day, PT film critic Hoshang K. Katrak takes us on a journey humming the songs and the films which evoke patriotism.

In a few days, it will be 67 years since the Indian Constitution came into force and our country became a Sovereign Democratic Republic.  Come 26th January, when the loudspeakers in our neighbourhood will blare the ubiquitous ‘Mere desh ki dharti’ (Film: Upkar), it’s a good time to retrospect on the films and the songs which make up this time-tested genre, and the songs which ought to be played.

Before we think of the phonographic association with the freedom movement, let’s spare a thought for those who sowed the seeds for it — on screen. The first film to deal with this theme was Bhakt Vidur (1921, silent), produced by DN Sampat, who also owned Bombay’s Kohinoor Studio. He also enacted Gandhi’s role in the film. Musical pieces were played from the orchestral pit — the songs were in Gujarati.

The first talkie with a dominant political flavour was Mahalaxmi Cinetone’s Seva Sadan (1934) directed by Nanubhai Vakil. Talkies naturally led to songs. The first song to have a huge impact was the rousing ‘Chal chal re naujawan’ from Bandhan (1940) written by Ramchandra Narain Dwivedi (whom we all know as Kavi Pradeep) and tuned by Saraswati Devi — our very own Khorshed Minocher-Homji.

Three years later, Pradeep was to make an everlasting impact with ‘Door hato aye duniyawaalon…Hindustan hamaara hai’ (Kismat, 1943). To get past the British censors, Pradeep incorporated in the lyrics ‘…tum na kisi ke age jhukna, German ho ya Japaani’. The subterfuge worked. Pradeep also wrote three superb songs in 1954 for Jagruti — ‘De di hume aazaadi’ (Asha Bhosle), ‘Aao bachhon tumhe dikhaayen’ (Pradeep) and ‘Hum laaye hain toofan se’ (Rafi). Pradeep was to reach his pinnacle nine years later with the memorable ‘Aye mere watan ke logon’ composed by C Ramchandra and poignantly sung by Lata Mangeshkar in the presence of a teary-eyed PM Jawaharlal Nehru and President Radhakrishnan at the National Stadium (now Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium) in New Delhi a day after Republic Day in 1963, two months after the Indo-Chinese war.

But if I had to choose just one film with passionate patriotism — and songs to match — I would look no further than Shaheed (1965) with its ‘Sarfaroshi ki tamaanaa’, ‘Mera rang de basanti’ and the superb ‘Aye watan aye watan’ — all written and composed by the underrated Prem Dhawan. It was this Shaheed which the then PM Lal Bahadur Shastri watched and told its main lead Manoj Kumar to make a film with Jai Jawan Jai Kisan as the motif. The latter obliged by making Upkar (1967), in the process transforming himself into Mr. Bharat.

The resurgence of the patriotic song has its genesis in the 1962 Indo-Chinese war.  The nation had suffered huge losses and Pt Jawaharlal Nehru wanted a song to raise the morale of the troops. That’s how Shakeel Badayuni wrote ‘Apni aazaadi ko hum’ for Naushad to compose. Eventually it found its way in the 1964 Leader, which Dilip Kumar so evocatively emoted on screen.

Down through the ages, the patriotic song seems to be the bastion of the male singer. If Mahendra Kapoor sang ‘Mere desh ki dharti’ and Manna Dey got to sing ‘Aye mere pyare watan’ (of course the song referred to his forgotten homeland Kabul); Mukesh too got a look-in with ‘Chhodo kal ki baatein’ (Hum Hindustani). But the one singer who has stood out for his repertoire of patriotic songs is Mohammed Rafi. Starting with ‘Watan ki raah mein’ which he’d co-sung with Khan Mastana in the Dilip Kumar starrer (Shaheed 1948), he has sung over 70 songs —  15 of them non-filmi —  which could be termed as patriotic or semi-patriotic, with the hair-raising Kaifi Azmi penned and Madan Mohan tuned ‘Kar chale hum fida’ being unsurpassed till today. His non-film ‘Aawaz do hum ek hain’ was written by Jan Nisar Akhtar (father of Javed Akhtar) and composed by Khayyam, who had served a two-year stint in the army between 1943 and 1945. This was one of the songs on which Mehboob Khan made a documentary starring Sunil Dutt, Raaj Kumar, Dilip Kumar and Rajendra Kumar, and which was screened all over the country.

But any write-up on the subject would be incomplete without the honourable mention of the following songs, all written in different languages:

  1. Jana Gana Mana (Bengali): Our National Anthem, written in 1905 by Rabindranath Tagore and first sung on 27 December, 1911.
  2. Vande Mataram (Sanskrit): Though originally in Bengali by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, from his novel Anandamath (1882), our national song is in a Sanskritised form of Bengali. Till Jana Gana Mana came along, Vande Mataram was the front-runner for our national anthem.
  3. Saare Jahaan Se Achcha (Urdu): Also known as Taranna-e-Hind it was written by Dr. Mohammed Iqbal in 1904. Although originally written for children, it has a secular outlook.  But six years later, in his Taranna-e-Milli, he displayed signs of being pro-Muslim, even advocating a separate nation for Muslims. In the 1972 film Yeh Gulistan Hamara, S D Burman gave the song a vigorous flavour — a marching tune which is now used by our Armed Forces in their Beating the Retreat.

Apart from our national anthem, India’s top ten patriotic songs (in chronological order) are Vande Maataram (Lata – Hemant Kumar) — Anandmath (1952); Saare Jahaan Se Achha (Asha Bhosle) — Bhai Behen (1959); Pyar Ki Raah Dikha Duniya Ko (Rafi) — Lambe Haath (1960); Aye Mere Pyaare Watan (Manna Dey) — Kabuliwala (1961); Aawaz Do Hum Ek Hai (Rafi) — Non-film (1962); Nanha Munna Raahi Hoon (Shanti Mathur) — Son of India (1962); Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon (Lata) — Non-film (1963); Watan Pey Jo Fida Hoga (Rafi) — Phool Bane Angaarey (1963); Kar Chale Hum Fida (Rafi) — Haqeeqat (1964); and Aye Watan, Aye Watan (Rafi) — Shaheed (1965).

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