Whenever Independence Day comes around, I say a quiet thanks to all the freedom fighters whose efforts won our country its independence; and then I make a beeline for a friend’s house early in the morning because the building next door has patriotic songs blaring at unbearable decibels and I have become acutely sensitive to continuous loud sounds.
This year I am going to celebrate Independence Day with my twin grandchildren and check into their quiet Carter Road house a night before.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy patriotic songs; thanks to being a regular filmgoer at an impressionable age, my innate love for the country was fuelled by the Manoj Kumar brand of patriotism depicted in his films like Shaheed, Upkar, Purab Aur Paschim and later by the lyrical tributes flowing from the pens of gifted poets such as Kavi Pradeep, Shakeel Badayuni, Shailendra, Indeevar, Kaifi Azmi, Anand Bakshi et al.
The mind happily barks back to a simpler era when I hear the many paeans to patriotism composed for films while keeping children in mind. Kavi Pradeep (who dared to write ‘Door hato aye duniyawalon Hindustan hamara hai’ during British rule!) has penned songs in the 1954 children’s classic Jagriti — ‘Aao bacchon tumhein dikhaye jhaanki Hindustan ki’, ‘Hum laaye hain toofan se kashti’ and ‘De di humein azaadi bina khadag bina dhaal’ — which remain unforgettable to date. And Shakeel Badayuni’s ‘Insaaf ki dagar pe, bacchon dikhaye chalke, yeh desh hai tumhara, neta tumhi ho kalke’ in Ganga Jamuna (1961) still shines like a beacon for its forthright message of honesty.
As you grow up, life acquaints you with more mature emotions as reflected in the wartime songs. My perennial favourite patriotic song Kar chale hum fidaa jaan-o-tan saathiyon is from the 1964 Chetan Anand-directed Haqeeqat about soldiers at the warfront and it can move a heart of stone.
When it was re-employed in Tinnu Verma’s Maa Tujhe Salaam, this otherwise routine film came to life and made one’s eyes well with tears. Who can be unaffected by the poignancy of Rafi’s voice in Kaifi Azmi’s lines like ‘Zinda rehne ke mausam bahut hai magar, jaan dene ki rut roz aati nahin... baandh lo apne sar pe kafan saathiyon’.
Another favourite is Lata Mangeshkar’s feelingly rendered ‘Aye mere watan ke logon zara aankh mein bhar lo pani’ which was written by Kavi Pradeep and brought tears to the eyes of then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Also memorable is Lata’s breathtaking rendition of Vande Mataram in the 1952 film Anand Math.
Back in his heyday, Manoj Kumar, a staunch self-confessed patriotic, was a master at activating the lacrimal glands with songs like ‘Mera rang de basanti chola’ (Shaheed) and at invigorating zeal with ‘Mere desh ki dharti sona ugle, ugle heere moti‘ (Upkar, a film inspired by Lal Bahadur Shastri’s Jai Jawan Jai Kisaan slogan).
Spurred by the success of these two films, Manoj moved on to the expensively mounted Purab Aur Pacchim that was shot on exotic foreign and Indian locations, and was embellished by two patriotism-infused gems penned by lyricist Indeevar — ‘Hai preet jahan ki reet sada uss desh ke geet sunata hoon, Bharat ka rehne wala hoon, Bharat ke geet sunata hoon’ and ‘Dulhan chali pehen chali teen rang ki choli’ (alluding to the tricolour flag).
The former song has a popular prelude: ‘Jab zero diya mere Bharat ne, Bharat ne mere Bharat ne, duniya ko tab ginti aayee, taaron ki bhasha Bharat ne, duniya ko pehle sikhlayee.’ Manoj Kumar was of course called Bharat in both the films and it became his alter ego.
Incidentally, Manoj Kumar’s histrionic inspiration, Dilip Kumar, who teamed up with him in the period drama Kranti, had a catchy song ‘Apni azaadi ko hum hargiz mita sakte nahin’ in a forgettable film, Leader. Two decades later, he scored another hit with ‘Aye watan tere liye’ in Subhash Ghai’s Karma.
Modern day filmmakers have continued to be fascinated by patriotic songs. Ghai’s Pardes had the popular ‘I love my India’ while JP Dutta’s Border had the nation marching to the beat of ‘Sandese aate hain’.
AR Rahman seems to have a knack for creating melodious songs with a patriotic slant. He gave a new musical nuance to ‘Mohe tu rang de basanti’ from the Aamir Khan hit Rang De Basanti while earlier he had tasted his first big musical success with the straight-from-the-heart, ‘Bharat humko jaan se payara hai’ in Roja.
As a testament to the power of a good inspirational number, there are some rare gems that were not seen on the big screen yet struck a chord with the masses.
Mukul Anand’s Dus remained incomplete but the film’s song ‘Suno gaur se duniya walon buri nazar naa humpe daalo chaahe jitnaa zor lagaa lo sabse aage honge Hindustaani’ has become quite the rage.
Afterthought: The song ‘Chhodo kal ki baatein, kal ki baat purani, naye daur mein likhenge hum milkar nayee kahani’ from Hum Hindustani kept buzzing in my head as I was about to email the column.
It has a special memory attached to it — my late friend Sudha Udeshi would request our singing group to sing this brimming-with-optimism song when we met up at her residence on Independence Day. May we always remain optimistic about our shared future.