hindi film music

Are you patriotic tonight? Here is a songlist that will make your heart swell with pride

India’s greatness has been frequently celebrated through nationalist songs, as proven by our potted list.

Bharat Mata Ki from Shanghai (2012) is a rare film song about India that does not celebrate its greatness and glory. Shanghai director Dibakar Banerjee, who also wrote the song’s lyrics, lampoons the state of the nation through the words Gurr bhi hai, gobar bhi hai, Bharat mata ki jai (It’s both jaggery and cow dung, hail mother India). The song was passed by the Central Board of Film Certification, unlike in the days when films were censored for inciting nationalist pride.

Patriotic songs in Hindi films range from gently prodding tunes to blood vessel-bursting paeans. They were especially useful in movies made during the freedom struggle to articulate what the rest of the screenplay couldn’t. Since independence, they have served as occasionally forceful reminders of our duty towards our flag.

Before 1947, pro-freedom themes were tucked into mythologicals and historicals, and not all of them managed to escape censorship by the colonial government. The silent film Bhakta Vidur (1921), based on the Mahabharata epic, was the first Indian film to be pulled out of circulation because its lead character was modelled on Mahatma Gandhi. In 1930, the silent film Swarajyacha Toran (Flags of Freedom), about the Maratha warrior Shivaji, was renamed Udaykal. Sohrab Modi’s Pukar (1939), Sikandar (1941), Prithvi Vallabh (1943) were covertly nationalistic dramas in the guise of historicals.

One of the best-known nationalistic numbers from the pre-1947 era is Chal Chal Re Naujawan, written by Pradeep for the movie Bandhan (1940). “Though the film was not based on a patriotic theme, a situation was created for this song and when it came to screen, the audience went delirious with excitement,” writes Pradeep’s daughter, Mitul Pradeep, in the book Legends of Indian Silver Screen. “Wherever the film was screened, the theatres had the public shouting ‘once more’ and the film had to be reversed to show the song repeatedly. The songs were a direct attack on the British government. Though British censors unknowingly cleared it, belated realisation dawned on the song’s implications. They ordered to arrest Kavi Pradeep and he went underground for a year.”

‘Chal Chal Re Naujawan’.

The song’s success promoted Pradeep to request the producers of the film Kismet (1943) to include the song Door Hato Aye Duniyawaalon Hindustan Hamara Hai (Stay away outsiders, India belongs to us).

After independence, the songs reflected the general mood of jubilation. Shaheed (1948) brandished the Indian tricolour in the opening credits with the song Watan Ki Raah Mein Watan playing in the background. The revolutionary hero Ram (Dilip Kumar), was not modelled on a freedom fighter but represented the ordinary viewer. Andolan (1951), Anand Math (1952) and Jhansi Ki Rani (1953) all dealt with various struggles for independence. A popular song from this period is Vande Mataram, sung by Hemant Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar for Anand Math.

‘Watan Ki Raah Mein Watan’.

Films such as Mother India (1957) and Naya Daur (1957) captured in different ways the Nehruvian nation-building project. Yeh Desh Hai Veer Jawanon Ka from Naya Daur, written by Sahir Ludhianvi, reflected the upbeat spirit.

The progressive wave carried over in Chhodo Kal Ki Baatein (Hum Hindustani, 1960). Lyricist Prem Dhawan suggested through the song that it was time to forget the past and move into a new nation. Insaaf Ki Dagar Pe (Ganga Jumna, 1961), written by Shakeel Badayuni, suggested that Indians should follow in the righteous path of Gandhi and assume leadership of the newly independent country through the words Neta tumhi ho kal ke (You are tomorrow’s leader).

Patriotism arrived with a tinge of sadness in Kar Chale Hum Fida, written by Kaifi Azmi and sung with great passion by Mohammed Rafi for Haqeeqat (1964), which explores the 1962 Indo-China War. The same year, Rafi sang another crowd-puller, Apni Azaadi Ko Hum, written by Shakeel Badayuni for Leader.

‘Kar Chale Hum Fida’.

Manoj Kumar proved to be a good model for Bhagat Singh when he took on the role of the freedom fighter in Shaheed (1965). Kumar fashioned a number of patriotic films after Shaheed’s success. Upkaar (1967), Purab Aur Paschim (1970), Roti and Kapda Aur Makaan (1974) all had the leading man cast as a son of the soil who stands up for Indian values and wages a non-violent protest against many social evils, including Western culture. The song Mere Desh Ki Dharti from Upkaar, written by Gulshan Bawra, depicted India as a golden goose. By the ’70s , Kumar’s patriotic streak had hardened into hyper-nationalism, best embodied in the song Hai Preet Jahan Ki Reet Sada from Purab Aur Paschim (1970).

‘Hai Preet Jahan Ki Reet Sada’.

Hindi cinema’s suspicion of invading outsiders and treacherous domestic enemies got full expression in the ’80s. Films such as Karma (1986), Mr India (1987) and Elaan-E-Jung (1989) popularised larger-than-life villains such as Dr Dang and Mogambo. The song Aye Watan Tere Liye (Karma), written by Anand Bakshi, became the new go-to pop patriotic tune.

A number of films in the ’90s, including Tirangaa (1992) and Dijale (1996), feature Islamist terrorists waging war on India. The operatic Bharat Humko Jaan Se Pyara Hai (Roja, 1992), written by PK Mishra and composed by AR Rahman in his film debut, is a rare instance of a nationalist song that is also a great tune. Bharat Humko starts like a hymn, rises into a rousing anthem and ends with a stunning chorus finish, reiterating the need to move into a new direction.

‘Bharat Humko Jaan Se Pyara Hai’.

The ’90s and 2000s too have their share of rousing numbers and flag-thumpers, including Hindustan Hindustan (Border, 1997), Yeh Mera India (Pardes, 1997), Zindagi Maut Na Bann Jaaye (Sarfarosh, 1999), Chale Chalo (Lagaan, 2001) Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, 2000), Desh Mere (The Legend of Bhagat Singh, 2002), Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera (Swades, 2004), Khoon Chala (Rang De Basanti, 2006) and Des Rangila (Fanaa, 2006).

One of the most earnest nationalistic songs is sung by a character who pines for his country from afar. In Aye Mere Pyare Watan (Kabuliwala, 1961), the Afghan immigrant Abdul Rehman Khan (Balraj Sahni), who lives in Kolkata, is shown yearning for his family in Kabul. In a welcome reversal, the song articulates a rare universal spirit, proving that music truly has no nationality.

‘Aye Mere Pyare Watan’.
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.