Musical Notes

Sahir Ludhianvi’s ‘Woh Subah Kabhi Toh Aayegi’ finds new meaning in ‘Begum Jaan’

A song written after 1947 aptly describes the condition of a newly independent India.

Old film tunes are often lifted, remixed and used without context in new releases. In the first quarter of this year, the movies OK Jaanu, Rangoon, Kaabil and Badrinath Ki Dulhania have deployed old film tracks with varying degrees of success. In the April 21 release Noor, the zippy track Gulabi Aankhein Jo Teri from The Train (1970) reappears as Gulabi 2.0. Techno beats have been added to the track to attract younger viewers, continuing the fad of milking nostalgia.

An exception is the otherwise messy Begum Jaan, which makes thoughtful use of a classic tune.

Set in 1947, Begum Jaan is about the titular brothel owner (Vidya Balan) who tries to save her bordello on the Indo-Pak border from being razed. The song Woh Subah Kabhi Toh Aayegi from Phir Subah Hogi (1958) appears in the climax of Begum Jaan, with the lyrics and context made relevant to the plot.

In Phir Subah Hogi, Sohni (Mala Sinha) is assaulted by a man in a park. The molester tries to force himself on Sohni after she refuses his advances. She fights back but is no match for his strength. Her friend Ram (Raj Kapoor) comes to her rescue. The assaulter makes a dash for his life. A distraught Sohni collapses in Ram’s arms and sobs uncontrollably. He sings Woh Subah Kabhi Toh Aayegi to pacify her. Composer Khayyam’s tune is an emphatic promise, rendered in a solemn tone by playback singer Mukesh.

The sentimental melody contains an undertow of criticism of the sociopolitical flux in the country a decade after independence. In lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi’s stinging words, “Insaano ki izzat jab jhoothey sikko mein na toli jaayegi, woh subah kabhi toh aayegi” (When our prestige will not be weighed in coins, that morning, we are hopeful, will come), he is commenting on corrupt politicians who have caused disillusionment with fake pledges for a better future after decades of colonial rule.

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Woh Subah Kabhi Toh Aayegi from Phir Subah Hogi (1958).

While Ludhianvi’s political leanings were influenced both by rebellious communists and passive socialists, his poetry is coloured with peacenik ideas. Phir Subah Hogi was adapted from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment. The placement of the song in the film highlights one of the book’s moral themes of the oppressed fighting those who wield power through money.

The fictionalised world of Begum Jaan takes place 11 years before Ludhianvi wrote those optimistic lines. Threatened with an eviction notice, the sex workers arm themselves instead of leaving quietly. The sweeping track that soars in the background of the climax is Woh Subah Kabhi Toh Aayegi with a slight tweak. “Kabhi” is replaced with “humi” (us).

Technically, the song’s insertion is an anomaly since it had not been written in 1947, but its presence is apt in Begum Jaan, which questions the false freedoms of 1947. If women are not given their rightful place in society, can there be any talk of a new dawn? Composer Anu Malik and singers Shreya Ghoshal and Arijit Singh achieve a rare homage that is also an assertive answer to Ludhianvi’s wishful thinking.

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Woh Subah Hami Se Aayegi from Begum Jaan (2017).
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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”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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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.