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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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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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.