Beyond ‘Maa Tujhe Salaam’, the film songs that dare to step out of line when things go off-key

Rather than pop patriotism tunes, it’s the songs about dissent and debate that resonate as India turns 70.

As August 15 approaches and a billion Indian hearts begin to throb as one to the beat of Mere Desh Ki Dharti and Maa Tujhe Salaam, let us also take a minute to recall the anti-nationals in Hindi films who stepped out of line and reminded us of the times when things went off-key.

They did so poignantly, often comically, but tunefully. The songs convey a poet’s despair over social and moral decay, the agony of a man unfairly marked as a traitor, and the exuberant cynicism of city-dwellers who discovered that “sone ki chidiya” rhymes nicely with malaria.

Nasbandi (1978) was so out of line, it was banned right after its release. An acerbic comment on the forced sterilisation drives during the Emergency, the film was written and directed by IS Johar, with music by Kalyanji-Anandji and lyrics by the wonderfully pen-named Hullad Moradabadi. The film’s title couldn’t be more direct – no Indu Sarkar-type subtlety here – and its song lyrics are a mix of hilarity and hopelessness.

Kya Mila Gaya Sarkar Emergency Laga Ke leaves little to the imagination – newly sterilised men hobble around in a graphic demonstration of their pain and sing of a childless future. Mahatma Gandhi gets some grief too, for his now-shattered promise of non-violence and humanity, in Gandhi Tere Desh Mein Yeh Kaisa Atyachaar.

Kya Mila Gaya Sarkar Emergency Laga Ke, Nasbandi (1978).

Nasbandi was preceded by Kissa Kursi Ka (1978), which lampooned Sanjay Gandhi and his supporters and their famed Maruti car project. Gandhi got back at the filmmaker, Amrit Nahata, by having all the film prints destroyed and even went to jail for it. Janata Ki Jai Bolo begins with a caustic invocation to the “God of the Chair’ by two classical dancers flanked by men and women dressed ironically in Congress-white, all ranged around a throne-like chair.

There is hope for a better tomorrow in Phir Subah Hogi (1958). There will come a time when the worth of human beings will not be measured in fake coins, Raj Kapoor assures a sobbing Mala Sinha in Woh Subah Kabhi Toh Aayegi, scored delicately by Khayyam. But there is also much to be disillusioned about, and few could have said it as well as lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi.

“Cheen-O-Arab hamara
Hindustan hamara
Rehne ko ghar nahin hai
Sara jahan hamara”

The song takes sly potshots at Sare Jahan Se Achchha, with its allusions to “woh santri hamara, woh paasbaan hamara”. But the 1950s were still hopeful times, and Ludhianvi ends the song with a call to the young, who are “built of steel”, who will make the nation the envy of the rest of the world.

Cheen O Arab Hamara, Phir Subah Hogi (1958).

The songs that probably best sum up the disillusionment of a nation that might have lost its way are Jinhe Naaz Par Hind Par and Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaye, in Pyaasa (1957), another masterpiece by Ludhianvi scored by SD Burman and sung by Mohammed Rafi. While the first song addresses the dire condition of the country’s women, the second is a wider denunciation of society, morals and injustices.

Yeh Duniya doesn’t directly refer to a country, and the poet played by Guru Dutt can’t help viewing the world through the lens of his own troubles. But the implication is clear. Crass materialism, the hankering after power, and “societies that oppress individuals” – all go to make a world that’s not worth living in. If artists can speak of dreams and hope, they must also speak of upended promises, although as Pyaasa showed, and current trends indicate, there are no guarantees that they will be heard.

Yeh Duniya, Pyaasa (1957).

Fighting for the nation has always been depicted as a valorous pursuit with few digressions from the aggression-laced, ready-for-death narrative. Haqeeqat (1964) was an unusual war film, as much about the futility of war as about bravery while fighting in it. A trapped platoon of soldiers facing the Chinese army is waiting to be rescued, but the odds are slim. The more popular number from this film is the moving Kar Chale Hum Fida Jaan-o-Tan at the end of the story when all is lost. But there is also Ho Ke Majboor Mujhe, a tender imagining by the soldiers of how their loved ones back home will mourn their loss. A stellar cast of singers – Mohammed Rafi, Manna Dey, Talat Mahmood and Bhupinder Singh – lend their voices to this sensitive number, written by Kaifi Azmi and scored by Madan Mohan.

A newer song that spotlights the vulnerability of men in war is Sandese Aate Hain from Border (1997), although it doesn’t have the sense of hopelessness that defined Haqeeqat.

Ho Ke Majboor, Haqeeqat (1964).

Khoon Chala in Rang De Basanti (2006) echoes more contemporary disenchantments although the targets are the same – the corrupt and the powerful. Here too, a soldier has been lost, but not in war. He died flying a faulty plane, and his friends are out demanding accountability. They are inspired by freedom fighters and believe they can replicate the struggle, this time against their own country and its many flaws.

It is not easy, as Khoon Chala shows. The forces of state power that were ranged against Bhagat Singh and other revolutionaries then, are still as oppressive – midway through the song, the police breaks up their protest with a lathi charge. Outside of the movies, India Gate is not a spot for a police crackdown; that is done elsewhere in spaces where the protestors forgot to bring candles and are not very well-dressed. But anybody who demands justice is vulnerable, the song appears to say. That is fair warning.

Khoon Chala, Rang De Basanti (2006).

Urban angst meets suppressed energy in Bharat Mata Ki Jai, a frenetic street dance number in Shanghai (2012). It sums up the story of the film – plans are afoot to turn the city into another Shanghai, a manifestation of the glass-and-chrome dreams of politicians who believe in progress through large infrastructure projects that might or might not displace multitudes of people. The song was not without controversy, with a right-wing group going to court asking for the song to be removed. The court dismissed the plea with the welcome observation that in a democracy people have the right to express their views.

Bharat Mata Ki Jai, Shanghai (2012).

For some, expressing views, wearing markers of identity or even having a certain name might be more difficult. In Chak De! India (2007), a hockey coach has a history – as India’s hockey captain, he was hounded and made to leave the neighbourhood after his team loses to Pakistan. Maula Mere Le Le Meri Jaan, written by Jaideep Sahni, scored by Salim-Sulaiman, and sung intensely by Krishna Beura and Salim Merchant, has flashbacks of the coach’s story, ending with victory – the all-girls’ team he’s coached has won their big match.

Does redemption come only with success and victories dedicated to the nation? What does it take to prove that you belong?

Maula Mere Le Le Meri Jaan, Chak De! India (2007).
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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

Watch Big Little Lies Now

4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

Watch The Night Of Now

5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

Available starting October

10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.