Jawaharlal Nehru’s birthday on November 14 is also celebrated as Children’s Day – an annual excuse to revisit movies about children and songs featuring the little ones. Children have been mostly poorly directed in mainstream films, reduced to attention-grabbing near adults with high-pitched voices and exaggerated mannerisms meant to suggest cuteness. Yet, some films stand out for the maturity with which they present a child’s view of the world, and there are actually songs in which the children comes across as purposeful, adorable, and hilariously clueless, or, simply, children.
Aao Bacche Tumhe Dikhaye, Jagriti (1954)
In Satyen Bose’s Jagriti (1954), Abhi Bhattacharya plays a teacher at a boarding school who uses unconventional methods to teach his wards about the great country that they inhabit. Aao Bacche Tumhe Dikhaye is shot on a train, during which Bhattacharya’s character exhorts his students to embrace the vastness and diversity that is India.
Written and sung by Pradeep and composed by Hemant Kumar, the rousing song is a history lesson that includes vistas of various Indian landmarks. The tune was retooled for Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006) as Bande Mein Hai Dum.
Nanhe Munne Bacche, Boot Polish (1954)
Prakash Arora’s movie about a pair of orphaned siblings who are exploited by their evil aunt is aimed at activating the tear-buds. Naaz and Rattan Singh play the ill-begotten pair who are often comforted by a kindly bootlegger (David), who gives them the love and hope missing from their lives. Of course, he does this through a song.
We hold our destiny in our fists, and we will conquer all, Asha Bhosle and Mohammad Rafi sing on behalf of the street children who crowd the frame. Shailendra’s lyrics are filed with 1950s hope that equally applies to adults.
Nanha Munna Rahi Hoon, Son of India (1962)
Mehboob Khan’s box office flop from 1962 is chiefly remembered for its insistently cheerful patriotic song Nanha Munna Rahi Hoon, written by Shakeel Badayuni and composed by Naushad. The lyrics carry over the hope in Nehruvian values that were so dear to Mehboob Khan’s generation, and depict young Gopal marching through the countryside accompanied by a handsome German shepherd dog.
The movie stars Sajid Khan, the director’s adopted son who appeared in the filmmaker’s masterpiece Mother India (1957) as the young Birju. Son of India didn’t do much for Sajid Khan’s career, but he went on to star in a few Hollywood films.
Lal Jhuti Kakatua, Badshah (1963)
Kali Banerjee plays the titular bandit in Agradoot’s Badshah (1963) who mends his ways upon finding a boy at the site of a shipwreck. The criminal names the boy Bachchu and raises him as his own. An elder Bachchu (Arindam Ganguly) develops a talent for singing, much to Badshah’s surprise. Together, they perform roadside tricks with their pet animals, a goat, a dog and a monkey to get by.
La Jhuti Kakatua is the first song Bachchu sings in Badshah. Its simple lyrics follow the yearning of a cockatoo to spruce itself with a red ribbon – a metaphor for a young boy getting ready to face the world. Sung by Ranu Mukherjee, composed by Hemant Kumar, with lyrics by Gouriprasanna Majumdar, the song has gone on to become a popular nursery rhyme in Bengal.
Lakdi Ki Kaathi, Masoom (1983)
Shekhar Kapur’s Masoom (1983), a loose reworking of Erich Segal’s novel Man, Woman and Child, features one of the all-time favourite children’s songs. Lakdi Ki Kaathi, written by the ridiculously versatile Gulzar and composed by RD Burman, is a nursery rhyme about a wooden horse that bolts when its tail is slapped.
The song represents a bonding moment for the two daughters of Naseeruddin Shah’s character, who welcome his illegitimate son from another relationship into their lives with the openness that only children have. Kapur is one of the few directors who knows how to handle children – his Mr India (1987) is another example.
Something Something, Anjali (1990)
Mani Ratnam’s Anjali (1990) is the tale of the terminally ill child (Shamili) and her relationship with not just her family but an entire apartment complex. Something Something, the first song in the film, introduces us to the noisy knee-high protagonists. This is our time, the children sing, as they flaunt cool dance moves wearing their best clothes, stylish sunglasses and shoes. “To Todo Todo Todo...To Todo Todo Todo Do Something I Want To Todo Todo Todo Do Something,” goes the catchy chorus.
Sung by an ensemble of singers and composed by Ilaiyaaraja, the song sets the tone for the narrative. It declares that children sometimes have solutions to problems that adults find difficult to deal with. Don’t take us lightly, warn the kids warn.
Mera Gaana Hai Bahana, Halo (1996)
Santosh Sivan’s first movie after stacking up numerous cinematography credits is the heart-tugging tale of young Sasha and the stray she adopts. She calls him Halo, and he soon becomes a part of her gaggle of friends, including an adorable baldie who threatens to steal the moment from lead actress Benaf Dadachandji.
Mera Gaana Hai Bahana, inspired by Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry Be Happy, captures the happy moments before Halo goes missing. The kids led by Sasha play with the dog and each other and are happily unaware of what is come. Dadachandji leads the way, delivering a stunning performance mature beyond her years, especially in the three-hankie climax.
Naandhaan Goppanda, Pasanga (2009)
When 12-year-old Anbukkarasu (Kishore) switches homes and joins a new school, he has to face the wrath of the school bully Jeeva (Sree Raam), who happens to be the class teacher’s darling son. The rift between the two soon evolve into a hilarious and mostly harmless tussle between two school gangs.
Naandhaan Goppanda indicates that the battlelines have been drawn. Dressed in gunny bags, with chains of onions around their neck, the two gangs face off against each other in a James Vasanthan composition.
Sel Sel, Kaakka Muttai (2015)
M Manikandan’s stirring depiction of childhood is set in Chennai’s slums. Two brothers known only as Periya Kaaka Muttai and Chinna Kaaka Muttai (Big Crow’s Egg and Little Crows’s Egg) develop a sudden craving to eat pizza, and go to great lengths to acquire the dough-and-cheese concoction. Manikandan transforms a simple one-liner into a moving depiction of urban poverty, hunger and child labour, never stinting on the harsh realities of the boys’ lives but also never reducing them to archetypes.
GV Prakash’s charming songs are played in the background, in keeping with Manikandan’s realistic approach. Sel Sel contains the possibilities and limits of the world of the boys, played brilliantly by J Vignesh and V Ramesh. A colour television set arrives in their shanty courtesy a political party, which introduces pizza to the boys. Before the pursuit of pizza consumes their lives, we watch their attachment to their mother and grandmother, the bond between them, and the little things in life that give them immeasurable pleasure, such as Chinna Kaakka Muttai’s plastic watch, which he assumes can actually tell the time. For the blissfully innocent boy, every day is Children’s Day.