I am very proud to be Indian, but I guess in a way that wouldn’t make me terribly popular with some people. I do not agree, for instance, that everything about India is top class, or that everything about the countries we have political, social, economic or other differences with is necessarily evil through and through. I love India, but I do not feel that means I must hate other countries.
But one thing I will concede: nobody does “I love India” songs as well as Bollywood. Of course. We have so many different forms of patriotism onscreen: the soldierly bravery of Haqeeqat; the dignified, subdued yet exceptionally poignant love for country of a native far from home in Kabuliwaala; the militant, do-or-die fervour of Bhagat Singh in Shaheed; the urge to take the country forward into a new age of progress, in Hum Hindustani...
So here are my ten favourite patriotic songs, all from 50’s and 60’s (occasionally 40’s) films that I’ve seen. Happy Independence Day!
1. Ae mere pyaare watan (Kabuliwaala, 1961): My number one patriotic song, ever. And the reason for that is not just that Salil Choudhary’s music is so lovely or that Manna Dey sings this with so much feeling. That is there, of course; but more even than that is the fact that the patriotism of this song is not country-specific. You need not be Indian (in fact, the character who’s supposed to sing it isn’t Indian) to sympathise with the man to whom the soil and the streams and the gusting wind of a far-off land are so dear that his greatest wish is to die back there, where he was born… lovely. One of the few patriotic songs that can actually give me gooseflesh.
2. Ae watan ae watan humko teri kasam (Shaheed, 1965): Shaheed had a superb score, with both music and lyrics (the latter partly contributed by Bismil Azimabadi) by Prem Dhawan. This song is, to me, typical of Bhagat Singh’s brand of patriotism: fiercely for his motherland and its self-respect, and not just willing but eager to lay down his life and limb for the independence of India. Very inspirational.
Just by the way, two other superb songs, both very patriotic, from Shaheed are Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai (the poem by Bismil Azimabadi) and Mera rang de basanti chola.
3. Aaj Himalaya ki choti se (Kismet, 1943): Pradeep’s lyrics, while not path-breaking, make this pre-independence song what it is: a smart thumbing of the nose at the British Raj. While there are token words against the Axis (there’s something about Indians rising up against the Japanese and the Germans), the underlying sentiment of the song is quite obviously anti-British. A film censor, forced to clear this, must have felt utterly frustrated. I’m loving it! (And oh, I like the peppy marching tune of the song, too).
4. Vande mataram (Anandmath, 1952): As a classical paean to Bharat Mata, this one’s hard to beat: every syllable echoes with patriotic fervour. Another reason I like Vande mataram is that there’s a family connection to this song. My uncle, David Vernon Kumar, was a guitarist with Filmistan when Anandmath was made, and recording schedules were so hectic that the entire orchestra had to trudge daily between Bombay and Goregaon. By the time Vande mataram was recorded, most of the musicians were thoroughly fed up. As luck would have it, a huge chorus was needed for Vande mataram, and since the musicians knew the tune, they were asked to join in. My uncle and some of his friends sang, instead of “Vande mataram, vande mataram”, “One day Bombay, one day Goregaon”. The number of people singing the correct lyrics was sufficient to drown out the voices of these interlopers, but yes, that is what some of the chorus in this song are singing.
5. Apni aazaadi ko hum (Leader, 1964): This, I’m forced to admit, is one of the most uninspiring songs I’ve ever seen. The picturisation is dull, the editing shoddy, and the extras badly briefed. Even Dilip Kumar and Vyjyantimala have very little to do onscreen other than mouth verses from the song. Despite all of that, Apni aazaadi ko hum features on my list of great patriotic songs, simply because the music (Naushad’s) and the lyrics (Shakeel Badayuni’s) are so very soul-stirring, and Rafi sings it so superbly.
6. Mere desh ki dharti sona ugle (Upkaar, 1967): I don’t care for Manoj Kumar’s brand of patriotism: his films tend to glorify all that is Indian and denigrate all that isn’t. But one aspect of his patriotic films I like: the songs. And this one, in praise of everything and everyone from Rabindranath Tagore and Hari Singh Nalwa to cowbells and ploughs, has excellent music and is beautifully sung by Mahendra Kapoor. The lyrics are a bit over the top, but today of all days, I can overlook that.
7. Chhodo kal ki baatein (Hum Hindustani, 1960): No, I hadn’t forgotten this song when I did my Mukesh post. I was just saving it up for this post. Chhodo kal ki baatein has all the pep and vigor of a nation striding forward, leaving behind the chains of a colonial past. Half a century later, all that stuff about changing the courses of rivers and felling mountains might be an ecological no-no, but there’s no faulting the overall exuberance of this song and its love for country.
8. Kar chale hum fida jaan-o-tan saathiyon (Haqeeqat, 1964): Haqeeqat is the best Hindi war film I’ve seen, and this poignant song, sung with great depth of feeling by Rafi, is very representative of the film itself. Kat gaye sar hamaare toh kuchh gham nahin, sar Himalaya ka humne na jhukne diye (“Our heads were cut off, but that didn’t bother us; we did not let the head of the Himalaya be bowed”) is proudly symbolic of India’s sovereignty. This song’s patriotism has a distinctly military tone to it, but it manages to embrace the citizenry that is involved, eventually, in defending the country. Melodramatic, perhaps; but effective.
9. Saare jahaan se achcha Hindustan hamaara (Bhai Bahen, 1959): As a student in the state-run Kendriya Vidyalaya schools, my childhood was filled with Saare jahaan se achha. We sang it day in, day out, at every school assembly, until we hated each syllable of the poem. Unusual, therefore, that this should rank as one of my favourite patriotic songs. But the tune here is liltingly different from the original, and the words are different too—and, dare I say, more inspirational?
10. Yeh desh hai veer jawaanon ka (Naya Daur, 1957): Is desh ka yaaron kya kehna, yeh desh hai duniya ka gehna (“What can one say in praise of this land? This land is the jewel of the world!”). Very feel-good-about-being-Indian lyrics; deliciously folksy music; infectiously boisterous singing by Rafi and Balbir; and all of it in a well choreographed song-and-dance by Dilip Kumar, Ajit, and a troupe of dancers led by the very talented Manohar Deepak.
[Aside: Manohar Deepak was awarded the National Award for his accomplishments in bhangra—he was the first person to form a bhangra troupe in Bollywood and to introduce this dance form in Hindi cinema].
And guess what? I still haven’t included songs from films I haven’t seen (Jahaan daal-daal par sone ki chidiyaan karti hain basera from Sikandar-e-Azam; Watan ki raah mein watan ke naujawaan from Shaheed; Hum laayein hain toofan se kashti nikaal ke, De di humein aazaadi bina khadag bina dhaal, and Aao bachchon tumhein dikaayein jhaanki Hindustan ki, all from Jaagriti) or songs that are good but not as good as the ones I’ve listed above (Jab zero diya mere Bharat ne from Purab aur Pachchim).
Maybe on Republic Day!