I have been on a bit of a hiatus for the past several weeks. That happened partly because I have been swamped with work (I’m working pretty much simultaneously on two books, juggling between one and the other), and partly because of some trying times my family’s been through. My father had Covid, then there were a couple of other family crises that we went through and from which we’re still recovering. It’s been a very, very stressful time.
I did have a couple of posts, both film reviews, ready to be posted, but I was too stressed to publish them. And now, even though we’re getting back on track and looking forward to Christmas, I couldn’t summon up the energy to watch a film and review it. It was time, I decided, for the sort of blog post that energizes me. A song list.
Given the situation in India right now, with the farmers’ protests front and centre, I was reminded of the many, many Hindi films that are about farmers. Since very early on, Hindi cinema has been enamoured with village life. And where there are villages, there are farmers. True, barring some films (Godaan, Do Bigha Zameen, Aurat and its remake Mother India, among them), rural life as depicted in Hindi cinema is far from the reality. Anybody who’d only seen farms in Hindi cinema would think Indian farmers had nothing better to do than sing and dance and bill-and-coo with glamorous village girls all day long.
The truth, of course, is that farms and farmers have a much, much harder life than that. And farmers deserve all the gratitude and respect we can give them: without farmers, we wouldn’t have food to eat.
But. On to the crux of the matter, the farmer in Hindi film songs. Given that Hindi film kisaans tend to do so much singing and dancing, I decided on a list of songs that are picturized on characters who are farmers or farm workers, singing about farming or some aspect of agriculture, the land, of what life means to them, etc. As always, these songs are all from pre-1970 Hindi films that I’ve seen, with one exception, a song from a 1971 film that has enough of a late 60s vibe to let me make an exception for it.
In no particular order:
1. Dharti kahe pukaarke (Do Bigha Zameen, 1953): The very first film that came to my mind when I thought of farmers in Hindi cinema was this iconic Bimal Roy work, about a poor farmer who, deep in debt, is forced to leave his village and come to the big city in an attempt to earn enough to redeem his precious two bighas. While Do Bigha Zameen also had the wonderful Hariyaala saawan dhol bajaata aaya (which does a great job of showing the impact of the monsoon on farming), for me the quintessential village/farmer song is this one. An encouraging song, a philosophical song, and one that could apply to anyone, not just a farmer departing his home. The picturization too is memorable, most of the song ‘sung’ by farm workers: people weeding, people moving what looks like hay onto large heaps, others just sitting on the periphery of a field under a tree looking out while Balraj Sahni’s character walks by.
2. Umad-ghumadkar aayi re ghata (Do Aankhen Baarah Haath, 1957): If Do Bigha Zameen had Hariyaala saawan dhol bajaata aaya as a monsoon song, Do Aankhen Baarah Haath had this one. Umad-ghumadkar aayi re ghata celebrates the coming of the rains, and the jubilation it brings in the life of the farmers. V Shantaram’s jailor, along with the convicts he’s trying to reform, greets the rain with joy, the entire group plunging into the fields and starting the sowing even as the rain falls about them. The rest of the song sees Sandhya’s character singing of what follows the rain: the growth, the greening of the fields, and harvest. As the men harvest their crop of vegetables and pile them into a cart, the joy of the monsoon spreads further out, into the seasons that follow.
Hiya jarat rahat din rain (Godaan, 1963): Munshi Premchand’s classic novel, about a poor farmer and his family, whose greatest wish in life is to own a cow, was adapted to screen in this film starring Raj Kumar and Kamini Kaushal (it remains, to this day, my favourite Raj Kumar role; he’s not an actor I especially like, but he was wonderful in Godaan). The film’s music was composed by Pandit Ravi Shankar; this song, sung by Mukesh, is one of its finest. Raj Kumar’s Hori, depressed and sinking under the weight of all the miseries and stresses that fill his life, looks to the skies, hoping and praying for rain, and coming to the slow realization that it will not come this time either.
4. Mere desh ki dharti sona ugle (Upkaar, 1967): I am not a fan of Upkaar; I find it too jingoistic and tedious. But it has a couple of classic songs, from the ultimate in cynicism (Kasme vaade pyaar wafa) to this patriotic one, which talks of the fertility of this land. But while Mere desh ki dharti eventually does become a paean to the patriots of India, whether it’s the Unknown Soldier or stalwarts like Bose or Tilak, the focus of the song is on the rural, agricultural part of the country. The lyrics, especially in the beginning, are all about farming: Bailon ke gale mein jab ghungroo jeevan ka raag sunaate hain… sunke rehet ki aawaazein yoon lage kahin shehnai baje (when the bells in the bullocks’ necks sing a song of life… the sounds of the water-wheel are as musical as a shehnai ). And the picturization, with Manoj Kumar and the other actors going about various farming activities, ploughing fields and so forth: yes, definitely a farmers’ song.
5. Dukh bhare din beete re bhaiya (Mother India, 1957): From one of the landmark films of Hindi cinema comes this song of a good harvest and all that it entails. While Dukh bhare din beete re bhaiya’s lyrics (by Shakeel Badayuni) are not very specifically about farming and the joy of a good crop, the picturization is very specific. At different points of time, Radha’s (Nargis) character celebrates an abundant harvest with her husband, and with her sons. There are scenes of waving crops, of sheaves of grain-laden stalks. Of village folk, joyful and excited, letting their hair down at a rural fair.
6. Bol bol tu bol (Aurat, 1940): Mehboob Khan’s Mother India was a remake of a film which he had made seventeen years earlier: Aurat (1940), starring Sardar Akhtar. Anil Biswas’s music for Aurat consisted of many songs of only a couple of minutes each, and given the rural setting of the film, there were several that had something or the other to do with farming. Another of my favourites from this film, Gagri sookhi bail pyaasa, for instance, echoes the joy of a long overdue monsoon having finally arrived.
But this song, which I’ve chosen because of the picturization and the irony of the lyrics versus the picturization. Surendra, out in the fields chasing the birds off the crops, addresses a song to a bird, begging it to sing. (Or he’s just being clever. “Sing out so I can see you, and pick you off with my catapult” could be his logic behind this).
Not really, as it turns out: the ‘bird’ in question is his sweetheart, and she joins in the song, distracting him from the task he should be doing.
7. Aao jhoomein gaayein (Paraya Dhan, 1971): Though it was released in 1971, Paraaya Dhan has, for me at least, a late 60s vibe to it, which is why I’m including a song from this film in this list. Hema Malini’s character, brought up in a Himalayan village by her foster father (played by Balraj Sahni), a reformed former dacoit, goes dancing and singing through the fields as the farmers gather their crops (grain of some sort, and cabbages) and load it onto vehicles. The girl herself does no work, but her foster father helps load vehicles, and exults over some cabbages. Plus, there are lots of extras pretending in varying degrees to be doing farm work like weeding and harvesting. The song itself has a peppiness to it that I love.
8. Aayo re aayo re saawan aayo re (Bandhan, 1969): Another of those songs that talk of the joy of the coming of the monsoon, the significance of the monsoon in the life of the farmer. Bandhan too was a film about the grip of the moneylender on a farmer who wants to hold onto his land no matter what, but the plot was not quite as dismal as that of earlier films along the same theme, like Godaan, Do Bigha Zameen, or Mother India. And it didn’t have music anywhere as good as that of all these earlier films; but Aayo re aayo re saawan aayo re isn’t absolutely unbearable, and its picturization is all in the fields and the villages. Some extras do a slipshod job of ‘farm work’ like weeding and hoeing, but it’s the sight of those waving green fields here that really gladdens my heart.
9. Jai dharti maiyya jai ho (Dharti ke Laal, 1946): This song is a little different from the others in that there is no farming activity in progress in the setting. But Jai dharti maiyya, I thought, merited a spot on this list because it’s from one of the classic films about farming and the plight of farmers. This film was about the Bengal famine of 1943, and though most of the film is too grim for there to be (realistically) too many songs, in the happier days of its characters, there’s a scene where a young couple goes to a village fair. A group of performers is singing a paean to Mother Earth here, and the praise showered on the dharti is so much a vocalization, too, of the farmers of this story: this is where they were born, this is where they are happier. Yahin mein sona upje, yahin pe barse armit maiyya (Here gold is harvested, here too nectar is showered).
10. Naach re dharti ke pyaare (Heera Moti, 1959): Along with Dharti kahe pukaarke, this one is my favourite song of this list on two counts: both songs are wonderful when it comes to lyrics and music, and both have picturization that actually does evoke the life of a farmer. (Coincidentally, both films star Balraj Sahni and Nirupa Roy).
Naach re dharti ke pyaare is set in the time of harvest: and in just about every frame of the song, you can see how much work that entails. As they cut the crop with their sickles, as they thresh it and winnow it, as they pile it up, they sing. So much work, so very visibly an agricultural community hard at work.
What ‘farmer’ songs would you add to this list? Please share!