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When Bollywood sings, the nation hums the tunes forever
Tanushree Bhasin  25th Jan 2014

(Left): Lata Mangeshkar singing Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon at the Ram Leela Maidan alongside Jawaharlal Nehru on 27 January, 1963.

ome 26 January, and all the radio stations will go crazy playing patriotic songs. Television channels will put together musical shows tracing India's nationalistic past through music. All day, you will be reminded that you are an Indian and that you ought to be proud of that — this through the most accessible tools of communication — music.

Though patriotic songs from Hindi films all speak of a love for the nation and in effect help construct and shape it, if you listen carefully, they also suggest "others" against whom the nationalism is being defined. Initially, the enemy was all too clear and the music that was written for films was in essence anti-colonial, which also strived to inspire a sense of devotion towards a nation-in-flux. Through films that celebrated freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh (Shaheed, 1965) and those that looked at specific historical events in the fight against the British (Anand Math, 1952), we welcomed a new era in India's history with songs like Mere Desh Ki Dharti (Upkar, 1967), Ae Watan Ae Watan (Shaheed, 1965), and Apni Azadi Ko Hum Hargiz Mita Sakte Nahin (Leader, 1965).

When we fought wars with China and Pakistan, the enemy was redefined and the continuous project of nation-making was restructured and songs like Kar Chale Hum Fida Jjaan-o-tan Saathiyon (Haqeekat, 1965), and Hindustaan Ki Kasam (1973) served to inspire patriotism. Lata Mangeshkar sang the song Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon on 27 January 1963 before Jawaharlal Nehru as a way of commemorating the death of all the soldiers who had died fighting the doomed Sino-Indian war the same year, bringing an entire nation to tears.

At the same time, India as an independent nation in its own right also needed to define itself in opposition to the culture of the rulers it had just rejected in 1945. We saw a string of films that addressed this East-West divide, always claiming superiority for the spiritual and morally intact East. Manoj Kumar, a pioneer of the patriotism genre of cinema, also played the quintessential simple-Indian-man in Purab aur Paschim (1970), singing songs like Bharat Ka Rehanewala Hoon.

What is interesting about these songs is that though we first hear them in the context of the film, each subsequent listening is actually without context — and therein lies the strength of patriotic music. For you might forget the film and its story, the song and especially how it made you feel will always be remembered.

In the recent past, India's war and on-going terrorism problem has inspired films that have given us an array of songs about war, soldiers, separation and 'Bharat Ma'. Songs like Sandese Aate Hain (Border, 1997), Bharat Humko Jaan Se Pyara Hai (Roja, 1992), and Kandhon Se Milte Hain Kandhe (Lakshya, 2004) all come from a war context. At the same time, our obsession with figures like Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose continues to live with several films about their lives having been made and re-made over the years. The Legend of Bhagat Singh featured an amazing soundtrack by AR Rahman, and gave us a treasure trove of patriotic songs like Mera Rang De Basanti Chola, Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna and Desh Mere. Ekla Chalo from Subhash Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero is another inspiring rendition of the classic song.

What is interesting about these songs is that though we first hear them in the context of the film, each subsequent listening is actually without context — and therein lies the strength of patriotic music. For you might forget the film and its story, the song and especially how it made you feel will always be remembered. Which is why songs like Vande Mataram, even when used in mainstream films like Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, automatically invoke a deep sense of patriotism.Image 2nd

It might also be interesting to remember here, that there are several songs in our cinematic history that attempted to define nationalism in different ways, sometimes questioning the war-mongering and racially biased nature of Indian nationalism. Sahir Ludhianvi wrote the song Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par for the film Pyaasa (1957), which spoke about the farcical nature of Indian independence. Similarly, Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera from Swades urged the protagonist to return to the motherland to help rid it of problems like illiteracy, caste discrimination and poverty that she continued to suffer from.

Clearly then, the project of nationalism is never complete, and songs about different kinds of nationalism will continue to blast through loudspeakers across the country for as long as Bollywood continues to influence our everyday.

 
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