[This post originally appeared here.]
Patriotism has always been an important theme in Hindi films. Films like Anand Math (1952), Haqeeqat (1964), Shaheed (1965), Upkar (1967), Kranti (1981), Prahaar (1991), Border (1997), The Legend Of Bhagat Singh (2002), Swades (2004) and Rang De Basanti (2006) had strong patriotic themes. There are many film songs capable of inducing nationalistic fervour in the most apathetic of individuals. However, these films and songs were made in an independent India with no oversight from British rule. Imagine the spirit of the film-makers and artists who were involved in patriotic films and songs when India was still under the British rule! In this post, I talk about 5 songs that made exhortations for a free India before 1947.
The first song in this list, sung by Ashok Kumar and Renuka Devi, is by a poet who would go on to be called Rashtrakavi – Kavi Pradeep. Pradeep was perhaps best known for writing the Lata Mangeshkar song that moved Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to tears – “Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon”. “Ek Naya Sansar” quite explicitly makes a call for a free India, with lines like “..azadi ke preet ke gaane…” and “Aisa ek sansar ke jisme dharti ho azad, ke jisme jeevan ho azad, ke jisme bharat ho azad”. It’s a wonder how the song got past the draconian British censor board. It was this censor board that had forced V. Shantaram to change the name of his 1935 film from “Mahatma” to “Dharmatma”. The British apparently didn’t want films to contribute to the popularity of a certain Mahatma.
Kavi Pradeep wrote this song during the Quit India movement. “Door Hato” was quite literally a demand for the British to quit India. To avoid objections by the censor board, Pradeep used the line “Tum Na Kise Ke Aage Jhukna German Ho Ya Japani” to make it appear that the song was against the Axis powers of World War II. Anil Biswas’ use of a marching band arrangement, Amirbai Karnataki’s powerful voice and a superb chorus complemented Pradeep’s lyrics and resulted in a hugely popular song.
This was Mohd. Rafi’s first song. Although he had recorded for “Gaon Ki Gori” earlier, the film’s music was released only in 1945. We can sense the young Rafi’s tentativeness, but thanks to some good music by Naushad, inspiring lyrics by D.N. Madhok and the support of a chorus, the end result is quite good. The interesting thing about this song is that while it calls of “India for Indians”, it talks about a common goal across religious divides – something we seem to be struggling with to this day.
When “Jana Gana Mana Adhinayaka…” appeared on screen for the first time, India wasn’t an independent country and the song was yet to be chosen as our national anthem. “Humrahi” was Bimal Roy’s Hindi film debut as director and was a remake of the Bengali film “Udayer Pathe” he had directed the previous year. The song was recorded by the film’s music director R.C. Boral and rendered by a choir. While the original Rabindranath Tagore hymn had five stanzas, the first of which became the national anthem, the film recorded only four stanzas.
I chose this song because it works very well as a symbol of the cost of India’s independence in 1947 – Partition. Composed by Hafeez Khan and written by Anjum Pilibhiti, the song is sung by Noor Jehan, who was one of the Hindi film artists we lost to Pakistan in 1947. By 1946, the writing was on the wall for the British and preparations had begun to grant India independence. Thanks to the political climate at the time, the call for a free India is quite belligerent in this song:
Le ke rahenge hum azadi, Woh din aane wala hai
Jhanda apna saari duniya par lahrane wala hai
As we celebrate independence this year, let’s spare some thought for the artists of the film industry who chipped in with their bit in India’s freedom struggle.