In India, film songs are an indispensable part of everyday life. You can hear Bollywood music playing everywhere from public transport, market shops to hospitals and homes.
Bollywood songs have mass appeal and have been used as a vehicle to carry social and political messages. Songs like “Jinhe Naaz hai Hind par” (Sahir), “Mahaul thik thak hai” (Gulzar), “Dil Ka Haal sune dil wala” (Shailendra) etc. had effectively attacked the prevalent social ills like prostitution, corruption and poverty. “Ye public hai ye sab janti hai” is a famous song picturised on Rajesh Khanna and raises the issue of hoarding and black marketing. In a nutshell, the point is that film songs have been the carriers of social and political messages.
With Alam Ara (1931), India started producing talkies and within a few years, film songs started having mass appeal. It was in 1939 that the film studio Bombay Talkies hired a young and energetic Hindi poet, Pradeep, to pen lyrics of the songs. “Bandhan”, released in 1940, was his second movie as a lyricist. The soundtrack of the movie included a song, “Chal Chal Re Naujawan” (Move on O young man) sung by child actor Suresh and composed by Ram Chandra Pal.
In the movie, this song depicts a march. At the time, the Indian National Movement, led by Mahatma Gandhi, was at its peak and the Indian National Congress (INC) used to organise morning assemblies of people called Prabhat Pheri. The impact and popularity of the song can be gauged by the fact that the song used to be sung at these assemblies by patriotic INC activists. INC also formed a children corp known as “Vanar Sena” under the leadership of Indira Gandhi. Vanar Sena adopted the song as its marching song and Indira herself used to sing it at the meetings. She later admitted that this song had a lifelong impact on her.
In order to exploit the popularity of the song, Filmistan studio later, in 1944, produced a movie named “Chal Chal Re Naujawan”. For Pradeep it was just the beginning. He went on to write several unforgettable patriotic songs.
It was again at the Bombay Talkies that Gyan Mukherjee was directing a movie ‘Kismet’ in 1942. The movie was almost complete around the time Mahatma Gandhi gave a call for Quit India Movement. News of Gandhi and other leaders being imprisoned made producer Sridhar Mukherjee restless. He called Pradeep and asked him to write a song to call English to Quit India, so that it could be used in the movie.
Film historian Prem Pal notes that Pradeep, in a confused state of mind, asked Mukherjee that how could he put a patriotic revolutionary song in a movie which is about a pickpocket and his love-life. But, Sridhar was adamant and hence Pradeep wrote the lyrics of the immortal song, “Aaj Himalaya ki choti se phir humne lalkara hai” (From the top of Himalaya, we have again challenged).
When the song was shown to the producer and the director, they felt that censor board would not allow the song to see the light of the day. Pradeep again came to rescue and he strategically altered the penultimate sentence of the lyrics as “Tum na kisi ke aage jhukna German ho ya Japani” (Never bow down before anybody, be it German or Japanese) hence making the British officials believe that the song was actually against the Japanese aggression during the World War. But the words “Door hato aey duniya walo Hindustan humara hai” (Keep away O foreigners, India is our land) were enough to make Indians understand the real meaning of the song. The song became an instant hit and caught the imagination of anti-British agitators and was played at the protests. Even after independence, the song remained the signature tune for ‘Army Program’ on All India Radio.
It was not only Pradeep who was writing these revolutionary patriotic songs. In 1941, Sohrab Modi’s ‘Sikandar’ hit the screens. Pandit Sudarshan penned the lyrics for the movie while Mir Sahab and Rafiq Ghaznavi composed the music. The soundtrack has a song “Jeete desh humara, Bharat hai ghar baar humara, Bharat hai sansar humara” (Victory to our country, Bharat is our home, Bharat is our world).
Imagine a movie released under colonial rule which features a song praying for the “victory to the nation”. One can only guess that under colonial rule, when the National Movement was at its peak, what the masses understood by this “victory”. Even though in the movie this is a prayer for victory against the forces of ancient Greek ruler Alexander, the song fuelled the nationalist sentiments among Indian youth.
In 1944, Naushad composed music for the film “Pehle Aap”. This film included the first released song of legendary singer Mohammed Rafi. Incidentally this song, written by DN Madhok is a beautiful patriotic song.
Song goes like, “Hindustan ke hum hain, Hindustan humara. Hindu Muslim dono ki ankho ka tara.” (We belong to India, India belongs to us. Hindu Muslim both take pride in being Indian).
And the real gem came in the year 1946, in the movie Humjoli, when another legendary singer Noorjahan sang a song, “Ye desh humara pyara, Hindustan jaha se nyara” (This nation is beloved, India is the best in the world) written by Anjum Pilibhiti and composed by Hafiz Khan.
What sets the song apart from other pre-Independence period patriotic songs is the explicit call for freedom made in the song. It ends with, “le ke rahenge hum azadi, wo din ane wala hai, jhanda apna sari duniya par lehrane wala hai.” (We will definitely snatch the freedom, the day is arriving soon, our flag will hoist atop the whole world)
Next year, India gained the independence and after that starting from Dileep Kumar starrer Shaheed (1948) we can witness several patriotic films and patriotic songs. While there is no denial to the fact that patriotic songs like “Watan ki raah me, watan ke naujawan shaheed ho” or “De di hume azadi bina khadag bina dhaal” are masterpieces but the fact that the above discussed songs were written, composed and sung in the face of tyrant colonial rule makes those all the more valiant and impactful. Still for reasons unknown these patriotic songs from pre-1947 era have been erased from the public memory. Apart from “Aaj Himalaya ki choti se…” no other song from the era makes it to the playlist of TV channels or FM channels that is played on Independence Day.
While we pay a tribute to the political leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Subhash and others, these valiant filmmakers, lyricists, singers and musicians must also be remembered for their immense contribution to the freedom movement.
(Author is a well known historian)