One of the biggest box office hits of the year 1954 was a tearjerker titled Jagriti (The Awakening). Produced by Sashadhar Mukherjee’s Filmistan Studio and directed by Satyen Bose, the film told the story of a rich brat, Ajay, who is packed off by his father to a school run by an idealistic teacher (played by Abhi Bhattacharya). There, Ajay meets the gentle Shakti, a disabled man who tries to reform him. When the incorrigible Ajay runs away from the school, Shakti tries to stop him but gets killed in an accident. Brought to his senses, a remorseful Ajay metamorphoses into a model citizen of the newly independent nation.

Jagriti, apparently a remake of Satyen Bose’s 1949 Bengali film Paribartan, was part of a wave of patriotic films made during the period when hope and optimism were in the air, when the Nehruvian dream was still intact. It bagged two Filmfare Awards in 1956, for Best Film and Best Supporting Actor (Abhi Bhattacharya). Today, the film is remembered chiefly for its songs penned by Kavi Pradeep, all classic dry-day staples.

Asha Bhonsle sings De Di Humein Azaadi.

A month or so ago, while surfing YouTube, I serendipitously came across a song which was a straight lift of the De Di Humein Azaadi tune. Startlingly, it was titled Aye Quaid-e-Azam Tera Ehsaan. The lines De di humein azaadi bina khadag bina dhal/ Sabarmati ke sant tu ne kar diya kamaal had been changed to De di humein azaadi ki duniya huyi hairaan/ Aye Quaid-e-Azam tera ehsaan hai ehsaan. In other words, a song celebrating the Indian Father of the Nation had been transposed to eulogise his Pakistani counterpart. What was happening here?

Munawar Sultana sings Aye Quaid-e-Azam Tera Ehsaan.

The plagiarised song is from a 1959 Pakistani film called Bedari (the Urdu word for awakening). The Pakistani film, it turns out, is an out-and-out copy of Jagriti. It was not just a song that was lifted – all the tunes from Jagriti were retained, with suitable changes in the lyrics. Thus, the ever-popular Aao Bachchon Tumhe Dikhayen Jhaanki Hindustan Ki became Aao Bachchon Saer Karayen Tumko Pakistan Ki.

Bharat Darshan: Aao Bachchon Tumhein Dikhayen Jhaanki Hindustan Ki.

Pakistan Darshan: Aao Bachchon Saer Karayen Tumko Pakistan Ki.

What is more intriguing is the story of Rattan Kumar. Easily the most popular male child star in Bombay then – the list of films he starred in include BR Chopra’s Afsana, Vijay Bhatt’s Baiju Bawra, Raj Kapoor’s Boot Polish and Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen – he played the crucial role of the heartstrings-tugging, tears-inducing disabled Shakti in Jagriti. Rattan Kumar’s real name, however, was Nazir Rizvi and soon after the release of Jagriti, he migrated with his family to Pakistan. And as luck would have it, he played the lead in Bedari too.

Rattan Kumar in Jagriti.

Rattan Kumar in ‘Bedari’.

While researching this piece, I came across a fascinating piece in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. Written by a former member of Pakistan’s censor board, Sayed GB Shah Bokhari, it sheds light on the film’s journey in Pakistan:
“Since a ban had been placed in Pakistan against the import or public exhibition of Indian films, the film producers in Lahore in 1956 cashed in on this opportunity to produce a film, namely ‘Bedari’ – a carbon copy of the story and songs of the Indian film ‘Jagriti’…

“When ‘Bedari’, was released in Pakistan in 1956, it too made fabulous business in the first few weeks of exhibition. However, it dawned upon the Pakistani cinemagoers that they were watching a plagiarised film. There was a mass uproar that caused public demonstrations against exhibition of the plagiarised film. The Censor Board of Pakistan immediately put a ban on this film.”

But that was not the end of the matter. As Bokhari writes:
“Four decades later in the 1990s someone picked one song from ‘Bedari’ that renders ‘Yoon di hamay azaadi kay dunya hui hairaan, aiy Quid-i-Azam tera ehasaan hai ehsaan’ sung by Munawwar Sultana and aired on PTV…Without knowing its plagiarised status, this song became a theme song not only on PTV but at many public functions held to pay tribute to the Father of the Nation.

“However, through the press, as member of the Federal Film Board of Censor, I pointed out the background of this song to the then PTV MD who immediately placed a ban on this song. Nonetheless, out of ignorance of its plagiarised status this song is still being rendered at many public functions.”

The former member of Pakistan’s censor board ends his article with an angst-ridden question:
“Is it not a shame to pay tribute to the Father of the Nation through a plagiarised Indian song?”

As of this writing, the question had elicited exactly five responses, one of them from an Indian. What is surprising is that none of the replies had the vitriol one normally associates with online discussions, especially when it comes to something involving India and Pakistan (or is this merely an efficient human filter at work?).

One of the respondents, "Khan Baba" nonchalantly states:
Not really... you need to get out of your box and see things differently... open mind and open heart..

‘Simba’ is a little more animated:
It is indeed a shameful situation that a tribute needs to be offered using a lifted song…It is more appalling that the original film had to be banned because it was Indian, and it glorified Gandhi. Why? Don’t we have a shared history of freedom struggle?

The last word, however, must go to the pragmatic Indian:
We also lift a lot of songs from you....its okay. It's a sub-continental habit.

Mohammed Rafi sings Hum Laaye Hain Toofan Se Kashti Nikaal Ke.

Saleem Raza sings Hum Laye Hain Toofan Se Kashti Nikaal Ke.