Kadam Kadam Badhaye Ja, which was composed as a marching tune for Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army, has been consistently used in Hindi films to convey patriotic emotion. Everyone from C Ramachandra and Lata Mangeshkar in Samadhi (1950) to AR Rahman for Shyam Benegal’s Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2005) has had a take on the classic tune. It was even used in an unintentionally hilarious scene in Manoj Kumar’s Clerk (1989), in which a son cures his aging father, a former soldier, of heart disease by playing the song on a stereo.
The latest reinvention comes by way of Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Raag Desh, a period drama about the INA trials in Delhi in 1945. The July 28 release stars Kunal Roy Kapoor, Amit Sadh and Mohit Marwah as the three soldiers who are on trial, and Kenny Basumatary as Bose. The song Hawaon Mein Woh Aag Hai in the film, which is sung by KK and Shreya Ghoshal, talks of the burning passion of soldiers before reaching a crescendo and morphing into Kadam Kadam Badhaye Ja.
The marching song, which is a fiery call to soldiers to come together, was originally composed by Ram Singh, the bandmaster of INA. The military unit was formed with soldiers of the British Indian Army, who had been taken captive by the Imperial Japanese Army in a battle in Singapore. Singh, who died in 2002, was born in a village near Dharamsala in 1914. He also composed the tune for the version of the national anthem, which was initially sung as Sukh Chain Kee Barkha Barse, and was the progenitor of the present incarnation, which was sung as Qaumi Tarana by the INA in Singapore in 1943.
Bose took note of Singh’s musical talent and asked him to compose the tune that eventually became Kadam Kadam Badhaye Ja. The lyrics were by Vanshidhar Shukla. The song provided accompaniment to soldiers as they marched towards India to take on the British Army. Bose believed that INA could easily outmanoeuvre the British, but it was not to be. Plagued by inhospitable terrain and lack of supplies, they were forced to beat a retreat.
In an interview conducted shortly before his death, Singh recalled the composition of the national anthem. “Subhasji told me that the tune of Qaumi Tarana should be so powerful and inspiring that when INA soldiers render the same, it should stir the soul of not only the soldiers but millions of Indians also, as such we kept on practising the Qaumi Tarana at Deedadri camp in Singapore,” he said.
Such was the power of the song that the colonial British government wanted it banned for sedition. In 2016, 64 Netaji files were declassified by the West Bengal government, and they revealed that the British government had wanted to ban the song in 1945. Of course, it would have been too late.
Singh was later invited to perform the national anthem when Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the Indian flag at the Red Fort on August 15, 1947.