We are reminded of the rich history of patriotic songs in Hindi cinema on every Republic Day or Independence Day. Dil Diya Hai Jaan Bhi Denge from Kranti (1981) or Sandese Aate Hai from Border (1997) blare out from loudspeakers, proving that they have taken on a life of their own beyond the movies to which they belong.
Such songs are aimed at rousing nationalistic sentiment and are necessarily simplistic in nature. The better and more enduring ones, however, make room for other sentiments – celebration with caution, pride tinged with anxiety, a love for the country that is firm but not blind.
Chhodo Kal Ki Baatein, Hum Hindustani
Written by Indian People’s Theatre Association poet Prem Dhawan, this song from Hum Hindustani (1961) provides a forward-backwards look. Dhawan celebrates mass industrialisation but also implores Indians to build more architectural wonders like the Taj Mahal and the Ajanta monuments.
Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna, Shaheed
Written by Urdu poet Bismil Azimabadi, the poem Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna is about self-sacrifice for a higher cause. In the Manoj Kumar starrer Shaheed (1965), based on Bhagat Singh, the poem set to music adds an undertow of melancholy to the movie’s patriotic theme.
Bismil eschews violent calls for action and celebrates love and communal feeling (“Aashiqon ka aaj jumghat koocha-e-qaatil mein hai”/Lovers have congregated on the streets of murderers today”). This perhaps explains how the song was easily adopted by students protesting against the police violence at Jamia Milia Islamia in 2019.
Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani title track
The words “Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani” appeared in Shailendra’s lyrics for Mera Joota Hai Japani from Shree 420 (1955). Your clothing and accessories may be foreign, but the heart is always Indian, Shailendra suggests.
Javed Akhtar’s song for the 2000 movie of the same name carries a nihilistic cheerfulness – we try to be modern and progressive, but what to do, we are like this only. In contrast to Mera Joota Hai Japani, which beams optimism, this song pushes the idea that India is an elusive (and proud) contradiction that no longer feels the need to live up to the values of reason and rationality.
Yeh Jo Desh Hai Tera, Swades
Swades (2004) follows a non-resident Indian technocrat’s yearning to reconnect with his Indian roots. Yeh Jo Desh Hai Tera boldly underlines this feeling. When AR Rahman sings, “Aa laut chal tu ab deewane” (Now, return home, wanderer), Javed Akhtar hasn’t just written about a literal return, but a spiritual and existential return to Indianness.
Asmaan Di Pari, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl
The 2020 film about the titular Indian Air Force pilot who served during the Kargil War has Bharat Ki Beti as its pop patriotic anthem. Better still is Asmaan Di Pari. Lyricist Kausar Muni highlights Gunjan Saxena’s simple ambition to command the skies. The song celebrates a woman’s agency and makes the space for dreams and aspirations not bound to the nation state.
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