Come August 15, and India’s airwaves are full of patriotic film songs—from the stirring anti-colonial Ai Vatan, Ai Vatan, Hum Ko Teri Qasam, picturised on Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his comrades, and war-related tearjerkers likeAi Mere Watan Ke Logon to rousing anthems for the temples of modern India like Chhodo Kal Ki Baatein, complete with footage of mountain sides being cut to build dams and factories.
Many of the best loved and most memorable patriotic movie songs date back to the first decades of independence—those heady days when India had shaken off the shackles of colonial rule and was preoccupied with building itself up as a nation and confronting external threats.
But there has also been a subversive side to the patriotism of the Hindi film industry, with a handful of directors and lyricists determined to make Indians think hard about what freedom and independence really ought to mean—an end to injustice and exploitation, communal divisions, the oppression of women, wars brought upon the people by corrupt or inept leaders—and which celebrate the ideals of solidarity.
1. Cheen-o-Arab Hamara
In this song dripping with sarcasm from Ramesh Saigal’s Phir Subah Hogi (1958), Sahir Ludhianvi shows up the hypocrisy of those taking pride in Iqbal’s notion of India as ‘sare jahan se acchcha’ when so many of its people remain poor and hungry:
2. Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par Woh Kahan Hain?
Sahir reminds us again of the dangers of misplaced pride in this classic and controversial song from Guru Dutt’sPyaasa (1957), in which the hero-poet, betrayed by love, commerce and alchohol, opens his eyes to the wretchedness all around him and indicts the country’s leaders for not doing anything about this.
3. Jaaney Waley Sipahi Se Poochho