Socialism/Nationalism in Hindi Movies, its Music & Songs: Cinema of the week-SHREE 420 (1955) by Venkata Raman G

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Aftermath the second World War that lasted from 1939 to 1945 and the increased colonial censorship and the traumatic partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, the Studio system in India came to an end. But the optimism of the era embodied by the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru led to a revitalized Hindi cinema under the impact of new independent production companies established by many Film Makers. They were artists dislocated by Partition who arrived from Pakistan and rose to stardom as Actors, Directors or Producers & become urban legends. The rich body of films produced in the 1950s, the decade following independence frequently balanced entertainment and social commentary and continued to project Nehru’s optimism about nation-building. Driven by Stars and songs, the popular cinema firmly established itself in the daily lives and cultural imaginations of millions of Indians as well as audiences in the Soviet Union, China, and elsewhere.

Raj Kapoor was the quintessential Hindi Filmmaker of the Nehru era. His career spans the first four decades following Independence, from 1947 to 1988, coinciding with Nehruvian Socialism. In the 1950s Raj Kapoor translated his own admiration and his generation’s enthusiasm for Prime Minister Nehru’s vision into extremely popular Hindi films, which he infused with his unique mix of populist politics and sentimentality.

Raj Kapoor chose dramatic dichotomies to play up the conflicts that Hindi films emphasize: between city and country, modernity and tradition, West and East, rich and poor. His protagonists, inevitably underprivileged, are drawn inexorably to the city, only to discover the pervasive corruption and danger lurking beneath its glossy surface. This exposition reinforces the protagonist’s moral fortitude to surmount his travails and, together with his love interest, surge toward a joyous future while at the same time apparently enhancing “Indian” values.

The story of SHREE 420 (1955) begins with the Hero Raj (Raj Kapoor) bringing his newly minted College Diploma & Medal of Honesty, without a penny with him to Bombay. Several cars pass by him as he tries to hitchhike on the road, so he fakes fainting to get a car to stop and pick him up. The ruse ends, however, when he overhears the passengers discussing whether to take him to a hospital. Kicked out of the car and back on the road, Raj dusts off his shoes and continues the long walk to the metropolis singing the song “Mera joota hai Japani yeh patloon Englishtani, Sar pe laal topi Roosi, Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani”. Upon arrival in Bombay, where he has no place to love but in the streets, Raj soon realises that the only escape from a life of destitution is by being a con artist and committing various kinds of fraud. First through sleight-of-hand card tricks and then through various land schemes, Raj defrauds the wealthy, seemingly without consequences. By the end of the Film, however, he has stooped so low as to try to defraud the urban poor through a fake housing scheme, whereupon he has a moral crisis and vows to use his ill-gotten gains to facilitate the construction of a low-cost Housing in Bombay. As he looks back on the city, the film depicts a social representation of what life might be like with social and economic equality.

Conscious of International Cinema, Raj Kapoor paid homage to Charlie Chaplin by adapting the figure of the tramp, and the narratives unfold from his point of view in this greatest R K Film, which he starred in, Produced and Directed. Raj Kapoor became an unofficial ambassador of Indian Cinema; he was warmly received in the Soviet Union when he visited in the 1950s, and his popularity spread in the Middle East, China, and Africa, where songs from his films were translated into local languages,

SHREE 420 has 8 beautiful songs penned by Shailendra & Hasrat Jaipuri as under.
1. Dil ka haal sune dilwaala-Shailendra-Manna Dey
2. Ichak daanaa beechak daanaa daane oopar daanaa –Hasrat Jaipuri-Mukesh, Lata
3. Mera Jutha hai Japanbi-Shailendra-Mukesh. Lata (2 Versions)
4. Mud mud ke na dekh mud mud ke -Shailendra-Manna Dey, Asha Bhonsle.
5. O jaane waale mudke zara dekhte jaana -Hasrat Jaipuri-Lata
6. Pyaar hua iqraar huaa hai -Shailendra-Manna Dey,Lata
7. Ramaiyya vasta vaiyya Ramaiyya vasta vaiyya -Shailendra-Rafi,Mukesh, Lata
8. Shaam gayee raat aayee ke balam aa jaa -Shailendra-Lata

Here is another example of the SJ Brand- the song ”Mera jutha hai Japani” from this Film that presents a portrait of Indian Nationalism in the early post Independent period. It is one of the most recognizable Nationalist film songs in the Indian Cinematic history.

The song contains many overlapping messages and metaphors in the Lyrics and picturisation that relates as much to the character in the narrative to the newly formed Indian Nation. In the picturization the individual journey that Raj takes is paralleled by the mass migration of people from rural to urban locations in the 1950s in order to seek work. Rivers of people are constantly moving on various modes of conveyance for eg. Foot, Camel, Elephant etc. Like good poetry the lyrics has strong political & philosophical overtones that are, in many ways a direct call to action. The point is specially apparent in the first 2 antaras which argue that there are moral & ethical imperatives to improve oneself and in doing so, improve the Nation
“Nikal pade hai khulli sadak par apna seena taane
Manzil kahan, kahan rukna hai,uparwala jaane
Badte jaayen hum sailani, jaise ek dariya toofani”. (1)

“Upar-neeche neeche-upar leher chale jeevan ki
Nadaan hai jo baith kinare, pooche raah watan ki
Chalna jeevan ki kahaani, rukna maut ki nishaani” (2)

This perspective is emphasized in the final line of the 2nd antara “Chalna jeevan ki kahaani, rukna maut ki nishaani” suggests that individual & national progress go hand in hand.

The 3rd stanza has more political resonances as a call for democratic action.
“Honge raaje rajkanwar hum bigde dil shehzade
Hum singhasan par ja baithen jab jab karen iraade
Surat hai jaani pehchani duniya walon ko hairani” (3)

After being ruled by kings & former colonizers, India now has democratic self rule or SWARAJ. The idea of democratic change was the central theme in this film that had particular poignancy in this early post Independent period.

The song begins with a short Piano opening that moves into a brisk tempo. Then the Dholak carries it playing strong down beats and upbeats all with a constant accompaniment of Bells. The melody of the introductory music is carried by Woodwinds and Xylophone, later augmented by a string counter melody. While melody and counter melody move between instruments, an ensemble of Tambourine, Dholak and Xylophone accompany the melody throughout the song. Early in the song the strings outlines the final phrase of the melody, while in the later verses, strings shadow the vocal line. The end again switch the same melody of the introductory music in Woodwinds and Violin countermelody, thus suggesting the historical continuity of the Indian Nation while Raj marches ahead.

All told the Music & Lyrics argue for the value of Indian cosmopolitism in its own terms, through the centrifugal force of the Indian heart. In other words the Chaplinisque garments that RK wears may have diverse global origins, but he nevertheless retains his Indianness. This same Indian inflected cosmopolitism is reflected in the music of the song, in so far the instruments in the orchestra have diverse places of origin, but Mukesh’s vocal style embodies the Indian soul. Finally the closing line of the Mukhra “Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani” reverberates the feelings of many people in the Indian Diaspora.

In so far this cosmopolitan orientation is manifest in SJ songs, the song became emblematic Nation building project. Like other SJ songs, the melody of this song is extremely catchy and not surprisingly, the whole Film sound track is immensely popular in India as well as in Soviet Union & China where the Socialist Theme clearly resonated.

In a way SHREE 420 is a cosmopolitan synthesis of instruments and styles that helps to define the sounds of the Film songs even as it points to the social route taken by the Indian Nation.

Here is the YouTubeLink to the Epic Song-“Mera Jutha Hai Japani”-Mera Joota Hai Japani

Venkata Raman G's photo.
Venkata Raman G's photo.
Venkata Raman G's photo.
Venkata Raman G's photo.

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