Saturday, August 16, 2008

Happy Independence Day - Musical Montages

Happy Independence Day Folks!

(I know it is a little late, but here in the US we only celebrate on week-ends, so no apologies)

I would like to celebrate the 61st 'Happy Birdday' of our nation, by revisiting some musical memories from my growing up years. In the late eighties and early nineties DD had commissioned a series of 'Spirit of the nation' type montages. The most memorable amongst those was 'Mile Sur Mera Tumhara' that showcased the cultural diversity of the country through the prism of the folk and classical heritage of each region. This was Doordarshan and Lok Sewa Sanchar Parishad in it's last burst of glory, (before India began its journey towards globalization and DD towards fossilization). For those of us who grew up in this era, these montages are unforgettable. Remember trying to figure out the exact line 'chain taras te nain tars te' (the Kashmiri portion of the song), or marveling the stunning locales of Kerela, or trying to keep up with the various languages in which Mile sur mera tumhara is sung, or getting goose pimples on seeing the final image of Lata Mangeshkar, the ultimate tribute to popular sur in our country, the integrated voice of India fuse into the frame. My introduction to Bhimsen Joshi was through this montage. In those days I barely understood anything of what he sang, yet I loved to watch him, for the faraway look in his eyes, and the cute manner in which he would contort his face and hands as he sang.

I don't think anything has been able to capture the spirit of India's beauty, diversity and unity as imaginatively as Mile Sur Mera Tumhara did.

The other montage that ran in those days and I would specially like to showcase is the very unusual tribute to the spirit of the country through Raag Des. That was a collection of the who's who in the firament of Indian classical arts all performing on Des raag. While Mile Sur Mera Tumhara has obvious appeal, this montage is a quiet charmer. Raag Des is a sweet and distinctive raag, easy on the ears, extremely malleable and exudes the fragrance of fresh sprinkles on parched earth. The essence of the raag finds it's way into songs of the every region in the country. The whole idea to integrate the country through Des raag was a novel one. It is fascinating because, des raag probably existed before India was a nation, before we needed symbols and slogans to unite, yet even in those days there were binders in form of cultural roots and who would think amongst the innumerable raags that Hindustani and Carnatic classical music offer, it would be raag Des that would be the chosen binder. It is also the raag in which our national song 'Vande Mataram' is tuned.

Given the galaxy of classical luminaries that make an appearance in this piece, in another fifty years it will be worth it's microseconds in gold. Ravi Shankar's sitar piece particularly had left a lasting impression in the early days. When I heard it again after many years, it was even better than I remembered! I think it would have been appropriate to have had his appearance as the climactic piece. It is also fascinating to see Kavita Krishnamurthy's voice as the common thread in an effort that is essentially classical. It is a great way to gently coax the average listener into the world of classical music. It was only during the old DD stronghold that promoted folk and classical music with missionary zeal that something like this was possible. In today's 'bollywoodized' times it is next to impossible.

While we are on the topic of montages, it would be worthwhile to visit two contemporary efforts by AR Rahman - Vande Mataram and Jana Gana Mana , both conceived and presented by Bharatbala.

Watching the Jana Gana Mana video is like revisiting your ancestral town after twenty years. The same faces, but aged and tired. The same Bhimsen Joshi, the same Hariprasad Chaurasia, the same Lata Mangeshkar, but with many more lines creasing their faces. Some cherished old faces missing, notably Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Allahrakha and Ustad Zakir Hussien and many new additions like Bhupen Hazarika, Hariharan, and the most pleasant surprise - Asha Bhosle. Interestingly Asha Bhosle was completely missing from all the videos of the earlier era, a sad reflection on how late in life this great singer actually got her due. Finally the nation sees the legendary Mangeshkar sisters singing together on the same platform in the same frame. And the biggest surprise, they even pause for a microsecond and smile, yes smile at each other! (A historic occasion given all those rumours over the decades that sibling rivalry prompted the sisters to sing all duets looking in opposite directions).

The new age montages highlight the sharp difference in the eras. These videos are shot like epics. They are marked by sweeping locales, jazzy camera angles, glossy finish and flamboyant, larger than life orchestration of all the elements. Quite typical of our times. Yet despite the grandeur, they somehow seem to be missing something somewhere. They are missing the feel of 'real' India that the old montages had to offer. In the videos of yore, the locales were lush and real. The prosperous fields of Punjab, the stunning Taj Mahal, the boatman on the Hooghly, the Calcutta metro, the Dal Lake these were the visual elements that made us intimate with the living and breathing India. The moonscape of Ladakh in the Jana Gana Mana video on the other hand is impersonal and forbidding. It has a stark beauty, without doubt, but that is not a representative of 'dravid, utkal, banga' that our national anthem alludes to. The visual montages used in Vande Mataram look more out of central Asia than they do out of India. The video just does not get 'it', in my opinion.

Ofcourse, the disclaimer is that I am an old fogey when it comes to aesthetics and I tend to automatically put myself in reverse gear. Older an effort the better it is. However, I must admit, that when Lata Mangeshkar starts to sing Jana Gana Mana my hair stand on the end. I am extremely thankful to YouTube and it's denizens for uploading these valuable videos and giving me a chance to revisit cherished childhood memories again. I leave you with the videos and I hope you will enjoy them as much as I did.

Jai Bharat!

Click here to view Mile Sur Mera Tumhara
Click here to view Goonje Ban Ke Des Raag
Click here to view Jana Gana Mana
Click here to view Vande Mataram

Visit the poll section to vote for your favourite video.

The results of the poll 

Which is the best montage on national integration?

Mile sur Mera Tumhara
  12 (75%)
Ao Sab Gaayen Desh Raag
  1 (6%)
Jana Gana Mana
  2 (12%)
Vande Mataran
  1 (6%)

Votes polled: 16 


  1. Very nice, Ritu.

    There is one video which is missing from your list(it didn't have vocals, but DID have music) the one which had people like PT Usha running with a "mashaal". If I remember correctly that was the oldest of all the Lok Sanchar Sewa videos.
    I always "heard" the "chain taras" words as "taraz" because I thought

    taraz = tarz
    tarz = tune/sur.


  2. This comment has nothing to do with montages ( sorry ritu ) but I simply cannot stand the latest Lata's Vande Maataram..the one which you gave an example. When we have the original Lata version ( Anandmath ) then who will listen/see this crap ? I do not need any montage if the Anandmath song is played.
    All emotions gather up in form of goosepimples. Latabai zindaabaad !! BCC Zindabaad, Hemant Kumar zindabaad !! What a song !!! I wonder if there is any other pure sanskrit song in the hindi film industry.

  3. @ Asad, yes I remember that passing on of the torch video, thanks for reminding me of it. I will see if I can dig it out and put a link here.

    And yes, this makes sense I think it must be chain taraz, main taraz

    @ kcp: I don't have a high opinion of the Vande mataram effort myself. A for me the Lata Vande Mataram however well sung and well composed is just another good patrotic song. The real Vande Mataram is the one tuned in raag Des, the official version of 'Vande Mataram'