Quantum Brief

Mile Sur Mera Tumhara: When ‘one melody’ instilled nationalistic pride

Today marks 76 years since India achieved independence. Mile Sur Mera Tumhara, a film bolstering national integration and nationalistic pride, still continues to stir similar emotions within one despite the passage of 35 years.

By  Kashmeera SambamurthyAug 15, 2023 9:00 AM
Mile Sur Mera Tumhara: When ‘one melody’ instilled nationalistic pride
‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’ remains an evergreen film and an all-time classic. (Stills from the ad)

It was the year 1988. Prominent ad filmmaker Kailash Surendranath was called in by the former creative director of Ogilvy & Mather (O&M), late Suresh Mullick. He was assigned the task of coming up with a film that instilled the fervour of patriotism in people. And, ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’ did stand up to its brief.

Lok Seva Sanchar Parishad is a voluntary, non-profit body promoted by Doordarshan, the Government of India’s public service broadcaster. Representatives of advertising agencies, market research groups, and the media formed the council. The body approached O&M’s Mullick and explained the brief in one line: Make Indians feel proud about being an ‘Indian’.

Then started the trilogy of films that were released in consecutive years: Spread the Light of Freedom (1987), Mile Sur Mera Tumhara (1988) and Desh Raag (1989).

1987: Torch of freedom

The pre-1990s was a period when India had not opened the doors to liberalisation. With the many restrictions imposed and high taxation, India was considered a third-world country. This resulted in people not feeling proud about being Indian’.

When Storyboard18 connected with Surendranath, he spoke about the first film of the trilogy and the involvement of sports stars in the film. Here, the sports icons passed on the Olympic torch from one to another, covering the entire country.

The soundtrack was inspired by ‘Chariots of Fire’, a 1981 British historical sports drama film about two British athletes at the 1924 Olympics. It was composed by Louis Banks. During the recording of the soundtrack, Surendranath said to Banks, "Why don’t we end the film with the strains of the national anthem, ‘Jay hai, jay hai, jay hai, jay jay jay jay hai…’?"

When the film was sent to Doordarshan—based in Delhi—for approval, they said that the national anthem could not be distorted and had to be used in its entirety. But when late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi took a look, he insisted on the use of the anthem. And its ending became the theme for the subsequent films that touched upon the concepts of national integration and national pride.

The film received critical acclaim. According to a media report, the film had the presence of sports personalities like cricketers K Srikkanth, Tiger Pataudi (Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi) who ran with his daughter actor Soha Ali Khan), Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar, EAS Prasanna, BS Chandrasekhar, and S Venkataraghavan.

This was followed by footballers PK Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, and Jarnail Singh. Track and field athletes Milkha Singh, PT Usha, Shiny Abraham, and Adille Sumariwalla; tennis players Ramanathan Krishnan, Ramesh Krishnan, and Nirupama Mankad; swimmer Taranath Shenoy; and billiards player Michael Ferreira. The film also featured hockey players Balbir Singh and Merwyn Fernandes, followed by basketball player Abbas Moontasir and badminton player Prakash Padukone.

As the ad filmmaker puts it, the film solidified an emotional connection with the people.

1988: Binding ‘Ek Sur’ together

Then came the year for India to witness ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’, which became close to being called the second national anthem of India.

When Mullick and Surendranath were ideating, they came up with, "Why don’t we come up with a song that we could do in multiple languages?" They also spoke of featuring well-known personalities in the film.

Piyush Pandey, who currently serves as chairman-global creative and executive chairman-India at O&M, was in the client-servicing department then at the company. Talking to Stroryboard18, Pandey said that he was asked by Mullick to write the lyrics.

He was told that the lyrics reflect simplicity and do not display over-the-top patriotism. "He was very clear that he wanted ‘Sur’ to be the common thread binding us together," Pandey recalled.

For the film, Hindustani classical music was chosen because it would truly reflect the spirit of India. Hence, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, who was regarded as the greatest vocalist in Hindustani classical music, was chosen. After the verses were penned, they were taken to Panditji, who accepted them. The recording was set to take place in a week.

The late vocalist was called to the studio a week later, and he recorded it within 45 minutes in Raag Bhairavi. This left everyone present at the studio enthralled. Post-recording, Surendranath coordinated with the engineer to cut down the melody to the required level. The tune was then handed over to Banks, who was adept at jazz and keyboard.

The piece was also given to the late Lakshminarayana Vaidyanathan, a prolific music composer for ad films, where he was tasked with coming up with tunes in different languages. The late composer is credited with composing the opening and closing scores, 'Thaana na nana' of Shankar Nag's Malgudi Days.

Then, the lyrics were translated into all the languages of India ― Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Odia, Punjabi, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu.

Separate pieces of music were created, and then began the task of travelling around the whole country and shooting the film. Surendranath recalls that in the pre-internet and mobile phone era, letters had to be written and trunk calls made to bring the cast together. That took almost a month.

Surendranath said, "We shot with whoever was available and agreed to come during that period. Then there were regular people too who were featured. Many could not make it, while many others were busy and refused. Most people said ‘Yes’ because they loved ‘Spread the Light of Freedom', which was released the previous year."

According to Surendranath, the final outcome was wonderful material, which they brought to Bombay, stitched together, and edited. Banks gave the final touch by bridging the pieces together, making the chorus, and presenting the whole piece as one cohesive piece of music. Multiple pieces of music in different Indian styles and with different lyrics were all put together and made into one song.

The cast who played a part in the making of the film were singers and musicians like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Vidwaan Sri M Balamuralikrishna, Lata Mangeshkar, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Shubhangi Bose, Suchitra Mitra, R A Rama Mani, and Ananda Shankar.

Poets like Nirendranath Chakravarty, Sunil Gangopadhyay, and Javed Akhtar, followed by actors Amitabh Bachchan, Jeetendra, Mithun Chakraborty, Sharmila Tagore, Hema Malini, Tanuja, Kamal Haasan, Meenakshi Seshadri, Saira Banu, Revathi, K R Vijaya, Waheeda Rehman, Shabana Azmi, Deepa Sahi, Om Puri, Bhisham Sahni, Amrish Puri, Dina Pathak, Harish Patel, Virendra Saxena, Uttam Mohanty, Pratap Pothen, and Geetanjali, were seen in the film. Cricketers Narendra Hirwani, Arun Lal, and Diana Edulji, footballers Pradip Kumar Banerjee and Chuni Goswami, hockey players Leslie Claudius and Gurbux Singh, and badminton player Prakash Padukone too were featured.

Basketball player Gulam Abbas Moontasir, dancers Sudharani Raghupathy, Amala Shankar, Mallika Sarabhai, Sathyanarayana Raju, cartoonist Mario Miranda, filmmaker Mrinal Sen, architect Kalpana Kuttaiah, motor racer Jagat Nanjappa, and television host A. V. Ramanan were all part of the cast.

In this trilogy of films that were made, there were two things considered. The first was to end the film with the national anthem, and the second was to end it with children. "Children are the future, and that should be the running theme in all three films," Surendranath revealed.

Upon its release on Independence Day, the film received critical acclaim.

Then, in 1989, came Desh Raag, which featured an ensemble cast and saw musicians like Zakir Hussain and Hariprasad Chaurasia.

Today marks the completion of 76 years of India’s independence. Over this period of time, many brands came up with campaigns and ad films for television and social media. However, ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’ remains an evergreen film and an all-time classic.

‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’ was not ahead of its time. In fact, it came at just the right time. It was well accepted because of its simplicity and the way it was beautifully woven across languages and people. It allowed one to breathe in patriotism rather than being forced upon them, concluded Pandey.

First Published on Aug 15, 2023 7:46 AM