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Mere Desh Ki Dharti from UPKAR (1967) - A traditional ritual for the nation. (Articles on Cinema by Bobby Sing)

16 Aug, 2021 | Articles on Cinema

It is a widely known fact that Manoj Kumar conceived Upkar in the mid-60s on the theme of ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’ suggested by Prime Minister Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri. He dedicated the creation to the respected politician’s sacred memory too, duly mentioning it in the opening titles. The film, written during a train journey, not only gave the writer-director a new image of Bharat Kumar but also laid the foundation for his series of patriotic movies, post its mega-success. However, while working on its fabulous soundtrack, who would have thought among the creative geniuses that one of their musical creations in the film will almost become a second anthem of the nation in the coming times.
Releasing two decades post-independence, ‘Mere desh ki dharti’ from Upkar, was an instant hit that later became associated with both Independence and Republic Day celebrations like a traditional ritual all over the country. Even in this third decade of the new millennium (after over 50 years of its conception), it remains the first song selected and played in any cultural program celebrating the historical days, at times even including the official government events. A few years back, it was also reported to be quoted by an honourable judge in the judgement commenting upon the spirit of nationalism in the youth.
As a pleasant surprise, recently the song got a new meaning post the 2021 Tokyo Olympics when Neeraj Chopra brought the Olympic Gold Medal home and the former Indian Cricket captain Sunil Gavaskar sang, “Mere desh ki dharti sona ugley, ugley heerey moti” in a viral video celebrating the grand success making every Indian proud.
This new association with the Gold Medal was in reality quite similar to how the poetic expression was initially written by its poet/lyricist Gulshan Bawra while working as a goods-clerk in the Railways around the mid-50s (a decade before Upkar).
Wandering and noting the proceedings in the railway godown, as Gulshan witnessed hundreds of sacks of rice and wheat being unloaded from the trains, their yellowish, gold-like visuals inspired him to write the verses beginning with “Mere desh ki dharti sona ugley”. The poem stayed with him for many years till Manoj Kumar heard him singing it in one of their journeys together. He liked the opening phrase and recalled the same while making Upkar and asked Gulshan to work on it as a song.
Shared by the director in an interview, though he loved the expression but didn’t like the continuing words as ‘Mere desh ki dharti sona ugley, jawanon bhar lo jholiyan, khushi se bolo boliyan’. The phrase was thus finalized as “Mere desh ki dharti sona ugley, ugley heerey moti’, that made both the lyricist and the music directors Kalyanji Anandji unsure of its impact as the writing sounded incomplete with only one line in its opening verse (mukhda). However, following the strong conviction of their director, the song was written and composed beginning with the single line phrase, becoming one of the rare songs of its kind, defying the set pattern of Hindi film music. It eventually won Gulshan Bawra his first Filmfare trophy for the Best Lyricist in 1968.
Interestingly, the story of its making doesn’t end here as shared by Kalyanji Anandji recalling the time when Manoj Kumar questioned them, that will they be able to give an authentic rural feel to the song as per the script? The composer duo spiritedly took up the challenge and responded that we will give you that feel, but will you be able to picturize it on the screen, visualizing an entire day in the rural ambience beginning from the early morning to dusk? The creators agreed to deliver their part, and the result was a cult classic song in terms of lyrics, music, and visuals together, beautifully sung by Mahendra Kapoor and directed by Manoj (Bharat) Kumar. It also awarded Kapoor the National Award of Best Playback Singer for his soulful rendition of the song in 1968.
So, this Independence Day, revisit the memorable creation noticing how it has an unusual one-line mukhda that has turned immortal with time. And how its visual depiction begins from the birds chirping and farmers coming to their fields in the morning to the divine sunset, painting a mesmerizing picture of the daily life activities in our rural India. Besides, the intelligently composed modern interludes of the song also point towards the westernized culture followed by the youngsters, representing the existence of a dualistic Indian economy since independence. Have a great Independence Day, celebrating the spirit of United India. Jai Hind!
Bobby Sing

NOTE : The article was first published in THE FREE PRESS JOURNAL Newspaper (Mumbai Edition) on 15th August 2021.
Note : The write-up is a chapter shared from my upcoming book releasing soon. So any additions, rectifications suggested by friends are welcome to make it better.
Did You Know By Bobby SingFor more such interesting articles on lesser known facts on Hindi Cinema, do try DID YOU KNOW Series by Bobby Sing available in both Book and E-book form.

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Tags : Mere Desh Ki Dharti from UPKAR (1967) by Bobby Sing at bobbytalkscinema.com, Articles on Cinema by Bobby Sing at bobbytalkscinema.com
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