There was a time when sad, tearful film songs on the plight of the poor were quite popular. But now it is very rare to hear such songs in the present-day films. May be it i sbecause of the changes that have been taking place in our socioeconomic life over the past three-four decades. Or may be the stories of the films now being made in Bollywood are mostly centred round people who come from well-to-do classes in urban India. India of course is still quite poor, but perhaps not as depressingly poor as it was, say, some sixtyseventy years ago. Rural India, however, is still in bad shape. Our farmers are still at the mercy of natural forces. Excessive rains or a prolonged spell of drought can even today ruin a farmer economically.
Imagine if Bimal Roy’s film “Do Bigha Zameen” (1953) is released today with some changes in it in order to contextualise its story in modern times, shall anyone find anything incongruent about it? I think it would be considered a good film and quite relevant to our times. So, sad, tearful film songs bemoaning the plight of the poor, though now seldom heard in Hindi films,can even today touch our hearts. Perhaps the first sad song on the plight of the poor was heard in the 1942 Hindi film entitled. “Zamindar”. The song, “Duniya mein garibon ko araam nahin milta, rotey hain to hasney ka paigaam nahin milta…” was written by Qamar Jalalabadi, set to music by Ghulam Haider, and sung by Shamshad Begum.
After India achieved independence, the poor A C Tuli writes on film issues naturally looked forward to the coming of achhe dinin their lives. But, like an ever receding mirage, achhe dinkept eluding them. Butstill the poor did not give up hope. In 1951 came Ranjit Movietone’s film “Hum Log”, starring Balraj Sahni, Nutan, Sajjan, and Shyama. It was directed by Zia Sarhadi. It was a dark, gloomy film telling the story of a family living in grinding poverty. With every passing day, the hardships of this family go on piling.
The unemployed young son of this family has given up all hope of ever seeing achhe din for his family. The young daughter suffers from TB but there is no money in the house for her medical treatment. The film ends on a note of vague hope for the poor with the song, “Gaaye chalaja gaaye chala ja, ik din tera bhi zamana aaye gaa…” The song, “Ajab tori duniya ho morrey Rama ajabtori duniya… “, in “Do Bigha Zameen” is sungby poor rickshaw-pullers, roadside hawkers, and down-at-heel daily-wage labourers when at the end of a hectic day they sit together outside their hovels to relax and entertain each other with some music. This song in the film is reflective of the irony in the life of the poor – it is the poor who build palatial buildings and roads for others but they themselves live in hovels.
They grow cereals, vegetables, and fruit for others but their own children very often go to bed on an empty stomach. In cloth mills, the poor make cloth for others but they themselves remain clad in rags. This song was written by Shailendra and composed by Salil Choudhary. Raj Kapoor’s “Boot Polish” (1954) was a landmark film in the history of Hindi cinema. The film is the story of two orphan children living with their stone-hearted aunt, who ill-treats them and forces them to beg on the streets of Bombay (now Mumbai). But the children, encouraged by a cripple of their locality called John Chacha, try to earn an honest living by working as shoeshines.
There was a touching song in this film in the voice of Mohammad Rafi and chorus. On the screen it was sung by orphan children, “Tere laadlon ki dua maangte hai, tumhaare hain tumse dayaa maangte hain…” Set to music by Shankar-Jaikishen, itwas written by Shailendra. In the 1955 Hindi film “Seema”, a miserably poor man with some orphan children in rags goes from street to street begging for alms. With an old harmonium dangling from his neck, he sings, “Hamein bhi de do sahara ke be-saharey hain, phalak ki godh se toote hue sitare hain…” , and the little orphan children dance to its tune.
The most touching couplet of this song is, “Bharaa ho peit to sansaar jagmagaata hai,/Sataaye bhookh to imaan dug-magaata hai…“ (When one’s belly is full, the world looks brightly lit up, but when the pangs of hunger torment one, one’s honesty and integrity are in peril). In 1956 came a film entitled “Naya Aadmi” starring N.T Rama Rao and Anjali Devi, there was a stirring song on the pathetic plight of the poor, “Garibon ka paseena beh raha hai, yeh paani behte behte keh raha hai, kabi wo din bhi aaye ga yeh paani rung laye ga….”It was written by Rajinder Krishan, composed by Madan Mohan, and sung by Mohammad Rafi. In the 1966 film “Dus Lakh”, the duet sung by Mohammad Rafi and Asha Bhonsle, “Garibon ki suno, wo tumhari sune ga, tum ek paisa doge, wo dus lakh degaa…..” became so popular that for years it was the favourite song of street beggars in northern India as they moved from door to door begging for alms.
A song in Manoj Kumar’s film “Roti, Kapada, Aur Makaan” (1974)graphically showcased the plight of the common man who is unable to meet the daily needs of his life because his expenses are always outstripping his meagre income. The song, “Powder waalley doodh ki malayee maar gayee, gareeb ko bachche ki padhaee maar gayee, Baaki jo bachaa wo mehangaee maar gayee…”, evokes in vivid detail the setbacks that the poor face in their daily life because of inflation and soaring prices of essential commodities. It was sung, by Mukesh, Lata, Narinder Chanchal, Jani Babu and chorus. “Happiness is but an occasional episode in a general drama of pain.” was the last line of Thomas Hardy’s famous tragic novel, “The Mayor Of Casterbridge”. So true! Indeed, happiness in the life of a poor man is just an occasional episode otherwise (page 3) PF- 92/2017 it is one long drama of pain and suffering that only ends with his death.