As a film, Mehboob Khan’s “Mother India” is established as a classic in the annals of Hindi cinema. The soundtrack of this motion picture, however, generates mixed feelings among fans of Hindi music. While a few opine that Naushad’s work here is excellent, others believe that the tunes lack a certain joie de vivre. What cannot be doubted though is Naushad’s effort to reflect the mood of the film’s plot into his musical pieces.
“Dukh Bhare Din Beete Re Bhaiya” is a sparky and happy melody rendered by Shamshad Begum, Manna Dey, Mohd. Rafi and Asha Bhosle. Naushad has always been very adept at bringing the best out of his chorus. Here, they sing enthusiastically and provide a first-rate back-up for the four lead singers. The result is a merry tune that reflects the cheerful mood of the main characters in a certain juncture of the story. In a way, the folksy beat and the lively chorus reminds one of “Ghanan Ghanan” from “Lagaan”, composed by A.R. Rehman.
One of Naushad’s most favorite singers, Shamshad Begum, yields another boisterous yet traditional number, “Holi Aayi Re Kanhai”. Shamshad was a brilliant choice for this type of song. She was always able to portray infectious excitement through her rustic voice so her singing makes this Holi number a lot of fun to listen to. Shamshad has sobered down her excitement and adopted a melancholic tone for “Pee Ke Ghar Aaj Pyari Dulhaniya Chali”. This is a standard run-of-the-mill song about a young bride leaving her parent’s house.
“Nagri Nagri Dware Dware Dhoondo Re Sanwariya” is given an emotional rendition by Lata Mangeshkar. One can almost feel the sound of her heart being crushed to pieces as she calls out for her beloved. Lata carries on the theme of suffering and heartbreak in “Duniya Main Hum Aaye Hain To Jeena Hi Padega, Jeevan Hai Agar Zahar To Peena Hi Padega”. This time she is joined by
Meena Mangeshkar and Usha Mangeshkar (who sing for Nargis’s character’s two sons in the film). As one may be able to guess from the line in the title, Shakeel Badayuni’s lyrics are more philosophical. His words reflect the determination and the thoughtful nature of the film’s main protagonist, Radha (Nargis).
The next track is happier and quite charming. “Ghoongat Nahin Kholungi Saiyan Tore Aage”, whispers Lata. If one could feel her heart break during the last two songs then one can definitely feel Lata’s coy smile cascading on her lips while crooning this number. Her sweet singing is just perfect for a song about a shy girl discovering that she has found the man of her dreams.
Radha’s desperation is depicted in the next two tracks, “O Mere Laal Aaja” and “O Jaanewale Jao Na”. Besides Lata, both the songs have in common the theme of imploring people to return. In the former, a mother calls out for her son. This song has become a classic in its own right as it is now played on almost every Asian radio station on Mother’s Day. The lyrics convey the affection and anguish that a loving mother often feels for her child. “Tere liye hoon paagal aakhir to maa hoon teri.” Lata’s singing is exemplary but I do feel that her voice was rather too young to be used for a middle-aged mother character (Shamshad would have been a better choice). But that is only a minor complaint. Naushad has created a score here that becomes very dramatic and operatic towards the end of the piece. It gets even more powerful in “O Jaanewale Jao Na”. In parts of the song, Lata has been made to sing at a higher pitch than what would normally be allowed by the music director. As a result, her voice sounds a bit shrill. Nevertheless, this thrilling composition is still very enjoyable to listen to.
“O Gadiwale” is uplifted by Shamshad’s brand of rollicking enthusiasm. She steals the thunder from Rafi and makes the jovial song her own. What is even more fun to listen to is “Matwale Jiya” (Lata, Rafi and chorus). I can guarantee that the choral refrains of “arre paagal, arre paagal!” will make you want to sing along. Rafi makes more of an impression here than in the previous track. He expresses through his singing style the hedonistic but romantic feelings of a contented young man experiencing the first days of romantic love.
“Na Main Bhagwan Hoon, Na Main Shaitaan Hoon” is notable only for the way that Rafi has adapted his voice to suit the character of an illiterate villager, Birju (Sunil Dutt). Rafi sings with a deliberate ‘twang’ in his Hindi accent, which exactly befits the nature and personality of Birju. Manna Dey is given his own solo song in “Chunnariya Katti Jaye Re”. He brings a soulful quality to the tune with his own rendition. This track shows just how much of an underrated singer he really is.
You may have noticed that in this review, I could not talk about some songs without referring to the storyline in the film. This is one of Naushad’s strengths. He has the ability to carefully compose situational numbers that are relevant to what is going in the plot of a film. And “Mother India” is a prime example of this. The songs in this soundtrack may not be to everyone’s taste but, crucially, they do work in the context of the film. Naushad’s superlative score is one of the main reasons why “Mother India”, as a film, is such a treasured classic. In particular, “Duniya Main Hum Aaye Hain…” has immortalized the image of Radha/Nargis as the all-sacrificing but strong Indian woman. After a long break, Naushad is currently composing the score for Akbar Khan’s “Taj Mahal- An Eternal Love Story”. Does he still have his magic touch? Let’s hope so.