When we forget to pray

T M Krishna, the renowned Carnatic musician, was singing in support of the protest against GST on handmade products, in Bengaluru last week. Towards the end of the concert, he sang two prayers: ‘Vaishnava Janato’ and ‘Allah Tero Naam’ from the film Hum Dono (1961). There were moments when he choked during his rendition of these two songs. Krishna’s eyes were welling up….

After the concert, and till now, ‘Allah Tero Naam’ refuses to leave me. Why? I have been wondering. It is a powerful tune, beautifully composed, a song that I heard as a child. But is that why? All the prayer songs that came to us from the films, I realized, have disappeared. There are hardly any group songs in films any more – even if there are, it is like ‘Naan Autokaran Autokaran’ (Rajnikant’s Baasha) where the hero and his huge gang of admirers are eulogising him, or it could be a wedding song with garishly turned out family members collectively singing their happiness and opulence. Songs that include the community, prays for its well-being, simple in its aspirations, and kneels down in supplication has disappeared from the silver screen.

The emotional ‘Ae Malik Tere Bande Hum’ (1957, composed by Vasant Desai, rendered by Lata Mangeshkar) from Do Aankhein Baara Haath, ‘Tu Pyaar Ka Sagar Hain’ (1955, Shankar Jaikishan, Manna Dey) from Seema, ‘Tum Hi Ho Maata’ (1962, Chitragupt, Lata Mangeshkar) from Main Chup Rahungi and ‘Hum Ko Man Ki Shakti Dena’ (1971, Vasant Desai, Vani Jairam) from Guddi are the kind of songs that we have lost. All these compositions had unambitious, yet eloquent tunes – they stirred you for their emotional content both with respect to lyrics and melody. Unlike songs of today, they were subtle and restrained, without an abundance of sentimentality or superficial emotions. The songs, closely linked to society and human kind, were reflective in nature and believed that a society can change only when there is transformation within the individual. Even a song that appeared in the mid-Eighties, ‘Itni Shakti Hame Dena Daata’ from the film Ankush urged you to hold on to peace and conviction in the face of adversity. All these songs portrayed an India that upheld the spirit and power of the common man. It gave voice to that individual who could surmount the tribulations of a fledgling nation with his strong ethical self.

Art – as historians and thinkers have constantly maintained – can never remain outside the movements of a society. Whether it is in sculpture, painting, music or literature, it is indicative of what is happening within the societal space. If those songs that are lost have come to be replaced by songs that have come to stay, it simply suggests that we have abandoned a way of thinking and living. All these prayer songs that came in the two decades after Independence, echoed their belief in Gandhian ideas. It reinforced faith in the community, it believed that the voice of those on the margins needs to be heard, it believed that devotion, prayer and surrender were powerful tools to change man and society.

In his essay on Prayer, Gandhi writes: I claim to be a man of faith and prayer, even if I were cut to pieces, I trust God would give me the strength not to deny Him and to assert that He is. No act of mine is done without prayer. I started with disbelief in God and prayer, and, until at a late stage in life, I felt that, as food was indispensable for the body, so was prayer indispensable for the soul. In fact, food for the body is not so necessary as prayer for the soul. For starvation is often necessary in order to keep the body in health, but there is no such thing as prayer-starvation....” Gandhi believed that right action, as dictated by government and judiciary offers only cosmetic relief. Real change has to happpen within, and prayer is a powerful tool. Even Girish Karnad in his play Tughlaq (1964) written during this period, speaks of the power of prayer. Tughlaq says: “every act in my kingdom has to become a prayer, every prayer to become a further step in knowledge, every step to lead us nearer to God.”

But the importance of prayer has gradually faded. . In the eighties, films came with plenty of revolutionary songs such as ‘Nyaya Ellide’, ‘Andha Kanoon’, and there was more of this in Telugu films. They were hero-centric, nevertheess they did carry in them voice of the people. With the doors opening to liberalisation, it changed further – India became combative and machismo in its bearing, even the slow, gentle, mellifluous ‘Vande Mataram’ changed. We hammed this serene song from rooftops with digital sounds drowning patriotism and whipping up nationalism. Films and films songs were totally taken over by the star and his celebrityhood: protests too became an image building exercise for the hero.

In this pro-rich, new India civil society space is merely an illusion. Ironically, films and film songs, such a strong voice for the people, have abandoned the masses and their aspirations. It is true temples are getting richer, but prayers are getting weaker.

For a musician who believes that a song is its soul, ‘Allah Tero Naam’ is at once a lament on the society that has lost its ability to listen the other, as also one that is rendered prayer-less. If we want to invoke a prayer, we have no choice but to go back in time.

I think I know why T M Krishna’s eyes welled up….

Inner Voice is a fortnightly column on film music

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Printable version | Sep 15, 2020 7:31:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/when-we-forget-to-pray/article21066733.ece

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