Anyone born in India in or before 1982 would immediately recognise the line above and would by now, have overreacted to it, dissolving in daydreams about Campa cola, NRI bridegrooms and Bajaj scooters. The video, released by Lok Seva Sanchar Parishad in the late eighties, gained immense popularity when we were in school. Even though we would watch it mainly to get to see Amitabh Bachchan in the end, even though we pretended to be pretty unmoved by the whole ‘charade’, even spurring off a series of non-veg jokes on MSMT (mile sur mera tumhara?…come on!), the truth was that it was beautifully composed piece that delivered the message effectively.
I recently came across the video again during some random internet search and was struck by how much it moved me after all these years. Even if you take away the aura of nostalgia aura from it, there is no doubt that it’s a stirring and inspiring composition, leaving you with a strong sense of national pride, particularly commendable as it was made in times when India had little to be proud of- by 1991 our Foreign exchange reserves were almost exhausted and we were at the brink of bankruptcy.
Of course, the theme of ‘Unity in Diversity’ was not new to us back then. It was the national rhetoric, repeated time and again in school to the point of indifference. By the time MSMT was released, ‘Unity in Diversity’ were empty words, parroted because there was nothing else to speak about. Young and restless that we were, the point was getting weaker with every repetition and we had started to mistake it for weakness and the overcompromising Indian attitude which we thought, was the reason why most Indians could not even afford a Maruti 800.
Did the song change the national sentiment completely? Maybe not, but it went a long way in appeasing the beast inside. And it did the job far better than textbooks by initiating an emotional response that made us feel ashamed of our less-than-noble thoughts. Even now MSMT would stand well in the place of a modern and far more relevant national anthem.
Music or art is used worldwide for effective national propoganda. In 1984, Singapore commissioned a National Day song, ‘Stand up for Singapore’ to celebrate 25 years of independence. It became so popular that ever since then, a new song is commissioned every year and released on the national day on August 9th. The latest one in the series is called ‘In a heartbeat’ to celebrate the ‘spirit of Singapore’.Almost all of these songs are feel-good numbers, showcasing the melting pot, economic miracle of the small island country. In the honour of CCP’s 90th anniversary this year, China has initiated a nationwide ‘red song movement’ celebrating and performing old songs popularised for CCP and communist propoganda. During World War II, both the Nazis and US used music and drama in their national propaganda to promote cultural superiority.The US Government poured funding and commissioned several famous composers to produce classical songs not only to lift soldier’s sprits but to inspire them to defend the motherland. The famous composer ‘Earl Robinson’ commented then that ‘songs can be bullets’ and the US used it well, not only to to promote the army’s spirit but also to sell war bonds.
MSMT was also effective, maybe not to quell politically charged riots or religious annhilations but to restore national spirit after such shameful incidents, to make the common man achieve his balance again. And despite all the political will to the contrary, unity in diversity endured and is very much the spirit of India. Westerners are constantly amazed that a nation of 1652 mother tongues and 330 million deities does not self-destruct.
Unfortunately MSMT has become a thing of our innocent past. Busy as we are in commerce and economics, subliminal virtues are lost in heady economics. Little wonder then that the last ‘national propoganda’ film was Ministry of Tourism’s ‘Atithi Devo Bhav’ for the commonweath games with its matlabi ‘tourists=money for all’ message. In fact, the new Phir Mile Sur Mera Tumhara symbolises our current shallowness perfectly. Despite a far bigger budget and more popular stars than the original, the message is clearly lost and the video seems more like a promo of Fimfare awards.
Yet the message of a ‘nation identity’ is becoming critical again. And this time the need is simple economics. To bring the changes to sustain our economic progress we need to act as a whole, to get into politics, clean out the system, to do something for our nation than just for ourselves.
The time is ripe for another rousing ‘MSMT’ to spur us to action.