Perhaps no other song spoke of unity in diversity better than this one in the last three decades. Perhaps no other project brought some of the best creative minds in Indian advertising to forge magic in less than six minutes. Perhaps no other audio-visual presentation brought leading personalities cutting across domains in what has since been widely recognised as a defining moment of Indian television.
The state-owned Doordarshan was the only broadcaster back then. Satellite channels were still some years away. And strange as it may sound, the content aired on Doordarshan was far more progressive than what most private channels air today. There was a Master Haveliram and his family that battled with the aftermath of the Partition, there was a Rajni who spoke of consumer rights long before it became a major issue, there was a Katha Sagar that introduced the audience to some of the best stories ever written by international masters.
And then there was a Mile Sur Mera Tumhara.
Created with an idea of secularism and nation-building, Mile Sur Mera Tumhara was probably the best song ever made on national integration in a country as culturally diverse as India. It taught Indians to unite and stand, and went on to become an unofficial anthem.
Mile Sur Mera Tumhara was conceived during a conversation between the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and senior executive at Ogilvy Benson & Mather (OBM) Jaideep Samarth. Jaideep was the brother of leading yesteryear actresses Tanuja and Nutan. He took the idea forward to the national creative head of OBM Suresh Mullick. The latter roped in leading film producer Kailash Surendranath. Already famous for several award-winning television commercials, Kailash was the automatic choice for a project of such a magnitude that would go on to involve a number of celebrities from the Indian entertainment industry and leading sports personalities. Piyush Pandey, then a young client servicing account manager at OBM, was given the responsibility to write the song, and not unsurprisingly, it became a turning point in his career.
Rightfully labelled as the baby of Suresh and Kailash, the song for the video was composed by Ashok Patki while the music was arranged by Louis Banks. Another major task at hand was to get all the celebrities on board from various locations. Even that was achieved faultlessly. A cause so noble, and a concept so inspiring, was welcomed by all the artistes that Kailash approached. Mile Sur Mera Tumhara was the output of untiring hard work put in by all the teams and produced by the Lok Seva Sanchar Parishad.
Shooting the song, as Kailash would later reminiscence, was a herculean task. They would shoot the Kashmir sequence in the morning, and by evening, were at Kanyakumari. Indian Airlines was the only carrier in those days and they extended all-out cooperation to ferry the production team. What surprised Kailash was that all the Bollywood stars said ‘yes’ at one go when the project was briefed to them. He also went to Goa to get legendary illustrator Mario Miranda on board. Suresh, on his part, insisted shooting on the Kolkata Metro which had then just commenced operations and was the first of its kind in these parts of the world.
The video was literally shot across the length and breadth of India. One second there are the snowcapped mountains, and in the very next, there is the long Indian coastline. The fertile Uttar Pradesh, the sands of Rajasthan, the mystic North-East, the Kerala backwaters, all came together to say Mile Sur Mera Tumhara Toh Sur Bane Humara, which translates verbatim to ‘when my tune merges with your tune, it becomes our tune.’ One phrase repeated in 14 Indian languages made the song unique. It was sung in Bengali, Assamese, Hindi, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Kashmiri, Marathi, Oriya, Marwari, Sindhi, Punjabi, Telugu, Urdu, and Tamil. Raga Bhairavi was used as the base of the song.
Celebrities involved in the project were Amitabh Bachchan, Mithun Chakraborty, Jeetendra, Sharmila Tagore, Tanuja, Hema Malini, Deepa Sahi, Shabana Azmi, Waheeda Rehman, Om Puri, Revathi, Kamal Haasan, Meenakshi Sheshadri, Dina Pathak, Suhasini, KR Vijaya and Mallika Sarabhai.
Eminent sportspersons to feature in the song included Prakash Padukone, Narendra Hirwani, Arun Lal, S Venkataraghavan, Ramanathan Krishnan, Chuni Goswami, PK Banerjee, Leslie Claudius, Syed Kirmani, Gurbux Singh and others. Literary masters like Sunil Gangopadhyay and Annada Shankar Ray appear in the video along with renowned filmmaker Mrinal Sen, and legendary dancer and choreographer Ananda Shankar.
The video began with Bhimsen Joshi’s rendition of the now historical lines. He was complemented by Carnatic vocalist M Balamuralikrishna. Lata Mangeshkar, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Suchitra Mitra, and others lent their voices to the unparalleled words penned by Piyush.
Colours used in the video were more green, white, gold, and blue, all of which signified peace, harmony, serenity, strength, wisdom, a new beginning. The song ended with children forming the Indian tricolour on the notes of the national anthem. It captured the true essence of freedom that was attained by the sacrifice of millions of Indians. Mile Sur Mera Tumhara pleaded with the nation to stand united in harmony and peace.
First aired on 15 August 1988 after Rajiv Gandhi’s Independence Day speech from the Red Fort ramparts, Mile Sur Mera Tumhara reminded the country of its rich culture and heritage, the symbiotic relationship that exists in the Indian society, and the oneness among all the diverse places, cultures, habitats, customs, traditions, languages, and people.
Over the next 30 years, an entire genertion grew up to the song. It was played and replayed on Doordarshan between programme breaks. Mile Sur Mera Tumhara connected with the masses, compelling one and all to come together for the growth of the nation. How far that has been achieved, will always be open to debate. But there has certainly been no other song of its kind in all these years that could create such an impact.