On August 15, 1988, after the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, finished his address to the nation from the Red Fort, a soulful melody took the nation by storm.
For most Indians who watched the broadcast on Doordarshan, the opening lines of Mile Sur Mera Tumhara, belted out by the legendary Hindustani classical vocalist Pandit Bhimsen Joshi continue to stand the test of time.
And even now, three decades later, when one plays the grainy video of this musical tribute on Youtube, it invokes the same spirit of pride in the culture and heritage of our country, as it did for those in 1988.
Here are some incredible facts about how the inception of the 6-minute song came about and why it continues to resound in the heart of every Indian as an unofficial anthem:
The origin of the song
The idea originated from a conversation between the former PM and his friend, Jaideep Samarth.
Samarth, who was also a Senior Executive at the advertising behemoth Ogilvy Benson & Mather (now O&M), decided to approach the national creative head of the company-Suresh Mullick, about the project.
Mullick got top ad film-producer Kailash Surendranath on-board and the duo set the wheels rolling after a meeting with Pandit Bhimsen Joshi.
In an interview with Sandeep Goyal for Campaign India, Kailash added that when he and Mullick met Pandit Bhimsen Joshi for the project, the musical legend got back within a matter of a few days.
He had composed almost 45 minutes of music based on Raag Bhairavi.
“It was a soul-stirring composition and I had the difficult task of snipping it down to a mere 30 seconds. It became the core of the composition which was then passed on to other composers for music in different languages.”
The song, apart from Hindi, was sung in languages from different parts of India including Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Marwari, Odia, Punjabi, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu.
The lyrics of the song were to be penned by Pandit Vinod Sharma. But a young account manager at Ogilvy, Piyush Pandey, who was asked to be in touch with Sharma, wrote the lyrics himself when he noticed a lag in the process. It took 18 drafts, before the final version made the cut!
Penning ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara,’ opened up avenues for Pandey who steadily climbed the popularity charts. Conferred the Padma Shri in 2016, he now serves as the Executive Chairman and Creative Director of Ogilvy South Asia.
The six-minute video featured top personalities from different fields.
Actors Kamal Haasan, Revathi, Amitabh Bachchan, Mithun Chakraborty, Jeetendra, Waheeda Rehman, Hema Malini, Tanuja, Sharmila Tagore, Shabana Azmi, Deepa Sahi, Om Puri, Dina Pathak, and Meenakshi Seshadri graced the screen.
It also featured Indian classical dancer Mallika Sarabhai, cartoonist Mario Miranda, filmmaker Mrinal Sen and authors Sunil Gangopadhyay and Annadashankar Ray.
Musicians and vocalists who became a part of the project included Bhimsen Joshi, M Balamuralikrishna, Lata Mangeshkar, Suchitra Mitra, and Kavitha Krishnamurthy. Last but certainly not the least, sportspersons Narendra Hirwani, S Venkataraghavan, Prakash Padukone, Ramanathan Krishnan, Arun Lal, PK Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, Syed Kirmani, Leslie Claudius and Gurbux Singh appeared in the video too.
Mile Sur Mera Tumhaara also made a mark for its stark and appealing visual representation.
Kailash Surendranath, who had already carved a name for himself in the ad business with exceptional commercials like Liril and Wah Taj, added a golden feather to his hat with ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara.’
In the same interview with Goyal, he recalls how Kamal Haasan’s cameo in the video was completely unplanned. When the ad film producer met Carnatic vocalist and musician M Balamuralikrishna, (who sang the Tamil part in the song), he was shocked to see Kamal Haasan with him. The star from the South told Kailash how he was only accompanying his ‘guru’ to the shoot.
When asked about being featured in the video, Haasan humbly added that he wanted to only sit as a chela, listening in rapt attention to the legend. He didn’t want to hog the limelight in the video.
Kailash praises yesteryear A-listers Amitabh Bachchan, Jeetendra and Mithun for their cooperation, humility and professionalism too.
When Doordarshan had written to these biggies to be a part of the video, they not only responded but also reached Mehboob Studios on time, with their own wardrobe. They shared the same screen for the song and completed the shot within five minutes!
The legend of the Liril Falls
The opening scene of the song shows Pandit Bhimsen singing near a waterfall. For those of you intrigued about the location of the shot—it was the same waterfall where the Liril commercial was recorded. This is the Pambar Falls in Kodaikanal, popular as the Liril Falls.
Getting Lata Mangeshkar on board
While Kavitha Krishnamurthy lent her voice for the female actors in the song, Kailash and team were eager to have Indian playback singer and music director, Lata Mangeshkar sing too.
The veteran singer was on the road and the possibilities of a collaboration were slim due to her hectic schedule. But she was gracious to come back to Mumbai just in time, three days before the song was to go live.
“She arrived at the studio in her Indian flag-pallu white saree. I shot and recorded her in the studio in that dress and that is what you see in the film,” says Kailash.
An IAF helicopter was used for the aerial shot of Taj Mahal
This is perhaps one of the most hilarious anecdotes from the shoot. When the makers wanted to get an aerial shot of the Taj Mahal, there faced a crisis. According to protocol, no plane was allowed in such close vicinity to the historical monument.
Kailash flew to Agra to meet the Air Marshal who allowed him to take the aerial shot from an IAF helicopter, free of cost. Sadly, the officer got into hot water for this. Kailash helped him out of the problem by paying for the ride.
The jumbo stars and the mahout who was the actual singer
Literally, the ‘biggest’ highlight of the video were the elephants in the film, who were shot in Periyar National Park. The mahout in the film was also the actual singer who sang the Malayalam part of the song.
Railway fans! Did you know that two iconic trains made a cameo in the film too?
On Suresh Mullick insistence, the film also shot the then newly-inaugurated Calcutta metro, the first Indian transit system of its kind. The film also shows the much-loved Deccan Queen chugging along a river.
Phir Mile Sur
Two decades after its debut, the song was re-recorded for telecast on January 26, 2010 by Zoom TV. The new version Phir Mile Sur Mera Tumhara featured a newer generation of Indian musicians, singers, sportspersons and film personalities and was 16 min 17 sec long! It was directed by Kailash Surendranath himself with the new version retaining the original music composer Louis Banks.
Watch this version below!
Did the music make you nostalgic too? Don’t forget to tell us about your favourite memories in the comments!
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)