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Is this Bollywood's most patriotic song?

In a film about India's biggest failures in the theatre of war, Kaifi Azmi and Chetan Anand composed one of Indian cinema's most memorable patriotic songs. 'Kar chale hum fida' became an anthem for a country's fallen soldiers

Shriram Iyengar

Chetan Anand is a very underrated filmmaker. In 1964, his fame was resting on his very early works like Neecha Nagar and Taxi Driver. His last few productions had sunk without much of a trace. In this situation, attempting a war film on the scale of 'Haqeeqat' was a huge risk. Another risk was asking the famed Urdu poet, Kaifi Azmi, to compose the lyrics for the film. Kaifi, like Chetan Anand, was struggling to make his way through Bollywood. Though his work for Guru Dutt's Kaagaz Ke Phool had earned plaudits, the film's performance at the box office had turned him into a pariah. The industry was rife with rumours that Kaifi Azmi's poems, though exceptional, make for bad returns at the ticket counter. The story goes that when Chetan Anand approached the poet to write for his film, the poet declined by saying 'They say I am a minus to any film I write for.' The director replied saying 'They say the same about me. It is possible that two minuses could make a plus.'

And some plus it was! For all its stark realism, the punch for Haqeeqat came through its poignant songs. And no other song made an impact like 'Kar chale hum fidaa jaan o tan saathiyon'. A climactic song, it was shot over fallen soldiers lying at the doors of death. The song penned by Kaifi Azmi remains one of the most sung patriotic ballads over the years. It was also one of the few songs which featured recorded clips of India's Republic Day celebrations on film. For the song, Kaifi Azmi utilises every imagery that invokes the sacrifice of the fallen unknown soldier. The misery of their life, their struggles and their loneliness is evident through the song. Such was its impact that audiences in theatres were left with tears in their eyes. It proved to be the elixir that rejuvenated Kaifi Azmi's poetic career in Bollywood. It also rebuilt Chetan Anand's reputation as a filmmaker of the highest standard.

Legend has it that when King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans fell, their countrymen erected a memorial depicting their valour and sacrifice. Kaifi Azmi and Chetan Anand's depiction of the utmost sacrifice of Indian soldiers continues to burn the fire of their memories. The song continues to be played across radio stations and public ceremonies during national holidays like the Republic and Independence Day. But for all its melodrama and jingoism, 'Kar chale hum fida jaan o tan saathiyon' endures due to its realism. Like the Spartan invocation to fellow warriors, it remains timeless.