(This article is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 6 February 2018. It is being republished to mark the birth anniversary of Kavi Pradeep.)
We hear the immortal numbers “Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon” and “Aao Bachhon Tumhe Dikhayen” at every patriotic and political function today. But few of us know about the man who penned them. Kavi Pradeep was not only a leading lyricist of his time, he created a distinct niche for himself in the patriotic/ devotional/ inspirational music genre. He wrote over 1,700 songs over a span of five decades and even attracted the ire of the British government through his edgy poetry.
Born Ramchandra Dwivedi on 6 February 1915, Pradeep graduated from Lucknow University and took to writing Hindi poetry at a fairly young age. He took up his pen name, was a regular at kavi sammelans, and was deeply influenced by the nationalist movements gripping Lucknow those days.
Bollywood happened when Himanshu Rai, the owner of Bombay Talkies and a pioneer in Indian cinema, appointed Pradeep as the production house’s lyricist at Rs 200 per month. Sung by Leela Chitnis, “Hawa tum dheere baho” was the first song he penned for Kangan (1939).
It was followed up by the dozen or so songs of Bandhan (1940), which were all superhits. “Chal chal re naujawan” found a special resonance with people straining against the British regime.
Punarmilan (1940), Anjaan, Naya Sansar, Jhoola (1941) and Kismet (1943) followed. The last was a turning point with the thinly disguised anti-establishment song “Aaj Himalaya ki choti se” managing to fool the British censors and becoming a mantra of sorts with the patriotic masses. Later, the English rulers realised their error and things heated up enough for Pradeep to go underground for a while.
It was one of the reasons that propelled Kismet’s (1943) continuous run at the box office over three years – it is indeed believed to be India’s first blockbuster.
Another superhit number came with “Upar Gagan Vishaal”, sung by Manna Dey for Mashaal (1950).
Pradeep followed it up with lyrics for Nastik (1954) and Jagriti (1954), and even sang for the evergreen song "Dekh Tere Sansar Ki Halat Kya Ho Gayi” from Nastik.
Jagriti on the other hand had numbers like “Aao Bachcho Tumhein Dikhayen” and “Hum Laye Hain Toofan Se Kishti Nikal Ke”.
However, his most famous patriotic song remains “Aye mere watan ke logon”. Set to C Ramchandra’s tune, the song commemorates Indian soldiers who died during the 1962 Sino-Indian War.
According to folklore, Pradeep was inspired when he was taking a walk on Mahim beach in Bombay ( now Mumbai). He borrowed a pen from a passerby and wrote the opening stanza of the song on a foil ripped out from his cigarette packet.
Ramchandra reportedly wanted Asha Bhosle to sing the number, but Pradeep insisted it be a solo by Lata Mangeshkar. Mangeshkar first performed the number on 27 January 1963 at the National Stadium in New Delhi in the presence of President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, on the occasion of Republic Day (26 January). Nehru is said to have been moved to tears.
It would be wrong to assume however that Pradeep was limited to the nationalistic/ inspirational genre. He wrote for films like Sambandh (1969), which has the soulful number "Chal akela, chal akela”.
His last memorable work came with the 1975 film Jai Santoshi Maa, which matched the collections of Sholay.
Kavi Pradeep received numerous awards, including the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1961, BFJA Award for Jai Santoshi Maa in 1975, and Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1997. He passed away on 11 December 1998.