Exploring eternal defiance in ‘Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna Hai’

The drive back home from work took an unexpected turn when the familiar strains of a vintage Hindi melody, a beloved hit from 1965, filled the car. My usually cheerful friend fell silent, her demeanor shifting into one of contemplation. Her gaze fixed on me, she began to recount a recent incident from her workplace. […]

The drive back home from work took an unexpected turn when the familiar strains of a vintage Hindi melody, a beloved hit from 1965, filled the car. My usually cheerful friend fell silent, her demeanor shifting into one of contemplation. Her gaze fixed on me, she began to recount a recent incident from her workplace. It seemed she had incurred her boss’s ire for humming this very song during office hours, an innocuous habit she had maintained for years without repercussion. However, this time, the issue was not the act of humming itself but rather the content of the song, deemed objectionable by her boss.

As she elaborated on the events leading up to her reprimand, the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. A passionate advocate for gender equality, she had vehemently opposed a campaign with anti-feminist undertones, much to her boss’s chagrin. Her defiance, coupled with her buoyant demeanor and inadvertent humming of “Kanton Se Kheench Ke Yeh Anchal,” seemed to bruise her boss’s ego, leading to disciplinary action.

This incident set me thinking about the power of this particular Bollywood number as it was recently used in Rocky and Rani ki Prem Kahani ( 2023) to give expression to breaking free from the patriarchal shackles of a dominating matriarch and a typical male chauvinist. The song has an interesting history, right from its genesis to its roaring success and almost eternal emotional appeal. In the film Guide ( which is based on R K Narayan’s famous novel) Rosie, the female protagonist who is an extremely talented dancer, is bogged down, bored and depressed because her husband Marco , a serious archaeologist has no interest in her life and despite the fact that he has given her everything that ‘a woman needs’ ; honour, social status, and money, Rosie is unhappy because he has taken two things away from her: dance and music, the two things that are very dear to her. So after separating from her husband she puts on her dancing anklets and breaks into a dance and song of ecstasy. Anita Padhye in her Marathi book Ten Classics ( translated by Soniya Khare) writes that  the film was produced by Devanand but he had given the responsibility of producing the film in two languages to his brother Goldie who narrated this situation to Shailendra the song writer, he immediately came up with first two lines of the song, “ Aaj phir jeene ki Tamanna hai, Aaj phir Marne ka irada hai…” and then he stopped there. Then for five long days he did not show up, disturbed by his absence Goldie went to his house and enquired ,” What’s the matter Shailendra Ji? We are losing precious time. I want to start the film at the earliest,” to that Shailendra replied,” Goldie no matter how much I think I cannot come up with the next lines after the Mukhda.”

To that Goldie replied, “Then you go about in the other way. If someone asks you why is there a wish to live as well as die, the answer to the question asked in the Mukhda will be the difference between life and death”. On hearing this Shailendra completed the song with in two minutes which had left in writer’s block for five long days, he replied” kanton se kheench ke te Anchal, Tod ke bandhan bandhi payal…koi Na roke dil ki udan ko, dil woh chla…”

This situation of life and death metaphorically finds ground in many films and many film makers did not think of any other song in the similar situation and it became a trope for an act of defiance and subversion against an authoritative, often patriarchal and oppressive circumstance. The song was used in many Bollywood films later. However, as Shivendra Kumar Singh and Girijesh Kumar reveal in their book “Raag giri “ Devanand who was not only the lead actor but also the producer wasn’t very happy with the composition of this song and was rather disappointed with S D Burman for not ‘doing enough’, never wanted to keep the song in the movie, he was convinced by the film director Vijay Anand to shoot the song which if still won’t appeal, can be dropped later. Once the shooting started, Devanand noticed that the song became popular with entire crew and everyone single person on the sets was humming the song, Devanand decided to keep the song, and rest is history.

Over the years, filmmakers have incorporated this iconic song into their narratives to evoke different emotions and contexts. From romantic sequences to moments of empowerment, “Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna” has been reinterpreted to suit diverse cinematic narratives and themes. The song found its way into various genres, including dramas, comedies, and even action films, showcasing its versatility and timeless appeal. Each rendition of the song in different films adds a unique flavor, yet the essence of longing for a better tomorrow remains constant. Multi starrer 1983 movie Qyamat directed by Raj. N Sippy strategically uses this song multiple times in the film. In 2023 Ajay Devgan movie Bhola, the song is Inter- textualised  expressing the intense desire of the father to meet his daughter. Not only has the song been echoing in the corridors of Bollywood across the decades but has found ground even in a soft heart of an economist, RBI governor Sh. Shaktikanta Dass while expressing his hope against the fluctuating Post COVID economy quoted the song saying,” we are marching ahead with hope in consonance with Lata Mangeshkar’s famous song aaj phir jeene ki Tamanna hai…”

As Bollywood mirrors societal norms and aspirations, the enduring popularity of “Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna” speaks volumes about the collective ethos of Indian society. In times of adversity and oppression, the song serves as a beacon of hope, reminding us of the indomitable human spirit and the perennial quest for a better tomorrow. The song’s legacy serves as a testament to the enduring power of music to transcend barriers and ignite change. Long live the subversive spirit, long live the hope encapsulated in the timeless refrain: “Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna Hai.”

Dr. Ramnita Saini Sharda, is a poet, translator, and Prof. of English at HMV Jalandhar