The Making of Mile Sur Mera – the uncut documentary

One of the side effects of growing up in a media starved era (like the 1980s and early 90s) in India is the often strange fondness and attachment I tend to have for the often questionable content that used air on TV in those days, most of which has not exactly aged well. Byomkesh Bakshi is a good example. As much as I was riveted to the TV set when it used to air, any kid today will find it too full of logical holes and just not exciting enough. But if there is something that has aged well, it’s the ubiquitous filler of that era – Mile Sur Mera Tumhara. I’ve always wanted to see a “Making of” video, with bloopers and all, but I’m guessing DD never shot one, so here’s my take.

The room was smoky, as several men (and one token woman) wearing safari suits (the woman was wearing a saree FYI) sat, in reasonably rapt attention at the gentleman wearing the most expensive safari suit (Raymonds) who was clearly the boss because he was standing at the head of the table, while the others were seated on the sides and importantly, were letting their tea go cold. Nobody lets their official tea go cold, unless the Big Safari Suit Boss was saying something earth-shatteringly important.

“Right everybody. We’ve been commissioned to make a mega-jing-bang-extravaganzic national integration video by our bosses in South Block. Ideas?”

“How about a psychedelic collage of visuals set to music by Ravi Shankar?”

“Nope. The Beatles did that in the 60s”

“How about featuring top Indian athletes running across the country with a torch of unity, except that this time, we’ll add words to the music”

“Nah. That sounds like a sequel. I want something more original”

“Saar. I think we should get our honourable prime minister, the honourable home minister, his excellency the president, his holiness the Shankaracharya and other eminent personalities, and make them sit on a dais. After that, we must have Lata Mangeshkar sing a soulful prayer song. Then you must give an inaugural address, and then invite the dignitaries on stage to light a Kutthu-vilakku. Then the honourable prime minister will give a Keynote address. After that, we must have a felicitation, featuring bouquets and large gold-plated mementos. That will be followed by the Special Address by the Home minister, and then finally, a vote of thanks. Of course, we must get Sridevi to compere the show and intersperse the proceedings with inspirational quotes by Gandhi and Nehru. This entire event will be recorded and set to the background tune of our national anthem played at 60 beats per minute.”

There was silence. Not because most of the attendees were asleep by this point, but because they kept themselves forcibly awake when they realized that the Big Boss was paying close attention to this pathbreaking idea.

“Brilliant. Simply brilliant, but we have one problem. 6 minutes only. My esteemed colleague’s idea will need at least 1 hour to do justice to. So, any other ideas?”

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The English teacher at the school where the Big Safari Suit Boss’ daughter studied, was teaching possessive pronouns, and she wrote on the board

This is my sound

She looked back at the class, just to check if any note-exchanging or other non-approved activities were taking place. She turned back to the board and wrote

This is your sound

She turned back, and decided that the students needed to exercise their grey cells just a little bit. She asked them

Now, what will happen when we put my sound and your sound together

Silence.

Think, class. Think. Suppose I have some money, and you have some money, and I say, let’s put it together and spend it together. Now how would we describe that collective sum of money?

More silence.

Anybody who answers this gets 5 extra marks in the quarterly exams

Utter Cacophony.

One at a time. One at a time. No, the answer is not “It will become a mutual fund”, or “It will be stolen by Harshad Mehta”. Yes, that is right. It will become “our money”, and therefore it follows, “our sound”. Now, practise this well at home children. I’ll see you tomorrow

The Big Safari Suit Boss usually sent his official car, with red lights and all, to pick his daughter up at school. The little girl kept saying “My sound. Your sound. Our sound” over and over again, thus imprinting it firmly in the driver’s memory, who then kept repeating it when he drove his boss, who then, suddenly, had a brilliant idea

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The team was back in the smoke filled room.

“Remind me to ask the peon to go a little easy on the agarbatties next time. I can’t even see your faces, for god’s sake”

“Anyway. We have our concept, my esteemed colleagues. “Mile sur mera tumhaara, tho sur bane hamaara”. Now, I need ideas for the video.”

“Saar. How about we feature children from all parts of India dressed in traditional dresses and make a Nationally Integrated Fancy Dress Competition Video set to this song?”

“No. I need something more sweeping, majestic, patriotic and immensely memorable”

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The director was pensive, sitting in his chair (that read “Director” at the back) and he had his thinking cap on. Well, it was actually a beret to help him cover his male-pattern baldness, but it was his lucky charm, and he had worn it for the last 2 decades. This was a challenging assignment though. 6 minutes is all he had, in which the diversity of India had to be highlighted. The cast had been assembled, and he had less than a week to shoot this. There was no time for retakes or for that matter, editing. He had one shot at this, and it was going to be difficult. He knew it.

“Mr Joshi, we need you to sing something in Bhairavi (a.k.a Sindhu Bhairavi in Carnatic), and since it’s Hindi, and it represents more people in India than any other language, I’ll give you 60 seconds”

“Next up, Mr Dal Lake boatman, how about a hilly sounding, folksy rendition of the Mile sur line while you paddle across the lake?

“Miss Azmi, I’m sorry, we need to spend a little more time on this aerial view of the Taj instead of focussing on your shampoo-ad hair”

“Ok next up, we need a Sindhi celebrity. Wait. what? You cant find anyone? What about all those big businessmen? Real estate tycoons? Damn, we have a deadline to meet. Can you find any singers? Actors? No? No one? Damn. Wait. What did you say? You have a short bespectacled, one-series wonder leg spinner who can bathroom sing? Ok. bring him on then. We’ll manage”

“What do you mean the Punjabis are insisting on a 30 second massive Bhangra collective dance? No. I’m sick of that. Let’s just put all of them on a tractor”

“Ok Urdu now. Let’s just seat all these people on a porch and let’s have that lady sing one of those longing evocative lines while appearing suitably north-indianly demure. What? How many men and how many women? Dude, this is North India you are talking about. 6 guys and 1 girl, that should do. It’s perfectly representative of the gender ratio in the north”

“Ok. That’s a wrap for today. We’ll do the South and East tomorrow”

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“Yes, what the $%#& do you mean, Revathi? She is from Kerala, you dimwit.”

“And Mr Kamal, I would like you to look like Rodin’s thinker, with clothes on, and sitting on the beach, i.e”

“I hope you realize that just inviting me and not inviting Rajinikanth/Mohanlal/Mamootty/Raajkumar is a faux pas of colossal proportions. I’m just going to put on a bemused these-amits-dont-know-a-thing-about-the-south kind of expression. I hope you dont mind”

“Mr Balamurali, I perfectly understand that you are a genius, a prodigy and a musical savant, but we only have like 5 minutes so I am afraid I cannot allow you to sing a Ragam-Thaanam-Pallavi in Muralidhwani, a 4-note raga that you have specially invented for this occasion. It just wont fit in. How about we do stick to Sindhu Bhairavi, and like these nice Karnataka, Andhra and Kerala representatives, keep it to a single line, 10 seconds or less please. Shall we go ahead. Action”

“Isai than..namm..iruvarin..This is not looking good. This line gives me the feeling that he aint nowhere close to being done yet. Isai per…Oh damn. Shit. shit. shit. He’s going high now. 15 seconds up. Aagiser aarugal…Damn. Hey. Sriharikota, we have a problem, let’s cut out Bhojpuri, and reduce all of the North east to a 5 second dance…Nam…isai..(rapid ascent up steep mountain followed by bungee jump from peak, soaring downwards and then finally swinging back up)”

“Thank you Balamurali sir. And no. I know you are from Andhra Pradesh, but I’m afraid I cant let you sing the Telugu version of Mile sur as well”

“Ok. Lets have 20 seconds of dancey kinda thakadhimi stuff. At high speed. Pronto”

“Karnataka yes – Prakash, keep smiling at the camera, you strange man next to him, I don’t know who you are, but just keep staring at the lady on top, alright. Dont look at the camera.”

“Telugu folks, great. Listen. Since we gave your guy Balamurali a rather unplanned run, we’re gonna have to cut you short. I’m really sorry”

“Good afternoon, my fellow Keralites. we have a bit of situation. I’m afraid we cant quite do the Kathakali infused with Mohinattam in front of bejwelled elephants with the Chanda kottu background bit. Thanks to Balamurali, I’m afraid we can only accomodate the elephant and mahout. And just 1 line please. Sorry.”

Listen, Mr director, what Bangal sings today, India will sing tomorrow. We cannot sing Tomar Shoor in the rapid and unseemly tempo that everyone seems to be singing it in. We would like to slow it down to half speed, and also shoot the video in slow motion. Yes, we have several eminent Bengalis ready to walk out of the metro. Teek achey? Lets roll. Hello, Mr Orun Lal? Who let Orun Lal in? Nevermind”

Assamese – one line only please, and no, we cannot feature a Bodo version as well. And no rhinos, alright?”

“The rest of the North east – you’ve got 5 seconds. Joined-at-the-waist Tribal dance please..”

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And so on.

Bloopers

The Kashmiri boatman topples over. The tractor develops engine trouble. The Taj aerial view accidentally captures the Sand mafia stealing cartloads of sand from the Yamuna banks. Hirwani is stung by a jellyfish as he walks on the beach. The elephant with the mahout decides to sit down and roll in the mud. All of the Bengalis walking out of the metro are smoking Charminar cigarettes. One of the kids in the white coloured dress is wearing a “Che Guevara” shirt while running in to form the tricolour.