There are types of patriotic songs. Ones that sing romantic paeans to the nation: ‘Mere Desh Ki Dharti’ from Upkaar (1967); ones that mourn for the sacrifices made: ‘Ae Mere Watan Ke Logo’ (1962); ones that revel in jingoistic chest-thumping: ‘Suno Gaur Se Duniya Walon’ from Dus (1997); ones that question and mock: ‘Maula Mere’ from Chak De!India (2007), ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ from Shanghai (2012).

‘Ae Watan’ from Raazi, stands out for its simplicity, and context. ‘Ae watan mere watan.. aabaad rahe tu’, Arijit Singh sings it like a well-wishing thought, with reverence and sincerity, accompanied by gentle choruses and percussions. This is the more popular version shown in the trailers, and one would perceive the song to be about India. In the film, however, which released in theatres on May 10, it is sung by schoolchildren in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on their Annual Day celebrations; their parents, seated in the audience, nod and smile in approval, a bit proud of their daughters and sons. Their teacher, Sehmat (Alia Bhatt), an Indian spy masquerading as the newly-wed bride of a high-ranking, elite Pakistani family, has taught them well; she sings along. It’s 1971, in the tense days leading up to the Bangladesh Liberation War, when the streets of Pakistan are filled with stickers screaming ‘Crush India’.

This version is sung by Sunidhi Chauhan and the Shankar Mahadevan Academy Children’s Chorus; it has the additional lines, ‘Lab Pe Aati Dua, Tamanna Ban Ke’ by Allama Iqbal, the National poet of Pakistan, who also wrote ‘Saare Jahaan Se Accha Hindustan Humara’. It’s a smart touch; by showing just how neatly it fits into the Pakistani life, director Meghna Gulzar seems to remind us, in these troubled times, how India and Pakistan, with its shared history and culture, are made of the same song.

Speaking on the phone, Meghna says she wanted a song that is “a mix between a prayer and an anthem” that would portray the “inherent duality” of Bhatt’s character. “Papa (Gulzar) suggested we bring in Dr Allam Iqbal’s lines in the aalaap. Considering he has written ‘Saare Jahaan’, it tied the film in a beautiful and poetic way, and highlighted the common thread that binds the 3 nations of the sub-continent.”

The patriotic song is tricky terrain at a time of divisive politics, when a section of people of the country condemn the other for not standing up for the national anthem in cinema halls; and the other section deliberately doesn’t stand up for the national anthem, not because they don’t like the song or love their country, but as a mark of protest against this bullying. There’s a scene in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Rangoon from last year that comments on the current situation, in which the rebels of the Indian National Army sing the alternate version of ‘Jana Gana Mana’.

‘Ae Watan’ appeals to the hardened cynics from both sides of the ideological centre; it reminds us that patriotism isn’t necessarily a bad thing, all the while showing the price we pay for it. As in her earlier film Talvar, Meghna finds nuance in people painted in broad strokes in mainstream media. At the same time, she says she tears up whenever children and parents stand up to sing the National anthem on the Annual Sports Day in her son’s school. “There was a purity in what we call patriotism, this song evokes that feeling.”

Listen to the songs of ‘Raazi’:

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