Jana Gana Mana ‘Rann’: new-age anthem?

May 15, 2009

Nearly 60 years after Rabindranath Tagore’s composition was adopted as India’s national anthem, filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma’s interpretation of it is raising conservative eyebrows.

Varma uses the tune of ‘Jana Gana Mana’ and adds to the lyrics, making it a full-fledged song for his film about India’s media industry — “Rann”.

The 47-year-old filmmaker has maintained he meant no disrespect but only wanted to use the anthem as a vehicle to “draw attention” to the country’s problems.

“For any right-thinking person, I do not believe that he can take offence to the way it’s been done and in what context it’s been shown,” Varma said at a news conference during the unveiling of “Rann” in New Delhi.

Unfortunately for Varma, his adaptation of “Jana Gana Mana” has proved to be more controversial than the film itself. The Censor Board refused certification to the song promo on grounds of it violating the National Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act 1950. And the song is no longer being aired on television.

But that hasn’t stopped curious netizens from checking it out on video-sharing web site YouTube.

“The National anthem is not meant to be Remixed. End of Discussion,” YouTube user ‘orionrage’ wrote in response.

Some in the media have warned things may take a turn for the worse.

“Narrow-minded priggishness posing as patriotism has long been one of the less attractive features of our national life and Ram Gopal Varma would be prudent in keeping a weather eye open for stormy protests,” columnist Jug Suraiya wrote in The Times of India.

There have been some protests already.

Effigies of Varma and actor Amitabh Bachchan, the protagonist of “Rann”, were burnt in Ranchi.

But the filmmaker is unperturbed and plans to challenge the censor board decision.

Media reports have quoted Varma as saying he will now be taking the case directly to the Supreme Court.

“The promo has been refused certification without me getting any chance to explain my case,” Varma said. “Where is my freedom of expression?”

What do you think? Is the “Rann” song a new-age national anthem, a parody or just a publicity stunt?

(Reuters photos of a ‘Rann’ press conference in New Delhi)

11 comments

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How can we be a tolerant nation when “some” people can not even express their views in a movie? It’s a very narrow minded way of thinking by some small minded people. I am glad the movie maker is taking it to the Supreme Court. I think the sensor board is out of touch with today’s reality and creative freedom.

Posted by Raan | Report as abusive

[...] India Masala » Blog Archive » Jana Gana Mana 'Rann': new-age … [...]

Some years ago, a young American girl, who had just learnt in her school of the proper modes of respecting the flag, wrote to George the second with a simple question: was it not better to be a flag than a person?

So it is with the fetishisation of the nation and its symbols. The outrage at perceived slights to them, how ridiculous it is when no voice is raised at the atrocities waged day and night on the people who constitute the nation.

You’re outraged at jan gan ran and not at the continued incarceration of Binayak Sen, the force feeding of Irom Chanu Sharmila, the hounding of Medha Patkar, of the people for whom they fight?

Posted by Cheri | Report as abusive

[...] India Masala » Blog Archive » Jana Gana Mana 'Rann': new-age … [...]

Cheri,
How about someone who is outraged at ‘Jan gan rann’ and Binayak Sen and Irom Sharmila and Medha Patkar and the atrocities waged on people.
What would you say to someone who is outraged at all of these?
Is her outrage at Jan Gan Rann justified because she is outraged on the ‘right’ issues as well?

Posted by Think Again | Report as abusive

@think again, my answer to her, for whatever it is worth, would be: I congratulate you for raising your voice against the state’s repression of democracy and rights, for standing by the side of the people, for realising the hollowness of the state’s claims of acting for the benefit and development of all citizens.

I would ask her to follow on those insights. And I would also ask her a question: why are you outraged ?

Let me explain my position on the idea of the nation and why I have a deep suspicion of the nation and of nationalism, and of its symbols.

It is because the nation is constituted in a manner that excludes. the founding myths of the nation (and the nation is always an imagined concept) are violent. The idea of Indianness has its roots in Orientalist notions of India. It is an idea that excludes from full potentiality anyone who is not male, brahminical, Hindu.

I would also quote Tagore himself, imagining what his reaction to jan gan ran would have been.

“I am willing to serve my country; but my worship I reserve for Right which is far greater than my country. To worship my country as a god is to bring a curse upon it.”

Thus in Tagore’s Ghare-Baire the protagonist Nikhil explains to the charismatic nationalist leader Sandeep his reasons for not supporting the swadeshi movement in Bengal of 1905-08 and why he does not chant “vande mataram.”

I look forward to your views. As always, dialogue is the way forward.

Posted by Cheri | Report as abusive

I am in confidence with the Censor Board. The Censor Board refused certification to the song promo on grounds of it violating the National Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act 1950. NO one has rights to make any kind of violations in the National Anthem,, all is excepted but not this and this any how does not proves the new thinking or expressing one\’s View,, it is very Stupid to play with National Anthem…… how can one even think of it. Film Industry people can do any thing to make them popular and gain fame.. how selfish these people are .. not even thinking of nation\’s Pride..

Posted by Sarita Singh | Report as abusive

Freedom of Voice does not necessarily mean speak something which does hurt the sentiments of the other people. I am sure the censor board would have rejected the certification based on some valid grounds.

Posted by Avinash | Report as abusive

There is no difference between Ram Gopal Verma and Rakhi Sawant. Both seek cheap and free publicity; and will plunge to any moral depths to get that kind of publicity.

I am against using the song as well.
There is a reason why our National Flag has to be used just as a Flag and not used as a fashion accessory and it is the same which goes with the Anthem as well.

Posted by Jitun John | Report as abusive

Cheri,

Why is the outrage?

Well, because the National anthem symbolises a certain kind of “nation” not just “a nation”. Especially not the kind of a “nation” that you have a deep suspicion of.
That s not the kind of nation notionalised in the constitution of India or in the anthem.

The film’s song does not challenge that idea; the outrage is simply about the symbolism behind that nation not being respected. And that does not mean RGV does not or should not have the right to do what he did with the lyrics of the national anthem.

If I have a photograph of a dear one , and someone tramples on it, I reserve the right to feel awful about it. (Idol worship being inferior is an Orientalist idea, isn’t it?)

But that doesn’t mean one should go about breaking legs.

The idea of “Indianness” does not have roots in Orientalism.

Unless the Persians who chose to call the land after a river be also “Orientalists”.

Unless of course the Visnu Purana and the Buddhist literature’s conception of the area (between the seas and the mountains) that was the legitimate domain of a king to rule be also “Orientalist”.

Unless Aurangzeb, driven by the desire and political compulsions to unite this landmass be also “Orientalist”.

Unless the Monsoon winds which give a country spread across tropical and temperate zones a common climate and mode of life be also an “Orientalist” conception or a Brahmanical conspiracy.

The nation which Gandhi fought for wasn’t Hindu , male and Brahmanical. India’s roots as a common unified entity run deep and are varied.

I think its easy to set up a paper tiger and then hunt it down , but that does not make one a hunter.

Posted by Think Again | Report as abusive

@think again, the nation is a modern concept, emerging only when the idea of the citizen emerges. this is eminently clear from a glance at historiography — the narration changes from a list of kings and their deeds to the story of a people. the nation is cast in terms of subjects with a distinct and autonomous identity, and the power of agency, not as a passive spectator sin the contest for dharma between rival monarchs.

thus, the nation does not emerge from the naming of a land or by the setting of bounds of a king’s realm by texts, or by the campaigns of an emperor, or by common geography.

it emerges when people imagine, for whatever reason and through whatever process, that they are a nation. that is why bennedict anderson calls the nation an imagined community, tracing its origins to the emergence of a common and standard language, the rise of printing and publishing, and the decline of religion.

but as partha chatterjee asked: whose imagination?

let us interrogate the indian national movement, the same one which had gandhi as one of its leading lights. the nationalist, official history portrays it as a broad, inclusive anti-colonial struggle that culminated in the formation of independent india.

this reading glosses over the internal contradiction of the movement. it does not answer the questions why india was voiced in hindu terms, why it privileged brahminical modes of heirarchy, why it relegated women to the background.

Let me quote from a paper I wrote a few years ago:

“As Chatterjee puts it, there were three themes that marked this (nationalist) project: one, the appropriation of the popular, albeit in a sanitised form; two, the classicisation of tradition; and three, erasing the marks of difference between the
coloniser and the colonised in the public sphere.

“What is sought is the linking of the present with the past. The present, however vulgar, is rooted in the past which was glorious, and also the same past that gave rise to the colonising power.

“The nation is sought to be defined as the nation of a particular tradition, which is derived from an ancient tradition. Thus, society is seen as located at the end of a history, as the direct descendant of a particular past, and as the result of a particular historical process.

“The project was not without its problematic. For one, in India, where what was religious was social and what was social religious, the creation of a social tradition meant that a religious tradition was simultaneously created and defined as the
norm.

“The socio-religious tradition, necessarily had to have a ‘glorious antiquity’, and it was axiomatic that the past would be a ‘Hindu’ past.

“Herein lay the problem. If the past was to be Hindu, the various Indian traditions, including Buddhism and Jainism could be incorporated. With Islam, this was not possible. Sufism, the popular and syncretic version of Islam could be co-opted, but Islam itself had to be a ‘foreign’ influence.

[...]

“In the earlier, Puranic histories, the Muslim though a ‘mleccha’ or a ‘yavana’ is well within the structure of dharma, and thus can be situated in the universe of Hinduism. It is not entirely inconceivable that the ‘invader’ can be incorporated into the Hindu world-view.

“The new histories, defining the nation as those sharing a particular tradition, and this tradition the descendant of a (Hindu) past, eliminated this possibility. The Muslim is now forever, and irrevocably, foreign.”

Similar observations can be made on the caste, gender, class
and other bases of Indian nationalism.

So, nationalism is not a paper tiger. It is a lived reality
and a very violent one as well!

Posted by Cheri | Report as abusive

The censor board is right to refuse certification of the song. if it is allowed then there is nothing stopping anybody to disparage the National Anthem by substituting the original lyrics with lyrics that incite racial and religious hatred. we cannot allow parodies of National Emblems and Anthems.

Posted by Jayadev | Report as abusive