Buoyed by the success of the Freedom film, Doordarshan commissioned the late Suresh Mullick to do a magnum opus on the unity of India to be unfolded on August 15, 1988. And thus began a creative journey.
It was a stroke of genius of Mullick saab (as he was affectionately and reverently known in the advertising world) to come up with the concept of fusion in Indiabringing diverse music and stars together in a film that could be an anthem. The execution coup was to get musicHindustani, Carnatic classical and popular, traditional and modern, 13 languages and regions into one piece that was harmonious to the ear and the eye.
Raga Bharavi, a sampoorna raga, was chosen as the base for the music. And getting the words right was a story in itself. After trying with some of the Hindi virtuosos, Mullick saab briefed a young account manager to have a go at itthinking that he could bring some innocence to the lyrics. At his eighteenth attempt, the young lad got it right and from this emerged the now famous line Mile sur mera tumhara. (The young account manager grew up to become todays Piyush Pandey.)
To get the right fusion of music, Mullick saab enlisted the help of two geniuses from two different streamsLouis Banks and the late P Vaidyanathan, a classically trained musician. Working together, they created the magical scorerendered by three doyens of musicBhimsen Joshi, Balmurli Krishna and Lata Mangeshkar.
Getting the celebrity artistes to do their bit on screen was the output of some very detailed planning and assiduous hard work of the production teamsof Ogilvy films and the producer Kailash Surendranaths unit. When the concept is inspiring and the cause noble, getting celebrities to co-operate and participate is not so difficult. Yet to align with over 30 busy people in 20 locations across
India within their own professional schedules and yet ensure a sense of uniformity, requires a big picture visualisation and this was the genius of Mullick saab, Kailash, his production team and the never say die spirit of Vicky Bangera, Ogilvys film man.
Every film has its intentional yet accidental great shots. Louis Banks hand on the keyboard is one such shot in this film. It so seamlessly breaks the string of stars at the moment of moving into a crescendo. Lata Mangeshkar donning the national flag as a dupatta was the nightingales own idea. And Bachchan, Mithun and Jeetendra in one shot was a casting coup.
Mile Sur was telecast for the first time during the Independence Day Prime Ministers speech telecast from the ramparts of the Red Fort. Its always a difficult task to better a great first film. But Mile Sur seemed to have done exactly that. I had just joined Ogilvy that year and I keep two memories of that film from my personal interactions with Mullick saab. The formation of the flag by the children at the end is a subliminal cue to show that the spirit of unity would be carried forward by the next generation. And the presence of Mullick saabs family, the Ogilvy employees, in one of the last frames has a touch of Hitchcockiness to it.
Bhimsen Joshi told Piyush that while he has been known in the classical world, this film took him to the masses and he, humbly, thanked Mile Sur for it.
And even today when the film is played at a sales conference, the film is accompanied by cheers all the way. Every Indian audience is diverse and so there is always some person or group in the hall connecting with some celebrity and language on screen.
It is the unofficial anthem of India.
The author is country head, Discovery and Planning, and regional director, thought leadership, Ogilvy and Mather, India