An anthem, almost
Ashish Saksena traces the fabulous history of the song, Din hai
suhane, from Pehle Taarikh in an era when radio was king.
On 1 July, 2009, India woke up to the all new jingle of Cadbury’s
Milk Chocolate announcing Din hai suhana/ aaj pehli tarikh hai to catch
the attention of Indian consumers. The campaign was all over newspapers,
TV and radio.
Whether or not this jingle will turn into an anthem is yet to be seen
but the advertisement, conceptualised by Ogilvy India and directed by
Prasoon Pandey, has definitely caught the attention of the public. The
original song, sung by Kishore Kumar, has been recreated by
Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and sung by Kshitij for this ad film. But this song
is not something that was just discovered. It has had a fabulous
history, which we must go back in time to, when radio was indeed king.
It’s therefore time to revisit the clichéd story of David vs.
Goliath. The story about how, a small and inconspicuous radio station,
situated in Sri Lanka, ended up giving a mighty scare to the All India
Radio (AIR), the national broadcaster of India. This station is what was
then famously known as Radio Ceylon.
Radio Ceylon is the oldest radio station in Asia which started its
test broadcast in 1923 and became a regular broadcaster in 1925, almost
a decade before AIR came into being, in 1936.
Operating out of a transmitter, which was captured from a German
submarine, it began its modest operation with the call sign, ‘Colombo
Both India and Sri Lanka attained their freedom within six months of
each other and both had the onerous task of popularising radio as the
medium to reach the length and breadth of their respective countries.
Radio Ceylon, unlike the government-backed AIR, began modestly, by
getting hold of good radio transmitters for free from British troops
stationed in Sri Lanka after World War 2. Radio Ceylon used these
equipments to set up Radio Ceylon’s overseas service, viz English
service and Hindi service.
Therefore, we can say that in mid 1948, both AIR and Radio Ceylon
were pretty much evenly perched with a job cut out for both of them to
popularise the medium after being Independent.
No film music, no fun
But AIR faltered big time. Its then minister of information and
broadcasting, BV Keskar, a patron of classical and folk music, chose to
ban Indian film music from airing on AIR, despite the 1950s being a
golden period for Indian film music.
There were representations made by film personalities to the
government to reconsider their decision because it started impacting the
business of their films as there were no means to popularise the songs
and that in turn affected the sale of music LPs in the stores.
When the protests of the Indian film industry became loud, Radio
Ceylon proactively jumped in to capitalise on this opportunity. People
in India, who had access to Short-wave radios, caught the transmission
of Radio Ceylon from across the border, which played the best of
English, Hindi and Tamil music.
It was a glorious period for Radio Ceylon. Its popularity and reach
could be judged from the statement made by Nirupama Rao, who has just
been named as India’s foreign secretary, when she said that she heard
The Beatles for the first time only on Radio Ceylon.
Also, the Shortwave Central blog mentions about Sir Edmund Hillary
recalling that the first broadcast that he heard on the Himalayas after
peaking Mount Everest was of Radio Ceylon, as it was the only English
radio station that could be heard at that altitude.
Sensing the potential of a huge growth, Radio Ceylon formally
launched the Hindi Service in 1950. It is believed that the station got
a lot of clandestine support from the very strong Hindi film producer
lobby that was looking for an outlet for their music. They went out of
their way to help popularise Radio Ceylon in India. Soon enough, AIR
began to feel the pinch of the in-roads made by Radio Ceylon into India
and requisitioned the help of Pandit Narendra Sharma to start a
programme that could combat Radio Ceylon on popularity. He started what
is now famously known as Vividh Bharti in 1957.
Almost at the same time, Radio Ceylon brought in Vijay Kishore Dubey,
who many years later retired as vice president of HMV, to formulate the
full-blown Hindi Service of Radio Ceylon.
It however took AIR another two decades before it could ward off the
threat of Radio Ceylon. But that is a story for another time.
Coming back to Aaj Pehli Taarikh Hai, while Vijay Kishore Dubey was
conceptualising the programming for the Hindi Service, he came up with a
rule that the programme Purani Filmo Ke Geet from 7:30 to 8 AM should
end, without exception, by a song sung by K L Sehgal.
This was purported to be a cue for the younger listeners to know that
the next programme called Aap Hi Ke Geet, at 8 AM, which featured all
new songs, was about to air.
Not just a number
However, an exception to this rule was created on 1 January, 1954,
when the film Pehle Tarikh, directed by Raja Nene, released in India.
The film starred Raja Nene and Nirupa Roy.
But more than the film, what caught the attention of everyone was the
song, Din Hai Suhaana/ aaj pehli taarikh hai. Qamar Jalalabadi wrote the
song and is one of the longest songs ever written for a Hindi film. It
was composed by Sudhir Phadke and mirrored the sentiments of the average
middle class Indian.
The popularity of the song reached Vijay Kishore Dubey, and he was
forced to break his rule.
On the first day of every month, the last song on Purani Filmo Ke
Geet was not one by KL Sehgal, but this song from Pehli Taarikh, which
played for month after month after month...for 33 consecutive years on
(The writer is a media executive with an experience of over 12 years
in the entertainment industry. He has worked with PVR Pictures and INOX
Cinemas. He has extensive experience in film production, acquisition,
distribution and programming. He has been writing regularly on cinema.)