Mera Joota Hai Japani Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

Raj Kapoor Shree 420 Charlie Chaplin
Raj Kapoor in his famous Charlie Chaplin incarnation from hit film Shree 420 (1955)

Today we showcase the lyrics and English translation of “Mera Joota Hai Japani” from Raj Kapoor’s Shree 420 (1955) to mark the occasion of India’s Independence Day! Shree 420 is truly a landmark film in Hindi cinema starring a legendary showman who became known from Bombay to Bulgaria. To understand the film and the ramifications of the enormously popular song of patriotism, “Mera Joota Hai Japani,” we turn to the context of the nation’s not-so-distant past.

When India awakened to independence from British rule in the summer of 1947, the country faced many barriers to united prosperity under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s integrated social programs. While the freedom for which it had fought for generations was now realized, the Partition divided the Northern boundary of the nation between Muslims and Hindus, bolstering a mutual fear and hatred that seeped into the many ethnically diverse major cities. There, in turn, a rapid industrialization ideologically distanced the surrounding villagers from the urbanites, and a booming economy further isolated and redefined the gentry and the working class. While the geographic and cultural bars of much of Southern India allowed for a lesser degree of revolution, the Northern states, especially in the metropolises like Bombay where Bollywood blossomed, underwent a dramatic change that was felt at some level by the majority of inhabitants. Some strove to achieve a balance between the traditions of old and the advantages of Westernization, others the romanticism of rural life versus modern city life, and as always, the penniless lower classes wished to close the widening economic gap between themselves and the teeming wealth of the industrialists. In this maze of contradictions and extremes, Nehru tried nobly to guide the nation into forming a unique identity of its own as it moved into the future.

Raj Kapoor phir bhi dil hair hindustani shree 420
Raj Kapoor famously reminds his audience that “Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani” in Shree 420 (1955).

The elaborate family dramas and mythologicals of pre-independence Bollywood, therefore, no longer completely satisfied the country’s cinematic needs. Raj Kapoor was among the major influential directors and actors that emerged in the early years of independence whose work changed the face of Indian film. With the surfacing of a new middle and lower class audience, he sought to restructure the accessibility and impact of Indian cinema. Raj Kapoor (whose self-proclaimed audience was the underdog and downtrodden) responded to the socio-economic tensions of Nehru’s India through highly stylistic proletariat films that glorified the virtuous poor. His Chaplin-esque comedic appeal and playful optimism made him an iconic figure domestically and across the Middle East and Soviet Union. As a director of many of the era’s greatest hits such as the classic comedy, Shree 420, he established in the 1950s what now seems to be the “formulaic” Bollywood film. His plots mingled wholesome entertainment with social tension, dramatic one-liners, catchy show tunes, and the invariable triumph of Indian purity in the poor over the decadent Westernized ways of the rich.

Shree 420 is the story of a young man, Raju, who wanders from the countryside to find opportunity in city society. With an innocent smile and optimism, he strolls down the street famously singing love for his homeland in “Mera Joota Hai Japani.” His humble cheerfulness and patriotic pride captures the spirit of Nehru’s hopes and ideals for the blooming nation of a newly independent India threatened by corruption. 420, the well-known number from which the film derives its title, is the Indian penal code for fraud and dishonesty, and foreshadows Raju’s discovery of the means to survive in “modern” society.

Raj Kapoor mera joota hai japani
Raj Kapoor hops on a camel with an old guy who doesn’t seem to mind in Shree 420 (1955)

Shree 420 was a milestone production under the R.K. Studios banner that was among the first to be produced, directed, and acted in by Raj Kapoor himself. The son of a widely respected and extremely wealthy actor of the previous era, Prithviraj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor was nurtured in the film industry and had little difficulty in starting his own company with a very liberal amount of freedom. Formed in 1946, R.K. Studios went on to create some of the most successful films of Indian cinema. With lyrics by Shailendra and the soulful voice of Mukesh, we hope you enjoy our English translation of the lyrics to one of the thespian’s most beloved solos, “Mera Joota Hai Japani!”

Mera Joota Hai Japani Lyrics and Translation:

Meraa juuta hai Japaanii, yeh patluun Englishtaanii
My shoes are Japanese, these pants are British
Sar pe laal topii Ruusi, phir bhi dil hai Hindustanii
On my head is a red Russian hat, nonetheless my heart is Indian

Nikal paDe hai khulii saDak par, apnaa seenaa taane
I set out upon the wide open road confidently
Manzil kahaa.N, kahaa.N ruknaa hai, uparwaalaa jaane
Where is my destination, where must I stop, only God knows
BaDhte jaaye.N hum sailaanii, jaise ek Dariyaa toofanii
We advance forward relentlessly, as if a hurricane in a river
Sar pe laal topi Ruusi phir bhi dil hai Hindustani
On my head is a red Russian hat, nonetheless my heart is Indian
Mera juuta hai Japaanii…

Uupar-niiche niiche-uupar, leher chale jeevan kii
High to low, low to high, the waves of life flow
Nadaa.N hai jo baiThe kinaare, puuchhe raah watan kii
Those who wait by the shore are naive, ask for the path toward the motherland
Chalna jeevan kii kahaanii, rukna maut kii nishaanii
Going is the story of life while stopping is a sign of death
Sar pe laal topi Ruusi phir bhi dil hai Hindustani
On my head is a red Russian hat, nonetheless my heart is Indian
Mera juuta hai Japaanii…

Ho.Nge raaje rajkanwar ham bigaDe dil shehzaade
I will become the prince of fallen hearts
Ham singhaasan par jaa baithe.N jab jab kare.N iraade.N
I will sit upon a throne whenever I desire
Surat hai jaani-pehchaanii, duniyaa walo.N ko hairanii
My face will become familiar, it will be a surprise to the world
Sar pe laal topi Ruusi phir bhi dil hai Hindustani
On my head is a red Russian hat, nonetheless my heart is Indian
Mera juuta hai Japaanii…

Glossary:

juuta: shoe; Japaanii: Japanese; patluun: pants; Englishtani: British; sar: head; laal: red; topii: hat; Ruusii: Russian; phir bhi: nonetheless; however; dil: heart; Hindustani: Indian; nikal paDnaa: to set out; khulii: open; saDak: road; seenaa taannaa: (literally) to puff out the chest with pride, confidently; manzil: destination; ruknaa: to stop; uparwaalaa: God, he who is above; sailaanii: relentlessly; Dariyaa: river; toofaan: hurricane; uupar: high; niiche: low; leher: wave; jeevan: life; nadaa.N: naive; foolish; baiThnaa: to sit; kinaaraa: shore; raah: path; watan: motherland; country; maut: death; nishaanii: sign, symbol; raajaa: king; rajkanwar: prince; bigaDnaa: to fall; shehzaadaa: prince; singhaasan: throne; iraadaa: desire; surat: face; jaan-pehchaan: familiar; hairaani: surprise

Rural India to city transition
Raj Kapoor elegantly transitions with a cross-fade from rural India to a bustling city at the end of “Mera Joota Hai Japani.”

In the 1960s Raj Kapoor would drop his former image of the lovable proletariat and direct movies that resonated as family dramas of the wealthy, an increasing surrender to commercialism. The socio-political atmosphere of India had changed, and with it, the wants of the people. Movies that emphasized the difficulties of the developing period of the nation, or the unforgiving nature of that society were not the sell-outs they once were. The transition to a new era was over.

– Mrs. 55

camel
My fiance and I camel-spotting à la Raj Kapoor on our journey from New Delhi to Agra in a recent trip! Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani, as they say…
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Plagiarism in Hindi Film Music: Is Imitation the Most Sincere Form of Flattery?

Music directors in the Bollywood industry today are often accused of plagiarizing songs without giving proper credit to the original sources. Pritam Chakraborty, in particular, comes to mind as a composer who has been subjected to such accusations in recent times. Yet, lifting tunes is not a new trend in the industry: its origins can be  traced back to the industry’s earliest days when music directors of the Golden Era composed melodies heavily inspired by unattributed sources. Below, let’s take a listen to some plagiarized works composed by five of the greatest music directors of yesteryear: R.D. Burman, S.D. Burman, Shankar-Jaikishan, Salil Chowdhury, and O.P. Nayyar.

 R.D. Burman

Among the music directors of his time, R.D. Burman was perhaps the most notorious for composing inspired tunes.  Within the list that I’ve provided below, the magnitude of plagiarism varies from song to song. Some numbers below are direct lifts from their originals, such as the cult classic “mahbuubaa mahbuubaa” from Sholay (1975). Others represent more subtle variations of plagiarism: for instance,  the Kishore Kumar classic “dilbar mere kab tak mujhe” only takes it mukhDaa from “Zigeunerjunge” but has original antaras and interludes.  As a musician, I personally feel that the latter form of lifting is somewhat justifiable because it still reflects a level of creativity and originality on the part of the composer. The direct copying of tunes, however, raises ethical concerns and may have even placed music directors like R.D. Burman in legal trouble had such songs been released today.  Regardless of your opinion on this issue, what is universally striking about the list of songs below is the diversity of sources from which R.D. Burman drew his inspiration.  Collectively, the original melodies come from a smorgasbord of musical genres from all over the world: traditional folk, American pop, Greek, German, French, and even Iranian rock!

aao twist kare.n (Bhoot Bangla, 1965)  / “Let’s Twist Again” (Chubby Checker, 1962)
churaa liyaa hai tum ne  (Yaadon Ki Baraat,  1973) / “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium” (Bojoura, 1969)
teraa mujhse hai pahle kaa naataa koii  (Aa Gale Lag Ja, 1973)/ “The Yellow Rose of Texas” (Traditional)
mahbuubaa, mahbuubaa (Sholay, 1975) / “Say You Love Me” (Demis Roussos, 1974)
mil gayaa ham ko saathii (Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin, 1977) / “Mamma Mia” (ABBA, 1975)
jahaa.n terii yah nazar hai (Kaalia, 1981) / “Heleh Maali” (Zia Atabi, 1977)
kaisaa teraa pyaar (Love Story, 1981) / “I Have A Dream” (ABBA, 1979)
dilbar mere kab tak mujhe (Satta Pe Satta, 1982) / “Zigeunerjunge” (Alexandra, 1967)
kahii.n na jaa  (Bade Dilwala, 1983) / “La Vie En Rose” (Edith Piaf, 1955)
tum se milke  (Parinda, 1989) / “When I Need You” (Leo Sayer, 1977)

Zeenat Aman sizzles in “churaa liyaa tum ne” from Yaadon Ki Baraat (1973)

S.D. Burman

Like his son, S.D. Burman has also composed melodies that reflect marked inspiration from foreign sources.  Although we have already investigated the influence of Tagore’s music on S.D. Burman in a previous post, we now observe how his compositions also were inspired by non-Indian genres.  For a composer who was rather traditional in his musical output, who would have imagined that he lifted material from Mexican, Italian, and American country melodies?

chaahe koi khush ho (Taxi Driver, 1954) / “Tarantella” (Traditional)
jiivan ke safar me.n raahii
 
(Munimji, 1955) / “Mexican Hat Dance” (Traditional)
ek laDkii bhiigii bhaagii sii (Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, 1958) / “Sixteen Tons” (Tennessee Ernie Ford, 1955)
ham the vah thii (Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, 1958) / “Watermelon Song” (Tennessee Ernie Ford, 1957)
yah dil na hotaa bechaaraa (Jewel Thief, 1967) / “March” (Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957)
saalaa mai.n to sahab ban gayaa (Sagina, 1974) / “Chella Lla” (Renato Carosone, 1959)

The ever-versatile Kishore Kumar stars in a comic role in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1955)

Shankar-Jaikishan

In my opinion, Shankar-Jakishan were the quintessential music directors of Bollywood’s Golden Age. They combined the authenticity of traditional Indian music with the modern sophistication of Western influences to produce songs that appealed to the masses. It’s not surprising that some of their tunes reflect inspiration from foreign influences, but what is remarkable is that several of the songs listed below are remembered today as some of this duo’s most treasured gems.  Two songs from Chori Chori (1956), two songs from Gumnaam (1965), and the title track of Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai (1961) — among many other hits — were heavily inspired by existing Western numbers. I think you’ll be surprised to see some of your favorites on the list below…

ghar aayaa meraa pardesii (Awaara, 1952) / “Al Balad El Mahboub” (Umm Kulthum)
aajaa sanam madhur chaa.ndnii me.n ham (Chori Chori, 1956) / “Tarantella” (Traditional)
panchii banuu.n uDtii phiruu.n (Chori Chori, 1956) / “Coming Through The Rye” (Traditional)
aigo aigo yah kyaa ho gayaa?
(Boyfriend, 1961) / Stupid Cupid” (Connie Francis, 1958)
jiyaa ho jiyaa kuchh bol do  (Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai, 1961) / “Broken-Hearted Melody” (Sarah Vaughan, 1959)
sukuu sukuu (Junglee, 1961) / “Sucu Sucu” (Ping Ping, 1961)
dekho ab to kis ko nahii.n hai khabar (Janwar, 1964) / “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (The Beatles, 1963 )
gumnaam hai koii (Gumnaam, 1965) / “Charade” (Henry Mancini and Orchestra, 1963)
jaane chaman sholaa badan (Gumnaam, 1965) / “Autumn Leaves” (Nat King Cole, 1956)
le jaa le jaa meraa dil (An Evening in Paris, 1967) / “Man of Mystery” (The Shadows, 1960)
kaun hai jo sapno.n me.n aayaa? (Jhuk Gaya Aasman, 1968) / “Marguerita” (Elvis Presley, 1963)

Rajendra Kumar definitely breaks conventions of automobile safety during the picturization of “kaun hai jo sapno.n me.n aayaa?” from Jhuk Gaya Aasman (1968).

Salil Chowdhury

Salil Chowdhury’s compositions always reflect an intelligent and sophisticated mastery of music that set him apart from his peers in the industry.  Instead of describing the songs listed here as cases of plagiarism, I would be more likely to categorize them as adaptations. When Salil Chowdhury used another Western melody as an inspiration, he always managed to make it his own by adding something special that would resonate with Indian audiences. Take, for example, the evergreen Talat-Lata duet “itnaa mujhse tu pyaar baDhaa.” Although the mukhDaa is clearly inspired by Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, Salil composes new antaras that beautifully complement the original melody.  As another example, consider “bachpan o bachpan” from Memdidi (1961).  Inspired by the children’s rhyme “A Tisket, A Tasket,” Salil takes the melody to a new level of complexity by inserting operatic interludes sung by our beloved diva Lata Mangeshkar.  Bravo!

dharti kahe pukaar ke (Do Bigha Zameen, 1953) / “Meadowlands” (Lev Knipper, 1934)
halke halke chalo saa.nvare (Tangewaali, 1955) / “The Wedding Samba” (Edmund Ros and Orchestra,  1950)
dil taDap taDap ke (Madhumati, 1957) / “Szla Dziewczka” (Traditional)
zindagii hai kyaa, sun merii jaan  (Maya, 1961) / “Theme from Limelight [from 3:27] ” (Charlie Chaplin, 1952)
itnaa na mujhse tu pyaar baDhaa (Chhaya, 1961) / “Molto allegro” from Symphony No. 40 (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1788)
bachpan o bachpan (Memdidi, 1961) / A Tisket, A Tasket” (Traditional)
aa.nkho.n me.n tum ho (Half-Ticket, 1962) / “Buttons and Bows” (Dinah Shore, 1948)

Vijayantimala coyly hides behind a tree in the picturization of “dil taDap taDap ke” from Madhumati (1957)

O.P. Nayyar

O.P. Nayyar is known for his characteristically Western-inspired approach to crafting melodies for Hindi films, but his contribution to our list of directly plagiarized songs is relatively small in comparison to some of his peers in the industry. The most well-known example here is, of course,  the Rafi-Geeta duet “yah hai bambaaii merii jaa.n” which has been lifted from its predecessor “My Darling Clementine.”

baabuujii dhiire chalnaa (Aar Paar, 1954) / “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas(Trio Los Panchos, 1947)
yah hai bambaii merii jaa.n (C.I.D., 1955) / “My Darling Clementine” (Traditional)
lakho.n hai.n yahaa.n dilvaale (Kismat, 1968) / Red River Valley” (Traditional)

Biswajeet hams it up for Babita during the picturization of “lakho.n hai.n yahaa.n dilvaale” in Kismat (1968)

What is your opinion on plagiarism in Hindi film music? Was it acceptable for music directors of this time to lift material from Western sources in order to introduce musical diversity to Indian audiences? Or, is it unethical for such plagiarism to occur without giving credit to the original musicians who created the songs in the first place? Let us know in the comments, and feel free to share any examples that go along the theme of this post!

-Mr. 55