Shreyas Kulkarni

What will it take to create another ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’?

India stands more polarised than ever. The biggest agency names tell us how a fresh crack at this legacy anthem could help in today’s troubled times.

Surrounded by armies of hate-spewing demons, Morpheus, the lord of dreaming, was trapped. Lucifer Morningstar threatened him with imprisonment; the dream lord was not an honoured guest like his visit centuries ago. He had no power this time in hell.

This scene from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series is a poignant allegory for our troubled times. Like Morpheus, society today is surrounded by a deadly polarising air that has infected most.

The advertising and marketing world suffered too. Tanishq, Bharat Matrimony, AU Bank, Mohey, Swiggy, Zomato, Fabindia, Wondrlab, the list is endless, and so were the apology letters that let trolls turned extremists control the destiny of the brands.

In 1988, prompted by the Rajiv Gandhi government at the centre, Suresh Mullick and Kailash Surendranath conceived, and Piyush Pandey wrote ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’.

A national integration piece, many describe it as India’s second national anthem. The time is ripe for another such attempt. Society needs a symbol of unity today; cricket and the movies have fallen to their own devices. Who should initiate it, and what story can unite us are questions we posed to some of ad land’s biggest names.

India’s 75th Independence Day beckons and society must remember there is incredible power in hope and dream.

Morpheus, staring at eternal incarceration, calmly reminded the Morningstar of what power would hell have if those imprisoned were not able to dream of heaven. The archangel could not respond to the truth.

Edited Excerpts

Piyush Pandey, Ogilvy's chief creative officer Worldwide and executive chairman, India

‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’ was a stroke of genius from the late Suresh Mullick. It needed a lot of love and affection.

I think something like this should happen. But it should happen with a lot of heart in it because it will get compared. To avoid comparison, do not do the same thing. My point of view is remixes do not work.

The initiation this time should come from places like the government, big corporates, or the media. But there should not be any interference. This kind of stuff does not come when there is interference with 10 people telling you what to do.

Whoever sponsors it should trust the individual or the team and say, “I understand what you are doing and I believe in you.” Otherwise when committees are there, nothing happens.

David Ogilvy once said, “In my experience, committees can criticize, but they cannot create. ‘Search the parks in all your cities You’ll find no statues of committees’...”

In the 90s, there was only government-owned Doordarshan. It was a big platform. When people saw what it was and in the post-90s when private channels came in, they started using the song because everyone loved it.

It is very difficult to say which story would work today. It took Suresh many days to come up with this solution, and he was very clear when he briefed me, "No big time desh bhakti words. Desh bhakti words, if present, they should not be used loudly."

This is not something you can force on people. Somebody tried to do a second one and failed miserably. You can take inspiration, not the idea.

However, history does not stop at one great piece of work. Somebody can come up with an idea which falls in the same league, it's not impossible.

Jitender Dabas, chief operating officer, McCann Worldgroup India

We have never lived in more polarising times, not just in India but across the world. Social media partly fuels this polarisation because it has created a world where we live in our echo chamber, and believe our point of view is right. It then leads us to disregard how others live and makes it difficult to live with people holding different thoughts.

The other thing is the rise of extreme viewpoints. Social media amplifies this rise. It allows people to take advantage of the polarisation.

So yes, if there was a time when people needed to say let’s live together harmoniously, this is the time.

Civil society should ideally lead an initiative like this one. Brands may have an agenda and so do governments, it has to come from civil society.

The only issue, at the end of the day, is the moment you put together such a message, political affiliations are brought in. Everything is seen from a lens of who you are for, and who you are against.

Anything you do today is coloured and that is the issue. Tomorrow if you say India’s time is going to come, the next five years in the context of the world economy belongs to India, these are positive messages but when side ‘a’ or ‘b’ pushes it, the other side gets insecure.

Sport still unites us. Tomorrow if India wins a media at the Olympics, irrespective of which side you belong to, you will feel proud seeing the tricolour raised in the Olympic stadium in Paris.

At the larger level, many brands like Coca-Cola and others have talked about bringing people together.

When things are normal, which videos are circulated the most? They are of cats playing with a dog, monkeys being friends with a dog, and a puppy being raised by a cow, there is something magical about seeing them, whom you assume are different and so they will fight, together.

There is power in positive messaging.

I also think the media has not exactly done the job it should be doing, and that’s where the problem lies. How will people receive such messaging? It is important where it comes from.

We are wearing shields all the time. If something can disarm you, it is the most powerful. We are living in an armed world. We are armed with facts. If you can find arguments which can disarm people before they get into talking to each other, there is hope for the world.

(L-R) Piyush Pandey, Jitender Dabas, Garima Khandelwal, PG Aditya, Keigan Pinto
(L-R) Piyush Pandey, Jitender Dabas, Garima Khandelwal, PG Aditya, Keigan Pinto

Garima Khandelwal, former chief creative officer, Mullen Lintas

Respect and empathy for someone else’s thoughts and beliefs are the need for today. Love, despite the differences and not spite the differences

We are only defined by our opposing views and united by who hates, and what we hate.

Social media allows us to be inauthentic. Say anything without meaning it. So more than words, actions. This is why the fraternal kiss comes to mind as a bold act, but not between people of similar but opposite beliefs. Something that is striking and that means love and acceptance, but is unforgettable and unmissable

Today we get offended so easily. We are so triggered. And there is so much inauthenticity around, we need something that doesn’t look like lip service anymore. It should become a symbol of the times we are in.

This push needs to come from the government, and I know it feels like one kind of view, and it does not take others' views and vision forward. But in the environment we are in today, everything seems smaller than the government anyway.

The last ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’ was about us being so different from each other and yet, together we are a force. Today, yes, I am different and what I think is maybe different from what you think but we need to be respectful and empathise with each other.

When I see the environment whether it's on news or social media, it is hate, and about how to pull people down. The message needs to be where is the love and respect.

PG Aditya, co-founder and chief creative officer, Talented

The 1988 ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’ brought India together for India’s sake. I remember M. Balamuralikrishna singing, Revathi was cast in it, and Kamal Hassan looking so handsome, I have clear memories of that song especially of the Tamil Nadu segment because I hail from the state.

While watching it, I kept thinking here's another part, here’s another part. At a primal level, it helped us understand representation before we started speaking of it the way we do today.

A quarter of a century later, we've moved. It is India with the world, not with itself alone. We have a much firmer relationship with the world than we did 25 years ago. We have a humongous diaspora and it's very powerful.

We, now, have an opportunity to look at India and the world. With our expectations of becoming the third largest economy, what national integration at one very psychological level will do is get us to see our place in the world much stronger. 

A lot of our self-image is of someone who speaks a global truth, and not just a civilisational truth or a regional truth.

The ad land should take the initiative if it can exert influence over and through it. In terms of motivation, a good mix of people in public office and a lot of thought leaders in the private sector will offer a balance.

I do not know if an anthem has the power to change minds as much as validate a particular sense of thinking. If you currently believe we are in a negative place, an anthem is not the way we get to a positive place. If we feel there is a residual positive sentiment that needs to be cultivated, that is something that can be done.

A lot of groundwork needs to be done at a social level before expecting this rally cry to do the heavy lifting. It will feel contrived if we choose to do something this magnificent without there being actual progress on the ground which is why I think the timing of it needs to be right whenever it happens.

Keigan Pinto, chief creative officer, FCB Ulka

Ironically, there is more encouragement in talking about polarisation and hatred, and that means a peaceful well-meant initiative will get into more trouble and a hate-filled message of sorts will get into less trouble.

Do we need another ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’? Yes, we do. It will need the endorsement of the government, the right authorities, and bodies.

The majority of Indian folks mean well because they want peace for themselves. They're logical, rational beings. The mahaul is such that an invisible silent entity in it is saying you will fall into trouble if you speak about authority.

It needs to be put out there, being played as many times as possible. We underestimate the power of media. Today, people talk about “Mera naam Mukesh hai, mujhe cancer ho gaya...” and it is part of pop culture not because it is a quality piece of work and craft, it found its way through a terrific medium and kept getting pushed.

I think the story this time will have to be about people from all the narratives that need acceptance, narratives that evoke hate. For instance, it should be leaders that represent the castes, the caste divide is massive in India, and nobody talks about it.

There should be people representing the religious communities, the caste narratives, and people who evoke hate with the nepotism narrative... everyone is one, and that is important.

Let's assume it’s a present government-endorsed piece, why can't there be a moment where the two leading political parties stand together? We are one country. We take ourselves too seriously.

It should definitely be the same song. We need to reproduce it and refresh the music to some extent. 

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