I didn't grow up in India, but there are a few media memories that have stuck with me. Like when the nation's favorite (and only) channel of the late '80s, Doordarshan, would play a catchy, soulful five minute segment called "Mile Sur Mera Tumhara". The idea was to reflect the diversity of India through repetition of a phrase in fourteen different languages. The viewer was transported to the sights and sounds - the different "voices" that united our country, from the grassy fields of Punjab to the glassy waters of south India.
This video first aired on India's Independence Day, August 15, 1988. On January 26, 2010 India's Republic Day, a new and "improved" version of "Mile Sur..." was released, "Phir Mile Sur Mera Tumhara"(Part 1 and 2). Our voices are uniting again, but against this poor excuse for a song makeover.
Let's start with the cast. 90% of the new version is Bollywood film stars over-dramatizing their bad lip-sync jobs. The old version has a few film stars, but they are in the video due to merit, not just their looks. As much as I enjoy seeing Shahid Kapoor onscreen, his appearance in the 16 minute clip was as useful as a broken umbrella on a rainy day.
Speaking of rain, here's another ridiculous scene for your imagining pleasure: Deepika Padukone in a mini-dress, standing on a rock in the middle of a creek, getting soaked. Please explain to me how this represents the diversity of India - I shall be eternally grateful.
Something I relished about the older version is that the 'common man/woman' was emphasized throughout the segment. Faces I didn't recognize greeted me warmly in almost every shot, and that was nice, refreshing. The problem with the newer edition is that almost every face I saw was a close-up I had seen before on celluloid. It was dull, and could have been a scene from any Bollywood movie.
Of course, there was the 'aww' factor - scenes that are supposed to make you feel good in that warm, chocolatey part of your soul. Sadly, there was no 'aww'ing to be done here. On the contrary, Salman Khan signing lyrics with deaf children, military persons marching in synchronized harmony, and brief glimpses of Indian Olympians left me frustrated. Did they really deserve just a minute or two of air-time? Salman Khan was a disappointment for another reason altogether - he shouldn't have been there in the first place.
Mile sur mera tumhara
To sur bane humara
Your voice merges with my voice
And our voices become one
India is a country where everything is a spectrum. Color, creed, language, religion - you'll find it all in the subcontinent. "Mile Sur..." shows that spectrum in all of its fuzzy, slightly tacky, yet inspiration glory. "Phir Mile Sur..." has better shots, more celebrities, and is more than double the length. It's smooth, but it doesn't give me goosebumps.
The problem with modernization is we often tend to believe that 'newer is better'. More technology means more options, more snazziness. More options, naturally, should lead to better results. Unfortunately (or fortunately), "Phir Mile Sur" is a clear example of when 'Old is Gold' rings true. You can't mess with a classic.