Monsoon Song Showdown: Do Bigha Zameen (1953) vs. Lagaan (2001)

I was recently chastised by a colleague for not ever having seen Bimal Roy’s classic Hindi film, “Do Bigha Zameen” (Two Acres of Land). The chastising was sufficiently harsh (“what’s wrong with you?! it’s on frikking YouTube, you have no excuse!!!”) that I felt compelled to actually watch some of the film. (Beautiful, even on YouTube.)

Watching the film, one thing that struck me was the similarity of one of the key monsoon songs to “Ghanan Ghanan” from Lagaan. Here is Hariyala Sawan Dhol Bjata Aya:

And here is Ghanan Ghanan:

There are similarities both in the structure of the songs and in the way the songs are filmed. Did A.R. Rahman or Ashutosh Gowariker acknowledge the debt to Bimal Roy after Lagaan came out? (They might have — I might not have been paying attention.)

The blog Dusted Off has a great list of “Top Ten Monsoon Songs”: here.

And one of the commenters on that post links to his own “105 Baarish Songs”: here.

10 thoughts on “Monsoon Song Showdown: Do Bigha Zameen (1953) vs. Lagaan (2001)

  1. Thanks for sharing this Amardeep; I haven’t seen Do Bigha Zameen but if the rest of the movie is as enchanting as Hariyala Sawan Dhol Bjata Aya then I’ll definitely be checking it out. The imagery and personality of the songs are very similar, no doubt Lagaan took some artistic inspiration from the earlier number.

  2. Amardeep: Thanks for little trip back in time. I remember very well the movie “Do Bhigha Zamin”. This movie was in my “Prime Time” growing up in India. Balraj Sahani was superb and so were the evergreen songs. Laggan was OK, but nothing compared to DBZ. Thanks.

  3. I am not 100% sure, but the reason both songs sound the same is that they are both based on the raga Megh Malhar. Here is a rendition of said raga by Ustads Salamat and Nazakat Ali Khan.

    Do Bigha Zameen was a seminal piece of work in more ways than one. In my opinion, it reinforced a sense of social equality among the bhadralok, and infused a communist zeal in West bengal for decades to come. The end of the movie shows Shambhu’s (Balraj Sahni’s character) land being used to build a factory. Witness the opposition to the Tata Nano plan in Singur a couple of years ago.

    Also, if you notice, the ‘villains’ of movies made in the two decades following Independence were often landgrabbing zamindars, cheating money-lenders (Mother India) and nefarious industrialists (Shree 420), reflecting the post-independence malaise that afflicted a lot of people in the hinterland. I have a theory that Hindi movie villains almost always represent prevalent ills in Indian society in general.

    Stylistically, DBZ was also the trendsetter for parallel cinema (arthouse) for decades to come.

  4. Before DBZ there was Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar inspired (scripted?) by Khwaja Ahmed Abbas (based on a short story by Hayatullah Ansari) in turn based on a Gorky work. It is the first and only Indian film to win the top prize at Cannes, which it did in 1946

  5. Do Bigha Zameen if I had to choose between the two, but I like both songs. Kudos to both of them!

  6. Amardeep thanks for this. They are both great songs. You indirectly asked for a comparison by posting the two clips so here goes: The Lagaan song is stronger both in the photography and in capturing the joyous anticipation of sawan and so while I am firmly in the “old is gold” camp I’ll have to go with the Lagaan song.

    Darwin: I’ve been told that the best way to recognize a raga is to learn a ditty in one and then use it as a matching template. Nice way to impress dates.

  7. To answer your question about Gowarikar acknowledging DBZ: I do not know if the acknowledgement shows up in the film’s credits, but I was attending a seminar about Bimal Roy a few months ago, and one of the speakers (I think it was film critic Maithili Rao) mentioned that Gowarikar has mentioned in interviews how much he admires Bimal Roy’s work and has also talked about how he was inspired by the monsoon song in DBZ while making Lagaan. So your noticing the similarity was spot-on. There’s a new film about Bimal Roy made by his son Joy Bimal Roy and Ashutosh Gowarikar is interviewed in that as well. I do recommend watching the documentary if you like Roy’s films – not a particularly objective protrait, nevertheless, interesting to watch.

  8. I agree, both songs are similar and we used to love the old song when it used to rain in Jaipur, that song makes me feel like I am standing outside just after the rain stops.