In the black and white Hindi films of the 1950s, it was fairly common for them to shoot a scene or two, or at least a song, on the streets of Bombay. Part of it was probably the relative ease of taking over a little piece of side-street in some suburb for the shooting while keeping away crowds, and the other was likely newer and more portable equipment that made it more practical. The crowds were not a problem, however, if your song incorporated them, like Hum matwale naujawan from the 1959 film Shararat.
This song is a youth anthem of sorts, about the power and wonders of the young, but with tongue placed firmly in cheek, especially considering the nature of the video. This is no surprise in a film called Shararat (Mischief). This song is all Kishore Kumar and his on-screen antics. While he hardly goes all out with those in this song, the man had a way with body language that made even the most boring walk down a street appear humorous. On screen, he is assisted and accompanied by a straggly band of cohorts, most of them well into adulthood and still playing the metaphorical kids. I guess that was not too strange in what, at the time, was still a very ageing population. The video is cut very much from the same cloth as patriotic songs would have been a decade earlier, with the power of the country and farmers here replaced by the power of the youth as the protagonist, mixed in with a good deal of humour. A logical but interesting transition to see in the culture of the time.
The music is very appropriately arranged by Shankar-Jaikishan with a range of instruments that were all borrowed from western music. The tabla was replaced by the bongo, the harmonium by the accordion, all of this adding to the modern and youthful mood of this in the late 1950s, in India. The other interesting choice is the heavy use of whistling throughout the tune, which at the time on the Indian street, and even much later, was still considered the sign of the uncouth in traditional eyes. So a song with whistling was as youthful and rebellious as you could get.
Kishore Kumar‘s singing is entertaining and melodious, and never falters in delivering a song that’s both heartfelt and teasing in its plea in favour of youth. Shailendra delivers some pretty thoughtful lyrics, considering the light-hearted mood of the song, the most memorable of which are ones in the oft-repeated main spine of the song.
Kare bhalai hum,
Bure banen har dum,
Is jahan ki reet niraali,
Pyar ko samajhe haye re haye sitam.
Good is what we try to do,
And yet we’re accused in lieu.
This world works in strange ways,
It thinks that love is a painful daze.
Hum matwale naujawan mostly works because in spite of it’s undercurrent of humour, it is a very earnest song and was of a time where such anthems and grand statements were taken seriously. It would be very difficult to pull off a song like this today without concentrating more on the humour or the fun-loving depravity of the youth. But in 1959, this managed to be both serious and funny, and a pleasure to listen to.