I am not a huge fan of the genre of patriotic songs from Hindi cinema. Most of these desh-bhakti songs are burdened with generous doses of overt sentimentality and labored attempts of implanting or extracting patriotic fervour from within the listeners. However, there are some compositions which stand out for their soaring music, soulful renditions by the singers and lyrics that convey genuine emotions. Here is a list of my personal favorites from the desh-bhakti genre:

Ab tumhare hawale watan saathiyo – Haqeeqat
Mohammed Rafi, Kaifi Aazmi, Madan Mohan
This Madan Mohan composition from Mohd Rafi’s rendition of Kaifi Azmi’s soul stirring lyrics is a timeless classic. It is a fitting tribute to every soldier who gives away his/her life for the sake of the nation.

Rang de basanti – Rang de basanti
Daler Mehndi, Chithra, Prasoon Joshi, A R Rahman
Daler Mehendi does all the heavy lifting in this song of celebration of all things “Indian”. Prasoon Joshi’s lyrics bring a sensory feel to the experience that is India : “thodisi dhool meri dharti ki mere watan ki, thodisi khushboo baurai si mast pawan ki“. On a side note, this is one song where ARR’s selection of Chithra was off, she screeches and shrieks and cannot match Daler’s boisterous voice. Sapna Awasthi or Jaspinder Narula would have been a good choice.

Des mere des mere – The legend of Bhagat Singh
Sukhwinder Singh, A R Rahman, Sameer, A R Rahman
Yes, the lyrics do have a dose of juvenile romanticism, but that was expected from a generic lyricist such as Sameer. Where this song excels is in the lilting melody of ARR.

Mera Rang De Basanti Chola – The legend of Bhagat Singh
Sonu Nigam, Manmohan Waris, Bhagat Singh, Sameer, A R Rahman Sukhwinder Singh,
I know some of you might defer with me on this version of the song as against the one from the 1962 film Shaheed. I strongly prefer the ARR version to any of the other renditions of this famous song – my reasons: ARR”s version conveys true optimism and hope given the situation for which the song was written for.

Ekala cholo reBose, The Forgotten Hero
Sonu Nigam, Nachiketa Chakraborty, Rabindranath Tagore, Javed Akhtar, A R Rahman
So this is not a standard desh prem song, but gets on the list because of the soluful words of Tagore woven into beautiful lyrics in Hindi by Javed Akhtar, composed on an inspiring tune by ARR. Sonu Nigam’s voice provides a buttery quality which was Rafi’s forte in the yester-years. (surprisingly, there is no video of the entire song online).

Aazaadi – Bose, The Forgotten Hero 
A R Rahman, Western Choir Chorus, Javed Akhtar, A R Rahman
The entire soundtrack of this Shyam Benegal movie has largely been overlooked, even by ardent Rahman fans. It is one of ARR’s superlative works with mostly instrumental compositions. In this song, Javed Akhtar’s lyrics bring out the “josh” that must have been the driving force for Subhash Chandra Bose in his quest for free India. ARR’s wonderful use of the chorus adds to the rousing quality of the composition.

Kandhon se milte hain – Lakshya
Hariharan, Shankar Mahadevan, Sonu Nigam, Roopkumar Rathod, Kunal Ganjawala, Vijay Prakash, Javed AkhtarShankar-Ehsaan-Loy
This is a standard marching band style number sung my multiple singers. The lyrics have a foolish bravado in the words such as: “hum chalte jab aise toh dil dushman ke hilte hain” and more. On another note, this upbeat tune also makes for a good running track.

Watana we – Pinjar
Roopkumar Rathod, Gulzar, Uttam Singh
Not a song directly related to patriotism, but about the state of the nation as a result of religious/political strife. Gulzar’s heartbreaking poetry is about the the partition of the country (to which he was a witness and a survivor) which left millions scarred and continues to cast a massive shadow on both sides. More on it here.

Yeh jo des hai tera – Swades 
A R Rahman, Javed Akhtar
The shehnai loop in this song is one of the reasons why ARR is such a celebrated composer. Along with the words which are focussed on the feeling of being separated from your country, that shehnai is what tugs at your heart. What could be a more “Indian” musical instrument than the shehnai? It’s heard at weddings and other celebratory events, at religious festivals and at funerals even. It is indeed the sound of India.

Aye mere pyaare watan – Kabuliwala
Manna Dey, Prem Dhawan, Salil Chowdhary
No other song packs such an emotional wallop as this song from the 1961 film based on Tagore’s short story. Manna Dey pours his heart out in this song about a man yearning for his homeland. Prem Dhawan’s lyrics are simple and straightforward. Salil Chaudhary’s composition makes use of Afghani/Pathani instruments  and the slow melody has an achy quality to it. A timeless masterpiece.