From ‘Jai Ho’ To ‘Why This Kolaveri Di,’ Indian Songs That Became International Hits

indian songs international hits

While International music stars and esp English songs have found a follower base across India, some of the Indian songs have also become substantial international hits across the world.

While the number of such songs has increased with the advent of the internet and social media where things can potentially go ‘viral,’ there have been many instances of Indian music mesmerizing people in other countries even before the digital era.

Let’s have at 11 Indian songs that conquered the barriers of region, language, borders, and nationalities to become international hits

1. Awaara Hoon

This song from the 1951 movie Awaara was one of the first Indian songs to strike a chord with audiences around the globe. The film itself was a massive hit in the Soviet Union and had almost 64 million viewers in its initial run – the highest for any movie in the Soviet Union at that time. The movie was also a gigantic hit in China with its initial release and re-releases drawing a viewership of over 100 Million. The movie also became very popular in Turkey, remade as Avare (1964) with Turkish actors. Raj Kapoor himself became a superstar in the Soviet Union. When Raj Kapoor had attended the Tashkent Film festival in the Soviet Union, people spoke of his visit like he was more critical than any head of state or international celebrity.

The song Awaara Hoon written by lyricist Shailendra, and sung by Mukesh became a massive rage in the Soviet Union and China. Both the movie and the song ‘Awaara Hoon’ were amongst the personal favorites of Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China. The song Awara Hoon played in the official Russian banquets. Prominent people like former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, one of the powerful mayors of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, also used to hum this song.

Several localized versions of this song were made in Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, the Soviet Union, Many localized versions of the song were recreated in Turkey, China, the Soviet Union, Romania, and the Middle East after the song got immense popularity.

2. I am a Disco Dancer

Another Indian movie that became a huge hit esp in the Soviet Union and China, was the Mithun Chakraborty featuring ‘Disco Dancer,’ which became the biggest hit of the year at the Soviet box office. Disco Dancer remains to be the highest-grossing foreign movie in the Soviet Union.  The film also became a huge commercial hit in China. It is said that when the USSR leader then, Mikhail Gorbachev visited India in the late 80s, and Rajiv Gandhi introduced Amitabh Bachchan as the ‘biggest superstar in India’ to which Gorbachev replied that his daughter only knew about Mithun Chakraborty.

The soundtrack of this movie also became very popular esp in the Soviet Union and China. The song ‘I am a Disco Dancer’ esp became popular in the dance halls of the Soviet Union throughout the 80s. It also inspired American rock band Devo, who came up with their song “Disco Dancer” in 1988.

3. Jimmy Jimmy Aaja Aaja

Another song from the movie Disco Dancer that has probably become the most popular Indian song internationally is Jimmy Jimmy Aaja Aaja. This song earned composer Bappi Lahiri a Gold award in China. A generation of people in the Soviet Union grew up listening and dancing to this song along with the title track I am a Disco Dancer. It is still prevalent in Russia and other countries like Mongolia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan.  Many videos online show Russians and other post-soviet states performing on this song esp in the show Russia’s Got Talent.

Some Indian visitors in Russia, even today, would recall that replies like, “India often meet them…Jimmy” when they mention that they are from India.

This song has also inspired several covers and renditions, most notably by British Sri Lankan alternative rapper M.I.A, Russian techno group Ruki Vverh, Russian artists DJ Slon and Angel-A, and a cover version by Tibetan artist Kelsang Metok.

The music from this song was used in the final fight scene in the 2008  American Comedy You Don’t Mess with the Zohan by Adam Sandler.

4. Mera Joota Hai Japaani

Another Raj Kapoor movie that drew audiences from all across the globe was Shree 420, which also became the highest-grossing foreign film in the Soviet Union box office in 1956. It also became a massive hit in Romania and Israel.  Two other songs from this movie Mera Joota Hai Japani and Ichak Dana also became popular amongst international audiences.

Mera Joota Hai Japani became immensely popular esp in the Soviet Union.  Besides the popularity of Raj Kapoor, the mention of a Russian excited the audience even more.

Recently, this song played at the beginning of the movie Deadpool (2016). The Indian astronaut in the movie Gravity (2013) also sang this song while taking a break from his space duties.

5. Ichak Dana Bichak Dana

Recently, Indian diplomats were surprised when the song ‘Ichak Dana Bichak Dana’  was played at lunch hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Neta and his delegation. Most of the people of this delegation were quite familiar with this song.

Ichak Dana was another popular song from Shree 420 in the Soviet Union and Israel. After its popularity in Israel, it was re-recorded by local singer Naim Rajuan. Many tourists visiting Jerusalem have heard several local shopkeepers humming this song.

Sometime back, the ministry of external affairs had tweeted a video of a local Uzbek woman singing this song on the street with Late Sushma Swaraj.

6. Jai Ho

Composed by AR Rahman for the 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire by Danny Boyle, Jai Ho was referred to as “the toast of the town in almost every part of the world” back then. Written by Gulzar and featuring Sukhwinder Singh as the principal vocalist, this song received appreciation from music experts all around the globe.

AR Rahman and Sukhwinder Singh performed “Jai Ho” live during the 81st Academy Awards on 22 February 2009, where it won Academy Award for Best Original Song. It also received a Grammy Award for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture. An American girl group and dance ensemble, recorded an English interpretation of this song: Jai Ho! (You Are My Destiny).

7. Jimikki Kammal

Recently, Entammede Jimikki Kammal, or simply Jimikki Kammal from the Malayalam film Velipadinte Pusthakam became viral on the internet owing to several covers and viral dance videos on social media. American TV presenter, comedian, writer, and producer Jimmy Kimmel, whose name is similar to the name of the track also tweeted, saying he loved this song.

8. Mundian To Bach Ke

Initially released in 1997 with vocals and lyrics by Punjabi artist Labh Janjua and then re-released as a single in 2002 with Jay-Z, Mundian To Bach Ke, one of the best selling singles of all times globally. It has sold at least 10 million copies worldwide.

The song sold over 100,000 copies in Germany within the first two days and debuted at #2 in the Germany Charts. It topped the singles charts in Italy and Germany. It was the first Bhangra song to make its way to the UK Top 10 and reach #10 in Canada, and it also reached #33 on the Billboard charts in the United States.

This song has been featured in sitcoms, movies, reality shows, and musical tours ever since then. It was used in the 2003 film Bulletproof Monk, and the Sports-comedy movie Stick It in 2006. The sitcoms that have featured this song include ER, Entourage, Outsourced and Scottish sitcom Scot Squad.

9. Oruvan Oruvan

A song from the 1995 Tamil Drama Muthu, the movie and its soundtrack became quite popular in Japan. Muthu is still the highest-grossing Indian film in Japan. The soundtrack was selected as the most popular foreign soundtrack in Japan, and the song Oruvan Oruvan gained massive popularity. (Zoku) Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sen, a Japanese manga series, also features a parody of the dance in the song Oruvan Oruvan.

10. Tunak Tunak Tun

The era of Indi pop and Bhangra in the late 90s is incomplete without the mention of this Daler Mehendi hit. A hit in India, this song soon gained a cult following in the South Asian diaspora in the UK and the USA. In China, the song gained popularity for its lyrics that sounded like non-nonsensical words.

With the advent of the internet, this song became a meme in the early 2000s on websites and forums even before YouTube and social media. Ever since this song has been inspiring memes and parodies from all across the globe and refuses to die, it also reached #28 in Belgium’s official top 50 charts in October 2016.

Blizzard Entertainment, a famous video game company, incorporated “Tunak Tunak Tun” as a character animation in their game World of Warcraft in 2007. It was also included as an easter egg in the Medal of Honor: Allied Assault Spearhead.

11. Why This Kolaveri Di

This song is best remembered by netizens as one of the first massively viral videos in India that became an instant hit on social media within a few weeks of its launch in 2011. It soon spread to other parts of the world with parodies, covers, dances, and mixes. International media like BBC and Time Magazine reported about the popularity of this song. YouTube recognized this song with a recently popular Gold Medal award and trending silver medal award for the number of views it generated in a short period.

This song was played extensively in the nightclubs and discos of Japan, and a video of Japanese women dancing to it became viral back then. This song was played on US radio station KZYX FM. A few Turkish singers and composers also created covers for this song. A Turkish Coca-Cola ad also used the tunes of this track.

Which is your favorite song amongst these gems of Indian music?