Not So Well Recorded: The Journey of the Hindi Film Song

(An updated version of this post is available here: Not So Well Recorded: But Now Well Recognized)

Nothing is as representative of the popular mass culture of India as the Hindi film music. Its appeal is pan-Indian and arguably surpasses that of the Hindi films per se. In the 2011 Jaipur Literature Festival, a discussion session on Hindi film music featuring lyricists Gulzar, Javed Akhtar and Prasoon Joshi, drew so much crowd that the organizers had to repeat it, at a bigger space.

Yet, it is surprising that so little serious work has been done to record this incredible journey. As someone interested in the history of Indian music, I have often proactively looked for books on Indian recorded music, classical music and fim music. Recently, while researching, I discovered something that I did not know whether to feel good or bad about. I realized that I have read most of the books on the subject, published in India.

That prompted me to prepare a list and publish for those who would like to follow the subject. I am not an expert on the subject and this is just a labor of love for fellow Hindi film music lovers who would also like to know the stories behind the songs, singers, composers and the lyricists. I have added brief comments for the ones that I have read and have also provided links to buying those online in India, whereever I could find.

So, here is the list in this format: Title, Author, Publisher

1. K L Saigal: Piligrim of the Swara, Raghava R Menon, Hind Pocket Book. One of the earliest books on a singer to be published in English, the virtuosity of author Raghava Menon is evident, as it captures the evolution of Saigal as a singer. But strictly speaking, this is more around Saigal, right from his childhood days, and not really so much about film music. Could just find it now in Amazon for $173. I had bought it for Rs 30 in 1991/92!

2. Lata Mangeshkar: A Biography, Raju Bharatan, UBS Publishers & Distributor. Probably the best book on Hindi film music written so far, Raju Bharatan, arguably the most prolific writer on Hindi fim music presents a great history of the film music with Lata at the centre. All his pet topics–Kishore/Rafi choice of Dada Burman, Lata-Rafi rift and the likes–find place in it. Also gives a great portrait of Lata as a person. If you have to read just one book on Hindi fillm music, read this one. Unfortunately, could not find it in any site.

3. Yesterday’s Melodies, Today’s Memories, Manek Premchand, Jharna Books. It is more of a compilation, without neither serious analysis nor any great new anecdotal info. It is nevertheless a good short encyclopedia of music personalities. Could not find it any e-stores. I had procured it from the author directly when it was published around 2003.

4. Hindi Film Song: Music Beyond Boundaries, Ashok Da Ranade, Promila & Company. A serious analysis of Hindi film music and its doyens, it is a great book for those who want to seriously learn the subject. Not really for light reading. Ranade is a well-known writer on music and has written extensively on Indian classical music, instruments and musical traditions. Buy: Landmark

5. Bollywood Melodies: A History of the Hindi Film Song, Ganesh Anantharaman, Penguin Books India. Again devoid of any original research, but very smoothly written, a good read for the flight, if you want to learn about Hindi film music’s journey without getting heavily into lots of information. Published about three years back, it is widely available, thanks to its publishers, Penguin. Buy: Flipkart, Landmark

6. The History of Indian Film Music: A Showcaseof the Very Best in Hindi Cinema, Rajiv VijaykarTimes Group Books. Yet another book on Hindi film music in a semi coffee table format, this is, however, widely available. Buy: Flipkart, Landmark

7. A Journey Down Melody Lane, Raju Bharatan, Hay House. This is the latest (2010) from Raju Bharatan and is far lighter to read than his earlier book. If his biography of Lata was meant for more serious readers, this is for everyone. If you want to pick up a first book on Hindi film music that is smooth reading and still want to be delighted with great pieces of information, then this is it. Just beware of one thing: some of the anecdotes are a little overplayed. Buy: Flipkart, Landmark

8. Notes Of Naushad, Shashikant Kinikar, English Edition Publishers And Distributors. A book for those who cannot stop humming those Rafi-Shakeel-Naushad tunes.  Buy: Flipkart

9. Memories Come Alive: An autobiography of Manna Dey, Sarbani Putatunda (translator), Penguin Books India. A great book for Manna Dey fans and those who want to learn how the music happened in 40s. The chapters on K C Dey, with whom the young Manna worked as an assistant are a rare treat. No other published source can give that information. Buy: Flipkart

10. Mohd. Rafi: The Great Immortal Singer, Mohd. Saleem-ul-Haq. Published by the author himself, this book is actually a list of all the Hindi film songs of Rafi Saab, with a small biography. Comes with a CD of some rare songs including Rafi’s English songs, Although we hail from different lands and the She I Love. It was never available in the market. I had gone to the author’s house in Hyderabad to get it, some six years back.

11. Hindi Film Songs And The Cinema, Anna Morcom, Ashgate. I haven’t read the book but here is a good review. Buy: Flipkart

12. Lata Mangeshkar In Her Own VoiceNasreen Munni KabirNiyogi Books. Buy: FlipkartLandmark

13. K L Saigal: Immortal Singer and Superstar, Nevile Pran, Nevile Books.  Buy: Landmark

14. Global Bollywood: Travels of Hindi Song and Dance, Sangita Gopal & Sujata Moorti (Editors)Orient Blackswan. Buy: Flipkart, Landmark (After writing this post, I did buy this book, originally published in the US, but it is too academic and is a collection of few independent articles. )

15. A R Rahman: The Musical Storm, Kamini Mathai, Penguin Books India. Buy: Flipkart

I have not read the last five books. The ones by Morcom and Pran are published outside India.

Needless to say, will love to listen from anyone who can help me add to the list. Only books in English.



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8 Comments

Filed under Books, Hindi Film Music

8 responses to “Not So Well Recorded: The Journey of the Hindi Film Song

  1. Pingback: Not So Well Recorded…a little addition | Nothing to declare

  2. Pingback: The Pancham Note: A Book on the Composer | Nothing to declare

  3. Raju Bharatan’s books are not well-researched, in my opinion; they are quite badly written, and serve only to show off how ‘well’ he knows the composers / singers, etc. He’s also not above publishing outright lies like the one article where he claimed Salilda had sent him a compostion to ask him what he thought of it! Or another, where he claimed that the Rafi-Lata rift came about because Rafi could not sing Tasveer tere dil mein the way Salilda wanted, and that Rafi felt Salilda had taken Lata’s side. He namedrops quite a bit, which takes away quite a bit from the genuine bits of information he might have.

    Ganesh Ananthraman’s book is good if you read it purely as a fan’s viewpoint. Pleasant enough, but nothing great. And no original research, as you point out. Ashok Ranade’s is perhaps the best researched of the lot, but it is definitely not light reading. Lata Mangeshkar in her own voice is interesting, because of the question-answer form of narrative and because it’s always good to have memories straight from the horse’s mouth.

    One other book that I have found extremely well-researched, and very, very interesting is Behind the Curtains: Making Music in Mumbai’s Film Studios by Gregory Booth. Very, very informative, and a lot of information about the musicians and arrangers who are not usually feted.

  4. shyamanuja

    Thanks a lot for your comments. And some straight speak.

    Yes, Raju Bharatan does a lot of namesdropping. He does show off not just how he knows the composers and singers but also whatever knowledge he has. And he is not at all a researcher. Though I do not know about outright lies, he overplays a lot of things. And keeps repeating the same stuff many times over. But to be fair to him, among all these, he has the only one who has done first hand reporting of many of the recordings, social occasions etc. As a journalist myself, I know that a lot of action that you witness from close quarters is something that any later day researcher would never be able to get a feel of. So, whether it is Ganesh Anantram or Rajiv Vijaykar or Manek Premchand, they are more compilations based on some available info and are kind of quick guides. Anantram’s is the smoothest read.

    Research has its own place but anecdotes have their own. I saw Booth’s book in an exhibition after I wrote this. And while it is well researched, I felt it is a little too academic. I have just flipped through it; not read it, though. But it is a valuable addition as few touch the aspects that he does.

    One book that really surprised me (I love the first hand experiences) was Manna Dey’s book.

    But somehow after reading Nasreen Munni Kabir’s Talking Songs: Javed Akhtar in Conversations, I did not feel like buying the Lata book. Any interview of Javed Akhtar that I have seen, heard or read is better than this one. Maybe, I should not judge one book by reading another.

    I think I must update this post.

  5. Pingback: Not So Well Recorded: But Now, Well Recognized! | Nothing to Declare

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