Monthly Archives: March 2012

Not So Well Recorded: But Now, Well Recognized!

(This is updated on 14th December 2012 with addition of the title on Mohd Rafi at No 16)

It is for 30 years now that the National Film Awards have a category called Best Book on Cinema. About half the books that have won the awards are in regional languages–mostly South Indian languages, Bengali and Marathi. In the first 28 years, there was no book on Hindi film music that had caught the attention of the awards committee. However, from 2009 to 2012 (no award in this category in 2011), two of the three awards have gone to books on Hindi film music; both happen to be in English.

I thought of updating this year-old post of mine, which is about a list of books on Hindi film music, Not So Well Recorded: The Journey of the Hindi Film Song (the first ever post on this blog and most popular too) when I heard that a book on Hindi film music R.D. Burman – The Man, The Music by Anirudha Bhattacharjee & Balaji Vittal, about which I reported here,  has won the National Award for Best Book on Cinema.

So, here is an updated list, with six additions, including R  D Burman…

As noted then, I still stand by my view that the work done to record this incredible journey of the Hindi film song, in a serious manner, is far from adequate. But I am hopeful that recognition in the form of awards like this or any other–my post is a humble attempt–would do some good.

What makes me a little hopeful is that quite a few good blogs exist on the subject. Most of them have wealth of information. But a good book should be a little more than that–it should be beyond a fan’s perspective. It should be either well-researched and analytical or a first hand account. Nothing like if it is both.

I must note that I have noticed/heard about some good work, mostly biographical, in Hindi and Marathi. When I and a friend met music composer Ravi for an interview about four months back, he told us that he was writing his autobiography in Hindi. I am not aware of the status of the book. So, good translation too is not a bad idea.

I present here the updated list. As noted in the earlier post, I would reiterate that 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 find it now, only 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. Winner of 2009 National Award for Best Book on Cinema. 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, again, 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.  And you get to learn a lot about arguably the top composer of Hindi cinema. 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. This, I think, is the most underrated book in my list. 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. Buy: Author’s Website

11. Global Bollywood: Travels of Hindi Song and DanceSangita Gopal & Sujata Moorti (Editors)Orient Blackswan. It is a collection of independent articles and is fairly academic. A good one for the collection but not exactly very readable. Buy: Flipkart, Landmark

12. R.D. Burman – The Man, The MusicAnirudha Bhattacharjee & Balaji Vittal, Harper Collins India. The winner of the National Award for Best Book on Cinema in 2012, this book is a little more balanced in terms of serious analysis and anecdotes, and like many others in this list, is fans’ perspective. Nevertheless a good book if you want to learn about RD and the then music scene. Buy: Flipkart, Landmark

13. Mallika-e-Tarannum Noorjehan: The Melody QueenAijaj Gul, Vitasta Publishing.  Though the name somehow creates an expectation that the book is on her melodies, it is actually too much into her personal life,  esp early life and how she became what she became. I have included it here because it gives glimpses into the music. However, by the subcontinent standard, it is too bold a biography. A fairly good read if you are interested in Noor Jehan and what it meant those days to become a singer. Buy: Flipkart. Landmark

14. K L Saigal: Immortal Singer and SuperstarNevile PranNevile Books.  This is a book that I bought after I wrote my first post. It is a very smooth read with all the information and some lesser known aspects. For example, two whole chapters are dedicated to Saigal as a poet and Saigal and the Kotha culture. For fans of music of that era, a must buy for esp as Raghava Menon’s book is now not available. Buy: Landmark

15. Talking Songs: Javed Akhtar in Conversation with Nasreen Munni KabirNasreen Munni Kabir, Oxford Uinversity Press India. Of course, Javed Akhtar is Javed Akhtar. And when he starts to speak, the most disinterested person gets interested. So, you have words coming from his mouth. But the conversations could have been handled much better. Worth a flip-through. Buy: Flipkart. Landmark.

16. Mohammed Rafi My Abba – A Memoir, Yasmin Khalid Rafi, Tranquebar Press (An imprint of Westland) Written by Rafi Saab’s daughter-in-law, and translated from Hindi by Rupa Srikumar and A K Srikumar, this gives the private side of this great singer, essentially a very family person. Though there are chapters dedicated to his music, with an analytical tone, that is at best amateurish. Also, there are full chapters about the authors childhood and her life in London, with large number of pages with no reference to Rafi Saab. However, this is probably the only book in this list, which tells you so much and so well about the private side of a person, that too someone who was such a family person. 

 

 17. Behind the Curtain: Making Music in Mumbai’s Film StudiosGregory D. Booth, Oxford University Press  I haven’t read the book, though have flipped through it once. Fairly academic but with gems of information. As Anu Warrier, one of the most prolific bloggers on Hindi film and film music commented about this in my earlier post, it is “extremely well-researched…Very, very informative, and a lot of information about the musicians and arrangers who are not usually feted.” That makes it the only serious book on musicians. Buy: Flipkart

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

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

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

21. In Search Of Lata MangeshkarHarish Bhimani, South Asia Books. Buy: Flipkart 

I have not read the last five books.

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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Ravi: The Master of Situational Songs

Underrated—is the word that most serious followers of Hindi film music would use to describe music composer Ravi. I myself must have used the adjective for him umpteen number of times during our college day discussions on film music. So, I was not surprised to find that the title of the chapter on Ravi in Raju Bharatan’s book, A Journey Down The Meoldy Lane, was exactly that: The Underrated Melody Maker. Underrated—he was; and melody maker—he was to the hilt. Bharatan, to the uninitiated, is arguably the most well-known journalist covering the golden era of Hindi film music, often giving an insider’s view.

As the word suggests, Ravi’s value as a music composer was far more underestimated, as compared to the popularity that his songs achieved.

I myself put him as one of the top five composers—along with Naushad, who is my No 1; Madan Mohan, Roshan, and Sachin Dev Burman. Except for Naushad, I would not rank anyone.  So, that also makes him, in my eyes, one of the top three versatile greats of all times. Madan Mohan and Roshan would, of course, not exactly qualify for the “verstaile” tag.

But whether you look at tangible recognition such as Filmfare awards (No, he did not win it for Chaudvin Ka Chand; Shakeel won the Best Lyricist for the title song and Mohd Rafi the Best Playback Singer for the same song) or the list of all time greats that people keep making, somehow Ravi’s name takes a backseat.

Why, I never understood.

But I had some idea when I met him for an interview a few months back—on 12th November 2011, to be precise. The interview, which I and a friend took, lasted for more than two and half hours and touched all aspects of his career and life and we got interesting anecdotes. But I will post a write-up on that separately.

The reason I refer to it here is that it gave me an idea why he might have been underestimated. It is probably because of his unassuming nature that extended to his professional life. He readily listened to the directors. So, if a Rafi did not sing for BR Films, and he was asked to manage with Mahendra Kapoor, he did. And ended up giving us a few classics. But this is something which did not go well with his peers. Bharatan, in his book, quotes Salil Chowdhury saying, “I don’t rate Ravi as a composer at all; at best, he is a tunesmith.”

Do not get me wrong. He was not exactly an epitome of humbleness. He did vociferously deny in that interview that Kalyanji had much to do with the Nagin been music in Man dole and he did not hide his disappointment over not being recognized enough (for some reason, he thought that he was much better recognized in the South as Bombay Ravi, when he scored for Malayalam movies). But when he did that, it was the way a ten year old child would do. It was never in a tone that was arrogant or dimissive. And I could see the excitement and a little blush on his face when I said Tora Man Darpan, I consider to be one of the three best bhajans in Hindi films. And who was I? A nobody in music. And who was he? Creator of some of the most successful songs in Hindi film music.

I will come back to why I went so much into his personality—his unassuming nature.

The Situation Songs

About half of the songs in the Hindi films are romantic/love songs. And tt least 10-20% are songs that celebrate youthfulness, energy etc. That leaves only 30-40% songs for every other type of songs—comic, tragic, philosophical, festival songs, bhajans, and situation songs.

For long, I have felt that it was Ravi’s songs that always have stood out as iconic situational songs. Over all these years in Hindi cinema, though many songs have been composed  for a particular kind of situation or occasion, it is always Ravi’s songs that have ruled.

Even today, there is no Hindi film lullaby that comes anywhere near Ravi’s Chanda Mama Door Ke, from his debut movie as an independent music director, Vachan, a song which Ravi himself wrote. As children’s birthday songs, there is little comparison with Hum bhi agar bachche hote from Door ki Aawaz. No matter, how many birthday songs that you have in Hindi films, it is Hum bhi agar that still rules.

Similarly, even with the advent of all Punjabi songs, no baarat is complete without, Aaj mere yaar ki shaadi hai, from a forgettable movie, Aadmi Sadak Ka. And as a bidaai song, what can replace, Babul ki dooaen leti ja from Neel Kamal ? Which marriage recording does not have these as the background music? Another such song—though its popularity has faded in recent years because the idea of a doli is now alien to many—is Doli chadh ke Dulhan Sasural Chali from Doli.

And when it is time to celebrate a 30th anniversary of marriage, what do children play to the ageing couple? Of course, that classic in Manna Dey’s voice, O mere Zohra jabeen from Waqt? There is no other song that is anywhere close to this song.

It is not just events in one’s life that Ravi’s music is apt for. It is also meant for typical situations. For beggars, there is hardly any match for his O babu, o janewale babu from Vachan or Garibon ki suno woh tumhari sunega from Dus Lakh.

Ravi himself described an incident. He once saw a rich looking young man stopping his car in Marine Drive in Mumbai. The young man took the begging bowl from a beggar and started singing ek paisa de de. Within no time, there were people throwing coins to the bowl. The young man then advised the beggar to learn that song well and sing it while begging so that people would oblige him.

I can give a few more examples—one specifically played to us in the beginning of a time management workshop was the title song of Waqt.

All these–I can go on and on, but the above list is fairly representative–just prove that there is something about his music that stands out, when it comes to situational songs.

I never understood what that something was. It is somewhat understandable if they are by one lyricist. But why one music director? I had thought a lot over it, asked quite a few of my friends who are knowledgeable about this area. But had not found a satisfactory answer.

Till, Ravi himself provided me with the answer. And in hindsight, it looks so simple.

This, of course, was one of my first question to him. And he said, “That is because I do not ask lyricists to write to a tune, as most composers do. Most often, I take a piece and then create music for it.” Many composers would find it below their dignity to do so. But isn’t it more logical?

And then you understand why some of the best situational songs—where the lyricist is already under a constraint—came from pens of these lyricists, when there was no additional constraint of writing to the tune.

And this is why I got so much into his unassuming nature. It is because of this nature that he never thought it important enough to force the lyricists to write to the tune. And that, in turn, helped his situational songs become so lively. And apt.

Ravi will always live through his songs. As long as we have the need for a lullaby to sing to our children, as long as we dance on our baarats, we will remember Ravi’s songs–even though we may not explicitly remember the composer.

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