Category Archives: Hindi Film Music

Incomparable SD Burman: The best biographical work on Hindi film music

Incomparable SD Burman is actually a 2011 book, though I read it only recently. Though that is not enough justification for doing a book review after four years, I decided to go ahead because it is a real gem. Moreover, few in India know about it.

The book, written by HQ Chowdhury, a Bangladesh-based professional and researcher, is published by Toitomboor, a publishing house in Dhaka. After looking for it for months (trying my luck with its only distributor in India, who insisted that someone needed to physically collect the book from their Kolkata office by paying cash), I finally got it from the author himself, who fulfilled his promise made to me on a Facebook conversation some months back  to send it to me when he would be in Kolkata next.

Incomp_SDB

Being a reader and collector of books on Hindi film music (written in English)—See the list I maintain on the same here—I  can say with some confidence that this is one of the best books to be published in the genre. But that is still not the best way to describe the book. There are multiple books in the area that stand out. Gregory Booth’s book on musicians is a first-rate work of ethnomusicology; Raju Bharatan’s books on Naushad and Lata are excellent account of the musical and not-so-musical equations between composers, singers, lyricists and film makers; Akshay Manwani’s book on Sahir is an excellent work of research and is immensely readable; Ashok Ranade’s book on Hindi film music is one of the few critic’s perspectives; Manek Premchand’s book on musical moments is an essential connoisseur’s collection.

What should be specifically mentioned about Incomparable SD Burman is that it rises above the genre. The book is what a good narrative non-fiction should be. In other words, it is for anyone who loves reading and has a general interest about the subject. Few pages into the book, you develop a bond with the protagonist—the incomparable S D Burman, in this case—and start living with him.

And mind you, there are three books on SD Burman in English and I have read all of them. While the book by Sathya Saran is nowhere near the other two, the book by Khagesh Dev Burman, originally written in Bengali, is clearly for the reader who is well-entrenched in Bengali music; so much so that, if you are not, you cannot appreciate a significant portion of the book.

Of course, a basic background of Kolkata’s music scene of those days is essential, if one wants to fully appreciate the genesis of S D Burman’s as a musician. It is not that a great researcher and narrator like Chowdhury is not sensitive to that need. In fact, that is where his book really stands out and as I earlier said, rises above the genre books. Instead of assuming that the reader knows about it, he has taken it on himself to give those lessons, in right doses. That is what makes it so valuable as a book. The reader, while learning about SD Burman’s evolution as a composer-singer, gets more than adequate knowledge about the music scene of Kolkata of the 30s and early 40s.

And what a place it was! Not only was Kolkata a musical experimentation hub with such personalities as Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Dilip Kumar Roy, Himangshu Dutt and musicologists like Dhurjoti Prasad Mukherji, it was also the predecessor of the Bombay film music with such greats as R C Boral, Pankaj Mullick, K L Saigal, K C Dey, Vismadev Chatterjee, and Dada Burman himself establishing the rules of modern cine music, which got imported to Bombay. Though it got enriched there, drawing from various regional streams, it must be mentioned that others responsible for that basic foundations such as Naushad, C Ramachandra and O P Nayyar acquired their musical personality in Bombay while the Bengal musicians were already popular in their homeland and established names, Dada included. That is why it is essential to understand Kolkata’s musical scene of 30s in order to appreciate the evolution of Bombay film music. Chowdhury makes you live through that period. I wish the book was available more widely. It is a recommended read for any serious student of musicology of modern Indian music.

Again, unlike Khagesh Dev Burman’s book, Bombay days is not a mechanical, linear description. Some of the best narratives in the book are about S D Burman’s days in Bombay. It does get into popular myths and folklore in adequate doses. For example, the author devotes significant space to dispel the myth that Pancham (junior Burman) mostly scored for Aradhana. It is an important debates in Hindi film musicology because it is not just about one movie; it has significant implications for the Rafi-Kishore debate. Those who think Pancham scored for Aradhana assume that it is he who brought in Kishore Kumar in place of Rafi, who was the earlier choice for Dada Burman. And all of us know what it did to Kishore Kumar’s career!

Chowdhury is clearly a huge fan of SD Burman, as he admits unequivocally. But his book does not suffer from the typical problems you have come to expect from such books in India—that is adulatory, meaningless lines filling up pages; both facts and narration becoming victim to the author’s own opinion and so on. Chowdhury’s book is a solid work of research, ably supported by good narration and story telling. Even when he brings in subjective analyses—you cannot avoid that in a book on any art form/artist—it is always in the featurish style of supporting with quotes, incidents and facts—in the true tradition of narrative non-fiction. Rarely will you find a high-nosed opinion which he thrusts weaving through jugglery of words. In fact sincere efforts like this are probably the best tribute to one’s idol.

Books like these make one hopeful about the future of non-fiction writing on subjects other than history and politics. But the next moment, the availability issues reminds you of the stark ground reality of distribution.

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The Millennium Thumris of Hindi Cinema

(Updated on 14 January 2015 with addition of a few new songs)

I was sifting through a lot of new Hindi film songs to create a small dance playlist for my seven year old, based completely on his farmaaish, as my own knowledge in the area is next to nothing. I stopped suddenly—hamari atariya pe aaja re sanwariya dekha dekhi tanik hui jaaye. Is it a film song? From 2013/14?

Yes, it is; from the 2014 movie, Dedh Ishqiya. And thankfully, the voice is familiar. Or let me put it this way—the only voice in today’s Hindi films, that is familiar to me: Rekha Bhardwaj, a sort of enfant terrible of experimentative Hindi film music of today. The composer is Rekha’s husband, Vishal Bhardwaj, a hugely talented composer, who after so many successful film scores, is still, in my mind, best identified as the composer of jungle jungle baat chali hai, patta cala hai; arrey chaddi pehne ke phool khila hai phool khila hai, from Hindi Jungle Book aired on Doordarshan in my childhood (mid-80s).

Since my pleasant discovery about a month back, hamari atariya… from Dedh Ishqiya has caught the imagination of general public. The media is full with stories on how this “Begum Akhtar thumri” has managed to “revive” an interest in thumris, whatever that means. Yes, for most of us, this is a Begum Akhtar thumri, even though many thumri singers, including thumri queen Shobha Gurtu have sung it. Yet, Rekha holds on to her own; as hers is an open-throated rendering, in contrast to Begum Akhtar’s silk smooth flow. Her mature but rustic voice makes it a different piece altogether. And don’t fail to notice the slight but impactful difference in mukhda. In Begum’s version, it is, hamari atariya pe aao sanwariya dekha dekhi balam hui jaaye; what Rekha and Shobha Gurtu sing is hamari atariya pe aaja re sanwariya dekha dekhi tanik hui jaaye. The more sophisticated aao goes well with the Ghazal style singing of the Begum.  

Though hamari atariya… has managed to catch the attention of the public, it is not the first time that a film thumri has become so popular; neither is it the first time that an already popular thumri has been used in films in the voice of a playback singer. [Throughout this piece the word thumri has been used as a generic name for thumris, dadra, kajri, hori, chaiti and all such sub genres.]

Thumris have been used in films right from the very early days of talkies. Rajkumari had sung a number of thumris in the 30s. K L Saigal had sung a popular thumri, piya bina nahi aawat, way back in 1935, in Devdas. And who can forget, Saigal’s baabul mora naihar, in 1938 movie Street Singer? Ask anyone about the song; though the Wajid Ali Shah thumri has been sung by maestros down the ages—from Malka Jan to Alisha Chenoy, and many in between including Pt Bhimsen Joshi, Girija Devi and Shobha Gurtu—it is Saigal’s version that most identify with. [Here is my earlier post on Babul Mora…]. Without taking away credit from Saigal Saab, films do make it reach the mass and help in popularizing. If today people know so much about this song and its history, it is a lot because of it being made popular by Hindi cinema.

There are many traditional thumris that have been sung by playback singers in movies. Bajuband khul khul jaye, one of the most widely sung thmris—by such greats as Ustad Faiyaaz Khan and Sureshbabu Mane—was sung by Lata Mangeshkar in a movie and the same was used in a 2006 movie. Kahe ko jhooti banao, another favorite of Ustad Faiyaz Khan sahib, was so beautifully sung by Manna Dey in Manzil, while Yesudas did a soulful rendition of one of the signature thumris of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Saab, ka karoon sajani aaye na balam, in Swami. In addition to playback singers, classical singers, right from Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan to Shobha Gurtu and Begum Parveen Sultana have all lent their voice to thumris in films.

The idea behind this piece is not to list thumris in films and get onto a history of that. There is a good piece on that topic here, which contains a fairly comprehensive list of film thumris. However, I am yet to see a title from Saregama, called Thumris from Films, though there are many such compilations, on say Ghazals or simply Classical Songs or theme bases songs such as monsoon songs.

The objective of this piece is two-fold.

First, it is to point it out that the use of thumris has not gone out of favor with our music composers even today. Here, I list of thumris used in films post 2000, with information on films, singer and composer, with links to those on the web. I do not claim it to be a comprehensive list but is just enough to prove the point. The format is Song, Film, Singers, Music Director, Year. I have given links to the songs on the web.   

While the title of this post comes from the fact that all these thumris are from Hindi films in the new millennium, from there too is derived my second point, or rather a set of questions.

Should film thumris in the new millennium be restricted to use in traditional settings, as most of these are? After all, are thumris not the songs of love, separation, longing, and even desire? Aren’t they the perfect choice to be used as background scores in even urban set ups, urban themes, targeted at discerning audience?

My thought is not completely new. The song, aane do, from film, Kuch Meetha Ho Jaye as well as aiyo piyaji from Chakravyuh are examples of what I am talking about. Yet, both the singers, Soma Ghosh and Ustad Rashid Khan are accomplished classical singer. Does one need to have an ear for classical music to appreciate these songs?

I believe in the new experimentative cinema, with a balance of sensibility and entertainment, thumris— especially those in the slower Benaras style—can be a perfect fit to create that mood of melancholy to passion; restlessness to just sublime desire.

Some purists may not like the idea. But isn’t it the purists on the other side—some khayal singers—who are responsible for the second class treatment given out to thumris today with a “semi-classical” tag? Aren’t thumris rich in their expression of moods rather than just musical showmanship? Can that not be the perfect accompaniment for a visual medium like cinema?

I am not an expert to offer my conclusive judgment on this; but as a listener and lover of thumris, I would like the genre to reach and be appreciated by a wider audience. Cinema is a perfect medium to achieve that objective. With directors who are challenging all known boundaries in cinema, and talented musicians like Vishal and Rekha Bhardwaj, there has never been  a better time to try this out.

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A Tribute to Manna Dey

And with that, goes our last link with the golden era of playback singing in Hindi cinema. Manna Dey, who died yesterday, was the last among the six legends of that era—Talat, Mukesh, Rafi, Hemant, and Kishore being the other five—to depart.

Many critics and musicologists say Manna Dey was the most underrated among his peer group. I personally do not subscribe to that view. Any artiste should be considered underrated if his work would not gain the popularity or critical appreciation that it deserves. Neither was the case with Manna Dey. Music composers always turned to Manna Dey when they needed him. They knew his capability. While he came to be identified with classical/philosophical numbers, many of his songs were chartbusters too. Chunari sambhal gori, Pyaar hua ikrar hua, Aaja sanam madhur chandni mein hum, Yeh raat bhigi bhigiAe bhai zara dekh ke chalo, and of course, the all time favorite, Ae mere zohara jabi are but just a few examples. I am of course, not counting those that are popular but belong to the category of classical/philosophical numbers which went to become superhits, such as Ae mere pyare watan, Zindagi kaisi hai paheli, Laga chunari mein daag and many more.

The reason he was not elevated to that cult status is because he was never part of any composer’s camp or was identified as any particular actor’s voice. So, he got much less number of songs as compared to others. On the other hand, if you have to calculate the the quality songs sung by any singer as a percentage of all songs sung by that singer, it is a no-brainer that Manna Dey would clearly come on top. It is not that Manna Dey chose to sing only a few good songs. Composers came to him only when they needed him. He was not the default choice. So, he was not underrated; neither by the composers nor by the audience. He was under-used. That did not impact the popularity of his songs. But that did prevent him from being prolific and in the commercial world of Hindi music, that factor worked against him.

A lot of good playlists have been created by admirers and fans of Manna Dey, like this one. So, I am going to refrain from getting into that. What I am doing here is highlighting his contribution to the playback singing in films made in Odia, my mother tongue. 

How many would know that among all the greats of Hindi playback singing of that era—the above six as well as Lata, Asha and Geeta Dutt—Manna Dey sang the most number of songs for Odia movies? How many would know that he was the first among these greats to sing for Odia films?

Manna Dey was brought in by Santanu Mohapatra, the music director, who created a unique identity for himself, even as the other three great composers of that era—Balakrushna Dash, Bhubaneswar Mishra and Akshaya Mohanty—often worked with each other and used mostly the same set of singers. It is Mohapatra who brought in popular singers from Hindi cinema to sing for Odia movies. Manna Dey was introduced to Odia film audience in Mohapatra’s first movie as music composer—Suryamukhi.  Manna Dey, true to his image in Bombay, rendered a philosophical number, Bandhure…Duniya re samayara naee bahi jae re. Lata Mangeshkar too debuted in Odia playback singing in the same movie, with her popular sei chuna chuna tara.

But while Mohapatra kept experimenting with other Hindi playback singers—he brought in Rafi, Usha Mangeshkar and Lata again in his next movie as composer, Arundhati—other composers did turn to Manna Dey when they needed him. I have listed here seven songs he has sung for Odia movies. Interestingly, they are for seven different movies, composed by six different music directors. So, here too, he clearly did not belong to any camp.

And like in Hindi movies, here too, he was always brought in to sing that odd song with a classical/philosophical undertone. As you can notice, six of the seven songs listed here, clearly belong to these categories. The sole exception is Dharichi jebe chaadibi nahin in Samaya, incidentally composed by the classical duo Pt Bhubaneswar Mishra and Pt Hari Prasad Chaurasia under the name, Bhuban-Hari.

Here is the list. The information in the bracket are the name of the film, year of the movie, and the composer’s name. 

My respectful homage to this great singer.

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A Book on SD Burman: The Making of The Genius

“The book is nothing but an expression of the man. The book is nothing but the man trying to talk to you, trying to impart to you, some of his feelings,” said Arnold Bennett, in his classic work, Literary Taste, while urging the reader, especially the beginners, to “acquire some biographical information about the writer.” 

Benett’s advice should apply to all forms of creative art, not just literature. An understanding of the creator’s life — its evolution, phases, milestones, and most importantly, all things that have had an influences on the man — can makes us appreciate his work far better.

It becomes almost imperative in something like Hindi film music, which attracted — it still does —  musical talent from across the country, from Punjab to Tamil Nadu; from East Bengal to Goa. These creative people had diverse upbringings, diverse cultures and exposures to diverse forms of folk, popular and even classical music. While Hindi film music (or Hindustani Cine Sangeet as some prefer to call it) is now considered a genre in itself, it is important to understand how each of its early founding fathers contributed by adding their bits while absorbing from other musical genres/sources.

S D Burman: The World of His Music, a book by Khagesh Dev Burman written originally in Bengali and translated to English by S K Ray Chaudhury, serves this purpose beautifully. For not only does it provide a very deep and mature insight into the formative years of Sachin Karta —  as he was known in Tripura and East Bengal, from where he hailed —  but also how he acquired his musical soul.

It would not be exaggerating to conclude, based on information from the book, that Dada Burman was not just a creative genius, but was one of the first serious ethnomusicologists who actually recognized the potential of folk music and roamed around the length and breadth of East Bengal to systematically collect folk tunes and songs, even as he kept improvising and playing those on flute. This musical repertoire from East Bengal, the author claims, would in later years serve as a significant source of his musical inspiration, not just for his Bengali songs but also for the vast treasury of popular songs he created for Hindi films. 

This claim — that folk music formed a major inspiration for Dada Burman’s work —looks credible because even in Bengali, despite being so close to Rabindranath Tagore who was a good friend of his father and despite his close friendship with Kazi Nazrul Islam, the most prominent poet-musician from East Bengal, he never really got too much into Rabindrasangeet and Nazrul Geeti. In Calcutta, he also trained in  Hindustani classical music. Yet, folk music was always his first inspiration.

The fact that he had an erudite father from whom he not just got his musical taste but encouragement to pursue music,  and the fact that he had freedom to roam around collecting and listening to common people’s music even though he was from the royal family of Tripura and the fact that he had his formal grounding in classical music in Kolkata — all contributed to the making of the musical personality that was Sachin Dev Burman. The book does an excellent job of  giving us how this musical genius was made in his formative years.

However, the book’s real insights actually stop there. Though in terms of length, most number of pages are devoted to his Bombay years — providing a lot of information, that too strictly chronologically, which makes the book a lot more usable for those seriously interested in historical musicology of Hindi film music — it does not do full justice to his contribution to Hindi film music, for which he is best known globally. That part of his life is treated as more of a linear history, with no major insights per se, except probably, the relationship of S D Burman with his son R D Burman and how exactly was the junior Burman influenced by his father and where he broke away from the tradition. This insight about the making of R D Burman is not even found in the book on R D Burman, penned a couple of years back by Anirudh Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal, which own the National Award for Best Book on Cinema in 2011.  

The absence of major insights on his music making in Bombay and his relationship with singers, musicians, and film makers beyond Dev Anand, are probably because of the an excessive tendency on part of the author to relate all his creation, sometimes at the individual tunes and lyrics level, to Bengali sources, a lot of which are Dada Burman’s own work in Bengali. So much so that at places, it is almost unreadable if you do not know enough about Bengali music.

But then, the author cannot really be faulted for that. He had written it for a Bengali audience, and had probably presumed some basic knowledge about Bengali music. That is the problem in a translation. It is not just changing the text from one language to another. The original work was written for a different set of audience. 

The only complaint, then, is that the words “world of his music” as the subtitle of the book,  sounds a little too grand and exaggerated. It should have been something like S D Burman: The Making of the Musical Genius.

But if you ignore this one aspect — just a little too much of reference to Bengali music — this is one of the best books on Hindi film music on my list of books. While most other books fall into one of the three categories — adulatory passages with sprinkling of some flowery language;  journalistic works based on lots of information and anecdotes; and more scholarly, research based works with great new ideas and findings but difficult to read — this book is a very good balance. It is adulatory but  stops to analyze and even mildly criticize; it is full with facts and anecdotes; and it has some great new insights, especially regarding the making of S D Burman, and to a lesser extent the making of his son, R D Burman.  

(In last few months, a few books on Hindi film music/music personalities have been released. I am planning to move my post on books on Hindi film music to a list in a static page and keep updating that page)

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Who created the classic been music in Man Dole, Mera Tan Dole?

Man dole mera tan dole from the 1954 film Nagin remains one of the most popular songs in Hindi cinema. What adds to the charm of the song is the been music played in the song. This caught the imagination of people so much that there were so many myths that got created around this—the most popular being that snakes “were attracted” by it and entered the film theatres when the song was playing!

Myths apart, the popularity of the song is proven by the fact that it ranked at No 2 in annual Binaca Geetmala Hit Parade in 1954, the ultimate barometer of popularity of Hindi film songs at that time. In fact, when HMV (now Saregama) released a special album on the occasion of 25 years of the program, Ameen Sayani, who presented the program actually included this song as the top ranked song of 1954, albeit by mistake. But that shows how much Man dole was etched in memory that even someone like Sayani could get confused!

Much of the long-term popularity of the song was, of course, because of the beautiful sound of been. There has been a lot of discussion on who created that piece. The cover of the record released by HMV gives credit to Ravi and Kalyanji, who were part of Hemant Kumar’s team but later went on to became successful music composers themselves. Nagin, in fact, was one of the last films Ravi did as an assistant to Hemantda, for he started scoring music independently soon afterwards, tasting success early. A few tunes of his first film Vachan (O babu babu, jaanewale babu and Chanda mama door ke) went on to become all-ime hits. Kalyanji, of course, paired with his brother Anandji to emerge as a popular duo, and they were active right upto the 80s

There has been a lot of debate on who between Ravi and Kalyanji should get more credit for the piece? Kalyanji fans believe that he created the been sound on Clavioline, an electronic keyboard instrument, a predecessor to today’s synthesizers, which he introduced to the Indian audience in that film, though now, it is known that the sound was actually created on Harmonium by Ravi, while Kalyanji indeed supported on the Clavoline.

Nevertheless, I could not resist asking the question to the maestro himself when I met him in November 2011, just a few months before his death. (I actually did a post, Ravi: The Master of Situational Songs, based on some interesting perspective that I got from that interview). He, of course, vehemently denied any major contribution from Kalyanji and reiterated that the music was played on Harmonium by him, while acknowledging that Kalyanji did accompany on Clavoline.

But then he added something that caught my attention. “Actually, it was created by Lucila. But it sounded a little Western, so I changed it like this,” he said demonstrating it immediately on the Harmonium which accompanied him right through the entire interview, “to make it sound more Indian.”

Lucila? I had never heard that name. While I do not consider myself to be an authority on Hindi film music, I do follow it and can say with some pride that my knowledge is better than average. But this name was completely new to me. I did not even dare to ask him who she was, because of the way he was moving from one topic to another with a lot of zeal and I thought this would have been an interruption. I, however, ensured that I got the name right: Lucila. I was pretty sure that I would find it out on Google.

But that was a miscalculation—probably a little over-confidence—on my part. I started googling on my phone the moment I came out and followed it up with vigorous search on Google using all my techniques. Without success. I must have tried at least 20-30 times over a period of 3-4 months to find the elusive Lucila.

I could guess, though, that she could have been one of the Goan musicians. I knew that a lot of Goan musicians worked with composers but beyond Chic Chocolate and Anthony Gonsalves, I did not know anyone’s name.

And finally, I found this name, Lucila Pacheco, a Goa born Pianist, who played with different bands and worked for many composers in Hindi film industry at that time, in the book, Taj Mahal Foxtrot: The Story of Bombay’s Jazz Age, a very informative and engaging book about the story of Bombay’s Jazz culture, written by Naresh Fernandes. In fact, I found quite a bit of info spread across the book, with 3-4 nice pictures, one in which she was seen playing Saxophone, though she was primarily a Pianist.

But the question was: was this the same Lucila that Ravi was referring to?

While the book carried quite some information about her, it was still not enough to ascertain whether she was the same person. What helped me finally is this post on her—A Woman in a Man’s World—in author Fernandes’ blog, also called Taj Mahal Foxtrot. From there, I gathered that she came to Bombay in 1948 and by 1955 she was quite popular. Nagin was released in 1954. And the music must have been composed by 1953-54. So, there was every possibility of her working with Hemant Kumar. Just to clarify, I had a quick conversation with Fernandes on Twitter, reconfirming that she was active during that time. That removed any doubt that I had.

And there you are. It was Lucila Pacheco, the Pianist, who according to the assistant music director of the movie, Nagin, first created the been music piece—one of the all time hits in Hindi film music history.

The very fact that the assistant music director of the movie—and someone actually credited with creation of the piece—mentioned her name, without being prompted, after close to seven decades means her contribution was important enough.

Who was she? Here I reproduce from the above-mentioned post.

Lucilla Pacheco moved to Bombay in 1948, the year after she married George Pacheco, who hailed from the village of Piedade, on the other side of Divar island. He’d been sent to Colombo to apprentice at her father’s shop. In their early years, the couple lived in Sargent House in Colaba. She had passed the classical examinations conducted by both the Trinity College of London and the Royal College of Music and started her professional life in Bombay giving piano lessons. Soon, she was accompanying films at the Metro theatre and, between shows, worked as a music demonstrator at the Furtado’s music store opposite. In an era when many people bought sheet music to play at home, Pacheco would perform the scores they contemplated purchasing, to show them how good the tunes could sound.

It wasn’t long before she was invited to join Mickey Correa’s band, a legendary dance band that proved to be the nursery of the city’s best swing musicians over the next two decades. She then worked under the baton of such top-flight leaders as Ken Mac and Chic Chocolate.

Fernandes’ book may have been hailed by critics as the first well-researched book on Jazz scenario in Bombay of 40s and 50s. But in a way, this label also restricts its potential audience. For example, I myself am not a keen follower of Jazz. But I found the book extremely engaging. The book is equally informative for those seriously interested in Hindi film music as a genre, as it covers one of the most important and less discussed conponents of Hindi film music, as it has evolved. [I am contemplating adding it to the list of Hindi film music books in my post on the topic: Not Well Recorded, but Now Well Recognized]

The role played by Goan musicians is more than just bringing in yet another regional flavor to the melting pot called Hindustani Cine Sangeet. While the Hindi film music has been richer by the regional contributions brought in by many composers (an interesting topic by itself), the contribution of Goan musicians is much more than that. They gave the Indian film music harmony, which by and large, is not there in Indian music. As Fernandes’ book reveals there were many like Chic Chocolate and Frank Fernand, designated as assistant music directors, who helped music directors “arrange” musicians’ roles.

Ravi’s referrence to Lucila Pacheco just shows that many of them may have actually composed/heavily influenced creation of tunes, for which they never got the credit.

Returning to Man Dole Mera Tan Dole, the song, for the record, also included, among others, Laxmikant (of Laxmikant-Pyarelal duo) as part of the ensemble.

How many songs can claim the involvement of so many star composers? Hemant Kumar as music director, Ravi as assistant music director playing Harmonium, Kalyanji as the Clavoline player, Laxmikant as the Tabla player (though I am not too sure about his role) and Lucila Pacheco as the Pianist, who actually created the tune first. But while all others are household names, Hindi film music lovers would not even recognize Pacheco’s name today. That is a pity.

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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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