Category Archives: Music

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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Filed under Hindi Film Music, Music, Odia music, Odisha & Odia, Uncategorized

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 won 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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The New, New Festivals of Odisha

Bara masare tera jaata (literally meaning thirteen festivals in twelve months, in Odia) is how Odias refer proudly to the abundancy of festivals in the state throughout the year. Whether it is the more pan-Indian festivals like Holi, Diwali, and Maha Shivratri; Eastern Indian festivals like Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja; Pan-Odisha festivals such as Rath Yatra, Raja and Kartik Purnima, or even more regional festivals within Odisha like Dhanujatra of Sambalpur or Thakurani Jatra of Berhampur—you will never have a period in a year without a generous amount of occasssions to celebrate. If there is nothing else, you have the 12 Samkrantis in a year, many of which have some extra add-ons: Dhanu Samkranti with the dhanu muan (a sweet preapared mostly but not only in South Odisha), Pana Samkranti with the pana (a special drink) and Makara Samkranti with the makara chaula (a special rice) and so on.

The modern day manifestation of that love is a series of new age cultural festivals (mostly music and dance) some of which have become sought after events by the culture loving crowd from India and abroad. The oldest and most popular in this genre is the Konark Festival. Originally started as Konark Dance Festival in 1989, this is the oldest annual pan-Indian classical dance festival in India. This is organized between 1 to 5 December every year jointly by the Guru Kelucharam Mohapatra Odissi Research Centre (GKCM-ORC) Bhubaneswar, along with Departments of Tourism and Culture, Government of Odisha. Artistes from India and abrod paricipate in this festival and perform all classical styles such as Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Chhau, and Mohiniattam. The 2011 festival also has the International Sand Arts Festival going along with it.

The second most popular festival outside Odisha, is the Mukteshwar Dance Festival, which along with Rajarani Music Festival, is known locally as Ekamra: The Temple City Festival and is organized in mid-January. Unlike Konark Festival, the focus of Mukteshwar Dance Festival is Odissi dance. Odissi performers–both groups and solo–from across the world participate in the this. Rajarani Music Festival, which does include non-Odissi classical music as well, is, however, not that well-known outside Odisha, even though it features well-known vocalists and instrumentalists from across India belonging to Odissi, Hindustani and Carnatic traditions. This year (2012), it featured Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra (Hindustani) and Pandit O S Arun (Carnatic), apart from Pandit Damodar Hota, an accomplished singer in both Hindustani and Odissi traditions.

A Dance Sequence in Mukteshwar Dance Festival 2012

I had the opportunity to attend the Mukteshwar Dance Festival this year on the first day. The performances were magnificent. But the attendance was thin. Apart from locals and some foreigners, there were hardly any Indian tourists from outside Odisha—ironic considering that it is primarily organized by the state Department of Tourism, with help from (GKCM-ORC).

Orissa Tourism is involved in organizing most of these events—including the Dhauli-Kalinga Mahotsav. The Dhauli Mahotsave is organized by Orissa Dance Academy and is an Odissi dance festival. The Kalinga Mahotsav, on the other hand, is a martial dance festival and is organized by Department of Tourism.

The Department, in association with GKCM Odissi Research Centre and the Department of Culture, Govt of India, organizes annual International Festival of Odissi Dance in the last week of December. The 2011 festival was held between  23 to 30 December 2011.  It made to headlines for getting into the Guinnes Book of World Records for the largest number of dancers (555) dancing for close to  8 minutes. Otherwise, this is one of the prestigious festivals for the performers.

The other music and dance festivals include Gotipua Dance Festival in November, organized jointly by GKCM ORC and the Department of Tourism (this year’s edition is slated for 15 to 17  November 2012), Odissi Music Festival (organized this year between 8-10 January 2012), and  Konark Dance & Music Festival organized by the State Tourism Deaprtment, along with Sangeet Natak Academy, organized between 19 and 23 February 2012.

While this sudden flurry of activity in the state on the festival front has got some visibility for the state, so many festivals with similar focus and similar names has created a lot of confusion as well. The festivals are not marketed well which explains the thin attendance. For example, one fails to understand the rational of two festivals, Mukteswar Dance Festival and Dhauli Mahotsav, in a span of one month. Similarly, the February Konark Dance & Music Festival has created a lot of confusion, as the website for the festival is konarkfestival.com, which actually is the name of the December festival at Konark, the oldest classical dance festival in India with the temple as a backdrop.

Finding information at the website of the concerned organizers is an adventure in itself. You never know whether you land up in 2008 page or 2011 page. In short, despite organizing so many festivals–and organizing fairly well, to be fair to the organizers–the lack of coordination among the organizers (that is despite a common entity, Department of Tourism being involved in most) and the complete lack of long-term marketing, has not yielded results the way it should have. With so many Odias and Odisha-focused groups active in the social media, the organizers need to use them more effectively. Combining a few of these events together to create a fewer, larger events would actually make the marketing easier. Ideally, some spacing could help, as all these events are between November to February. But that is easier said than done, as in summer and rainy sessions,  it is next to impossible to do any mass events. They too are not tourist seasons in Odisha.

While there are too many dance and music festivals, Odisha Tourism has started to other initiatives–the Sand Arts Festival in Dec-Jan (9 Dec 2011 to 29 Jan 2012) this time and the Toshali National Crafts Mela, which was held between 15 to 27 December 2011.

But what is really heartening to note that there are efforts now, albeit among private groups and individuals, to shed Odisha’s image as a place of traditional culture alone. Two events are noteworthy on this account. The first, called India Surf Festival was organized between February 7-9 this year near the Konark-Puri Marine drive and saw participation of surfers from across the world and was a great success. The second, an avante-garde festival of films called, the Bring Your Own Film Festival (BYOFF) which was held between 21 and 25 February 2012.

I am sure I am not aware of many more such initiative that must be happening and are in preparation. While all these festivals have the potential to make Odisha a hot tourist destination, there are gaps that need to be closed. Use of social media, good coordination among different bodies, a more effective use of the Odia diaspora and a good long-term marketing initiative can make Odisha a place where the old and new traditions meet seamlessly!

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Heartening News: Experimentation is Back in Odia Music

Some time back, I had read an essay by Sarat Kumar Mohanty, one of the most prominent essayists of Odisha, about the crisis of talent in contemporary Odisha (this was most probably in late 90s or early 200s). He had argued how there has been a gradual decline in talent and experimentation from the 60s and 70s in all the areas of creativity—citing explicitly the example of a young Akshaya Mohanty cycling around Cuttack with new tunes on his lips.

For at least three decades—60s to 80s—Akshaya Mohanty stood for all that was new in Odia music. While there were other popular singers and composers—such as Prafulla kar and Bhikari Bal—anything that was innovative and experimentative emanated from the mind of Khoka Bhai, the way Mohanty was popularly called. His music combined the nativeness of Odissa in all its forms—folk, classical, or the newly emerging urban culture of Odisha—with inspiration from across the world—in form, style, and content. While Harry Belafonte’s There’s a hole in the bucket  became a highly odia-ized Mathiare gote kana, Bachchan’s poem Laao laao piya nadiya se son machhari became Dhibara re anide anide mote suna Ilishi. In some others, he used khanti (pure) Odia content to try new forms. Such an experimentation is Odisha’s all time favorite Kanchi Abhijaaana.

For a long time, that experimentation has been missing. It is heartening to see there is some effort, of late. And not surprisingly, leading it from the front is Devdas Chhotray, one of the most prominent lyricists of the Akshaya era, whose other identities include a noted civil servant, educationist and writer. To most Odias, though, it would suffice to say that he wrote songs such as  Paradesi bandhu tume, Thik tori pari jhiatie, Mate Saila Saila Nakara Guna, and Rupa Shagadire Suna Kania

I first picked up an album called Maya Darpan a little more than a year back from Time N Sound in Bapuji Nagar, Bhubaneswar, a shop I religiously visit on each of my trip to Odisha. When I picked up the CD, what impressed me were both the idea and the guts. It was the poetry of Mayadhar Mansing, something that exhilarated (and to be honest, scandalized) us in our school days. No other poet who was considered a great by our parents generation had anything close to what Mansingh offered. I also felt the experimentation was particularly adventurous, as both the composer, Om Prakash Mohanty and singer, Susmita Das were unknown names to me, though I must admit that I have hardly kept up with Odia music in the last two decades. “Devdas Chhotray presents” on the top of the cover was  reassuring, though. But when I listened to it, I knew here was a classic. Unfortunately, none of my friends who listen to Odia music had heard about the album, let alone listening to it. I too could not find much in the usual places on the Internet to forward a link.

So, while I was appreciative, I was sceptical too about the continuation of that experimentation. That is, till a few months back, I picked up two more by the same trio—this time the lyricist being Devdas Chhotray himself. One called Hati Saja Kara, was taken from the name of a poem (and a book which I had happened to read) by Chhotray. The other, called Nua Luha Puruna Luha decribed itself as a collection of songs that were introspective and nostalgic—and which claimed that it was inspired by Ghazal and sufi poetry. And both these albums impressed again, though I would confess that I found the Nua Luha…to be a little heavier in terms of lyrics, with melody failing to catch up. That apart, all the three were great experimentation, largely successful. This time, I could get some info on the web about the composer and the artiste.

All the three are released by a label, Mitu’s Music, owned by singer Susmita. I wrote to her and got a prompt reply. The good news is that the songs are available in her website, susmitadas.in, and anyone can listen to these. By the way, some of them are available in Youtube as well such as Dekha hela kimpa from Maya Darpana and Hati saja kara from Hati Saja Kara. 

Better news is that their experimentation continues and in the offing are two more albums: one, Rubaiyat of Omar Khaiyam, and two, some old radio songs of Akshaya Mohanty, which are no longer available.

I will surely post more on the topic, if I manage to speak to the trio in near future.

While with three albums out and two more in pipeline, this trio lead the experimentation wave, there are some other notable efforts as well. One is an album of Akshaya Mohanty’s unsung lyrics sung by an artiste Namrata Mohanty, called Deepa Jale Deepa Libhe, released again by the artiste’s own label, set to music by the same composer, Om Prakash Mohanty.

Another is recital of Sriradha, arguably the best long poem written in Odia in the last 50 years, by Rabi Satapathy, again released by some unknown label. This is an even bolder experimentation. And while Satapathy does a fairly good job, I would recommend it only to someone who has no other way of reading the poem. The voice is uniform throughout and surely the poem is not. Nevertheless, here I am talking of experimentation and am not into reviewing the work.

One last example I would like to cite would probably not fall in this category—as it is not really a creative experimentation but a commercial one—but nevertheless made me hopeful. It was a collection of children songs such as Jhool re hati jhool, Chaka chaka bhaunri, Dho re baya dho, Itikili mitikili, and Aa aa re bai chadhei. The songs were accompanied by some below average animation, but nevertheless, this is the only Odia CD that I have bought for my five year old son so far, though he has more than 100 CDs of Hindi and English cartoom movies, songs and so on. This, too was released by an unknown label with a Mumbai address. And since then, in each of my visit, I have inquired if there is a second one but unfortunately I have always heard a no.

On one hand, the wave of experimentation makes one hopeful and reassured. On the other, the fact that very little is known about these albums to people who would have loved to lap them up, makes one a little apprehensive. None of them are released by any of the major labels—neither the Saregamas and the Sonys, nor even the JEs and the Sarthaks. In case of Susmita, she admitted that their marketing has been anything but extraordinary.

I just hope that increasingly the new medium of web would be used creatively and effectively by both the artistes and the fans to reach out to the market that may just be waiting in San Francisco, Dallas, London, Bangalore or New Delhi. I promise to keep a watch.

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1975: The Year Music Faded from Hindi Cinema

The numerous deaths in 2011 of music personalities—such as Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Ustad Asad Ali Khan, Jagjit Singh, Bhupen Hazarika, Ustad Sultan Khan—reminds one of another such year in history. The year 1975. That year too saw the deaths of some of the most popular and talented music personalities in the history of Hindi cinema. Madan Mohan, the King of Ghazal and the composer who gave Lata Mangeshkar most of her great numbers died on 14th July. Sachin Dev Burman died on 31st October. C H Atma, that talented singer who crooned the hit song, Pritam Aan Milo died on 6th December and Vasant Desai died in an unfortunate lift accident later that month—on 21st December.

Coming one after another in a span of less than six months—the later half of the year—these deaths, in a way, accelarated a trend that had already begun by then—the decline of melody in Hndi film music. Naushad had almost stopped scoring by then. Most other old timers had completely stopped composing. The tuneful Indian melody in Hindi Cine Sangeet was was fast giving way to two things—some highly westernized music on one hand and some lyrics driven heavy songs which were good to listen to if you are in the mood but not as melodious. They did not have that magic to catch yourself humming them even before you knew.

Public taste was changing. If there is one year that can be singled out for the biggest shift, then it was 1975. Guess what was the top song on Binaca Geet Mala? Baaki kuchh bacha to mehngai maar gayi. If that does not say it all, the biggest hits of that year were Deewar and Sholay. Music was no more a major component of the Hindi movie.

I guess God, for some reason, specifically wanted it that way. Why else would he have chosen to pick up all those great music makers at a span of a few months when none of them had even touched 70?

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Babul Mora: The Queen Among Thumris

(Updated on 15 February 2015)

Babul mora naihar chhooto hi jaye…argubly, no other song represents the early Indian film music (of the 30s and early 40s) as this one in K L Saigal’s voice does. After close to 75 years of it being released (for the 1938 movie, Street Singer), this still remains a favorite of the discerning listener of vintage Indian film music. Many dub it as Saigal’s best. But few would know that this Bhairavi thumri, composed by Wajid Ali Shah, has been one of the favorite thumris of many a singers over generations—from Ustad Faiyaz Khan—the most well-known singer of Agra Gharana and arguably one of the best voices on record—to Alisha Chinoy. Wajid Ali Shah, to the uninitiated, was the last Nawab of Oudh (Awadh) who was exiled by the British to Metiaburz in Calcutta by the British. The Nawab was a great patron of art and music and was himself a good singer and composer. A book by Abdul Halim Sharar, Guzishta Lucknow, gives a very good account of his life in exile at Metiaburz, where he continued his indulgence in art, music and food. An English translation of the book, published by Oxford University Press titled Lucknow: The Last Phase of An Oriental Culture, is available. It is said that the Nawab composed the thumri when he was exiled by the British. While the literal meaning of the poem indicates the sadness of a newly-wed bride leaving her father’s home, many interpret it as the feeling of the Nawab when he was forcibly sent out of his beloved Lucknow to the distant Calcutta. The Nawab was sent out with a generous amount of wealth and people accompanying him—the decorated doli of the bride is supposed to be a metaphor for this. Here is the lyrics.

Babul mora, naihar chhooto hi jaae 
Babul mora - mora, naihar chhooto hi jaae
Babul mora, naihar chhooto jaae
Babul mora, naihar chhooto hi jaae

Char kahaar mile, mori doliya sajaaven re
Char kahaar mile, mori doliya sajaaven
Char kahaar mile, mori doliya sajaaven re
Mora apana begana chhooto jaae
Babul mora, naihar chhooto hii jaae

Aangana to parbat bhaya aa..
aur deharii bhayii bidesh
Aangana to parbat bhaya han
aur deharii bhayii bidesh
Je babul ghar aapano main chali piiyaa ke desh
Babul mora, naihar chhooto jaae
Babul mora, naihar chhooto hii jaae

The thumri has been song by many maestros of Indian classical music. I have read in many places that Ustad Faiyaz Khan used to sing it quite frequently in concerts. When I first wrote this, I could not locate the recording but I found it subsequently and have added it here. Among other singers of earlier generations, it has been sung by Gauhar Jaan and Malka Jaan. I give here a list of links to the song in the voices of some of the greatest singers in Indian music. Many others have sung it. The other great singers who I have read/heard have sung the thumri but I could not find them anywhere include—apart from Ustad Faiyaz Khan and Gauhar Jaan—Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Siddheswari Devi, Begum Akhtar, and Naina Devi. Here is the list

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New Indo-Chinese Movie Around Odissi: Appreciations & Apprehensions

Finally, we have a Bollywood movie centred around Odissi. Desire: The Journey of a Woman, is a new Indo-Chinese movie that revolves around Gautami, an Odissi dancer, portrayed by Shila Shetty. The male lead role is played by a Chinese actor Xia Yu who falls in love with the dancer during one of her visits to Malaysia for a program. The movie stars Om Puri, Jaya Prada, and a host of other Indian actors. Produced by Shilpa’s mother, the movie has been directed by R Sarath, with music by Shankar-Ehsan-Loy and background score by Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, the classical guitar maestro.

The Odisha connection comes in form of an Odissi dance sequence enacted by Shilpa Shetty and Jaya Prada, to the Odissi song,  Shyama lagi mu pagali,  penned by noted Odia poet Gopalakrushna Pattnaik; and also, one of the two choreographers for the movie being Ratikanta Mohaptra, noted Odissi dancer and the son of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra.

I am happy that finally Odissi has caught the imagination of filmakers. But I am also apprehensive that like some other such efforts in the past, most notably, the movie Asoka, it does not do a wrong portrayal of Odisha, Odias and their culture. The reason for my apprehension is that the no Odissi musician is involved in the music of the movie. While I have all the respect for both the S-E-L team and Pt Bhatt, Odissi music has its own distinct characteristics and to try it out on a global scene without the involvement of an accomplished Odissi musician may be a litte too much of an adventurous experimentation.

Also—it is my personal opinion, though—putting Odissi in the centre stage without that extremely endearing face of Kalia (Lord Jagannath)–is not a great sign. The movie has not been shot in Odisha at all. And that is okay. Our art should not be restricted to the geographic boundaries of the state, but to dissociate Lord Jagannath from Odissi is inexcusable. I did not notice it anywhere in the promo and website of the movie. I just hope that it is there in the actual movie.

I am sincerely hoping that my apprehensions are proved wrong and the world sees Odissi in all its glory, especially that it has been choreographed by no other than Ratikanta.

 

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