The Maestros’ Cameos: Classical Vocalists in Hindi Films

In the last eight decades of its evolution, Hindi film music may have grown to be considered as a genre by itself. But in reality, Bollywood has been a great melting pot of various traditional genres of music–both Indian and Western. From among all genres, Hindustani classical music has had arguably the greatest impact on Hindi film music. Thousand of songs have been composed based on Hindustani ragas. While most of them have been sung by the popular playback singers–most of whom were trained in classical music–once in a while, the composers have turned to the classical vocalists to render a song or two for them in the films. Great Hindustani vocalists, right from Pandit D V Paluskar to Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Ustad Amir Khan have lent their voice to the Hindi films occasionally. Despite the advent and popularity of Western music, the trend continues even today with recent hits such as Jab We Met and My Name is Khan containing a few such numbers.

The list of such songs, however, is not too long. My estimates are that if we exclude the Ghazal singers, number of songs rendered by classical vocalists for Hindi movies is not more than 100-120. This is excluding some more regular names like Shubha Mudgal and from an earlier period, Nirmala Devi. There are many good discussions and lists of such songs available  on the Net.  This is one such good discussion. And this is a good attempted list. My idea is not to create yet another list, though if you want to have a fairly long and organized list of such songs, I have one for you here. This excel sheet, which you are more than welcome to download, gives each song with film name, year of release, music director’s name, and the film’s director’s name. Also, for beginners, I have mentioned the name of the Gharana that each of the vocalist belongs to, against his/her name. An album, released by Saregama, called Aalap, also has a good selection of such songs. But I could not find in their new site, so I give here this link of a third party site where you can buy it. There is, however, another rare collections album, called Classics from Films: Rare Collections which you can buy from Saregama. But unless you are really into it, you may find it an odd album because except for rarity, there is nothing common to the tunes that are there in this album.

Some of the songs such as aaj gawat man mero in Baiju Bawra by Pt D V Paluskar and Ustad Amir Khan;  jhanak jhanak payal baje by Ustad Amir Khan from the movie Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje, the title song in Geet Gaya Pathoron Ne, sung by Kishori Amonkar; and Humein Tumse pyaar kitna in Kudrat sung by Begum Parveen Sultana are known to one and all. A few others–such as prem jogan banke by Ustad bade Ghulam Ali Khan from Mughal-E-Azam and Ketaki Ghulab Juhi by Pt Bhimsen Joshi in Basant Bahar–are well-known to the connoisseurs. But many others, some of which are equally good, are hardly known. Very often, that is because the movie was not a success or even never released. The objective of this piece is to identify and create a small list of such hidden gems. For the  long list, you can always refer to the excel file I mentioned above.  Since this is my personal selection, you may or may not agree with it. And if you think I have left out a particularly good one, you will do a great favor to me and the readers by pointing that out.

So, here I go.

#1 On top of the list should be this beautiful jugalbandi rang raliyaan karat sautan ke sang from Birbal My Brother, sung by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Pt Jasraj. The 1973 movie was a passable film and hardly known. But the song is an absolute masterpiece and has no parallel in the history of Hindi film music. The last time two such greats came together in a song was in aaj gawat man mero jhumke. It is rare, but here is a link.  It is also there in the album, Classics from Films: Rare Collections. This has also been sung by Asha Bhosle in a recent (2003) movie Khwahish, with music by Milind (of Anand Milind duo, son of Chitragupta) but with all respect to Ashaji, the jugalbandi is in a class of its own.

#2  Another great number is suno re bhaila from the 1998 movie Godmother sung by Pt Sanjeev Abhayankar. Vishal Bhardwaj, the music director of the movie has used Pt Abhayankar’s voice in more movies like Maachis and Maqbool.  But I feel this is the best.  Unfortunately, I could not find a link to this song anywhere, despite the fact that this song won the National Award for best male playback singer.

#3 Another one that I like is jabse tune bansi bajayi re, a song sung by Lakshmi Shankar of Patiala Gharana, for movie Aarop, set to tune by Bhupen Hazarika.

Some other rare but great songs in no particular order are

#4 Megha jhar jhar barsat re by Kishori Amonkar for the 1990-Govind Nihlani directed  movie Drishti. She herself had scored music for the movie and sang two more songs in the film. Here is a link to all the songs.

#5 Vandana karo archana karo by Pt  Jasraj for a 1966 movie Ladki Sahyadri Ki, made by his father in law V Shantaram with music by V Shantaram favourite Vasant Desai.

#6 Ram prabhu aadhar, a soulful  bhajan by Pt Bhimsen Joshi for a movie called Sant Tulsidas.

#7 Marmuwa kahepe bawre, a song by Hirabai Barodekar, the noted exponent of Kirana Gharana and daughter of the Gharana founder Ustad Abdul Karim Khan in the movie Pratibha. I have listened to this song once but have not been able to get it after that.

# 8 Yeh hai shaan Banaras ki, a song from a 2006 movie called Banaras with music by Himesh Reshamiya.

There are many more, but this is my first cut shortlist. I have, obviously excluded the more known songs from more well-known movies.

While Naushad started this trend with Baiju Bawra, Mughal-E-Azam and Shabab, most popular directors like Shankar-Jaikishen, Laxmikant Pyarelal and more recently Vishal Bhardwaj have turned to classical vocalists for some of their songs.

Though the association of classical musicians with Hindi music is broader, with maestros like Ustad Allah Rakha, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma and Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia scoring music for movies and many playing instruments in some songs, I have kept the list restricted to only vocalists. Also, I have kept out songs from Marathi, Bengali and other language movies to which some of these maestros have lent their voices.


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80th Anniversary of Indian Talkie

Kudos to Google for choosing to highlight 80th anniversary of first Indian talkie, Alam Ara,  through its Doodle on its India home page today. Unlike Holi and Diwali, this occasion is hardly known even to most of the Indians. So, unlike other Doodles, it is more than just fun. In fact, it has done a great service by putting it up there and thus letting people know that on this day 80 years back, we began our great journey of Indian talkies. While all know that it was in 1931 that Alam Ara was released, few know the exact date. Made by Adreshir Irani, it was released on 14th March 1931 in Mumbai’s Majestic cinema. Here is more details about the movie, Alam Ara in Wikipedia.

Of course, it is difficult for me to talk about movies without the songs! And I need not worry. The first talkie from India had more singing than talking. It had seven songs. One of them, De de khuda ke naam pe pyaare, taaqat ho gar dene ki, kuch chaahe agar to maang le mujhse himmat ho gar lene ki, was a super hit and most people today know only about that song. It was sung by actor Wazir Muhammed Khan who played a fakir on screen.

The remarkable thing about this song is that if you do not know about it and someone plays it before you, it is very difficult to guess that it is a 1931 song. In use of instrument and the voice, it sounds more like an early 50’s song. I could not find a link on the web to post it.

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Hanuman: The World’s First Writer

It is traditionally believed that Mahabharata is the world’s first written text. A new story told by Prof Philip A. Lutgendorf, Professor of Hindi and Modern Indian Studies, University of Iowa and the translator of Tulsidas’ Ramacharitamanas into French, suggests that it is not Mahabharata but Ramayana which was the first written text, though that text is no longer available, thanks to the great sacrifice made by its writer: no other than the popular Hindu God and one of the most important characters of Ramayana, Hanuman.  Prof. Lutgendorf  says that it is not Valmiki but Hanuman who wrote the first Ramayana. And while Valmiki composed for oral rendition, Hanuman had actually written down his Ramayana.  “In my story,” he clarifies, “Hanuman writes, Valmiki composes”

This is the story that he narrated in the Jaipur Literature Festival in January 2011, taking part in a discussion titled, Many Ramayanas.

Hanuman writes Ramayana out of boredom and sadness when Sita is sent away by Ram. He goes to the mountain and starts writing by his nail on the crystal floor (sphatik chattan) of the mountain. He writes this huge Ramayana and while he is writing Valimki starts composing Ramayan. In my story, he clarifies, Hanuman writes, Valmiki composes. Someone tells Valmiki that Hanuman has already created Ram’s story. Valmiki wonders: he is a eye witness, but can he write? So, he asks Hanuman about it and Hanuman carries the sage on his shoulders and takes him to the mountain and shows him what he has written. And then, he asks Valimiki for his comment on the work. Tears roll down from Valmiki’s eyes as he said it is so real, so perfect. “Now who will care about my Ramayana?” he says. Hearing this, Hanuman places Valmiki on one shoulder and all the crystal boulder on the other shoulder and flies out on the sea. He drops off the boulders in the sea and says to “Let it be an offering to Shriram.” An overwhelmed Valmiki says: “In Kalyug, I will be reborn and sing your praise and tell Ram’s story in the language of ordinary people. Thus Valimiki is reborn as Tulsidas and writes Ramcharitamanasa.

Prof. Lutgendorf’s session was both fascinating and moving. While his occasional jumping to chaste Hindi struck a cord with the audience, his recitation of Ramacharitamanas was soulful. Occassional humor added to the colors.

Here is the above story, in Prof. Lutgendorf’s own voice: hanuman-valmiki.

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Huluhuli: The Dying Art Form

Bastra bhushana alankara

je bidhi puja upachara

deina samaste  pujanti

jubati hulahuli dyanti

(Offering clothes, ornaments and accessories, and all that are needed for a puja, all (the people) worship; the young women offer huluhuli)

To the Odias (people of Odisha), nothing symoblizes auspiciousness more than the sound of Huluhuli (Hulahuli): a shrill of varying magnitude produced by women through quick movements of the tongue. No auspicious occasion is complete without the sound of huluhuli, usually accompanied by the blowing of conch shell (shankha). It has probably come from the ululation, a similar practice made by women in various parts of the world, but through a slightly different technique. Hulahuli as a word is used in Sanskrit too.

Ululation is also widely practiced in southern and eastern parts of India. People, especially women roll their tongues and produce this sound during all Hindu temple rituals, festivals and celebrations. This is also an integral part of most weddings in these parts where, depending upon the local usages, women ululate to welcome the groom or bride or both. In Tamil it is known as ‘Kulavai’. In Kerala, ululation is essential for all ceremonial occasions and the term used in Malayalam is Kurava. Bengalis and Oriyas call it Ulu-uli. Assamese call it ‘Uruli’. Ululation is, also, used to some extent by south European women: Wikipedia

While the blowing of shankha (conch shell), shankhadhwani (the sound of shankha) usually marks the beginning and end of a ceremony or a particular ritual within a ceremony, huluhuli is repeated often, sometimes to mark special moments, sometimes when there is reference to the word in a song/text that is sung/read as part of the ritual (as in above, which is from the popular festival of Khudurukuni in the month of Bhadrava, in which unmarried women worship Goddess Mangala), and sometimes simply without any special need, as and when women feel like offering it.

In pure religious  festivals like Rath Yatra, while the women offer huluhuli, men match it with cries of Haribol. But in functions like marriage and other such auspicious occasions,  it is only the sound of huluhuli that is enough to mark the auspiciousness of the occasion.

In earlier times, huluhuli was treated like an art and young women took pride in their ability to make the sound of huluhuli for a long period. My grandmother was greatly accomplished in this art form and would often continue for close to ten minutes when she would start once. The average was somewhere between less than a minute to two minutes. So, she was quite sought after when there was any ceremony in the neighborhood.  I probably started making the sound to tease her but found that I could produce it the way it should be. And for boys, it was really fun.

I still remember an incident in a friend’s marriage (I was unmarried then), when me and another friend of mine (a guy), started making sounds of huluhuli, for the sake of fun. An old lady (probably the bride’s grandmother) was quite impressed with that. When the next turn came for offering it, almost after a few hours, we were still there watching  the ceremony. And finding that none of the womenfolk there were capable of making it, she asked us to make the sound.  She herself was offering it but she was too old to make it loudly. That time, we thought they were making fun of us. But it is only later that we discovered that none of the women present there were actually capable of producing this auspicious sound.

And we were shocked!

This was about twelve years back. Since then, it has steadily lost its practitioner base. Today, one would be lucky to find 3-4 good huluhulist in a ceremony. In some such occasions, we hear audio tapes of recorded huluhuli being played. Believe me, that does not sound half as thrilling!

In Odisha, government has taken many steps to preserve our art forms, including many rare arts. But few are even sensitive to the fact that this once-ubiquitous art form is dying a slow death.

But when I searched the term huluhuli in Google, all I found was pages after pages on some Hawaiian chicken preparation! While you can find ululation/ululating, the Odia huluhuli is nowhere!


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Rangabati: The Making of A Cult Song

Almost two-three generations in Odisha in the 80s and early 90s have grown up swaying to the tune of this beautiful Sambalpuri song. There was a time when no marriage or bisarjan ( idol immersion) processions were imaginable without Rangabati Rangabati. There have been reports of violence by the audience if some orchestra programs (popularly called Melody in Odisha) failed to sing Rangabati. Such was the popularity of this song!

I doubt if there is any other song in Odia or any other language that has  such a sway over people for generations. Yes, there have been super hits but they rule for a while and then fade off.  In contrast, this song ruled for almost one and half decade.

The story of this song is fascinating. The original mukhda apparently was taken from a local folk song. But the actual lyrics of the song was written by Mitrabhanu Gauntia, a local teacher. My sister had interviewed him on record a few years back and I will try to post the video if and when I can lay my hands on the tape. It was set to tune by  Prabhudutta Pradhan and was sung by Jitendra Haripal and Krishna Patel.  The major instrumentalist was Chaitanya Paik.

The song was first recorded and broadcast by All India Radio in the mid-70s. After its popularity, a record company from Kolkata (then Calcutta) saw the opportunity and Haripal, who is from the local Dom community and was never trained as a singer, went to Kolkata and recorded the song in 1976. But there was some disputes about the ownership and after some legal battles, the disc was released in 1978-79.

The rest is history.

Unlike most Odia songs released by the popular singers of those days like Akshaya Mohanty or Prafulla Kar, this record did not become an instant hit. Rather, it took almost two years to be known. And another interesting fact about this song is that apart from Sambalpur, the song became a hit in other tribal areas such as Koraput and Kalahand before the popularity spread to other parts of Odisha, through south Odisha to Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. This was an exception, as most Odia artistes that time were in Cuttack.

But even at the peak of its popularity, few knew the artiste’s name. I was in school at that time and we used to hear all sort of stories. The one that was most believed was that the male artiste was murdered by someone. Thankfully, all that was nonsense.

While the onslaught of Hindi film music did dilute its popularity a bit in the late 90s, it was still a must for a place where you were supposed to dance. College picnics were incomplete without the song.

Its popularity resulted in the tune being copied in other language. And many of them were considerable hits. These two, Haule Haule in Hindi and Rangabati in Telugu were fairly popular.

But it was ironic that the artiste of the state’s most popular song ever was living in penury. A report by noted journalist P Sainath in The Hindu in 2001 about his conditions drew attention of the music lovers and finally the officialdom. In 2007, he was felicitated by Odisha chief minister Naveen Pattnaik.

In recent years, Rangabati has received the respect that is due to it. If the state government’s decision to choose this as the music to be played for Odisha’s Republic Day Tableau a couple of years back was the ultimate official recognition, the most respectful popular recognition came when the Odisha Cricket Association chose the song to be played during the third One Day International match played between India and Sri Lanka in December last year. It just shows there is no more popular song than Rangabati in Odisha–after 36 years of its first recording.

There are few songs that can be labelled as legends. In Odia, Rangabati stands No 1 on that list.

(Update on 17 Jan 2014: Odia director Nilamadhab Panda, famous for his films such as I am Kalam is using Rangabati in a dance sequence in his forthcoming film Kaun Hai Kitney Paani Mein)

(Update on 5 July 2015: A remix version of Rangabati is presented by musician Ram Sampath, singers Sona Mohapatra and Rituraj Mohanty, which also include the state song of Odisha, Bande Utkala Janani, in a mash-up)





Filed under Music, Odia music, Odisha & Odia

The Pancham Note: A Book on the Composer

After reading my post, Not So Well Recorded: The Journey of the Hindi Film Song, a reader informed me of a forthcoming book on legendary composer Pancham. The book, R D Burman: The Man, The Music, is written by Anirudha Bhattarcharjee and  Balaji Vittal and published by HarperCollins. The book can be pre-ordered from Flipkart at a discount of 30%.

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Madhukar Rajasthani: The Song of the Unsung Poet

Lyricists have always played second fiddle to the music directors in Hindi movies. Yet, good lyricists have often drawn their own fan following. To the discerning listeners  of Hindi Cine Sangeet, they have always been as important as the composer  and the singer, if not more. And in the world of geets and ghazals, they have more fan following than the composers.

Yet, I was fairly surprised to find that even some of the connoisseurs of light music that I know could not even recognize the name of Madhukar Rajasthani. A few who did, correctly identified him as a writer of bhajans and were completely unaware that he has penned so many beautiful geets. That prompted me to write this post. Unfortunately, not much information on his personal life is available, except that he was born in Churu district of Rajasthan.

Madhukar, in my opinion, is the most underrated lyricist in the history of Hindi light music. One reason could be that he did not write for too many films. His first film was Bhed, with music by Mukul Roy. He did work with popular composers such as Husnlal Bhagatram, Roshan and Ram Ganguly but only occasionally. He has written for close to two dozen movies, none by a big banner.

His non-film work can be broadly divided into two broad categories (my classification): bhajans and geets.  It is not just a genre classification. His bhajans are among the most popular bhajans in the history of recorded music in India, though they are identified with the singers and few know the lyricist who has penned such soulful words. On the other hand, his other songs are barely known.

Tere bharose hai Nandlala, written by Madhukar, is arguably the most popular bhajan song by Mohd. Rafi. Most of the popular non-filmi Rafi bhajans such as  Shyam se neha lagayaPaon padoon tore Shyam, and Main Gwalo rakhwalo maiya are written by Madhukar. These are bhajans many of us have grown up listening to.

That is, however, not the case with his other songs. Most of them are among the best that I have listened to – filmi or non-filmi. But few have even heard them. If anyone is interested, one can go to and search for his songs. You would get some 30-odd songs. Here are some of my favourites. Each of them is an absolute gem.

1. Meri bhi ek Mumtaz thi (Manna Dey). One of my all-time favorites. In a class of its own. And if you listen, even if you are an occasional  listener, you will ask: who is the poet?

2. Pal bhar ke pehchan aap se (Manna Dey).  Another gem. One of the most soulful romantic songs that I have listened to.

3. Ja tujhe bhul gaye (Hemant Kumar)

4.  Ek gaon ke ujale daman mein (Talat Mehmood). One of the best by Talat.

5. Yeh awara ratein (Manna Dey)

6. Chalo na gori (C H Atma). An extremely hummable song, very different from all the rest. I sing this often in small get togethers.

It is an absolute pity that so little is known about the poet. Would be delighted to know more.

I am compiling a list of his songs, which I will put up here as a separate page.


Filed under Music, Non-filmi light music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Filed under Books, Hindi Film Music