Tag Archives: Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan

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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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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