An Elegy For Hindi Film Music
I espy Madhubala on the swing, swaying gracefully like the solitary flower caught amidst a strong breeze, to strains of ‘Aayega Aanewala” with Lata trailing of with a haunting Aayega, Aayega, Aayega to embellish Khemchand Prakash’s already formidable composition. The strains of the Mahal masterpiece are still with me when I switch the channel on the television, only to be presented a constant stream of diabolical excuses for music! The reality of modern day Hindi film music has rarely dawned so harshly on me.
Reminiscing about HFM has always been and will continue to be a wistful yet passionate exercise. Even a few minutes of listening to it creates a mist of melancholy and nostalgia for the melody that once was HFM. Tracing the decline of HFM is an imprecise job but one can see it starting from the mid-sixties: where rhythm took primacy over lyrics and melody and the creative juices of the great composers started drying up. The next generation of composers that took over the mantle – Laxmikant-Pyarelal, R.D.Burman and Kalyanji-Anandji despite their talent and loyal fans were simply not in the same league as their predecessors.
Sociologists might attribute other, dense reasons for the decline in the quality of Hindi film music. Perhaps the steady whittling away of national confidence through the decade of the 50s after the first flush of independence destroyed the desire of film makers to make Indian-centric movies with a natural musical context. Perhaps, the changing nature of Indian society with increasing organized crime & smuggling pushed Hindi movies towards more action-oriented and less musical subjects. All this is however, only grist for a sociologist’s mill.
The simplest and the most accurate explanation is that the composers who created and sustained the beautiful mosaic of Hindi film music simply ran out of creative juices. Their replacements were just not up to scratch. There are apologists who would defend the new generation of composers like RDB, LP, KA saying that theirs was a different time, with a different audience and so on. I think this is hogwash because none of them created melody as consistently as the composers of the 50s. Their talent was on full display occasionally but not consistently. This consistency for a long period of time is what makes the music directors of yore special, very special! Whilst we are on the subject of consistency, an oft-ignored fact is that only S.D.Burman could maintain the highest standards of music from beginning to the end – a feat not achieved by even the most prolific factories of hit music – Shankar Jaikishen. In fact, SJ’s body of work in the second half of the sixties shows an alarming decline in quality, which was only exacerbated with Jaikishen’s demise. Only occasional works like Amrapali (1966, with 4 stunning Lata solos), Teesri Kasam (1966) and Mera Naam Joker (1970) showed what they were capable of when they were not satisfying the least common denominator!
But I digress! I present below some nuances and reference points of good Hindi film music that all lie in the ‘golden age’ and which have been lost forever simply because there aren’t any talented composers who can pull them off. I’ve rambled a little but HFM is love affair like no other so one is allowed some license whilst writing about it!
1. Melody: Its definition differs with each listener but for most avid listeners of Hindi film music it’s always been associated with C.Ramchandra and Anil Biswas. I am more familiar with C.Ramchandra’s work so due apologies to Anil Biswas’s fans. One of my favourites from C.Ramchandra’s and Lata’s repertoire is Sajna Aa Ja, Daras Dikha Ja from Ladki (1953). It showcases the standard CR stamp – incredibly sweet yet simple composition and clean orchestration that allows Lata to flourish. C.Ramchandra can actually be the subject of a musical thesis. I’ve never seen ‘Ladki’ and it’s probably not a great film either but the composition alone makes one yearn to watch it on screen.
The number of movies made ‘watchable’ and even big hits only on the strength of their music score must be countless! If readers have seen Azaad (Dilip Kumar, Meena Kumari, 1955) then they will know what I am talking about. With apologies to all Dilip Kumar fans, the movie is a grievous assault one one’s sense of logic. Yet I suffered through the movie only because I wanted to see C.Ramchandra’s compositions enacted on screen. It is the only thing of value in the movie apart from Meena Kumari’s delicate looks! What a score! And finished by C.Ramchandra in all of two weeks! This is the true mark of genius – the ability to draw on one’s talent at will to create something enduring. Even in his fallow years CR could still manage a Lata nugget – Jhilmil Jhilmil Lahron Ka Aanchal Udta Hai Chanchal from V.Shantaram’s Stree. The song has a very difficult and lengthy mukhda to compose but CR manages it very gracefully with a heart-stopping pause by Lata between ‘Aanchal Udta’ and ‘Hai Chanchal’ in the mukhda. There is the slightest hint of an instrument filling the gap caused by Lata’s pause. The effect as expected, is incredible.
C.Ramchandra was, without doubt, the true badshah of melody. His music unlike Shankar Jaikishen’s sometimes, never overshadows the singer. The music plays in the background (and very well mind you!) and allows the lyrics and the singer to dominate and how well did Lata and C.Ramchandra accomplish this!
C.Ramchandra was of course not the only virtuoso when it came to composing lilting melodies with Lata. Listen to Lata in Anil Biswas’s Man Mein Kisi Ki Preet Basake (Aaram) or in SJ’ Ichak Dana Bichak Dana (Shree 420) or Mere Sapne Mein Aana Re (Rajhath) or their Lata solos in Kali Ghata and Mayurpankh or in Salil Chaudhary’s Zulmi Sang Aankh Ladi & Aaja Re Pardesi in Madhumati or in Naushad’s Umango Ko Sakhi (Amar) and Meri Ladli (Andaz) or Hemant Kumar’s Dheere Dheere Machal (Anupama) or Madan Mohan’s Ham Pyar Mein Jalne Walon Ko (Jailor) or his work with Lata in Anpadh. Incidentally Anpadh as a musical score comfortably overshadows his mentor C.Ramchandra’s score for Amardeep released in the same year (1958), which is no mean achievement!
Its not surprising that melody is often associated with Lata’s voice. With a voice like that who wouldn’t want to compose the choicest tunes for her. Lata’s talent combined with a brilliant composer results in a creation that lies emblazoned on one’s consciousness forever. An example is Lata’s solo in Albela – Dil Dhadke Nazar Sharmaye (C.Ramchandra again!). Her voice is like the finest strand of silk threading a needle. Add to that Geeta Bali performing the song on screen and the effect is mesmerizing! Is that the best song in Albela or is it Dheere Se Aaja (to this date the standard reference point for ‘loris’ in HFM) or Balma Bada Nadaan?
That said, there are some very very good male solos and duets. Rafi and Lata have a great duet (rarely heard on radio) right at the beginning of Albela ‘Ghazab Ki Neend Hai…..Mehfil Mein Meri’. As an aside, I wonder why CR didn’t use Rafi as the male voice in the film. It fits Bhagwan quite nicely and moreover Rafi always sang extremely well under CR’s exacting baton. Rafi and Lata combine again with great results for CR in Nausherwan-E-Adil (Bhool Jaye Saare Gham, Taaron Ki Zuban Par), Saqi (Aa Gayi Hai Ishq Pe Bahaar), Khazana (Mujhe Tumse Bahut Hai Pyaar). Very good Rafi-Lata duets are also found in Amber (Hum Tum Ye Bahar), Dulari (Mil Mil Ke Gayenge), Tere Ghar Ke Samne and the multitude of SJ hits!
Talat-Lata duets are less prolific but of a rare and beautiful quality like a dew drop on a fresh young leaf. Gaya Andhera Huwa Ujala (CR, Subah Ka Tara), Jab Jab Phool Khile (SJ, Shikast), Dil Mein Sama Gaye Sajan (Sajjad, Sangdil), Seene Mein Sulagte Hain Armaan & Nain Mile Nain Huwe Baaware (Anil Biswas, Taraana) give us a tantalizing glimpse of the magic that Talat’s dulcet tremulous voice created when combined with Lata’s vocals.
2. Use of Percussion & String Instruments - Yet again a C.Ramchandra highlight! His use of percussion instruments like the tabla and dholak is at once playful yet endowed with a classicism that would’ve pleased a table or dholak maestro. Listen to Parchhain’s Kisi Ne Mujhko Mere Ghar Mein Aake Loot Liya (Talat-Lata) or Dekh Hamein Awaz Na Dena (Amardeep) or the best Lata-Asha duet ever composed (in my opinion of course!) O Chand Jahan Wo Jaye (Sharada) with jaw dropping use of percussion. Listen to CR use the mandolin in Azad (Dekho Ji Bahar Aayi) or in Subah Ka Tara (Gaya Andhera Hua Ujala).
SJ used string instruments heavily and to stunning effect – Chori Chori, Halaku, An Evening in Paris and many many more. Sangam has a beautiful sitar, piano and violin piece in the lengthy prelude music to ‘Yeh Mera Prem Patra Padhkar’. Again I must digress to come to the use of prelude and interlude pieces in film music. These are used now just as a ‘filler’. The MDs that I’ve talked about thus far used it to dress up their music and made interlude and prelude music an integral part of the song, sometimes even better than the song itself. Listen to SJ’s almost Mozartesque (heavy orchestration, almost violent, yet very hummable) prelude compositions in Anadi (Kisi Ki Muskurahaton Pe) Kathputli (Bol Re Kathputli), New Delhi (Nakhrewali), Yahudi (Dil Mein Pyaar Ka Toofan), Hariyali Aur Rasta (Bol Meri Takdir Mein Kya Hain). The effect leaves one dazed at the grandeur of the composition.
Naushad in my opinion from the mid-50’s onwards was more associated with steady compositions rather than the awe – inspiring music of his Rattan, Dastan, Andaz, Amar, Anmol Ghadi days. Naushad fans will be up in arms no doubt! Yet, listen to Naushad in his more creative phase using the mandolin beautifully in Suhani Raat Dhal Chuki (Dulari) and also a very sweet lilting Rafi-Lata duet in Dulari – Mil Mil Ke Gayenge. One yearns to hear something similar in his later years but sadly is left unfulfilled.
3. Use of Chorus: The chorus these days is usually heard in film music only in disco or Punjabi wedding songs! Modern Composers should listen to how the chorus was used by Naushad in Uran Khatola (More Saiyyan Ji Utrenga Paar, O Door Ke Musafir) or Shankar Jaikishen in Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai (Ajeed Dastan Hai Yeh) or S.D.Burman in Kagaz Ke Phool (Dekhi Zamane Ki Yaari) and Guide (Piya Tose Naina Laage Re) and Bambai Ka Babu (Mukesh’s Chal Ri Sajni Ab Kya Soche), where the chorus is used as interlude music. I must mention the song that is held up as a brilliant composition by Naushad – Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya. The song looks very good indeed on screen (almost entirely because of Madhubala!) and has a very good chorus in the ‘Jhuk Na Sakega Ishq Hamara’ line. However, in my opinion the composition itself is quite average and Naushad could surely have done better after allegedly spending an entire night composing it.
4. Romantic Songs: How modern composers can compose romantic songs without good quality poetry baffles me no end. I can easily woo a girl by singing Rafi’s Mere Huzoor hit – Apne Rukh Par Nigah Karne Do…..Rukh Se Jara Nakab Uthao Mere Huzoor. If I had to use a modern composition, it would have to be something like ‘Ek Chumma Tu Mujhko Udhar De De’. I am sure the result would be far less pleasurable than if I were to use any romantic song by Rafi. Whilst we are on the subject of Rafi, digress I must. Rafi, without doubt, was the greatest singer of film songs that the Hindi film industry has seen or is likely to see. One has only listen to how effortlessly he conveys the mood of the song and his versatility in ‘Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par’ and ‘Sar Jo Tera Chakraye’ (Pyaasa) or in Hum Dono (Kabhi Khud Pe, Main Zindagi Ka Saath) or Guide (Din Dhal Jaye) or Chitralekha (Man Re Tu Kahe Na Dheer Dhare) or Rajhath (Aaye Bahar Banke) or Nausherwan-E-Adil (Yeh Hasrat Thi) or Deedar (Meri Kahani Bhoolne Waale) or Kala Pani (Hum Bekhudi Mein Tumko) or Kala Bazaar (Apni To Har Aah Ik Toofan Hai) or Tere Ghar Ke Saamne (Dil Ka Bhanwar & Tu Kahan Yeh Bata) and countless more. Kabhi Khud Pe and Din Dhal Jaye are probably some of his best and certainly in any top 10 list of Hindi songs.
One can’t talk about romantic songs without talking of the actors who enacted them on screen. The finest of these was without doubt Dev Anand. I cannot think of anyone who can pull of a jaunty walk and a silly jog (watch Rafi’s Khoya Khoya Chand in Kala Bazaar) and still look handsome. I cannot but help smile at Dilip Kumar’s brave yet doomed attempt to look casual and handsome in the romantic songs in Madhumati, Azad etc. His intensity is just too much to hide. Dev Anand was refreshingly laid back. Rajendra Kumar was lucky to have great romantic songs (by who else but Rafi!) in Arzoo, Suraj, Dharti, Sangam, Sasural, Hamrahi etc but could never quite pull it off as smartly as Dev Anand.
5. Dance Music – A genre of music seen almost entirely in night clubs these days. Why oh why cant composers create something even remotely close to C.Ramchandra’s Navrang compositions or his dance compositions like ‘Aplam Chaplam’ and ‘Baliye O Baliye’ in Azad or his zany dance music in Albela and the Eena Meena Deeka (Asha) . Shankar is widely known as the master of dance music in the mythology of HFM. Good he certainly was – Rajhath’s ‘Nache Ang Ang Ang Tere Aage’ (even the gods would’ve wanted to see Madhubala dance!) or SJ’s Chori Chori lata-asha duet – Man Bhavan Ke Ghar Jaye Gori and many others. There are others however who can also lay claim to composing great dance music - SDB for Guide and Jewel Thief (Hothon Mein Aisi Baat) for example. Hemant Kumar comes with a lovely Asha dance number (Sakiya Aaj Mujhe Neend Nahi Aayegi) in Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam. The song is a must-see also for its picturisation.
6. Patriotic Songs: Even the biggest cynic will admit to being stirred by Rafi’s evocative patriotic songs in Leader (Naushad) and Haqeekat (Madan Mohan) or Hansraj Behl’s Jahan Daal Daal Par Sone Ki (Rafi singing for Prem Chopra and Premnath in Sikandar-E-Azam!) C.Ramchandra comes up with his own, now famous, Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo. It is a very different sort of patriotic song shorn of bombast and use of heavy orchestration or cymbals or trumpets. CR just lets his composition, the lyrics and Lata do their magic – and how well they combine to convey anguish and dignified patriotism.
There are more signposts of HFM that are no more to be found – songs for a dream sequence for instance. Parchhain’s ‘Dil Dil Se Kah Raha Hai’ is another C.Ramchandra stunner not often heard these days! Songs with social relevance like Mukesh’s songs for Khaiyyam in Phir Subah Hogi or Rafi’s full throated Karwan Guzar Gaya (Nai Umar Ki Nai Fasal, Roshan) or his ‘Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par’ in Pyaasa are heard to come by. Good qawallis are also unheard of these days as are good bhajans. The list is endless and making one is very depressing.
There are still some who nurture fond hopes of a creative renaissance in HFM. If these people can find a modern composition to come even remotely close to C.Ramchandra’s Katate Hain Dukh Mein Ye Din or Tum Kya Jano Tumhari Yaad Mein or S.D.Burman’s Tum Na Jane Kis Jahan Mein Kho Gaye or Chand Phir Nikla or Shankar Jaikishen’s Rasik Balma or Do Din Ki Zindagi Mein Dukhde Hain Beshumaar or Naushad’s Lata solos in Amar, then, only then shall I concede that there is hope.
If I listen to all the above songs however, I know that HFM is now dead. Spare a thought for the trauma that people like Naushad, Shankar or C.Ramchandra must've gone through as they saw their creativity fade and musical notes that ebbed and flowed at their mere whim no longer seemed to acknowledge their presence. The demise – both creative and physical - of the towering personalities of HFM has left popular Indian music bereft of a soul. We are left to mourn as best as we can whilst reminiscing about a golden age of film music that once was and can never be again.