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Classical Music in Films, a Bit of History – Contd

In the last blog post we started looking at the history of Clasical music in films with the song Babul Mora Naihar Chhuto hi Jaaye sung by K.L. Saighal in the film Street Singer made in 1938. I must mention here that there were hundreds of film songs produced in the 1930-40 decade and I chose just this one song as an example of one based on a classical raga, in this case, raga Bhairavi. Let us now now pick a few classical based songs from the 1940s era, just to trace the history of classical music in Hindi films.

The 1940s saw the introduction of folk music from Punjab and other parts of the country into the Hindi film industry from music directors like Ghulam Haider and Naushad. The 1940s is also when Anil Biswas, who was active in the Bengali film industry and theatre since the 30s, became a name to reckon with in the Hindi film industry. He is said to have mastered Western harmonic concepts, and started working with a 12 piece orchestra and introduced countermelodies in his music. He also used Bengali folk themes like Baul and Bhatiyali in his songs and background scores.

Here is a tribute to Anil Biswas uploaded by one of his fans on Youtube:

It is worth mentioning here that playback singing, something that we take for granted today was introduced in the 1940s.Till the 1930s, the actors themselves sang the songs in the film, and you had to have a good voice and be a good singer in order to get a role in a film. The concept of “playback singing” which must be quite unique to Indian films in the world of films, was introduced in the 1940s. With the availability of recording and picture editing technology, the song would be recorded in a recording studio, and the pictursation would be done on the actor(s) who would lip-sync the song, and the audio track would then be synchronised and superimposed on the cellulose film containing the movie. Thus the song could be recorded in the studio along with the orchestra playing in the background and as audio technology became better and better, music composers used huge orchestras wih violins and saxophones and the whole nine yards. Movie-goers in those days must have wondered where the orchestra was hidden when the hero and heroine danced around trees in the gardens and on mountaintops.

As mentioned earlier, many of the music composers in Hindi films in those days were trained in Indian Classical Music. One such was Khemchand Prakash, who was trained by his father in the dhrupad genre. Dhrupad, a style of singing originating in the ancient string instrument called Veena which Goddess Saraswati is seen playing, used to be performed in temples in India over the centuries. There are very few veena players and dhrupad singers remaining today, as the khayal style of classical singing which, as we shall see in a later post, has displaced the dhrupad style in the last 3-4 centuries as a result of the Persian influence on music.

Here is a recording of Pandit Uday Bhavalkar, an exponent of Dhrupad from the younger generation, singing raga Komal Rishabh Asavari at a concert in London:

Coming back to Khemchand Prakash, he is considered by some to be one of the best music directors to have scored music for films. He composed music for a few hundred songs in nearly 50 films before his untimely death at the age of 42 in 1950. He is also credited with having launched Kishore Kumar’s musical career in the film Ziddi in 1948. Two of his most famous films were Tansen in 1943 and Mahal in 1948. Tansen, made on the life of emperor Akbar’s court singer, had the famous song Diya Jalao Jagmag Jagmag sung by K.L. Saigal. The song is in raga Deepak, a raga that is very rarely, if ever performed on stage today. I have never heard the raga performed in any of the classical music concerts that I have attended in my 40 odd years as a listener. The story (of doubtful authenticity) goes that Tansen had the power to light lamps with his rendition of raga Deepak, a feat that he is shown performing in the two films made on his life so far. It is worth mentioning in passing that raga Deepak belongs to the Bilaval thaat, that would roughly translate to a “major scale” in Western music terminology. The point is that it has nothing very special that would give the raga its supposed magical powers.

The other film whose music was also composed by Khemchand Prakash that is worth mentioning is Mahal made in 1949, which had the song Aayega, aane wala aayega, which rocketed Lata Mangeshkar to unprecedented fame and popularity in those days and is still heard on the radio seventy years later. Mahal, a story of unrequited love, reincarnation and a haunted palace, had seven songs in it, of which Aayega Anewala was an all time superhit. By this time music composers had begun to use Western instruments in fim songs, and Khemchand Prakash has made beautiful use of broken chords on the piano in the background of this song, with rhythm on the bass guitar and the tabla, and countermelodies on the violins. Aayega anewala also uses a major scale and to my knowledge, is not based on any particular raga. Here is the song:

The 1950s and 60s are considered the “golden era” of Hindi film music. This is the period during which the art of blending Indian classical and folk themes with elements of Western Classical Music like harmony and Western rhythms matured. They also began to use large orchestras to accompany the vocals, consisting of instruments from all parts of India and the whole world. They perfected the art of using musical interludes and counter melodies in songs, which until then had just one or two instruments accompanying the vocals. The beauty is that they did all this without compromising on the “Indian-ness” of the songs and background music in the films.

In 1952 Naushad scored the music for the trendsetting Baiju Bawra, known for its classical based songs more than anything else, and is credited with bringing Indian Classical music to the common filmgoer. All the songs in Baiju Bawra were based on popular classical ragas such as Puriya Dhanashree, Todi, Malkauns, Darbari, Megh and Bhairavi. The film’s final scenes contains a jugalbandi (a duet, which in the film is a musical duel between the two singers) between Tansen and Baiju, and is set in raga Desi. Some of the songs had playback by the great stalwarts of the time, Pt. D.V.Paluskar and Ustad Amir Khan. The others were sung by Mohammed Rafi and Lata mageshkar, both of whom, as I have mentioned in my earlier post, were trained in classical music and rendered the raga based songs flawlessly. It seems that the film industry at the time was very sceptical about producer Vijay Bhatt’s plans of making a film with all classical based songs, but he and Naushad were not swayed, and as we know, the film made history with its popularity and the many awards it won. The songs in Baiju Bawra merit a blog post by itself, and I will soon do precisely that and write a post on Baiju Bawra, on how the story has been told by the film’s director Vijay Bhatt, stringing together all the classical based songs composed by the great Naushad.

Baiju Bawra was followed by other equally popular films with songs based on Indian Classical music, like Anarkali (Music: C.Ramchandra), Basant Bahar (Shankar Jaikishen), Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje (Vasant Desai) and Goonj Uthi Shehenai (Vasant Desai), Taj Mahal (Roshan), and Guide (S.D.Burman). This decade also saw the emergence of songs based on the ghazal genre, with films such as Adalat, Dekh Kabira Roya and Ghazal, all three of which had music by Madan Mohan.

As mentioned above, Baiju Bawra and many of the films of the 50s and 60s had such a wealth of musical content, that each of them deserve a detailed discussion of the film songs that they contained in separate posts. That is what I intend to do in my blog here.

The 1950s was also the decade when Western popular music began to appear in films, with films like Samadhi and Albela (both C.Ramchandra), Baazi (S.D.Burman) and Howrah Bridge (O.P.Nayyar) among others. These songs had fast and catchy tunes with sizeable orchestras using rhythms and instruments from Western pop and jazz as well as from folk music from all over the country.

This trend continued into the decade of the sixties, with Shammi Kapoor playing the carefree hero in many films, who danced in night clubs and serenaded the heroine with peppy songs sung by Mohammed Rafi and composed by Shankar JaikishenR.D.Burman and Lakshmikant Pyarelal in many of the films. Asha Bhosale came to the forefront and gave her voice to a number of film songs including one of the racy duets along with Rafi, Aaja Aaja Main hu pyar tera in the film Teesri Manzil (music, R.D.Burman), the soulful Jaayiye aap kahaan jaayenge in Mere Sanam (music, O.P.Nayyar), and the sensuous Raat Akeli Hai in Jewel Thief (music, S.D.Burman). This decade also saw Kishore Kumar, considered even by purists to be one of the most sureela singers to sing for films, rise to the top on the popularity charts, and he became the singer of choice for both S.D. and R.D. Burman.

The 1970s belonged to R.D.Burman as music director. He started his career as music director with Chhote Nawab in 1961, in which he gave one of the most soulful and memorable songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar (Ghar Aaja Ghir Aye). But in the 1970s, with his creative and innovative talent, he straddled the classical and pop worlds with equal ease. Some of the most melodious tunes in films like Amar Prem, Kati Patang, Parichay, Aandhi, Manzil as well as fast numbers in films like Sholay, The Great Gambler, Yaadon ki Baraat among others, came from R.D.Burman. Much of this was possible due to Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosale.

The 1980s can be thought of as the dark decade where nothing much of consequence came out, with the exception of a few films like Umrao Jaan with music by Khayyam, and Masoom with music by R.D.Burman to name a couple. It was mostly dance music and is best left alone for the purpose of this blog.

From the perspective of this blog, the two and a half decades starting from 1990 saw only a few bright spots with some of the music directors like A.R.Rahman (who won many Indian and international awards), Shantanu Moitra and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and singers like Sonu Nigam and Shreya Ghoshal. Film music came to be composed and produced mostly on electronic instruments, and most singers of the present day seem to sing in faux-emotional voices copied from pop stars from the West.

That is about as much history as we need for our purpose! So let’s take a dive into music starting from the next blog post, where I will go into a bit of basic stuff on the theory of Indian Classical Music.

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