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Sangeet Baiju Bawra - 1: Puriya Dhanashree

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

You must have noticed the title of this blog post: Sangeet Baiju Bawra. In Maharashtra there has been a century and a half old tradition of Sangeet Natak, plays that were written purely for music loving audiences. They had dozens of classical based songs in them with some dialog in between songs to string them together. Most of them had music composed by professional classical musicans of the time, such as Bhaskarbuwa Bakhle, Govindrao Tembe, Jitendra Abhisheki, etc., and were sung on stage by classical singers such as Bal Gandharva, Deenanath Mangeshkar, Ram Marathe, Vasantrao Deshpande, etc. The music loving public flocked to the theatre to see the same play again and again, and each song took multiple encores from the adoring fans. To name a few popular ones, Sangeet Swayamvar (based on Lord Srikrishna's marriage to Rukmini), Sangeet Maanapman (Pride and Prejudice), Sangeet Saubhadra (a mythological theme from the Mahabharata), Ekach Pyala (the last peg of alcohol, lterally), Katyar Kaljat Ghusli (the dagger pierced the heart), and so on. Some of these century old plays are being revived on stage and even turned into films. These musicals can be credited with bringing classical music to the masses.

I had seen the fim Baiju Bawra in college, and when I saw it again on my computer and listened carefully, I realised that I had hit upon a gold mine for the purpose of this blog. It had much more beautiful music in the film in addition to the dozen songs, all of which are based on classical ragas. It had exquisite pieces of background music based on popular classical ragas appropriate for the situation, and played on the sarangi, flute, violin, etc. by professional classical musicians. And like Sangeet Nataks, fans have seen the film Baiju Bawra multiple times judt for the music. I saw it again and again on my computer.

Hence I thought the name “Sangeet Baiju Bawra” would be appropriate for the film. I thought it would be an interesting idea to highlight some of background music pieces apart from the songs in this blog, point out the ragas and instruments used, and so on. The songs in the film are well documented in terms of the raga they are based on, the singers, etc., but that is not true of the background score in the film. I also came across a few musical inconsistencies or liberties taken by the team that made Baiju Bawra, which I thought I would point out. I am doing this not to nit-pick or criticise, but because I thought it would interest serious students of film music.

Baiju Bawra was made In 1952 by Vijay Bhatt, a lover of classical music himself. He chose Naushad, who had formally learnt classical music and was an established music director by then, to score the music for his film. Vijay Bhatt’s idea of making a film based on classical music was met with a lot of scepticism intially, but he and Naushad persisted. To everyone’s surprise Baiju Bawra became a mega hit and even won Filmfare awards for best actress and best music director. It became immensely popular, more than anything else because of its songs, and is credited with bringing Indian Classical music to the common filmgoer.

Ustad Amir Khan was a consultant to the film in addition to lending his voice to one of the main characters in the film, the vocalist Miya Tansen, Emperor Akbar’s court musician. Ustad Amir Khan was a classical vocalist of great repute, who was considered to be a trend setter at the time because of his style, which was unique enough to have a gharana, the Indore gharana named after him. The story goes that the plot required Tansen to lose to Baiju Bawra in a musical duel in the film. Given the Ustad’s formidable reputation, Naushad was in a dilemma about whom to approach for Baiju’s voice as he was the one who would defeat Tansen in the climax in the film. Naushad asked Amir Khan Saheb, who suggested the name of Pandit D.V.Paluskar, another formidable name in classical music at the time.

Baiju Bawra, apart from having a dozen classical based songs, was fulll of all the Bollywood “masala” in its plot – romance, revenge, comedy, tragedy and intrigue, all of it woven together with beautifully composed songs and background music.

So let us follow the story of Baiju (played by a stony-faced Bharat Bhushan) and Gauri (played by the comely Meena Kumari) through its many twists and turns, highlighting at every point the raga and the tala used, the musical instruments used, and demonstrating it with the help of clips from the film.

The film opens with the credits scrolling up the screen, with Sangeet Samrat Tansen shown in the right side of the frame struming the tanpura and singing some alaapas in Raga Puriya Dhanashree. Ustad Amir Khan has lent his majestic voice to Tansen, and if you haven’t heard Amir Khan Saheb before, Baiju Bawra would be a good place to start. The Ustad was venerated even by the greatest classical vocalists like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. I have personally heard Bhimsenji saying that he drew inspiration from Ustad Amir Khan. Sadly for Indian Classical Music, Amir Khan Saheb met a tragic and untimely end in a car accident at the age of 61.

The alaaps are followed by a short composition Tori Jayajay Kartar in the 12 beats drut Ektaal. The piece ends with some sargam and some taans in Puriya Dhanashree, with the scene switching to Akbar's palace where Tansen is shown singing with eyes closed, surrounded by musicians and palace guards.

From a historical perspective, the style of music prevalent in Akbar’s time was called Dhrupad, which is supposed to have originated in the temples of India more than 1500 years before Akbar’s time. With the Moghul influence, the Dhrupad style evolved into Khayal which became popular a century and a half later in the time of Mohammed Shah (known as Mohammed Shah Rangile because of his love for music.)  Khayal is considered to be “lighter” and more flexible than dhrupad and is the most popular and prevalent form of North Indian Classical Music today. So the Khayal form did not exist in Tansen’s time at all, but in the film Tansen is shown singing khayal. Given that the idea of making a film with only classical based songs was met with a lot od scepticism at that time, showing Tansen singing khayal rather than dhrupad seems like an eminently reasonable liberty to take for the film maker.

A bit about Puriya Dhanashree. It belongs to the Purvi thaat and has all 7 notes in ascending and descending order (with a “vakra” chalan in descent) with re and dha komal, and Ma teevra – i.e., Ṇi re Ga Ma dha Ni Sa͘, Sa͘ Ni dha Pa Ma Ga Ma re Ga re Sa. We end this installment with a scintillating Puriya Dhanashree by Pt. Bhimsen Joshi in drut Teentaal, full of his characteristic lightening taans:

We will follow up this series of posts on Sangeet Baiju Bawra with the rest of the film, concentrating on the musical facts like the ragas and talas in the songs and the background music. Watch this space for more!

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