January 2009
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Golden Era in Hindi Film Music

The Magical Years: 1960-1975

I have always been fond of old Hindi film music but it’s always had to play second fiddle to my love for classical western music. I worship Mozart and Beethoven and that’s the music I have listened to most for the last, well, 25 years of my life. However, 2008 brought about an unexpected change. I changed my job. The distance between home and work grew from being six kilometres to 46 (one way, of course) and apart from Mozart’s concertos, Beethoven’s symphonies and Puccini’s operas, I started to listen to old Hindi film music. I must confess this was in deference to my driver, who I could see squirming visibly while driving me to and from work. I took pity on the poor bloke and decided to, well, lessen his agony by listening to old Hindi songs.

I am not sure he appreciates the great sacrifice I made and I am not even sure if the music playing in the car for three to four hours every day is any less agonising for him, but I’ve discovered true bliss in the bargain. As my son puts it, there’s always Lata with me in the car. And that she is. She is quite simply one of the great voices I have heard in my life–one that I never tire of listening to. So, for two hours in the morning while driving to work (or rather being driven to work) and two hours in the evening, I listen to her songs. More often than not they are songs composed by Madan Mohan, who has as long as I can remember been my favourite composer. Together, the melancholic mood they create with their songs never ceases to cast a spell on me.

On a visit to Bombay a week or so ago, a like-minded friend, who always associated me with Mozart, was surprised to hear me go into raptures about Madan Mohan. Turned out he adored the composer too and so we spent an entire evening talking about the great man, who died when he was just 51 but left behind a body of work that is peerless.

We talked also about what we both described as the golden era of Hindi film music. For him it was the period 1950-1980. I narrowed that down further to just 15 years: 1960 to 1975. The most gifted composers were at their creative best in those years composing music to words penned by great poets and the songs were vocalised by singers at the peak of their powers.

Let’s take the composers. Madan Mohan, S.D. Burman, Roshan, Shankar-Jaikishan, O.P. Nayyar, Ravi. Or Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Kalyanji-Anandji for that matter. Then take the lyricists. Sahir Ludhianvi, Kaifi Azmi, Shakeel Badayuni, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Rajendra Krishan, Shailendra. As for singers, imagine having to choose from the likes of Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammad Rafi, Manna Dey,
Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle, Geeta Dutt…

When you have, say, the words of a Kaifi set to music by Madan Mohan and the song is sung by Lata, the result can only be magic. Or make that S.D. Burman/Shailendra/Lata…

The evening in Bombay led us on an interesting journey as we started to talk about one of our favourite programmes on BBC in the 1990s. A lady named Sue Lawley asked all manner of well-known people to imagine themselves as castaways on a desert island, and to choose eight pieces of music to take with them. My friend–and I–had oodles of fun listening to the choice of music of writers, actors, politicians, et al.

This led us to play a new game. He asked me what Hindi film music I would take with me if I were left on an island with music from eight films? I asked for time and just last night sent him my list. The films I chose: Hanste Zakhm (Madan Mohan/Kaifi Azmi), Guide (S.D. Burman/Shailendra), Dastak (Madan Mohan/Majrooh Sultanpuri), Bandini (S.D. Burman/Shailendra), Mamta (Roshan/Majrooh Sultanpuri), Hum Dono (Jaidev/Sahir Ludhianvi), Woh Kaun Thi (Madan Mohan/Raja Mehdi Ali Khan) and Anpadh (Madan Mohan/Raja Mehdi Ali Khan).

Just saw my friend has written saying I must now whittle down the eight films to just eight songs. A pleasurable but somewhat despairing prospect. Imagine zeroing in on just eight songs from the thousands of songs I have grown up with, loving them, smiling and crying with them. But since 1942 guests on BBC have been choosing their desert island discs and they are given just eight songs to choose and they have been doing so. And so will I. In another post. Soon.

But, in signing off I have to say that this evening while I was returning home I heard Madan Mohan’s “Aaj socha to aansoon bhar aaye”. It’s a song I listen to often. It’s from Hanste Zakhm and when Lata’s voice soars over the soulful strains of sitar, I find absolute bliss.Every time I hear it I like it more. Now, there are just seven more songs to add to this one. Easy does it. Right?

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