A few years back, a friend arranged this informal music party at her home. The guest list included composer Ravi, who was going to be just that, a guest—even if an important one—for the evening. And there was this fast-rising young composer, who let’s leave unnamed. Through a request earlier, the young musician had been asked to play and sing a bit for an audience of around thirty people. A scale-changing harmonium had been made available for him, the tabla player was ready after tuning his instrument, the sound operator was raring to go, all this as music aficionados were busy hydrating themselves.
But soon there emerged disheartening news: the young composer was going to be inordinately late. So everyone just sort of spoke to Ravi saab about his music and experiences, until the musician came. Cheers, we said, when he arrived, thinking the worst was over.
How wrong we were!
His bugled arrival and winning air, with attendants in tow, was soon replaced by another problem: he didn’t know how to play the harmonium. Oh wasn’t there going to be a synthesizer keyboard? The jaw dropping moments after he announced this can better be imagined than described. His triumphalism had been premature.
So much has changed all around us. Musically too, isn’t that right? The ubiquitous synthesizer has replaced many acoustic instruments, which were so popular some decades ago. Indian film composers used to make the essential tune on a harmonium or piano. That’s like history now.
Let’s look at songs today which not only had musical instruments—almost all do, of course—but also, where there is mention of an instrument in the lyrics. The idea is to highlight the importance music itself was given, through the poetry of our melodies.
- Kaise baje dil ka sitar (Chandni Raat, 1949)
- Murli waale murli baja (Dillagi, 1949)
- O Mr. Banjo ishaara to samjho (Hum Sab Chor Hain, 1956)
- Meri veena tum bin roye (Dekh Kabira Roya, 1957)
- Tan ke tamboore mein do saanson ke taar bole (Janam Janam Ke Phere, 1957)
- Bugle baj raha…Kehni hai ik baat humen (Talaaq, 1958)
- Mori paayal geet sunaaye (Baap Bete, 1959)
- Teri shehnai bole (Goonj Uthi Shehnai, 1959)
- Teen canastar peet-peet kar (Love Marriage, 1959)
- Jeevan ki beena ka taar bole (Rani Rupmati, 1959)
- Tak-dhum tak-dhum baaje duniya tera dhol re (Bambai Ka Babu, 1960)
- Baaje paayal chhun-chhun hoke beqaraar (Chhalia, 1960)
- Kashti ka khaamosh safar hai, shaam bhi hai tanhaayi bhi
Door kinaare par bajti hai lehron ki shehnai bhi (Girl Friend, 1960)
- Mera naam Raju…Dafli uttha awaaz mila (Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, 1960)
- Cheel-cheel chillaake kajri sunaaye
Jhoom-jhoom kauwa bhi dholak bajaaye (Half Ticket, 1962)
- Kaahe tu been bajaaye sapere (Saheli, 1965)
- Dum dum dum dum dumroo baaje (Sangram, 1965)
- Baaje mridang, Kaanha khele rang (Chhota Bhai, 1966)
- Saaz ho tum awaaz hoon main, tum beena ho main hoon taar
Rok sako to rok lo apni paayal ki jhankaar
(Rafi/Saaz Aur Awaaz/1966)
- Baansuri tihaari Nandlal bani mori sautaniya (Saajan, 1969)
- Iktaara bole tun-tun (Yaadgaar, 1970)
- Ghunghru ki tarah (Chor Machaye Shor, 1974)
- Dafli waale, dafli baja (Sargam, 1979)
And perhaps we can offer the last word on this to the Ganesh-Indeewar-Lata combine in Smuggler (1966), a song that has three instruments in the refrain itself:
- Ye tabla kahe dhik hai dhik hai
Sarangi kahe kin ko kin ko?
Manjira haath uttha ke kehta hai in ko, inko!
But back to the synthesizer. I used to stealthily watch the reactions of a few high and mighty music people, to check out what they must feel when after decades of composing the old-fashioned way, they were made to sit in for an event featuring this new instrument with its hundreds of ersatz sounds. Here’s what I observed. Kalyanji would take the light-hearted route, “Wah, wah, ye to har-fan maula hai!”. Ravi would have an unchanging, amused expression, but you knew this was like a mask at a ball. Pyarelal would be more encouraging. Prem Dhawan too, though in a very understated way. And OP Nayyar? If he could, he would leave the room, that’s how much he detested synthesizers.
To each his own. But the synthesizer has its adherents too. As they say in France, if you have cheese and wine, it’s a party. Likewise, synthesizer and player? You have a music party. Only hope the player shows up in time.
PS: Update. While we are on France, it is worth remembering that it was in Versailles, an hour’s journey out of Paris, where the world’s first commercially-affordable, mass-produced synthesizer was invented by a man named Constant Martin. This was in 1947, and he named this instrument Clavioline.
To create the ‘been’ effect in Hemant Kumar’s Nagin (1954), it was Kalyanji who had played this instrument, along with Ravi, who had played the harmonium. It was these two instruments working ensemble that had produced those notes. Ravi was particularly fond of it, using it in many of his own compositions later. Even as I visited his home to meet his daughter in late March 2016, such a synthesizer was sitting next to the maestro’s harmonium and other memorabilia.
Originally published: 21st April, 2013