Observing the meaningless drift in a few young people around him, the famous playwright George Bernard Shaw once exclaimed, “It’s a pity youth is wasted on the young”. December 16 happens to be the birthday of the German musical genius Ludwig Van Beethoven; this essay is not about his phenomenal work, which is not just beyond the pale of this column, but also the capabilities of this writer. But what is vitally important is for us to consider that Beethoven was deaf; he created his extraordinary opus without hearing a single note. Amazing, isn’t it? In the light of this above fact, if Shaw were alive and if he paused to reflect on the current music scene, he may have remarked, “It’s a pity music is being made by people with normal hearing”!
What else can you honestly say when you hear so much new music that you summarily reject? There are songs that cannot stand the test of time, and are enjoyed mostly by the bottom half of your body (for the legs to dance) rather than by the upper half (heart and brain). They leave you so untouched.
But multiple-use songs—yesteryears’ and current—they are something else. To illustrate, let’s fly back in time for a few minutes now to take a look at some devotional film songs, a genre which is on life-support. Devotional music often gets to the core of your system, especially when you are by yourself, lending for many of us at least a torch to light our way as we confront life’s vicissitudes. Let’s glance at just a clutch of these, then park one in our minds for a few hours, and hum it, sing it, or perhaps recall its picturization. We may want to consider the pearl-like words, and how they were strewn together to make a melodious tune that offers so much goodness.
- Bhagat ke bas mein hai Bhagwaan, maango milega sab ko daan (Manna Dey/Naushad/Shakeel/Shabab, 1954). Naushad tuned so many devotionals in films, with this Asavari tune going to the great Manna Dey.
- Aana hai to aa raah mein kuchh pher naheen hai (Rafi/OP Nayyar/Sahir/Naya Daur, 1957). An exceptionally exalted singing performance, with the violins and sarangi helping put this musical shuttle into high orbit.
- Banwaari re, jeene ka sahaara tera naam re (Lata/Shankar-Jaikishan/Hasrat/Ek Phool Chaar Kaante, 1960). Can you remember the Lata vocals supported so gracefully by the sitars and flute in this extraordinary raag Pilu effort? Here’s a stanza in this Krishna bhajan: Jhooti duniya, jhoote bandhan, jhooti hai ye maaya; Jhoota saans ka aana-jaana, jhooti hai ye kaaya, Ho yahaan saancha tero naam re!
- Aaja re aaja re aaja nain dwaare (Asha, Subir Sen/Shankar-Jaikishan/Shailendra/Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja, 1961). These were three chorus-backed songs: a solo each by Asha Bhosle and Subir Sen, and a duet which they recorded together. Each offering excellence.
- Hum ko man ki shakti dena…with its words exhorting us to respect ourselves…doosron ki jai se pehle, khud ko jai karen! (Vani Jairam, chorus/Vasant Desai/Gulzar/Guddi, 1971). In the interludes, we hear some wonderful sarod-playing by Zarine Daruwala in this lilting Kedar-based tune.
But if you think of raag Kedar and devotional, then it’s unlikely you will forget a Lata-Naushad-Shakeel work of excellence, done earlier. The song is a naat (addressed to Prophet Mohammed), and you wonder if this Mughal-e-Azam (1960) effort can be beaten:
- Bekas pe karam keejiye sarkaar-e-Madina, gardish mein hai taqdeer, bhanwar mein hai safeena! (Asking God’s messenger to shower kindness, because her life’s boat is in troubled waters).
These devotional songs may seem mushy sometimes, but they never were an embarrassment to watch in any company. Moreover, in a subtle way, since the actor who offers a devotional song is supposed to be a good human being, it sends positive vibrations to the audience, and so the feel-good factor is addressed. The value of that can hardly be overemphasized. And it doesn’t matter if that song is a Sikh gurbani, a Muslim naat, a Hindu praarthna, or a Christian prayer. The positive vibrations come through clean and strong. If you enjoy Piya Haji Ali, from Fiza (2000), you may be among the many who more often than not prefer to enjoy melodies in the upper half of their bodies! Same thing with the slow version of Tujh mein rab dikhta hai (Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, 2008), filmed so sensitively against the backdrop of Amritsar’s Golden Temple.
Originally published: 16th December, 2012