An article of faith among music aficionados is that a twenty-year slice of time—roughly from the late ‘40s to the late ‘60s—was characterized by wonderful music in Hindi films. It is felt equally that just as America was sending up its first men high up to the moon, ie in 1969, Hindi music was starting a simultaneous journey downwards, to romance new lows in melody. This view makes allowances for the good music which has surfaced with surprising regularity from time to time. Because since around 1969, every time we have wondered if anything can be done to prevent a slow-motion disaster, a good song has come along, like Superman to the rescue!
These twenty years were so good that even non-film people who took their music and reputations very seriously were quite happy to be part of it. These were classical artists to whom their art came first, and commerce much later. These were people whose skills were so honed, after years of riyaaz and performances, that they came to be called Pandits or Ustads. These were musicians who often sang, played or recited their poetry on the stage to rapturous live audiences. These are artists who taught others their art, and whose work didn’t need large ensembles, if any at all, to help it along.
Of course, all this couldn’t have been possible without filmmakers who were finicky about quality; so many producers like Chetan Anand, Guru Dutt, and V. Shantaram were very keen to engage with classical musicians. Surprisingly, even people like the culturally-challenged K. Asif were not less zealous. For Mughal-e-Azam, by way of an example, Asif paid an eye-watering 25,000 Rs. to Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, for each of the singer’s two songs, to be rendered by Tansen in Akbar’s court. Do consider here that the going rate for the highest paid singer then was 500 Rs., earned by Lata Mangeshkar. And to think that Khan saab was so turned off by this crude man who smoked and flicked his ash everywhere he went, he just mentioned an insane figure to dispel the uncouth fellow! It’s a good thing the great singer was not on a ventilator after the 25,000 Rs. advance he received the following day.
Plenty of examples of the work of classical musicians can be found from our films. Let’s see some now:
- Sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan composed music in Andhiyaan (1952) in songs like Hai kaheen par shaadmaani and Wo chaand naheen. Also in Humsafar (1953), in Kisi ne nazar se nazar and Leela apram paar, etc. He also played his sarod for others like in Rasiya re man basiya re (Pardesi, 1957), and Suno chhoti si gudiya ki (Seema, 1955).
- Pandit Pannalal Ghosh played his flute in Rasiya re man basiya re (Pardesi, 1957), and Main piya teri (Basant Bahar, 1956), apart from furnishing music in films like Anjan (1941); song example: Mere jeevan ke path par chhaayi hai kaun. And Andolan (1951), which had Sudha Malhotra’s rendering of Vande Mataram.
- Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan sang Prem jogan ban jaoon and Shubh din aayo in Mughal-e-Azam (1960).
- Pt. Ram Narain played his sarangi in well over two hundred film songs. Here are just a few: Kaheen pe nigaahen (CID, 1956), Yoon hasraton ke daagh (Adalat, 1958), and Meri dastaan mujhe hi (Aao Pyaar Karen, 1964).
- Ustad Allah Rakha, under the name AR Quereshi, gave music in films like Bewafa (1952) which had Tum ko fursat ho, and Dil matwaala laakh sambhaala, and in Alif Laila (1957): Ai gardish-e-zamaana.
- Ustad Halim Jaffer Khan decorated many a song with his euphonic sitar. Instances: Jaag dard-e-ishq jaag (Anarkali, 1953) and Madhuban mein Radhika naache re (Kohinoor, 1960).
- Pandit Ramlal played his shehnai in several songs like Aadha hai chandrama (Navrang, 1959), and Jhoomti chali hawa (Sangeet Samrat Tansen, 1962). He also composed melodies in Sehra (1963): Taqdeer ka fasaana and Geet Gaaya Patharone (1964): Jaane waale o mere pyaar.
- Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma played his lovely santoor in hundreds of songs like Kisi raah mein kisi mod par (Mere Humsafar, 1970), and Main shaayar to naheen (Bobby, 1973), plus in his own compositions (the Shiv-Hari team) as in Dekha ek khwaab to ye silsile hue (Silsila, 1981), and many more.
- Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia mesmerized with his flute in songs like Suno sajna (Aaye Din Bahar Ke, 1966), and in his own tunes (as the Shiv-Hari team), for instance in Parbat se kaali ghata takraayi (Chaandni, 1989).
- Gana Saraswati Kishori Amonkar sang for Pt. Ramlal in Geet Gaaya Patharone (1964), the title song itself.
- Pandita Zarine Daruwala played her wonderful sarod in Sajan re jhootth mat bolo (Teesri Kasam, 1966), and Bole re papihara (Guddi, 1971).
- Begum Parveen Sultana offered her terrific vocals in Kaun gali gayo Shyam (Pakeezah, 1971), and Humen tumse pyaar kitna (Kudrat, 1981).
- Pt. Narendra Sharma wrote his vivid thoughts in Naina deewaane (Afsar, 1950), and Jyoti kalash chhalke (Bhabhi Ki Chudiyan, 1961).
- Suswaralakshmi MS Subbulakshmi sang loads in films made in the south, and she sang in the Hindi made Meera (1947). Her many songs included Pag ghunghru baandh Meera naachi re, and More to Girdhar Gopal doosra na koi.
- Pt. Ravi Shankar composed for five Hindi films, like Anuradha (1960): Saanware, saanware, and Kaise din beete; Godaan (1963): Hiya jarat rehet din-rain, and Peepra ka patawa sareekhe dole manwa.
- Pt. Bhimsen Joshi sang, along with Manna Dey, the sensational Ketaki Gulab Juhi Champak ban phoole in Basant Bahar (1956).
- Pt. Pheroze Dastoor duetted with Rajkumari in Neki Aur Badi (1949): Jamuna tat Natwar Girdhar Shyam bansi madhur bajaaye.
- Ustad Amir Khan sang Tori jai-jai kartaar in Baiju Bawra (1952), and Jogia mere ghar aaye in Ragini (1958).
- Ustad Bismillah Khan enriched with his shehnai songs like Tere sur aur mere geet, and Teri shehnai bole, both from Goonj Uthi Shehnai (1959).
Sometime back, I was at a high-end ghazal party, with quite a few wannabe composers sitting around enjoying their drink. At one time I heard one of them go to the bar, “Ustad zara baraf daalo na is mein”. I didn’t get it then, but I do now: he wasn’t lowering the meaning of the title, he was elevating the bartender’s status. Cheers!
(Photos: Top, Ustad Bismillah Khan; Above, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Lata Mangeshkar and Pandit Ravi Shankar; left Begum Parveen Sultana)
Originally published: September 1, 2013