A few years ago, to contribute to the biography of santoor maestro Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, I needed to revisit Jhanak Jhanak Paayal Baaje, the 1955 film in which his santoor had made its film debut. There was no song featuring that instrument in the movie because its songs had already been readied and filmed. All that remained was the background music. Filmmaker V Shantaram and composer Vasant Desai, recently introduced to the sounds of this amazing-sounding hammered zither from the Kashmir valley, had asked the young musician to hurriedly compose music for a few minutes’ scene featuring Gopi Krishan and Sandhya rowing their boats in a lake.
That scene was nice, but what the film offered me equally was an astounding subtext. Featuring the lead players again, there was a song in it, Nain so nain naahi milao, sung by Hemant and Lata, which had interesting and fulsome use of alaaps in the chorus. I found it interesting because Vasant Desai had used only females for the backing vocals here. But something got me transfixed: where were the ladies to lip-sync those alaaps on the screen? The song was filmed on just the two lead actors. I wondered if I was experiencing auditory hallucinations, or then seeing things amiss. But of course there were female voices and no such females to be seen.
A few months later, I met with Kiran Shantaram at an event and in a personal aside, brought up his great father, wondering specifically if he could offer me a torch on the unusual mismatch of that song, even if executed so masterfully. “Beautiful song”, he said, “I was a young boy but remember Gopi Krishan coming to the studios well before time”. End of conversation.
Next time I run into Mr Shantaram, I’ll try to bring it up again, because his father and Vasant Desai teamed up again and repeated the idea in Piya te kahaan (Toofan Aur Diya, 1956). Here too, the filmmaker pulled it off well, with Nanda singing solo, the recording room elements of the female chorus divorced from the filming.
Such a filming is not restricted to Vasant Desai only; many composers have taken this route in our films. Nor is it just about female-only choruses; mixed choruses have also been around with a mysterious disconnect on the screen. Over the next few months after that initial discovery, my curiosity led me to many such songs where there was a chorus in the studio, with the corresponding actors conspicuously absent in the film. Since such a corpus was sizeable, these songs begged me to rethink if there was any mistake here. Perhaps in many cases this was part of a smart plan that operates at a subtle level? Of course that’s what it was.
For, on some reflection, the idea did seem to elevate many a song that I discovered, conveying a message way beyond the clearly obvious. For instance, when a character was suicidal or depressed to the point of choking—and such characters are usually alone—the unseen voices were as if angels coming to the character’s rescue. Perhaps as a situational imperative, the character had to be shown alone in his predicament, but maybe there was a divine dispensation guiding him out of his predicament. That could be the chorus. This was the case for instance in Raat bhar ka hai mehmaan andhera (OP Nayyar/Rafi/Sone Ki Chidiya, 1958) which is backed by a female chorus, and Gagan jhan jhana raha (C Ramchandra/Hemant, Lata/Nastik, 1954) which is accompanied by a mixed one. In the former situation it is Nutan who has stepped out to commit suicide, while in the latter song, Nalini Jaywant is in a boat during stormy weather. Other situations that have received such a boost in the recording studio include separation, a salute to the elements, romance, and scenes where philosophy or spirituality needs to be advanced.
These songs featured a female chorus for which we couldn’t find corresponding actors on film:
- Nain so nain naahi milao (Vasant Desai/Hemant, Lata/Jhanak Jhanak Paayal Baaje, 1955)
- Piya te kahaan (Vasant Desai/Lata/Toofan Aur Diya, 1956)
- Suhaana safar aur ye mausam haseen (Salil Chowdhury/Mukesh/Madhumati, 1958)
- O barso re haaye bairi badarwa (OP Nayyar/Asha/Phagun, 1958)
- Raat bhar ka hai mehmaan andhera (OP Nayyar/Rafi/Sone Ki Chidiya, 1958)
- Jhukti ghata gaati hawa sapne jagaaye (N Datta/Asha/Mahendra/Dhool Ka Phool, 1959)
- Do sitaaron ka zameen par hai milan aaj ki raat (Naushad/Rafi, Lata/Kohinoor, 1960)
- Mere man ke diye (Salil Chowdhury/Lata/Parakh, 1960)
- Jaane waale sipaahi se poochho wo kahaan ja raha hai (Salil Chowdhury/Manna Dey, Sabita Banerji/Usne Kaha Tha, 1960)
- Ja re ja re ud ja re panchhi (Salil Chowdhury/Lata/Maya, 1961)
- Ich libe deech, I love you (Shankar-Jaikishan/Vivian Lobo/Sangam, 1964)
- O Mehbooba (Shankar-Jaikishan/Mukesh/Sangam, 1964)
- Ye mera prempatra padh kar (ost) (Shankar-Jaikishan/Rafi, Lata/Sangam, 1964)
- Dil tadpe tadpaaye (Salil Chowdhury/Rafi/Poonam Ki raat, 1965)
- Awaara aye mere dil (Shankar-Jaikishan/Lata/Raat Aur Din, 1967)
- Tum agar saath dene ka waada karo (Ravi/Mahendra/Humraaz, 1967)
- Woh shaam kuchh ajeeb thi (Hemant Kumar/Kishore Kumar/Khamoshi, 1969)
- Chal akela chal akela chal akela (OP Nayyar/Mukesh/Sambandh, 1969)
- Zindagi kaisi hai paheli haaye (Salil Chowdhury/Manna Dey/Anand, 1970)
- Raaton ke saaye (Salil Chowdhury/Lata/Annadaata, 1972)
- Beqaraar dil tu gaaye ja (Kishore Kumar/Sulakshana Pandit, Kishore Kumar/Door Ka Raahi, 1972)
- Ik pyaar ka naghma hai Laxmikant-Pyarelal/Mukesh, Lata/Shor, 1972)
- Main na bhooloonga (Laxmikant-Pyarelal/Mukesh, Lata/Roti Kapda Aur Makaan, 1974)
- Sansaar hai ik nadiya (Sonik-Omi/Mukesh, Asha/Raftaar, 1975)
- Dekha ek khwaab to ye silsile hue (Shiv-Hari/Kishore, Lata/Silsila, 1981)
And these contain mixed vocal backing:
- Gagan jhanjhana raha (C Ramchandra/Hemant, Lata/Nastik, 1954)
- Kahaan le chale ho bata do musafir (Hemant Kumar/Lata/Durgesh Nandini, 1956)
- Jaago Mohan pyaare (Salil Chowdhury/Lata/Jagte Raho, 1956)
- Aa ab laut chalen (Shankar-Jaikishan/Mukesh, Lata/Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, 1960)
- Aye dil kahaan teri manzil (Salil Chowdhury/Dwijen Mukerji/Maya, 1961)
- Tum to pyaar ho (Ramlal/Rafi, Lata/Sehra, 1963)
There have also been hundreds of background songs in cinema—songs no one on the screen moved their lips to—for offering the film’s narrative or to express an actor’s pain for example. Even in this background songs universe, there have been songs with a central voice backed by a chorus. Perhaps the chorus does aesthetically elevate many a song, since the results are often wonderful:
- Nirbal se ladaayi balwaan ki (Vasant Desai/Manna Dey/Toofan Aur Diya, 1956)
- Chal ri sajni ab kya soche (SD Burman/Mukesh/Bambai Ka Babu, 1960)
- Na tel aur na baati na qaabu hawa par (SD Burman/Manna Dey/Ek Ke Baad Ek, 1960)
- O jaane waale ho sake to laut ke aana (SD Burman/Mukesh/Bandini, 1963)
- Kar chale hum fida jaan-o-tan saathiyo (Madan Mohan/Rafi/Haqeeqat, 1964)
Ye Akashwani hai
Those of us who were raised when radio was queen remember many broadcasts like Jaimala, the show dedicated to the Armed Forces. There also were live cricket commentaries and news bulletins. There were many radio stars too, like Pearson Surita, Vijay Merchant, and AFS Talyarkhan. If you are from that era, you may remember the voice of Devkinandan Pande reading the news in Hindi, especially during the wars with China and Pakistan. “Ye akashwani hai. Ab aap Devkinandan Pande se samachaar suniye”, he went, and we listened with much awe.
Akashwani, from Sanskrit meaning voice from the sky, is the generally more accepted name of All India Radio. It is such an apt word, for someone we cannot see, but whose voice we hear, from the ether. Such choruses as we have looked at today are also like akashwani, since we can hear the voices, but cannot see who the people are.
Originally published in DNA Jaipur on 05 November 2017. page 13 http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2017-11-05
Featured image from: Wo shaam kuchh ajeeb thi