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A Journey Through Film Music



Read an exclusive article on the history of Indian music by Sanjeev Kohli, who has been involved with the music Industry for a number of years and the son of Madan Mohan

Indian classical and folk music will always be the pivotal foundation of all our musical endeavours. In fact classical music has been the only ‘crossover’ music from India that has been embraced by people of all countries across the globe. Our stalwart artistes with their sell out concerts and recordings, have brought recognition for Indian music globally, over the last various decades.

It is very  heartening that  our musical  efforts in  films are  eventually being recognized as well  by  the rest  of  the  world. The unprecedented success of  Slumdog Millionaire and the  Oscars for A.R. Rahman and Gulzar have now paved the  way for  a newfound cognisance of Indian talent in pop  music, which , over the years ,is  largely represented by  film  soundtracks. Indeed it is a great moment and a promising future of opportunities for our new generation of the creators of ‘ bollywood’  music , as it is  popularly  called.

It is an opportune time to relive the history of our film music and commemorate the great legends who laid this foundation and have been an integral part of Indian lives for over seven  decades.

It all started in 1931, with Alam Ara, the first talkie film of India, began the journey of songs in films. Wazir Mohd Khan sang the first ever film song ‘ dede khuda  ke naam pe’   for composer Firozeshah Mistry. Thereafter   songs were used to express various feelings and moods and thus used in all situations. These were sung by the stars themselves, even if they were not necessarily proficient singers. Films even had fifteen and twenty songs   as part of the soundtrack

The thirties gave  us  well  known  singing  stars with  KL Saigal,  K.C. Dey , Khurshid, Kanan Devi, Sitara, Surendra Ashok Kumar  and  later  Noorjehan and  Suraiya leading  the brigade,  with composers like Pankaj  Mallik  also  joining  them

In  1936,  the  technique of  playback  singing  was introduced  in  Achhut  Kanya  , with composer  Saraswati  Devi  singing a  song herself. This  was a  major development  as now composers were not confined  to using  the  stars,  they could use trained  singers and  thus  compose melodies   without  constraints.

Through the late thirties and early forties, composers like  R.C.  Boral,  TimirBaran ,   Anil Biswas , Ghulam  Hyder and  Naushad  now had   singing talents  like  Rajkumari,  Amirbai Karnataki , Khan Mastana, G. M. Durrani and  later Parul  Ghosh ,Zohrabai  Ambalewali, Arun  Kumar  and  Shamshad Begum  to sing their  songs.  Film music was making waves.

In the mid forties, as India prepared for its freedom struggle, a revolution was also taking place in film  music. With Anil  Biswas  and  Naushad   already names to  reckon  with, they  also had Khemchand  Prakash  ,  Shyam Sundar , and S.D.Burman  as  contemporaries. These composers were now developing a new generation of singers, to widen their composing horizons. Hemant Kumar, Manna  Dey  , Talat Mahmood, Geeta Roy  , Mohd. Rafi and Mukesh had begun to make their presence felt. With the  arrival  of  Lata Mangeshkar and  particularly her hits in Mahal, Andaz, Barsaat , Albela,  Badi  Bahen  and other films  , all  in 1948,  playback  singers  became the stars of  film  music. With Asha  Bhosle  and  Kishore Kumar joining soon thereafter,  these  9  singers  became  the navratnas  of film  music. C. Ramchandra , Shankar Jaikishan ,  Roshan and Vasant Desai were   now creating magical melodies in independent India. In the early  fifties  they were  joined by Madan  Mohan , O.P. Nayyar ,  Khayyam and Jaidev ,  and India  could now  boast of  the greatest  composing and singing  talent in the  world!

The fifties and the sixties and even the early seventies were ruled by these legends. This is referred to as the golden era of film music, where every form of music was produced.  bhajans ,  qawallis  ,  ghazals, classical  songs  , romantic  duets  , light ditties  , patriotic songs  ,  pathos laden songs. These legends achieved heights hitherto unknown and their creations became a part of every Indian’s life. Mahendra Kapoor and Suman Kalyanpur, too became popular in this period.

The navratnas and  the composing  legends were unshakable,  only the unfortunate early demise  of  some  of  them halted their sway.

As society became  more modern  ,  communications  increased ,   exposure  to  the  west  became  easier , and  technology  developed , so did the  youth’s need for  some  changes  in sound  and styles. Western music influences   in the mid  seventies were being  felt.  by now R.D. Burman , Laxmikant Pyarelal  and Kalyanji Anandji were the busiest  composers ,  though they largely used  the  voices of the  singing  greats.

some  new  talents did emerge in the 70s  and 80s,  like Bhupinder,  Suresh Wadkar , Nitin Mukesh, Hariharan , S.P. Balasubramaniam, Yesudas , Alka  Yagnik  , AnuradhaPaudwal  Kavita Krishnamurthy, Sadhana Sargam , Udit Narayan ,  Kumar Sanu  as  well as some  pop artistes like Nazia Hassan , Usha  Uthup  and  Alisha  Chinai. New  composers  like  Bappi  Lahiri ,  Rajesh  Roshan also  brought  in  their own styles which then  led to the later generation of  new composers like Nadeem  Shravan ,   Anand Milind  and   Jatin  Lalit.

There are many who  opine that in  the 80s  and 90s film  music lost some of  its magic,  there was too much  Western influence ,  there was plagiarisation , and songs lost their enduring charm. Maybe this could be attributed to the fact that the films being made in those days had deteriorated. the great directors  Raj  Kapoor ,  Bimal  Roy ,  Guru  Dutt, K.Asif , Mehboob  Khan ,  V.  Shantaram  were  no  more , and the  new  age  films were action  based  , most  often  dacoit  and gangster films.  Where was the scope for music in  most of  them?

This  actually  gave birth to  the  non  film   music  sector,  particularly  ghazals, lovers of good  music  were now  seeking  their  need for melody  elsewhere  as  film music  was losing  its  melodic content. Thus  the Ghazal wave   gave us artistes like Jagjit Chitra Singh , Talat  Aziz ,  Anup Jalota , Pankaj  Udhas ,  and  various others  who  made their own  niche. In this period artistes from Pakistan as Mehdi Hassan   and Ghulam Ali   found many fans.

As we entered  the twenty first century  , it was with a new  hope, that melody would return  to our  film  music.  Of course there  were some great  scores in  some  films  made  by well known  and  discerning directors  like  ,  Mahesh Bhatt ,  Mani  Ratnam,  Sooraj Barjatya, Aditya Chopra, Sanjay Leela  Bhansali , Karan Johar  and  of  course the veteran  Yash Chopra. He in fact introduced classical artistes Shiv Hari as composers in films in his quest for melodic content.

Today we have the composing talents of A.R. Rahman, Shankar Ehsaan Loy and younger composers to bank on for creating great music. We have hope in the singing talents of Sonu Nigam, Sunidhi Chauhan, Shreya Ghoshal, RoopkumarRathod, Sukhwinder Singh and others to maintain the  standard  set by the legends.

Indian film music, with this new window of opportunities must achieve great heights, and  in doing  so , we must never forget the achievements of our film music legends. Each of them oscarworthy for their creations, each of them having made our journey through film music so memorable.


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