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.