Indian Music in Transition: The Middle Decades

Indian Music in Transition: The Middle Decades
Note: For the first part of this series, covering the initial decades, click here


Continuing from the last article in this space that recounted the transition in male singing styles from KL Saigal’s dominance in the post first talkies’ era (1935) to Rafi dominance from around the independence (1945-47), this article shall attempt to cover the evolution of music in the film industry from the later time.

With an increase in the number of films in the post-independence period, and the economic success of musicians and music directors, there was a proliferation of professionals in music industry. The decades of the 1950s to ‘90s belong to C Ramchandra, OP Nayyar, Shankar-Jaikishan, Lakshmikant-Payarelal, Kalyanji-Anandji, Khyyam, Ghulam Muhammad and Naushad. These are some of the names of the more prominent music directors. The Filmfare awards list tells part of the story with Shankar-Jaikishan winning 9 for 20 nominations, Laxmikant-Pyarelal 7 for 25, RD Burman 3 for 17, Khayyam 2 for 6, Rajesh Roshan 2 for 10, Naushad 1 (Inaugural award) for 5, Kalyanji-Anandji 1 for 7, Bappi Lahri 1 for 5, OP Nayyar and Ravinder Jain each 1 for 3, Salil Choudhary 1 for 1 and Madan Mohan nil for 4.

During this time, the music and the lyrics, as indeed the singing style, changed from covertly romantic to overtly sensual. As a result, Indian film songs were banned on the All India Radio for being – whatever is the broader meaning of the word – ‘trendy’. This indicates that instead of the classical raag-based music, the musicians had started experimenting with alluring lyrics and beats, using Western instruments. The songs of this era are still popular and hummable. The era also saw introduction of Western themes and instruments in the hereto pure Indian context.

Western music permeated Indian culture in the 1950s, when London Symphony Orchestra and the Israel Philharmonic both visited the country. No Western orchestra ever toured the subcontinent in the 100-200 years of colonial rule. While combining Western and Indian themes was a healthy creative innovation, Indian musicians got into the unhealthy habit of stealing western (and in some cases Pakistani) tunes and using them as their own compositions without bothering about moral or copyright issues. List of twenty such stolen tunes is given here.

C Ramchandra

One of the early Western introduction into Indian songs were Castanets; Spanish percussion musical instruments consisting of two wooden pieces or shells, held one in each hand and clicked with fingers. They can be played standalone but sound better in combination with guitar or similar instruments and provide a rhythmic military-parade style beat for tap dance. A good combination of castanets with guitar can be enjoyed on this link. The sound of these two pieces is clear and distinct that can be used to provide rhythm to a feisty dance or marching beat for military parades. The 1950s and 60s saw the introduction of castanets in Indian film music. This was also one of the earliest introductions of western music in Indian context; a trend that would continue and expand in the later decades. It is also strange that the western music didn’t find rapport in the colonised India but its universal proliferation found acceptance soon after independence.

The original rhythm king, OP Nayyar (OPN) was the first music director to make heavy use of castanets in his compositions. The seductive Aaiyee meherban (Howrah Bridge, 1958), the hilarious Ae dil hai mushkil jeena yahan  in CID (1961), Lakhon Hain Nigah Mein’ (Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon, 1963) and the joyous Yeh chaand sa roshan chehra (Kashmir ki kali, 1964) made use of castanets to give a lively feel to the songs.

The Howrah Bridge song was sung by Asha Bhosle in the heydays of OPN-Asha affair and brought out the sensuous-carefree style of Asha. OPN discovered and developed the cabaret style singing in her that she continued during her second professional-romantic relationship; this time with RD Burman. The trio is, more than anyone else, responsible for Westernising Indian music. In a way, the born-again style of Asha gave Indian singing a parallel queen along with the comely, silky voice of Lata; her often estranged elder sister. RD Burman composed the delightful Matwali ankhon wale (Chote Nawab, 1961) in which Helen danced around the hero, Mahmood, with castanets in her hands. Naushad used these instruments in Dhadke mera dil (Babul, 1950), Tu kaun hai mera in Deedar (1951) and Lo pyaar ki ho gayi jeet and Jab nain mile nainon (Jadoo, 1951).

Coming back to music directors of this era, first megastar who deserves mention is C Ramachandra, affectionately known as Annasahib, the composer of such great songs as "Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon" Yeh Zindagi Usi Ki Hai (Anarkali, 1953) and Mehfil mein jal uthi shama (Nirala, 1950)[. In the composition of song Aana Meri Jaan Sunday Ke Sunday for film Shehnai (1947), he was the first to introduce saxophone, oboe (western flute) a trumpet, a clarinet and whistling, providing it a future trajectory for the coming decades. Mahendar Kapoor recorded his first film song, "Aadha Hai Chandramaa, Raat Aadhi" (Navrang, 1959), and one that this author heard a score of times while writing this piece, under him and one that still remains hugely popular. In a remarkably long and successful career, he composed music for over hundred films, and moved the center of gravity of film music a bit towards western style.

The real doyen of OP Nayyar music and career is Mr Siraj Khan; a Pakistani born US national, chartered accountant by profession but a music lover by passion, and custodian of official OPN website and OPN Foundation. He is also a fellow contributor to this magazine. He would agree that OPN initiated many trends that continued in the industry for coming decades. He invented the tanga beat with Zara Haule Haule Chalo More Saajna’ (Saawan Ki Ghata, 1966) that became his trademark and was employed in many of his compositions. He also started the trend of composing flirtatious songs such as Ankhon Mein Qayamat Ke Kajal – (Kismat 1968) and especially with woman taking the lead in ‘Aayiye Meherbaan’ (Howrah Bridge, 1958) and Ye hai reshmi zulfon ka andhera (Meray Sanam, 1965).

OP Nayyar

OPN found an innovative use for Santoor. Santoor is a string instrument that produces a feisty and lively bell-like sound. Musicians used it in soft beat but OPN saw its potential in fast track music like flowing of a mountain stream and used it in the prelude to Jaayiye Aap Kahaan Jaayenge (Mere Sanam, 1965). Another of his innovations was use of Shehnai. By the end of the fourth decade, use of this instrument had become obsolete due to its perceived sad notes. He used Shehnai in the interludes of ‘Aankhon Hi Aankhon Mein Ishara Ho Gaya’ (CID, 1956) to add a crispy sweet flavor.

The duo, Shankar-Jaikishan (S-J), were another trend setter and used western instruments lavishly. They remained attached to Raj Kapoor production, introduced jazz in Indian music and mixed western and Indian instruments in their compositions. Hyderabad born Shankar, it may be recalled, started his career as part of orchestra of Khawaja Khurshid Anwar. He teamed up with Jaikishan, a Gujrat born musician, and the team became one of the greatest music directors of India, winning more Filmfare awards than anyone except the music genius AR Rehman. They were most responsible for introducing western touch to Indian songs. For instance, Helen's superhit cabaret song 'Jane Anjane Yahan Sabhi Hain' (Jane Anjaney, 1971) is composed on a Western orchestra.

In their album titled ‘Raaga Jazz Style’, they recoded eleven tracks with Rais Khan, the Pakistani Sitar player. The raagas they employed are Mian ki Todi, Bhairavi, Malkauns, Kalavati, Tilak Kamod, Miyan ki Malhar, Bairagi, Jaijaiwanti, Mishra Pilu and Shivranjani. These tracks are a fine experimentation in combining western orchestra playing subcontinental raagas in combination with Indian Sitar.

Just about the time when S-J came on the scene, another pair of violinists appeared on the film scene as music directors and became hugely successful. They were Lakshmikant-Pyaraelal (L-P). In a career spanning 35 years from 1963 to 1998, when Laxmikant passed away, they scored music for 250 films. With 712 songs, Lata sang one of her every ten songs under their music. she is followed by Asha (494), Kishore (402) and Rafi (388). In fact, it was under L-P that all four sang their most songs for any one music director. The last song Rafi recorded was also for L-P. On 31 July 1980, he finished recording the song ‘Tere Aane Ki Aas Hai Dost’ for film Aas Pass (1980) at 10:00 PM and died at 10:30 PM. The L-P pair won their first Filmfare award for Dosti (1965) for songs such memorable hits as "Chahoonga Main Tujhe Shaam Savere" and "Raahi Manwa Dukh Ki Chinta.” Unlike S-J, who primarily stayed with Raj Kapoor films, L-P worked with Raj Kapoor (Bobby, 1973), Yash Choppra, Mahesh Bhatt, Manmohan Desai, Boney Kapoor, Subhash Gai, Manoj Kumar, and ,indeed, every leading producer of the era.

In the tightly contested memorable 1964 Filmfare Award for Best Music Director both Madan Mohan (Woh Kaun Thi) and Shankar Jaikishan (Sangam) lost to relative newcomer Laxmikant Pyarelal (Dosti).

Although there are many honorable names that have been left out without description, this article would be incomplete without recounting the achievement of another duo, consisting of brothers Kalyanji-Anandji (K-A). When these brothers came to the Bombay in 1956, big names like SD BurmanHemant KumarMadan Mohan, Naushad, Shankar-Jaikishan and OP Nayyar were ruling the film world. However, they soon found a niche for themselves due to their immense talent and genius. Kalyanji’s first song as composer was "Chahe Paas Ho, Chahe Door Ho" for Samrat Chandargupta (1959) and it continues to be a favourite of youngsters three generations down. The first film to carry the duo’s name was Satta Bazaar (1959) which had such still popular songs as “Tumhe Yaad Hoga Kabhi Hum Milay They” sung by Lata and Hemant. They gave music for such unforgettable films as Some of their best-known works are DonBairaagQurbaniMuqaddar Ka SikandarLaawaris (film)Tridev and Safar. The only Filmfare award they won was for Kora Kagaz (1974).

K-A are credited with mixing western and Indian music for Bollywood films. Writing for The Guardian, Robin Denselow noted that Kalyanji and Anandji Virji Shah shook up Hindi cinema with their wild mix of jazz, funk and wailing guitars in the 70s. He wrote that there's a bit of everything in their film scores, from widescreen brassy ballads, to Shadows-style guitars, Indian-edged bluesy jazz swing and quirky camp pop. In 2005, The Black Eyed Peas's "Don't Phunk with My Heart" used music pieces from two of their songs "Ae Naujawan" (Apradh, 1972) and "Yeh Mera Dil" (Don, 1978) and it won them a Grammy Award.

It is commonly believed in the current Pakistani generation that it was the Hindus who learnt and practiced music more than the Muslims. This is a fallacious judgment. KL Saigal recorded many of his songs under the music of Lal Muhammad, Naushad and Khurshid Anwar. GA Chishti, Master Ghulam Haider and Rafiq Ghaznavi, Sajjad Hussain, Firoz Nizami, S Qureshi and Hafiz Khan Mastana were other notable names in this category. Many of these music directors migrated to Lahore where Masters Abdullah and Inayat Hussain were already active. The decades of 1950s to 70s was the golden period of Pakistan film music that saw some memorable melodies created, However, like every other healthy activity save cricket, cinema too fell victim to religious and cultural biases and Pakistan also stopped producing great music directors and lyricists. In case of our nation, most quest about culture, social harmony and education end with wistful epitaph of ‘what could have been’! while a democratic and secular India, on the other hand, found tremendous cultural support for film industry, musicians, singers and lyricists.

Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at: