Master arranger and conductor Ajay Madan, whose love for old Hindi film songs keeps him young at heart…

Ajay Madan has every reason to be happy and contented. A two-bedroom flat in Bandra, a car, son studying in college and a proud wife. He is a busy man and his diary is packed with engagements, 15 or more a month. Madan loves his job… well, he is Mumbai’s most-sought after music arranger/conductor for groups that specialise in melodies from old Hindi films.

“Today’s film music is mostly noise,” says the Mumbai born-and-bred Madan. “But this is what makes people go back to songs from the past and I am happy to play a role in this movement.”

The 25-odd well organised groups in Mumbai constantly clamour for his attention and expertise. Today, Madan has become a bit selective but often finds it difficult to refuse offers because the organisers are invariably his friends.

His mentors

He is particularly indebted to Manohar Iyer, the founder of the pioneering group ‘Keep Alive,’ for introducing him to the magic of old Hindi film songs. “Manohar Iyer’s knowledge is amazing. He knows so much about lesser-known composers such as Shyam Sunder, Ghulam Haider or Husanlal Bhagatram. He also taught me to make notations of film songs, and today, my group has notations of more than 2,000 songs and can play them anytime.”

Like many others, Madan too struggled a lot before his climb to the top. “I belong to a lower middle class family from the crime-infested Antop Hill area,” he says. No one in his family was interested in music. There was no radio at home but Madan often sneaked out to listen to Radio Ceylon’s Hindi film programmes. When a school friend left his bulbul tarang (a stringed instrument) at his home, Madan played with it. Soon, he became proficient enough to play at school concerts. Young Madan taught himself ‘sur’, rhythm and learnt to play the guitar with the help of music books. He was a member of the Antop Hill Orchestra which mostly played Hindi film songs and Marathi tunes. His group was in great demand during Vinayaka Chaturthi and was also invited by sugar factories from all over the State to play at special occasions.

His father insisted on some sort of an education, and so Madan obtained a technical Diploma and worked with Greaves Cotton and later with Larsen & Toubro. “But my mind was not there. I often took leave because of late night concerts.”

When Madan bought a ‘real’ guitar for Rs. 350, a long-standing ambition of his was fulfilled. He got himself jobs in small factories which left him free to play at concerts. He was part of a disorganised, but wildly enthusiastic group which lived and breathed music. That was when Mumbai’s cultural scene was all about providing entertainment --- from halls, clubs, shops and even streets -- through film songs with dance, magic and mimicry. “Life was hard. But I loved it because it was something I had always wanted to do,” says Madan.

By 1980, Madan was part of a full-time orchestra, working with music director Ram Laxman for Hindi and Marathi films. The ‘sitting member’ of the group, he was involved with song selection and performance till the end of a song. Then, he joined hands with singer Nitin Mukesh and often accompanied him on tours abroad, including to Dubai, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

He had a long association with Kalyanji-Anandji which began 1986. For nearly six years, Madan played in their orchestra that accompanied Amitabh Bachchan on his tours abroad.

Madan changed tack gradually in the 1990s. Always addicted to film songs popular at that time, he did not pay much attention to melodies from the earlier eras. Composer John Davis and Manohar Iyer opened his eyes to this unforgettable world. Manohar Iyer approached him for a 10-to-12 piece orchestra. “I liked the ‘Keep Alive’ concept. Initially, the orchestration fumbled a bit but once Manohar and I added the keyboard, guitar, flute and the mandolin (another keyboard later), the melodies began to flow.”

Madan enjoyed the freedom given to him by Manohar. “We were together for most concerts,” he explains “We even think alike.” At the same time, Madan did not ignore other groups and helped many of the younger and newer ones in song selection and orchestration.

Madan’s group consists of about 15 musicians; they play in Mumbai and all over India. “My group is close knit. They are like my family, I take care of them.” Thanks to the rising popularity of film-based concerts, the musicians are paid well these days and have a decent life.

As in the case of Madan, most of his group’s members now enjoy some kind of financial security but still have to work hard. Of course, the concept of film music has changed now. A live orchestra has disappeared… it is all technology driven. But men such as Manohar and Ajay Madan, who care deeply for melody in film music, are doing their bit to keep the tradition alive.

Their notations are treasures that enable them to recreate the magic of the unforgettable era of Hindi film music.

Ajay Madan’s repertoire

‘Hamse Badkar Kaun’

‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’

‘Bezubaan’

‘Jadugar’

‘Tridev’

‘Vishwatma’

The ‘Khiladi’ series.

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On a musical mission July 19, 2012