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Music : December 03, 2000

Each trend is relevant

Piali Banerjee in conversation with Ameen Sayani

The author is a Mumbai based freelance writer.

Here's an honest confession. You do not expect someone whose tryst with music began 65 years ago on a home-made crystal radio set and whose taste was honed on K. L. Sehgal and Pankaj Mallick, to tap his feet sportingly to current Indipop. You expect censure (at modernity) and nostalgia (for the good old days).

The nostalgia is there, of course. His eyes mist over with it when he rates the pre-Independence years as the "golden era" of Hindi film music. But not once during the one-hour conversation does Ameen Sayani sit in judgment on any music or any lyrics of any era. "Each generation has a way of expressing itself, of showing its enthusiasm and burning its energy," he reasons. "And each trend is relevant and justified in society."

Rather than old or modern, folksy or westernised, Sayani would prefer to classify the musical ages into pre-playback and post-playback, having had the experience of wading through loads of music of both genres, when he first started the now legendary Binaca Geet Mala for Radio Ceylon in 1952. "There's a lot of difference between the pre and post-playback eras," he says. "Pre-playback music was often raucous for not all the actors and actresses could sing. And if one follows the career graph of Anil Biswas (whom I would call the Bhishma Pitamaha of Indian music) it is easy to see the difference between the two eras. His best years of creativity came through when he got singers like Lata Mangeshkar and Talat Mahmood to playback for him. That was the time, in the mid-forties, when music really became music."

In this era, he lists the five "seniormost creators of most fascinating music" as Anil Biswas, C. Ramachandran, Roshan, Madan Mohan and S. D. Burman. Followed by the "soulful" Khayaam and Jaidev and the "more lively" Shankar-Jaikishen, O. P. Nayyar and Salil Choudhury. After whom, music took on the colours of "pop" with R. D. Burman, Kalyanji-Anandji, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, etc.

"From the mid-forties to the mid-seventies, there was a coming together of the greats," he remarks. "Not just in music direction but also in lyric writing - with Sahir Ludhianvi, Hasrat Jaipuri, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shailendra, et al. They all worked together to create a great cultural upsurge. And the only reason I can find for this is that it was the era in which all Indians were fired by the idea of moving into freedom. The national struggle and the gaining of Independence led to a spurt of creativity. Simply because everyone was proud to be an Indian and did their work with passion and depth. The team spirit emerged strong at that time, with very little time for individual jealousies. And it showed in our music."

As far as the influence of western music on Indian tunes goes, Sayani shrugs and says that it is an age-old trend which has only been stepped up now. A trend which can be traced back to Pankaj Mallick's famous "Piya milan ko jaana". Where the words talk about a girl gently tiptoeing across to meet her beloved, but the tune is a typically westernised marching tune, complete with drumbeats!

"Naushad too used westernised orchestra in his days, and used it to his advantage," he adds. "But later, there were music directors who used huge orchestras, with 40 violins in them, without understanding western music at all! The result was often hotchpotch tunes and a lot of noise... But this phase was short-lived. For with the arrival of Salil Choudhury and later R. D. Burman, things fell into place. Salil had good knowledge of the western symphony and R.D. mixed and matched Indian and western music excellently."

The first real "pop" song in Hindi films came with Nazia Hassan's "Aap jaisa koi" in "Qurbani". A song which took youngsters and the music industry by storm. "Elders like us, of course, found it a little odd initially. But later, I realised that the more I heard the song, the more I liked it too!" laughs Sayani.

Today non-film pop music is a rage and film music is facing popular competition for the first time - the result of the popularity of television and the growing importance of the visual aspect of music. The early birds in this trend being Usha Uthup and Sharon Prabhakar, who unfortunately didn't reap as much as they sowed because of being ahead of their time.

And now to the burning question of the day - how does plagiarism of tunes today compare to earlier years?In reply, he narrates the famous joke about an assistant rushing up to the late Kalyanji and asking him to sue a composer who had taken one of his tunes. Kalyanji's reply was classic. He said that he couldn't possibly sue the composer since he himself had taken the tune from someone else.

"Finally, there are seven notes and so many combinations of these notes," continues Sayani. "So all music directors take 'inspiration', from those before them, or elsewhere. I once did a show called Inspirations, which was a tongue-in-cheek programme about who had ficked what music from where! While doing that show I had discovered that everyone, from Madan Mohan to S. D. Burman to Shankar-Jaikishen to all the other greats, has merrily taken tunes from western compositions at some point or the other. Including Naushad... So I don't see any harm in being inspired by someone else, but the beauty lies in taking another tune and adapting it perfectly to suit the Indian taste."

If there was a decade in the Eighties when quality of music went down and lyrics turned mundane, Sayani blames it on the times. "That was the time when society was disillusioned and angry and films turned violent and sexy. So music had to suffer too," he says. "Songs then had to be more powerful than melodious. But now love and romance and melody are back. And that's a good sign."

There is a post-script to the happy ending, of course. Ameen Sayani sincerely wishes that the trend of "remix" will disappear soon - it being the one and only modern trend that happens to invite his censure.

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