Bollywood music has touched a glorious 75 years. Despite changing trends, the melodies will remain evergreen
As the nation celebrated the platinum jubilee (75 years) of Hindi cinema (talkie), which began with the release of Ardeshir Irani's Alam Ara in Bombay's Majestic cinema on March 14, 1931, it can be safely argued that music has always been the major attraction in our films. Lyricists were drawn from all religions, composers came from different regions but the charm and popularity of Hindi film music cut across barriers. There are films that one hasn't even heard off, but their music remains immortal. Playback singers rivalled stars in popularity and no one grudged Lata Mangheshkar being honoured with the Bharat Ratna.
The music of Alam Ara, the first-ever film could not be preserved. The recording technique of that era was primitive and made music sound harsh. Yet great singers like K.L. Saigal, Pankaj Mullick and Surendra emerged and their unforgettable numbers are still hummed. The end of World War II saw the emergence of new producers flush with funds from war-time businesses, ready to invest in films. The focus of film music in Mumbai shifted from Bengali composers to the likes of Ghulam Haider, Shyam Sunder and Khemchand Prakash who relied heavily on Punjabi folk tunes.The arrival of Naushad from Lucknow in the late 1930s gave an impetus to folk music from Uttar Pradesh. Naushad's music score in films like Anmol Ghadi gave a boost to singing star Noor Jehan, who along with some other stalwarts, migrated to Pakistan.The loss was only temporary because of the emergence of Lata, who never looked back after the commercial and musical success of films like Barsaat, Andaz and Mahal. Freedom ushered in new lifestyles which were reflected in film music. Urban chaos, artificial glitter and crime were the trends. O.P. Nayyar and S.D. Burman came up with jazzy, westernised, nightclub songs. With this the distinct Geeta Dutt dropped her "bhakti singer" image and displayed her versatility. The pain and despair of the masses of those days were reflected in the songs from Pyaasa. Naushad in Baiju Bawra, Ramchandra in Parchayin, Shankar-Jaikishan in Basant Bahar and Anil Biswas in Hamdard gave us unforgettable songs based on classical ragas. Movie music could be so haunting that flute maestro Pannalal Ghosh and shehnai genius Ustad Bismillah Khan, were ready to play for films. The 1950s was certainly the golden era of Hindi film music. O.P. Nayyar set our pulses racing with his music score in Kashmir Ki Kali but music directors like Ravi (Waqt, Chaudivi Ka Chand) and the new entrants Laxmikant-Pyarelal (Dosti) saw to it that melody was not forgotten. The Hemant Kumar-Madan Mohan-Lata combination was irresistible.Asha Bhosle emerged as a strong rival to her illustrious sister Lata Mangeshkar with some sizzling numbers in films like Teesri Manzil. With this R. D. Burman proved to the country that he was in no way inferior to his father S.D. Burman, the man who scored unforgettable scores for Guide and Aradhana. R.D. ushered in the Kishore Kumar era, who was the hero of the 70s. With Naushad and other senior music directors slowly fading away, Laxmikant-Pyarelal asserted themselves with music scores. Remember the masterpiece Bobby? New music directors like Rajesh Roshan set a new trend with the first English song in a Hindi film, "My heart is beating" from Julie.
In the violence-prone cinema of the 80s, the light-hearted moments were provided with numbers like "My name is Antony Gonsalves" from the film Amar Akbar Antony. The western influence was short lived, but made an impact with films like Disco Dancer and Qurbani where teenager Nazia Hasan sang the popular number "Aap jaisa koi." Old or new, melody could not be suppressed as proved by music director Khayyam, who made a spectacular comeback in Kabhi Kabhi.Another decade had arrived. There were new singers and new music directors. Now they came in pairs, Anand-Milind, Nadeem-Shravan, and Jatin-Lalit. "The new era may be a bit noisy," explains Manohar Iyer, whose organisation Keep Alive is a great supporter of old Hindi film songs, "but listen to the music in films like Jo Jeeta Woh Sikandar, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak or Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. Melody is resurrected from the past and kept alive." Manohar Iyer is correct. Anyone who had heard the lilting tunes of Parineeta would surely agree. History repeats itself, doesn't it? Melody too.