Unplugged Music

The unsung and anonymous music arrangers

Kersi Lord, Dattaram Wadkar, Shankar (of Shankar-Jaikishen duo), and Cawas Lord.

Kersi Lord, Dattaram Wadkar, Shankar (of Shankar-Jaikishen duo), and Cawas Lord. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

Many of us grew up watching Hindi films, glued to transistor radios to listen to our favourites on various geetmalas. We were die-hard fans of this voice, that composer, this lyricist, at different phases of our lives. Yet many of us were quite oblivious to a set of men responsible for catapulting the basic tune into that highly dimensional piece of music, song after song: the arrangers of Hindi film music.

Maybe we did notice their names — not in large typeface in the main standalone opening credits, but just in the fast-rolling credits amongst other names. But they certainly never became household names via the radio or record jacket information, and were definitely not counted amongst the trinity of music director-singer-lyricist, in association with any great song.

No wonder then, that a Rajya Sabha TV Documentary on the music arrangers of the Golden Era of Hindi film music, is fittingly titled:  Gumnaam hai koi.

My first awakening to their existence was when I veered into a screening of a 58-minute film on the badshah of them all, Anthony Gonsalves, by Ashok Rane. This 58-minute documentary became the impetus for some of us to go down the proverbial rabbit hole, in search of more. We found the RSTV documentary; there is the seminal and comprehensive work  Behind the Curtain: Making Music in Mumbai’s Film Studios by Gregory D. Booth; there are online interviews and some archival material.

You will see that they were mostly Goan names: Anthony Gonsalves, Chic Chocolate, Chris Perry, Frank Fernand, Sebastian D’Souza, Alfred Rose, Remo Fernandes, Datta Naik, Dattaram Wadkar, Jaykumar Parte, Manohari Singh, Kersy Lord…They were men who trickled into the Bombay film industry in the late 40s and early 50s, with their classical as well as jazz training. The timing was perfect, almost scripted.

Anthony Gonsalves

Anthony Gonsalves | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

As today’s young arranger and composer Anand Sahasrabuddhe explains it, industry music directors had begun to introduce preludes to songs: a piece that would introduce the atmosphere and mood of the song, “mahol bannana”, as was done in the sangeet nataks . While earlier it was purely Indian instruments, the tabla, the sitar, the sarangi, and the harmonium, new sounds began to be worked in, with the coming of these musicians: the clarinet, trumpet, sax, accordion, violin, piano. All of these had to be used effectively, in keeping with the requirement of the film and the song situation. Arrangers, themselves evolved into musicians, reimagined the music director’s basic tune, and orchestrated it all, to produce a well-rounded, filled out version.

The osmosis was nothing short of celestial. Hindustani singers and instrument players learnt about writing music scores, where earlier they simply rehearsed till they got it right, all by ear. The Western arrangers learnt about Hindustani ragas as well as the traditional embellishments like khatka, meend, murki, gamak, kan. Together these two streams of music-makers wove, warp and weft, to produce never-before heard music that endures decades later.

It is a mind-expanding exercise today, to ‘reverse engineer’ any of your most favourite songs and listen to the preludes and interludes, the counter-melodies, the harmony, brought to even the most hard-core raga-based songs by this impressive phalanx of musicians trained originally in Western music. Anand Sahasrabuddhe has been doing a series of introductions to a number of arrangers as part of the Zoom-based ‘radio-show-like’ programmes arranged by subscription-based entity, Nostalgiaana. Sahasrabuddhe’s talks have served as another eye-opener.

Here is another admission. I speak for many like me: for long, many of us assumed that the arranger was simply someone who knew individual instrument players, and simply got them together, or sourced them, or agented for them, or rounded them up, and brought them to the music director or a recording studio. We could not have been more wrong and unthinking in this interpretation of the word.

This anonymity has much to do with the fact that it was simply not a convention to give them credit. Only in the late 50s did names begin to appear on screen, credited as ‘assistant’ or ‘arranger’. Needless to say, they had no copyright and received no residual income if a song became a hit. Moreover, only a handful of music directors actively mentioned them by name and freely admitted that they composed only the mukhda and antara of a song. Everything else that put the song firmly up there, was the work of the arranger. A good arranger, like a good text or film editor, tends to enhance and never take over or leave an indelible stamp on a song. This too could possibly be a reason that songs have not been linked or associated with arrangers’ names in the public mind.

While there was a galaxy of them, the name of Anthony Gonsalves is the one that is most reverentially taken, even today, as the ‘Pitamah’, the founding father. His range and reach, his willingness and ability to teach and learn, his prowess, his associations with the Hindustani greats like Ravi Shankar and Ram Narayan, are the stuff of legend.

Many of us Hindi film music lovers have often wished to be a fly-on-the wall in the composing rooms, and recording studios of the great singer-composer-lyricist combinations. Once the arranger enters your life (however late), you have even more reason to be that fly: to watch the building of an edifice, and the creation of an entire universe, that is a great Hindi film song.

A very small listening-list: Listen out for the preludes, interludes, harmonised layering, counter-melody, and the sheer complexity behind what appears to be the simplest of songs:

‘Aayega aane wala’ ( Mahal)

‘Hum aapki aankhon mein’ ( Pyaasa)

‘Hum pyar mey jalnay walon ko’ ( Jailer)

‘Jane kaise sapnon mey kho gayi akhiya’ ( Anuradha)

‘Jyoti kalash chalake’ ( Bhabi ki chudiyan)

‘Mai dil hoon ik armaan bhara’ ( Anhonee)

‘Mai yeh soch kar’ ( Haqueekat)

‘Mausam ayah hai rangeen baji hai kahi surili been’ ( Dholak)

‘Mausam hai aashiqana’ ( Pakeezah)

The writer is a novelist, counsellor, and music lover.

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Printable version | May 14, 2022 10:51:22 am | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/the-unsung-and-anonymous-music-arrangers/article65407596.ece