It has been my long standing dream to meet Pt. Hridaynath Mangeshkar, among the greatest composers India has produced. So far, it remains unfulfilled. Son of the renowned natya sangeet musician and actor, Dinanath Mangeshkar, and brother of legendary playback singers Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, Pt. Hridaynath has a vision of music that is unique and exceptional. The song, in his case, is an inevitable outcome of his internal ruminations. There is more to the song than its outer appearance. What then is the song?
In his long and fascinating association with music, Panditji has scored music for several films, both Marathi and Hindi. Even though it is a minor part of his huge body of work, it remains significant. He received classical training from Ustad Amir Khan for over two decades, came from a family that was closely involved in company theatre, and was personally drawn to serious literature. “I don’t remember playing with children of my age, I was either reading or engaged in music,” Panditji says in an interview. His music can be perceived as a combination of these multiple forces — theatre, classical music, and literature.
Take, for instance, his songs from the film Lekin (1991). ‘Suniyo ji araj mhari’ is an appeal the woman makes to her beloved to listen to her desire. Panditji composes the entire song in the higher octave, except for the landing phrase which is in the middle octave. For one, the song is a plea and the protagonist implores to be heard, therefore the upper notes. It has to surpass the landscape, a desert in this case; it is also perhaps the reason. You have a brief alap, the main melody begins, the pakhawaj comes in, and here he adds an intense passage on the veena. The song is highly personal in nature; Panditji makes sure he foregrounds that aspect throughout the composition even when the composition gradually progresses from minimal orchestra to lush passages. You can hear one instrument dominating the entire score, for instance, the eloquent veena or the intense sarangi. He fascinatingly layers the musical elements in a way that heightens the meaning and then fades them away. The song has a khayal-like feel, but he designs rhythm differently. The song journeys from silence to sublime. For a film song, this is rare.
‘Yaara seeli seeli’ is another masterpiece. Tossed between memory and pining, the song moves brilliantly between two octaves. Panditji subtly alters the semantics of the word ‘seeli seeli’ just with intonation, and to stunning effect. Musically, both utterances are located in the same place (in most occurrences), but the difference is in their emphasis. The entire song is accompanied by what seems like the traditional Rajasthani instrument Ravanhatta, which bestows an elegaic texture to the song, even though its pace defies that.
‘Surmayi sham’ is a Madan Mohan kind of composition — a soothing rendition by Suresh Wadkar, it has a modern orchestra; the use of rhythm is in the typical ghazal style. In my understanding, Yaman is one of Panditji’s favourite raags and each time he uses it in the most unconventional way. We can recall his brilliant Meera bhajan, ‘Mhara re giridhar gopal’ in the same raga.
Panditji has more than once said that he is not happy composing film songs. He feels that the compulsions of the market, and a fixed musical scheme, is very restricting for a composer. Listen to the lilting ‘Khud se batein karte rehana’ or the dreamy ‘Ek haseen nigah ka’ from Maya Memsaab and it is possible to understand what Panditji says. His genius is visible in the flow of these compositions, but they remain unexplored. However, he tries to surmount such challenges with other methods, for instance, he composes the iconic Marathi bhavgeet ‘Jivalagha rahile re,’ by the renowned poet Shanta Shelke, set to raag Puryadhanashri. The same tune is used in the film Prarthana (1969) for ‘O bawari jayegi’ sung by Asha Bhosle. He tries an interplay with forms, and trims the khayal elements that he employs in the bhavgeet for the film song.
There is an unused version of ‘Jhoote nain bole’ ( Lekin ) rendered by Padmaja Phenany Joglekar and Satyasheel Deshpande set to Bilaskhani Todi. One of the finest compositions of Hindi film music, the song is set in the Hindustani classical idiom with the rhythm and melodic interludes set to Kathak foot movements. The song is not only testimony to Panditji’s inimitable approach but also how it is an interaction between the forces that make his persona. His compositions follow the stream of consciousness mode, which capture multiple textures of thought that are not necessarily on any single plane of emotion. There are sudden shifts in raga, they skip octaves and more — none of these are for a musical effect or audience appeasement, it is because he cannot help it. His creative process yokes together his profound literary readings with the drama of music.
The overarching mood of almost all Panditji’s compositions is spirituality. He has composed the whole of Bhagvad Gita, all the songs of Jnaneshwari, Meera, Surdas, Kabir, etc. If one were to say the philosophy of his music is spirituality, how do we understand the similarity or difference between philosophy and spirituality? Philosophy is that approach to truth that is rational or intellectual, and spirituality is truth sought from an emotional point of view. The song is his philosophical finding. Music becomes the voice or sound of Pt. Hridaynath Mangeshkar’s journey towards truth.