When simple meant austere

With a huge output of songs, Shrinivas Khale remained immersed in his music, and worried little if his songs would be remembered

Call it spartan or simple, it was the quality of music that pervaded the Indian music scene till about late Seventies. The word simple has a range of meanings: here it is used in the sense of unostentatious, not plain. Almost bordering on the austere.

Think Hemant Kumar, Talat Mehmood, Jagmohan, Sudhir Phadke, Geetha Dutt, Begum Akhtar and more. The entire period – for over decades – was vibrant with rich and diverse expressions of music. S.D. Burman, Anil Biswas, Madan Mohan, Sajjad Hussain, Ghulam Mohammad, C. Ramachandra, K.V. Mahadevan, Vijayabhaskar and so many others. In this golden period of music, every singer and composer could hold his/her own and it was nurtured and accepted by the listening public. Hemant Kumar for instance, would refuse to sing compositions that were ornamental. Not because of inability, but out of a belief in a certain musical value.

It was from this spring of rich creativity that the legendary Shrinivas Khale emerged. Trained in Hindustani classical music, Khale came to Mumbai in the early fifties and worked as a music director in AIR. In the later years he joined HMV, and Khale composed over 1000 songs, altering the imagination of what a bhavageeth or abhang can epitomize. Khale composed for only six films, and it is indeed the loss of the film industry that they did not put to use a sensibility so rare. However, Khale reinterpreted several film songs, giving them a complete creative twist. For instance, Keshavrao Bhole’s compositions in the film “Santa Tukaram” get a complete makeover by Khale (listen to “Vrukshavalli Amha Soyari”). His background scores were grand, elaborate, but never flashy.

Khale was such a huge phenomenon in the music world, that the greatest of musicians -- Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Vasantrao Deshpande, Arun Date, Lata Mangeshkar, Suman Kalyanpur, Asha Bhosle, Usha Mangeshkar, Hridaynath Mangeshkar, Sudha Malhotra – sang his compositions. To this day, Maharashtra celebrates his music and the younger generation musicians which include his disciples Shankar Mahadevan, Mahesh Khale, Rahul Deshpande and others sing his compositions.

There was something special in the way Khale envisioned his song: in the course of achieving that goal, the singer, had to often, unlearn his pre-formed ideas. In fact, you will realize that even great musicians have stepped out of their comfort zones to coalesce with the song and its vision. For instance, the phenomenon of a song “Shukratara Manda Vara” sung by Arun Date and Sudha Malhotra is gentle and feminine. Ideally, one would imagine that this mellow beauty is a female solo. Sudha Malhotra, who sings the female parts does a fantastic job with her stunning voice. Khale uses the voice of Arun Date as her male counterpart. His singing is so soothing and elegant, that it requires more than an immaculate rendition to reproduce the emotion he brings in his not-so-perfect voice. It is only in the end that the male and female voices come together to sing the refrain: it is done with such grace and understanding that it seems like one, unified expression. So, perhaps, Khale uses Date’s voice in this otherwise “feminine” song as a model that needs to be emulated. He bends gender to produce that perfect expression for a love song -- so tender and romantic -- Arun Date does it in an unparalleled way.

Take “Ram Ka Gun Gaan Kariye”, sung by Pt. Bhimsen Joshi and Lata Mangeshkar. Khale brings two differently captivating voices together and creates a soundscape that is regal. Pt. Bhimsen Joshi sheds his natural tendency to infuse khayal elements and builds the song completely on broad interpretations. In fact, Khale inverses the scheme: he makes Lata Mangeshkar explore the classical nuances. The background score builds up to a climax, whereas the main melody remains strikingly minimal, even when you have a musician like Pt. Bhimsen Joshi at your disposal.

One can take the example of several songs such as “Pahlich Bheti Zaali” sung by Arun Date and Suman Kalyanpur, “Bagalyanchi Mala Phule” by Pt. Vasantrao Deshpande or even “Lajun Hasane” by Pt. Hridaynath Mangeshkar. In most of his songs you find that Khale takes a different route to achieve the musical sublime – he breaks stereotypes of voices, and expressions. Khale challenges musical personas to surpass themselves, and bestows upon them an encyclopaedic range. Khale’s visualisation of voices goes against the grain, producing uncommon effect.

Khale is surely among the great composers of India. He made music in several languages, but was sadly not so well known beyond Maharashtra. When the ghazal maestro Mehdi Hasan heard Lata Mangeshkar’s rendition of Khale’s “Bheti Laagi Jeeva”, he was so mesmerized that he is supposed to have come all the way to meet him. A quiet, unassuming and self-effacing Khale, was deeply passionate about music. Pt. Bhimsen Joshi in fact said: “Khale is someone you would want to worship. He is a composer of poetic imagination, modest and genuinely in love with his art.” Khale, was so immersed in his music, that he worried little about its reach. It reminds one of what C.V. Raman said: “I would rather study one more property of diamond rather than its industrial uses.”

In this era of conformity, when all musical sounds come with more or less the same doctrine, how do we understand that “golden period” where such diverse musical values co-existed? The German philosopher Hegel in his Law of Heart said that “personal identity is never just as a person, a human being or an organism, or a member of a species, it is as a particular person, a particular social being with particular features and virtues.” Anything “less” than this, he said, was a “dry articulation of a vague generality.” He called it the “empty universal”. In this era of empty universals, a consciousness like Khale seems an unique phenomenon. He submitted himself to the historical process, and brought all its forces to a culmination in his consciousness. In fact, it is true of each of them – Hemant Kumar, Talat Mehmood etc… They attained a fullness of self in confronting history.

(Inner Voice is a fortnightly column on film music)

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2020 10:33:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/when-simple-meant-austere/article18651024.ece

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