Voyage of melodies

May 08, 2017 12:00 am | Updated 03:34 am IST

Two books put the text and context of Hindi songs in tune

What constitutes a film song? Classicists stress the primacy of the ragas while poets vouchsafe for the importance of lyrics. However, film historian Raju Bharatan, in the introduction to his book A Journey Down Melody Lane , says that film being a visual medium, the ability of a filmmaker to align the abilities of the composer with his own vision is paramount. A point he explains with the example of Satyajit Ray, who in the 1960s took to composing for his films. Bharatan says a film tune is “hewn”, not created.

The ‘audio visionary’

To illustrate this idea, he dedicates the second chapter to the genius of Raj Kapoor whom he considers a consummate “audio visionary”. This comes in the book even before Bharatan analyses the music of a Naushad or a Salil Chowdhury. Kapoor, who had sung his only song for an obscure film called Dil Ki Rani , could paint a picture of the theme, the full sequence, in his mind before he approved a tune, he says. The composers — be it Shankar-Jaikishan or Laxmikant-Pyarelal — were arrangers, the real music director always being Kapoor himself and his favourite raga, the Raag Bhairavi. From the trendsetting Barsaat , which had five songs in the raga, to his last film Ram Teri Ganga Maili , Kapoor got Bhairavi moulded to match his ideas in such a way that it became ‘RK Bhairavi’ in his cinema. One prominent example is the dream sequence in Awara . Note the way the screen seamlessly segues from one mood to another — from ‘Tere bina’ to ‘Ghar aaya’ — both in ‘RK Bhairavi’.

Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal, in their book Gaata Rahe Mera Dil: 50 classic Hindi film songs , consider the Awara sequence Hindi cinema’s “first music video”. The authors analyse the process of composition, the picturisation and the importance of the song for the film. Keeping with their objective, they include only songs that have been picturised, leaving out those without a video.

Starting from ‘Chale pavan ki chaal’ ( Doctor ) by Pankaj Mullick, ending at ‘Dil hai chota sa’ ( Roja ) by A.R. Rahman — which is, in a strict sense, more a dubbed song — their descriptions follow a pattern: explaining the scenario in the industry during the song’s creation; explaining the thinking that went into the song’s making; analysing the ragas, the lyrics and the musical arrangements; and looking at how well the song fit into the film as a whole. It is as if the authors wished to compose the articles as songs in themselves: following the prelude, mukhda, interlude, antara pattern.

These are two books that don’t stop with showcasing the mastery of the authors in Hindi film music. They want you to listen to the individual songs, beat by beat, and appreciate them better by placing it within the film, adding visuals to tunes.

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