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Melodic Marvels: A Timeless Tale of Bollywood Music (Part One)

Updated: Jan 18

Music, oh how it gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything! Believe me, it's the language of the spirit, the secret of life that brings peace and abolishes strife. And where else could this understanding be better appreciated than in the vibrant world of Bollywood?

In Bollywood, music and songs are the heartbeat of every film. Even in the era of silent movies, musicians would sit backstage, using their melodies to arouse emotions in the silent scenes. Film songs are the life and soul of Hindi movies, and they hold a special place in the hearts of audiences throughout the subcontinent.

For over ninety years, this tradition has endured, evolving with each passing era. Let's take a journey back in time to the days of Alam Ara, the first talkie in 1931, which had seven soul-stirring songs.

The first song, De De Khuda Ke Nam Pe Bande, was sung by Wazir Mohammad Khan and picturised on a fakir. The movie Indrasabha made in 1932 holds world record for most songs picturised in a movie. It featured over seventy songs and was 211 minutes long. The film was made by Jamshedji Framji Madan's company, Madan Theatre and starred Jehanara Kajjan among others.

During that era, two prominent singer-composers hailed from Bengal - Pankaj Mullick and K.C. Dey. The soft Bangla school of music held a special place of preference during those times. Among the stars of that period was Kundanlal Saigal, who, believe it or not, started as a typewriter salesman earning a modest eighty rupees per month. His fortune took a turn when the renowned composer R. C. Boral from 'New Theatres' hired him as a singing actor, offering a princely sum of two hundred rupees per month.

Saigal's melodious voice resonated with audiences all over the country, leaving them in awe and inspiring many future singers. His debut solo record, "Suno Suno Hey Kishan Kala," became an instant hit, captivating hearts across the nation.

In 1935, the release of "Devdas" catapulted Saigal's popularity to new heights. He portrayed the lovelorn and heartbroken character of Devdas with impeccable perfection. His solo performances in songs like "Balam Aaye Baso" and "Dukh Ke Ab Din" were considered timeless and immortal.

Saigal's musical genius knew no bounds. He fearlessly experimented with various forms of music, mastering Khayal, Bandish, Ghazals, Geets, Bhajans, Hori, and Dadra in various Ragas. His versatility extended to singing in multiple languages, including Hindi, Urdu, Pushto, Punjabi, Bengali, and Tamil.

It is said that Saigal had a peculiar pre-recording ritual; he would fondly call a drink "Kaali Paanch" before stepping into the recording studio. Despite this, his performances remained legendary and unforgettable. His other super hit songs include Babul mora Naihar Chutat Jai, Ek Bangla Bane Nyara .

The period from 1932 to 1946 is often referred to as the "Saigal era," a time when his influence on Bollywood was undeniable. In 1940, he shifted to Bombay and starred in unforgettable films like "Bhakta Surdas," "Tansen," "Kurukshetra," "Omar Khayyam," "Tadbeer," "Shahjahan," and "Parwana."

Tragically, Saigal's life was cut short at the age of 42 on January 18, 1947. But his golden voice and musical legacy continue to inspire and enchant audiences even to this day.

The forties marked a period of significant transformation in Bollywood. A new musical order emerged as the more vibrant Punjabi style of music overshadowed the soft Bangla style. The era of singing stars gave way to the rise of talented playback singers.

A constellation of exceptional voices like Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Mohd. Rafi, Mukesh, Talat Mahmood, Manna Dey, Hemant Kumar, Shamshad Begum, Suraiya, Geeta Roy Dutt, and Kishore Kumar took centre stage, dominating the Bollywood music scene with their mesmerizing talents.

In this golden age of music, superlative composers such as Naushad, C. Ramchandra, S. D. Burman, Anil Biswas, and Vasant Desai stepped forward, creating masterful tunes that perfectly complemented the voices of these legendary singers. Together, they formed an unforgettable era of Bollywood music that continues to resonate with music lovers to this day.

The fifties, a golden age of Hindi film music, grave us melodious tunes and poetic lyrics that made every song an unforgettable joy to listen to. Composers like Shankar-Jaikishan, Madan Mohan, O.P. Nayyar, and Salil Chaudhury, along with the earlier masters, crafted timeless melodies that continue to captivate us even today. Their tunes had a superb blend of the Indian regional folk music, Indian Classical music and the Western music.

No wonder so many soundtracks of that era have retained their popularity to this day. How could one forget the haunting and melodious song from Mahal in 1949 . The magic of the song , Ayega Ane Wala was created by Khem Chand Prakash and sung by melody queen , Lata Mangeshkar. The song is popular to this day even after 73 years.

'How could one afford to miss the mystique of Mahal , Baiju Bawara ' Mother India , Madhumati ' and ' Mughal-e- Azam '? How could one not feel affinity towards 'Anarkali ' . The list is endless and you can go on and on……

Credit for enriching cinema with songs based on classical music goes to Naushad. Regarded as a pioneer of Indian music, Naushad Ali was one of the first and foremost composers in the history of Bollywood. Since 1937, he was composing music for films that, along with his music, formed the very foundation and core of Bollywood. He is also known for introducing the legendary singers Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi to the world and transfiguring them into icons.

Naushad had to struggle hard to establish himself in Bollywood. He spent many a nights on the pavement opposite Broadway theatre dreaming that one day, music composed by him will play there. His dream came true sixteen years later when Baiju Bawra was screened there. The movie had music by Naushad. At the preview of the movie, producer of Baiju Bawra , Vijay Bhatt observed that Naushad was not in his seat. He found him standing in the balcony crying. He said it took me sixteen

years to reach from the pavement opposite the road , to this balcony. Naushad won best music director award for this movie. All the songs of Baiju Bawra were based on classical music. His music for another Magnus opus , Mughle Azam will be remembered for ever. Naushad used to study every aspect of his tunes thoroughly. If he wasn't satisfied with even one word, he would ask the lyricist to rewrite the whole line.

He would take a fortnight to compose a single song and often composed music for just two films a year.
He composed the tunes of Taj Mahal, an Eternal Love Story at the age of 86, thus becoming the world's oldest composer .
Music director, Khem Chand Prakash made Naushad his assistant, for which he remained extremely grateful. In his interviews, Naushad has called him his guru.
While he did less than a hundred films during his lifetime, 26 of those films went on to celebrate jubilees.

Out of those films, eight of them went on to celebrate golden jubilee and four of them diamond jubilee . Naushad believed in quality and not quantity. In his career spanning 62 years, he composed music for just 62 films.

Bollywood was also blessed with the genius of Madan Mohan, whose compositions continue to enchant audiences to this day. His soul-stirring melodies, often based on classical ragas, found the perfect expression in the divine voice of Lata Mangeshkar. Their bond was so profound that Lata considered him as her brother.

Madan Mohan is best known for his unforgettable compositions and his songs which will remain etched in film music history. Over a musical span of 25 years Madan Mohan composed music for 95 released Hindi films (648 songs), 12 shelved Hindi films (28 songs) and one documentary (one song) produced by Films Division.

Inspite of consistently composing superlative melodies, Madan Mohan was deprived of any recognition or award of national importance. It was only in 1970 that he got national award as best music director for film Dastak. Madan Mohan was reluctant to attend the National Award ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan in Delhi. Sanjiv Kumar got best actor national award in the same year. It was only Sanjiv Kumar who persuaded Madan Mohan to attend the ceremony. Sanjiv Kumar got two suits stitched, exactly same which both of them wore for the ceremony. Madan Mohan was also greatly influenced by Classical Ragas and most of his songs were based on such ragas.

He always got best out of Lata Mangeshkar. His music was melodious, haunting but still he never won Filmfare award. Madan Mohan was a foodie, a good cook and a good sports person. He started his career with army. He was second lieutenant in army during British rule. In 1943, world war was over and with that Madan Mohan left army and came to Mumbai to try his luck in films. Rest is history.

The title of melody king fits perfectly to Khayyam . His dedication to both music and humanity was truly remarkable. He selflessly decided to donate all his earnings to a charitable trust, supporting artists and technicians in need. His soulful compositions touched the hearts of many and left a lasting impact on the industry.

Khayyam entered Bollywood as Sharmaji of Sharmaji Verma Ji composer duo for the film , Heer Ranjha in 1948. He first used his name as Khayyam as composer of, Footpath in 1952. Song from the movie, Shame Gam ki Kasem, by Talad Mahmood became super hit.

He gained real recognition from film, Woh Subha Kabhi to Ayegi. It’s title song became a rage overnight. Music of Shola Aur Shabnam created waves and catapulted Khayyam to fame as top class music director. And than came Kabhi Kabhi and it’s music created waves all over the country. As if it was not enough, Umrao Jaan hit the screen and it’s ghazals sung by Asha Bhonsle became chart busters. When he turned 90, he decided to donate all his earnings to his charitable trust- Khayyam Jagjeet Kaur KPG Charitable Trust.

He said :‘ I have decided that I will donate my entire wealth to support artistes and technicians, who are in need in the film industry. I have given everything I had to my motherland. I was the highest-paid music composer for over 14 years.

In such a long career that began in 1947, Khayyam composed music for only 57 films.

And who can forget the composer duo of Shankar Jaikisan . A chance meeting of Shankar-Jaikishan led to an inseparable friendship, and together, they became an integral part of Raj Kapoor's timeless movies. Naushad composed music for most of Dilip Kumar movies. C. Ramchandra introduced the magic of western music to Bollywood songs, while Hemant Kumar and Salil Choudhary brought the soft and melodious essence of Bengali music into the industry.

And let us not forget the maestro Ghulam Mohammad, who gave Bollywood cinematic gems like "Pakeezah" and "Mirza Ghalib," leaving an indelible mark on the industry's history.

Despite its undeniable popularity, Hindi film music encountered challenges in the 1950s, facing a temporary ban on the radio. The acceptance of Hindi film music was not universal – at least not according to the official government policy. It was deemed impure and immature. So strong was this notion of the corrupting influence of Hindi film music that in 1952 the then Information and Broadcasting Minister Dr. B. V. Keskar ordered it to be banned on radio. The ban continued for five years till 1957.

However, this setback only fueled its popularity further, and the legendary Amin Sayani's Binaca Geetmala on Radio Ceylon emerged as a massive hit. It became a cherished part of people's lives, and the streets were said to be deserted during its airing.

The show used to air every Wednesday from 8 to 9 pm and everyone adjusted their routine to suit the timing. The show became a rage. 

Finally, the government lifted the ban in 1957 & a service dedicated to non stop film music was started, Vividh Bharati with a tag line ‘ये आकाशवाणी का पंचरंगी कार्यक्रम हैं’
. The service still offers a very good coverage of old Hindi film songs throughout the day.

As we take a trip down memory lane, reminiscing about timeless classics like "Awara Hoon," "Mera Joota Hai Japani," and "Jab Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya," we can't help but be awe-struck by the richness of Bollywood's musical history. Each song carries a unique essence that has touched the hearts of generations.

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