Indian Film Music March 31, 2010 at 6:39 am

It has 60 years of gorgeous and enrich cinematic history including Satyajit Roy, Guru Dutta, DadaBhai Palke, Raj Kapoor, Shekhar Kapoor, Mira Nair with other numbers of spectacular world cinematic personality. Cinema is the one of the finest language to express art and culture. According to ancient Hindu mythology, as Veda or Purana singing or any form of music is the finest art among all possible categories been practiced by mans on earth. Instead of being frolic about ancient religious myths it is un-doubtable that India is the land of music. Allarakhkha, Jakhir Hussain, Rashid Khan, A. R. Rahaman and countless such musician born in this country and leads a great role to introduced Indian music to the world. But to be very specific we are going to discuss about cinematic language as music in this squib. A film score is essentially the background music of a film which is generally categorically separated from songs used within a film. The second category i.e. film songs are the biggest contribution of Indian film industry towards cinematic language to redefine the ethnic definition of cinema.

History of the Indian Film Song

The birth of the Indian film song may be traced to the advent of India’s first sound motion picture in 1931. This film was entitled “Alam Ara” and heralded in a new era in Indian motion pictures. In the 30′s three major film centres developed. These were based in Bombay (AKA Mumbai), Calcutta, and Madras (AKA Chenai). Of theses centres, Bombay was known for the making of films geared for national distribution, while Madras, and Calcutta were known for their regional films. The early years of this industry were very fruitful. Between 1931 and 1940 India produced 931 Hindi feature films with an average of 10 songs per films. The numbers for the regional films from Madras and Calcutta, were much lower, but the orientation towards music was similar. In the 1940′s and 1950′s, the business began to shift away from the big motion picture studios to the independent producers. The distribution networks began to rely heavily on the “formulas” (i.e., “X” number of big name actors, “Y” numbers of songs, and “Z” number of dances, etc.). These formula films are known in Hindi as “masaala films”. These formulas were determined by commercial and not artistic considerations. From that time on formula music became the norm. The number and variety of the film songs was solidly locked into place. The artistic results of making music by formula rather than inspiration is obvious. The 60′s and 70′s represented a time of relative stability. After that in 70’s to 90’s film comes with some melodious Indian mix like regional genre and relatively less experimental. After 90’s to recent times trend are extremely experimental and music composers are aware of global trends and surely influenced by globalization. Globalization not only affects composers but rather the taste of the audiences outside the screen. Qualitatively or quantitive or stlygraphic differences of historical cinematic time zone of Indian film could not restrict any Indian cine lover to entertain a movie without romantic, sad or most famous “cher-char wale gaane”. Indian film music history could be sub divided into these following categories. These divisions are not very obvious but can well describe the evolution of music in context of cinema.

The Talkie Era

Until 1935

The year 1931 not only marked the beginning of the “talkie” age, but it also naturally became the starting point for movie composers and singers. The playing field became instantly dominated by a handful of strong production studios most of which had their legacy firmly rooted in the silent era. Ardeshir Irani and R.S. Choudhury (Mehboob Khan’s mentors) carried forward the Imperial Studios banner. Himansu Rai, the consummate English nobleman leveraged his experience with British and German moviemakers, Shantaram and Master Vinayak joined forces to further foster Prabhat Films, B.N. Sarkar moved his silent movie gear to South Calcutta where New Theatres was founded, Homi Wadia instituted Wadia Movietone, Sohrab Modi joined his mentors at Minerva, and Chandulal Shah deftly moved his Ranjit Studios banner into the age of sound. There were others like Madan Theatres (also Calcutta), but the names mentioned here would provide the bedrock foundation on which the future would grow and prosper.

The attitudes of that age were interesting. Capital was tight and only a handful of privileged and monied gentry could invest in movie studios. Most of them were carryovers from the silent era anyway. Movie-watchers were still the upper echelons of society. The production studio was the feudal lord. Employees of the company would not dream of quitting or moonlighting. And girls from “good families” would not even dream of having anything to do with the performing arts, least of all the cinema.

All that changed when two daring and beautiful young ladies broke the rules. Devika Rani Choudhury married Himansu Rai and stepped firmly in to moviedom. Not far away, a charming Durga Khote joined Shantaram’s Prabhat Films in AYODHYECHA RAAJA, their first sound venture. These were still the exception to a rule deeply entrenched in a male-dominated tradition. But a beachhead was now created. Others would follow. Durga Khote can be credited with another first. She could well have been the first freelance heroine of that age. As committed as she was to Prabhat, she also spent some time working with the New Theatres contingent.

Musical tastes round the country were still dominated by the Indian motif – one-dimensional melody that drew almost entirely on classical and folk structures. The performance of music was simple at best. Most of the singers were either from “singing families” with delivery styles set in the tradition of their “gharaana” OR were theatre performers trying hard to get by with simple straight-line approximations of the stated melody. Playback technology was available, but there was no implementation handy for scalable reuse. Out in Bengal, New Theatres tried their first playback experiment as early as 1933. It did not go unnoticed.

This was the state of the early to mid ’30s. The alliances were interesting. The East and West were ruled by their respective Holy Trinities. Prabhat was led by Master Govindrao Tembe and his two disciples Keshavrao Bhole and Krishnarao Phulambrikar (with a young Vasant Shantaram Desai still in the pen). Bengal’s New Theatres had their answer in Raichand Boral, Pankaj Mullick and later, Timirbaran Bhattacharya. Imperial Studios leaned on their Parsee patrons. Himansu Rai, with his British Production Company, was still dependent on European craftspersons for music among other things. Bombay Talkie, created in the mid-’30s would hire Khorshed Homji and Ramchandra Pal as their constant composers, but that was a few years away. Funded to a degree by Ram Daryani, Sagar and National Studios brought in maestros Pransukh Nayak and Ashok Ghosh. Chandulal Shah’s Ranjit Studios flexed its musical muscle through classicists like Jhande Khan, Banne Khan and protege Rewashankar Marwari.

The somewhat negative perception of cinema’s musical occupants, pervasive as it was, never quite influenced the classicists of any age, really. In the mid-’30s, grandmasters like Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam sought to use the movie medium to further the cause of literature, music, national integration, the independence movement, and on and on.

Emergence of Hindi movie song

Late 30′s

And then it happened. Ram Daryani, a visionary financier, brought a 20 year old tabla player from Calcutta to work with the Sagar Movietone orchestra. It is to the credit of composer Ashok Ghosh that he took young Anil Biswas under his tutelage, and further, gave him enough freedom to create the first real orchestra for a Hindi movie song. In parallel, the Himansu Rai-Devika Rani team launched Bombay Talkie, hired the orchestra-minded Saraswati Devi as their composer, and further strengthened the foundation of a Western outlook, however simplistic it might have been at that time. The groundwork was launched for the Hindi movie song.

The first few songs to hit the nation as a whole may well have been from ACHHUT KANYAA and some contemporary Sagar Movietone productions. The time was 1935-36, and if this is where it started, we might have a candidate here for bringing in the Golden Age.

In the meantime, just out of the blue, New Theatres hit a home run. They augmented their singing talent through Sehgal’s voice. A Punjabi singer far away from his native ambience seemed well at home in Tollygunge, South Calcutta.

With all the busy ins and out, Bombay had its weather eye cocked on an already well-established studio out to the North somewhere. Dalsukh Panchholi was an astute businessman. What did this business-oriented Lahori know of music, anyway? Some of life’s happiest events hang together by threads of serendipity. Had Panchholi not created GUL-E-BAKAAVLI (1939), Baby Noorjehan may never have become known to the world at large. Had he not hired Master Ghulam Haider to do the very traditional, staid and Punjabi music for it, the songs may never have hit the headlines. And Panchholi might never have hired Master Haider to do KHAZAANCHI in 1941, but for a string of such chance events. And where would the Hindi movie song be today without the pioneering framework provided by KHAZAANCHI? We have fast-forwarded through the latter part of the ’30s here, but let us get to 1941 and KHAZAANCHI. Master Haider consciously broke away from the dull and monotonous delivery of the ’30s song. It was not without pain or criticism. Every generation has had its maverick. That he was, and knowingly so. KHAZAANCHI has gone down in history as the movie that defined the very structure of the modern Hindi song, much in the style of Von Neumann who, only 5 years later, defined the essence of stored program execution. Neither the structure of the Hindi song, nor the essential sequencial program execution model have changed much or at all since their inception. In that respect, Ghulam Haider hailed the age of modern Hindi music.

To summarize the ’30s, the professional scene consisted of salaried employees in a handful of movie studios the vast majority of which were brought forward through profits from the silent age. Noorjehan, Ghulam Haider,and Anil Biswas were the frontline names. Looking at the content, we must examine the constituents – the melody, the orchestration, the singing style and ability, the lyrics, and in some ways also the picturization. The dominant singers of the age were KC Dey, Pankaj Mullick, Shanta Apte, Govindrao Tembe, Ashok Kumar, Devika Rani, Surendra, Wahidan Bai and sister Jyoti, Bibbo, Manju and a few more. In a category all by himself stood the theatrical and Sufiana singer Kundanlal Sehgal. Some of his most famous songs had already been created, and he was just warming up.

More coincidence. The rapid and profitable emergence of the movie during the ’30s, while remaining the sole property of a few studios, engaged the entire nation. What had started as the entertainment of the upper crust had trickled down to practically all layers of society – deep enough to threaten the legacy social outing. One such example was the Natak Mandali tradition of Maharashtra. Attendance dropped to all time lows. Mass defections occurred, both in the audience and the performers. Families whose wherewithal was the Natya Sangeet medium felt the most pain. Several went bankrupt. Alcoholism, a very natural companion of the performing arts, only aggravated the suffering. None knew this better than Dinanath Mangeshkar. Five children, a young wife, and nowhere to turn to. Once the darling of the Marathi stage, he now had trouble finding familiar faces in the business. In desperation, he accepted his oldest daughter’s insistence upon finding a job for herself. In this quest, 12-year old Lata Mangeshkar was introduced to Vinayakrao Karnataki. But there was something else. She also signed up for a National Level Talent contest that had recently been labelled the KHAZAANCHI competition. The Northwestern frontier shuddered as the typhoon hit home. A Marathi-speaking winner of all things! Master Haider, the man whose runaway success had contributed the name to the contest, would stop to take notice. Seven years from the day, he would fight tooth and nail to permanently change the sound of Hindi music. Some milestone this. The writer must submit here that no matter when the Golden Era is said to begin, its life must include this landmark event of Lata Dinanath Mangeshkar winning the KHAZAANCHI competition. This voice has provided even our best composers with the motivation to produce the very best of melodies.

War and to Indian Independence

The Early 40′s

The war in Europe seemed far enough away, and yet, the movie industry felt its impact in a rather indirect fashion. The Indian scene had its own domestic perturbations. Politically, Quit India was significant as were the down and dirty war profiteers. Not all the sinners were blue-eyed blondes as some history books would have us believe. Ashish Rajyadhyaksha speculates that many Indian businessmen profited unabashedly during the early period of the war and the Bengal famine. The movie studio was a popular front for channelling illegal money. No wonder the early ’40s saw an explosion in the number of production companies on both sides of what would be the new India-Pakistan border. But Bombay remained the centre of all capital. With the increase in the number of movie productions, the traditional and feudal studio employer of the ’30s could see the walls crumbling around the notion of salaried patronage. The spectre of freelance artists started to become real. The emerging studios, eager to get rid of the blood money that they were bulging with, started to outbid each other for the topmost professionals. This led to “freelancing” by composers and singers. Anil Biswas might have been a pioneer in this regard without realizing it.

A few other facts are interesting. Himansu Rai died in the early ’40s leaving the fragile management of Bombay Talkie to its fate. Mehboob Khan decided to part company with his Sagar and National patrons. And playback singing gained momentum as cinema music demanded a better deal than the constriction it met at the hands of limited talents. Oddly enough, one of the first few “pioneers” of playback, Suraiyya Jamaal Sheikh, would essentially spend a career singing mainly for songs filmed on herself.

Anil Biswas, a longtime Mehboob friend, decided to part company, and left Mehboob Studios floundering for a few years in the quest of a stable musical guide and composer. Bombay Talkie stepped into an antithesis phase with a major exodus of some big names. And on a completely different front, Noorjehan, Panchholi, VM Vyas and Ghulam Haider all individually contributed to the invisible skyline connection between the souls of Bombay and Lahore. All of a sudden, the world was smaller, more talented, and utterly competitive.

The ’40s witnessed some of the quickest changes in the way the industry operated. Bombay Talkie, once the “big blue” of the industry, could be seen floundering. The days of stable employment were coming to an end. Artists, young and old, high and low profile, from all walks of the industry, were now on their own. New studios emerged notable among them being the one founded by Abdul Rashid Kardar. His musical soulmate, Naushad Ali, injected a new sound into the spirit of the young Indian movie. Mehboob started his productions with a flourish. Bombay Talkie brought in Anil Biswas and brother-in-law Pannalal Ghosh. New singers, better sounding and accomplished than those of the previous decade, suddenly appeared in the recording studio. Parul Ghosh, Kanan Devi, Amirbai Karnataki, Arun Kumar, Snehprabha, Zohrabai Ambaalewaali, and to be complete, Noorjehan, were all household names already.

2 Responses to “Indian Film Music”

  1. Indian Film Music and Changing Trends

    Well, to talk about the Indian film music would be equivalent to making a sea route from India to the United States of America!!! Ha, I am just exaggerating. But fact remains that it is one of the most expanding and powerful empire. Thanks to an overflowing talent bucket and an overgrowing musical exposure, there is no dirth of people in the industry. Thus as more and more people get absorbed into it, there is more n more competitive music that reaches our ears and puts us in a fix as to which sounds more better though each is distinctively amazing and natural. Indian film music is also famously known as Bollywood music, which is written and performed for Indian cinema. It was in 1931, that Ardeshir M. Irani`s Alam Ara, was the first Bollywood film to be released with a proper soundtrack. But, during those days, Bollywood music was only confined to Indian (classical and folk) in inspiration, with some Western elements usually comprising of orchestras. But over the years, the Western elements have increased significantly and there have been a lot of changes in the pattern of the Bollywood music. Most of the Bollywood films today are musicals. There are films which have as many as 30 tracks in their audio CDs. Since most of the movies were based on social and political issues, even their songs were restricted to such issues. Gradually, other forms of songs like ghazals, romantic songs, instrumental and wedding songs came up. Along the line there were tracks similar in rhythm to great western artists like the Beatles and Elvis Presley. The dashing Disco era was also witnessed for a prolonged period in the music industry. Bollywood songs then changed from slow songs to soft music, patriotic to wedding songs, soft numbers to dance numbers and classical songs to remixed versions. The changed style and mood of the Bollywood latest Hindi songs is greatly due to the influence of the youth and teenagers of the present generation. Some legends from the music culture have observed that “the deterioration in the modern-day film music is primarily because of the advent of new generation and convent educated directors in the film industry, who have neither any sense of Indian culture nor are conversant with the country’s music, including Indian classical music as well as the folk music.

    The styles, trend and choice of Bollywood songs kept on changing with the changing generation but many astounding singers still exist in the industry because of the inexpressible contribution they have made. So we see that music is-was and will be ever changing because it can never be set to a particular boundary or limited in its creativity. A big point to note here is a dialogue by the great santoor maestro, Pt Shivkumar Sharma, “the music belonging to the golden era of films had two main achievements to its credit; one, popularizing various raags in the Indian as well as the Carnatic classical music among the masses, and two, allowing the music directors from various states, who had come down to Mumbai, to use the folk music from their native place, for films.” Today anybody who is over the age of 40 can easily make out that the film music is greatly based on the commercial aspects of the same. As films need to churn out bigger and bigger profits hence music too is under the constant pressure of being in sync with the Gen Y and their likes and dislikes. So now that the youth has been blamed for decline of trends in the Indian film music we shift our focus to globalization which made it possible for the people here in this country to get a very close and clear insight of the cultures and trends in the world outside our national borders. Incidentally, western influence always existed in the film industry, but unlike today the foreign source of music was not detectable in most Hindi film songs then. The public today demands scantily clad girls performing an item number, a soft sensuous track for the couple in romance, a fast paced track for tapping their feet and a remixed version of almost every classic song, to dance in the discothèque. Though there did exist musical tracks that were inspired by foreign tunes, every one of them was very unique and had a completely altered base tune and rhythm. Today commercialization has hampered creativity so much so that music directors have to employ people who scan music tracks from other countries and their respective genres so as to be copied completely bit by bit into a Bollywood tune. The changing times need. Change is inevitable and those who live in present times survive while those who long for past and refuse to come to terms with this moment are no better than dead people. Today’s music is for today’s people, irrespective of its quality. But then there are quite a few of noted people who still have a sense of music and its production. There are loads of artists who are mastering not only the Indian but folk instruments from other countries, there are singers who have humbly started from various “Gharanas” and classical backgrounds, there are directors who have still kept the Indian culture and musical originality alive. So with a few bad things we still have a majority of best ones as well.
    Technology has made it all the more easier to record, compose, edit and produce music. As compared to the tedious and laborious work that people at earlier times had to undergo to bring out just one song, today’s scenario gives many added advantages. Computers, hi end softwares, digital musical instruments that play almost any note of any musical instrument that is required, its all becoming more and more compact. Though the quality is becoming better and better day by day the naturalness of a tone is losing its value. So today’s trends have not completely changed the cultural ethics of music, it does exist but since there are 100s of films being produced every 12 odd months there is a possibility that some really good songs may be over shadowed by the not so good ones. The other problem is the media hype that is created by continuously hammering songs into the public, to a point that it forcibly makes its way into their minds and hearts. Satellite television, radio, internet sites, mobile phones, music has lost its approachability. Gone are the days when people used to throng and wait for hours outside shops for records and cassettes to be the first ones to buy their favorite songs which they heard on the radio from the latest film. One used to have a very limited access to music hence it was a treasured art. But today music is carried around like a wallet. It has become a very essential part of billions of Indians. People relate to music with every part of their life, either good or bad. There are people who eat, sleep and drink music. They can see nothing beyond this finer art form. Indian film music still has an inspirational value, it still makes people lose themselves in varying moods and emotions and connect to it as it has always since ages. The fact of life remains that for good to exist bad needs to exist too or else there won’t be any distinction between them. Lets not forget that even in this modern and fast-forward era, classic music made in the earlier ages of Indian Film industry still holds its Golden and vintage value amongst almost every Indian who would have heard them just once thus proving that music is priceless, timeless, and ever fresh. Every song suited the culture and trend that prevailed during its times and will follow to do so forever. We have to grow and let things grow too, since that’s what the law of mother earth says.

  2. Your information is valid but too incomplete. You need to do research a lot. There are many books available on Indian cinema and Indian film music.

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