After reviewing the best songs of 1955 and 1953, which were gap years in the Filmfare Awards (Baiju Bawra, 1952 was the first film to get the Filmfare Awards for the best music, but in the later years no films of 1953 and 1955 won these awards), I come to the pre-Filmfare era with 1951. This briefly explains my odd selection of years. Henceforth, it is going to be yearwise review in reverse order until 1945, which is the task given to me by the readers.
Who is not aware of Tu shokh kali main mast pawan, tu shamm-e-wafa main parwana or Dhalti jaye raat kah de dil ki baat? The songs are among all time greats of Rafi. But many lovers of old film music may not be aware or might have forgotten the name of Lachhiram. A very awkward and unfamiliar name, and not among the mainstream composers, he is a perfect candidate for my series on the Forgotten Composers: Unforgettable Melodies.
Raj Kapoor overturns Bollywood triangle to convey profound social messages
Reviewing a film is not a joke unless you are Madhu, Anu or Memsaab Greta. Then, why am I venturing into a field in which I have no expertise, and why Sangam?
Review of a Bollywood blockbuster like Sangam suffers from both the ends. At one end are the highbrow intellectuals, who have breakfast with Fellini, lunch with Kurosawa, dinner with Vittorio de Sica and tea, off and on, with Satyajit Ray. At best they would grudgingly acknowledge Bimal Roy and Do Bigha Zameen. They would trash Sangam as the usual worthless, escapist fare with songs and dances and a lot of melodrama. At the other end are the rest, people like you and me, who go to see what it offers, and come back ga-ga over its grand star cast, high drama, tense love triangle, wonderful foreign locales and great music. Both the set of reviewers miss some very profound social messages strewn in the film, which would be obvious if you watch it with a little more than casual interest.
My last post on Talat Mahmood’s songs by Anil Biswas reminded me that last year when I had ‘closed’ my series on SD Burman, Venkatarmanji and some other readers mentioned some more singers who gave memorable songs with Dada. Talat Mahmood was one of the names mentioned. They fit in very nicely. SD Burman was unarguably the greatest musical talent from Bengal after Anil Biswas to enrich the Hindi film music. Talat Mahmood had a good deal of Bengal in him, having worked under the name of Tapan Kumar in Calcutta for a number of years before he shifted to Bombay and created a sensation with his very first song with Anil Biswas, Ae dil mujhe aisi jagah le chal. It was natural SD Burman would also take him in. However, with Dada’s natural fondness for Kishore Kumar, and the versatile Rafi, Talat Mahmood’s had only about 15 songs with him, a fraction of the other two singers. In any case Talat Mahmood was a niche singer; his total number of songs – about 450 Hindi film songs – would be a fraction of what the other mainstream singers sang. But his impact was way beyond his numbers, and SD Burman created several immortal songs with him, as he did with Mukesh with about the same number of songs.
A tribute to Talat Mahmood on his 90th birth anniversary
Anil Biswas was not the first composer for whom Talat Mahmood sang in films. He debuted as an actor-singer in Calcutta in Raj Laxmi (1945). While in Calcutta, he also sang (and acted) in Tum Aur Main (1947), Samapti and Swayansiddha (1949). During this period he sang some 40-50 songs (film and non-film) under the name Tapan Kumar. But well before he came to films, he had acquired great fame because of his non-film geets and ghazals. His singing debut was in 1941 with his first non-film geet Sab din ek samaan nahi. A few years later his another non-film song Tasweer teri dil mera bahlaa na sakegi became a national rage.
With a tribute to Begum Akhtar in her Centenary Year
I had thought songs of atariya are one of the things – like lori, bidaai songs, bhajan, piano songs etc. – that have been irredeemably lost from our films. Loosely translated as ‘balcony’, atariya was the place where the heroine would go stealthily from the prying eyes of her parents, to wait for her lover, who would come on tip-toe to serenade from below, or if he was more daring, climb up through the drain pipe or a rope or bed sheet, helpfully slung down by the lady. Modesty was a virtue for women not only in India, but also in the West – Romeo too met Juliet on her atariya.
A tribute to Anil Biswas in his centenary year and to Suraiya on her 10th death anniversary
For many years after getting deeply attached to the vintage songs, I regarded Anil Biswas as peripheral to the music career of Suraiya. When I thought of Suraiya, the composers who came to mind most prominently were Naushad, Husnlal Bhagatram and Ghulam Mohammad. Much later, I heard Door papiha bola in a most unlikely situation. This created an impact I had not felt before. Songs of Yore was not on the anvil then, and my browsing the net was also sporadic. Therefore, locating the co-ordinates of the song by chance gave me an indescribable joy, and I started looking at Anil Biswas’s songs for Suraiya in a different light. Door papiha bola represents to me the very essence of every music lover’s relationship with music – a distant call of the papiha in the night, which you wish went on forever, but soon the night is half gone when your tryst has just begun. When I started this blog, effectively its first post was titled Door Papiha Bola.
Guest article by Subodh Agrawal
(It has now become routine for Subodh to surpass the outstanding. He is coming back after a long gap. But if the outcome is this superb piece, we don’t mind his prolonged preparations. It is interesting to note that while the raga itself has gravitas, the word ‘Darbari’ meaning a ‘courtier’ lends itself to some pejorative connotation, giving rise to some interesting trivia and anecdotes. Subodh’s explanation of its difference with ragas in close proximity, such as Adana, is scholarly. Continuing a great beginning to 2014, I present this guest article by Subodh, his 7th in the series on the film songs based on classical ragas. - AK)
Darbari – along with Bhairavi, Yaman and Pahadi – is one of the most commonly used ragas for film music. Having written about Yaman and Pahadi earlier and having enjoyed the experience, I was looking forward to doing this post on Darbari, but my enthusiasm waned considerably after I compiled a list of songs in Darbari in preparation for this article. The songs are good, some of them are great, but few of them really do justice to Darbari. Let me cite just three examples: O duniya ke rakhwale from Baiju Bawra, Dil jalta hai to jalne de from Pehli Nazar and Teri duniya mein dil lagta nahin from Baawre Nain – all three are very good songs but the mood they depict is not what Darbari is meant for. As the name suggests, Darbari has a royal aura about it. There has to be a certain gravitas about it. In my humble opinion it is not meant for the kind of wailing and whining these three songs represent. Composers would be better off using a raga like Todi for such songs.
When I wrote on KC Dey’s songs in Devdas (1935), it just gave a glimpse to the readers of how great a singer he was if he could be so moving in the songs which are relatively unknown. Long before that post, I had planned to present my top favourite songs of KC Dey which got delayed for one reason or the other. With the desire rekindled I had to do it sooner than later.
SoY heralds 2014 as the Year of Anil Biswas with guest article by Shikha Biswas Vohra
(Anil Biswas is described as the ‘Bhishm Pitamah’ of Hindi film music, though he used to describe RC Boral as the Father, and himself, somewhat jocularly, as the Uncle (Chacha) of film music. Yet, did he get his due, and does the country remember his legacy adequately? In one of the most hyped programmes on our cinema’s centenary last year, ‘Bollywood@100’, presented by Karan Johar on the venerable History channel, in the episode on the best music directors, Anil Biswas’s name was missing in the list of about two dozen composers! This was blasphemy, and I decided that I would recompense for it adequately on Songs of Yore in his Centenary Year, 2014 (b. 7 July 1914, d. 31 May 2003). Fortuitously, around that time Mrs Shikha Biswas Vohra came across SoY for the first time, and posted a very generous comment on one of my articles. I was familiar with her name having seen her in a TV programme. She very kindly agreed to write the Inaugural Article in the series – we cannot have a better placed person than his daughter, who has seen him as father, as a maestro, and has also seen the industry as an insider, to do the honour. I am delighted to wish the readers a Very Happy Centenary Year of Anil Biswas with this lyrical tribute by Shikhaji to the great man. – AK)
ANIL BISWAS….The Maestro
Many years ago, when Indian cinema was in a nascent stage, there came into its stream a clutch of fine dedicated men. They came to shape its history and define its metaphors. These men were dreamers and seekers, who had run the gamut of struggle, the looking at hunger in the face, the sleeping on pavements. They sought to contribute their knowledge and skills to shape this new exciting medium to an established art form. Each contributed a style distinctive and individualistic. They gave freely of their time, inspiration and talent without expectation of rewards and returns. They worked with honesty, principles and earnestness, a reflection of their time.