I came to Mumtaz Ali in a very roundabout way. Before the Internet era I was only aware of his name as the father of Mehmood and Minoo Mumtaz etc. Internet made me aware that he was also into films, with the Bombay Talkies. Then a rare chance occurrence gave me a day out with his grandson, Ajaz Ali a.k.a AJ (son of Minoo Mumtaz), and later with his help, with Minoo Mumtaz. What they told me about his early life was most fascinating, which could be straight out of classic tales: How a young boy in Saudi Arabia, run-away from his oppressive elder sister, hid himself in a ship’s hold, and found himself on the shores of Bombay where he started eking out a living with other street children, when a kind-hearted Englishman, BG Horniman, editor of Bombay Chronicle, took a liking for him and brought him up. Mumtaz Ali was a born dancer. Bombay had a large number of theatre groups where he started dancing. Devika Rani took a liking for him and employed him in the Bombay Talkies, where he danced in many films. His dance in the song Main to Dilli se dulhna laya re ae babuji became a roaring hit. You can see the account of my meeting with AJ and his mother in conversation with Minoo Mumtaz.
Wishing Lata Mangeshkar a very happy 86th birth anniversary (b. 28 September 1929) with her songs for Naushad
A blog would start losing its appeal if it became too predictable. Today is one such day when everyone is going to exclaim, ‘’I knew it!’ However, there is no way I can avoid it. There are many who are as enamoured of Naushad as I am. As for Lata Mangeshkar, I doubt if there is anyone who does not regard her as The Female Playback Singer, as a class by herself, far above her rivals. The Great Mughal of film music and the Empress of playback singing make an unparalleled combination.
I could not have imagined until sometime back that I would be writing two posts back to back on Asha Bhosle. But I have since become conscious of a strong Asha Bhosle Fan Club on SoY. In my last post on her songs with Naushad and C Ramchandra, we saw that even though they might have gone to her reluctantly, they created some of the best songs of her career. That post was devoted to her solos. While looking for their songs I realised that her duets, too, composed by them are no less memorable. We can make a general statement that duets as a class, right since the earliest days from when film songs are available, have held a special charm. Therefore, to have a complete picture of the songs that Naushad and CR composed for Asha Bhosle, I am presenting her duets made by the two reluctant Masters.
Greeting her happy birthday on her 82st birth anniversary (b. 8 September 1933)
Asha Bhosle’s position in the early 1950s was very unenviable. Her elder sister, Lata Mangeshkar, had debuted as a playback singer (Aap Ki Sewa Mein; 1947) only a year before her (Chunariya; 1948), but the former stormed the music scene in 1949 as a Tsunami wave, emerging soon as The Female Playback Singer. While most of the vintage singers disappeared fast, some of the early era stalwarts like Shamshad Begum, Suraiya and Geeta Dutt were holding their own. In this scenario, it was difficult for Asha Bholse to make a space for herself. The two dominant composers of the era, Naushad and C Ramchandra, were even more firmly on Lata Mangeshkar bandwagon. They gave a look-up to Asha Bhosle very sparingly in the early years. My view is that they came to Asha Bhosle in later years, especially in the case of C Ramchandra, reluctantly.
And the award for the Best ‘Other’ Female Singer goes to?
This year, too, I faced the familiar dilemma I faced last year while reviewing the best songs of 1951: whether to make a combined list of the best female solos or split it in two – Lata Mangeshkar and ‘Others’. Male solos which I reviewed in my last post do not pose this difficulty. This was best underscored by Mumbaikar 8’s comment: there is not much to wriggle about in male solos. It is both a question of numbers and diversity. The female solos outnumber male solos by a factor of four to one. Within the female solos Lata Mangeshkar had established her position as the frontrunner by miles. As per Venkataramanji’s statistics she had 20% of female solos, in all, in the year, whereas in my Select List she has 32%. The other dominant singers were Geeta Roy and Shamshad Begum accounting for about 41% of the total songs, but in my list they had 31%. Thus, Lata Mangeshkar not only had a large share in the pie, her share in the memorable songs was even larger. I described this phenomenon as flattening of the pyramid. Many readers gave two separate lists, but tried to give a combined list, too, by including 3 or 4 of Lata Mangeshkar and apportioning the rest among the ‘other’ singers.
Hindi films have a very neat structure. They can be divided into three parts – romance, conflict and resolution. The lovers meet, or childhood friends grow up into lovers and dance around trees and sing romantic songs. Then the villain strikes, who lusts for the girl or her wealth, and kidnaps her; or the girl’s Daddy cannot stand the boy and locks her up; therefore, the lovers sing sad songs. In the end all the misunderstandings are removed, or the villain is beaten to pulp, and the lovers unite singing happy songs again. If eight or nine songs are divided evenly, about two or three should fall under the sad part. Some movies have weepy endings, especially if they happen to star a ‘Tragedy King’ or ‘Tragedy Queen’, which means that there could be proportionately more sad songs.
A tribute on his 65th death anniversary (12 December 1907 – 10 August 1950)
In my cryptic history of Hindi film music, as I moved from RC Boral/Pankaj Mullick to Anil Biswas to Naushad, Richard mentioned the omission of Khemchand Prakash. He was so right. Even in the most facile history he has to be mentioned as a major pillar, not only because the Great Mughal Naushad was once his assistant (Bulo C Rani of Jogan fame also had been his assistant), but also because he created many immortal songs, he introduced or gave career-defining songs for many singers, and his name is associated with some of the most important turning points in the history of film music.
A tribute to Rafi on his 35th death anniversary
It is certain that readers would have been expecting something on Rafi with Naushad today, but they would find the inclusion of C Ramchandra surprising and somewhat contrived. While Naushad is the most important composer to have laid the foundation of the Rafi legend, C Ramchandra does not figure among the composers who gave great songs for Rafi. Naushad, SD Burman, OP Nayyar, Shankar Jaikishan, Roshan, Chitragupta, Madan Mohan, Ravi – these are the names that come to mind instantly when you think of Rafi. As a matter of fact, I have read a comment somewhere (not by Raju Bharatan) that CR shared his mentor Anil Biswas’s antipathy for Rafi.
A tribute on Mukesh’s 92nd birth anniversary (22 July 1923 – 27 August 1976)
If someone had asked me a few years ago who the second most prolific male singer of Naushad was, I would have never guessed Mukesh. His songs number only 26 compared to 149 of Rafi. If you compare Mukesh songs by different composers, Shankar-Jaikishan and Kalyanji Anandji did about four times more. Naushad-Mukesh association is essentially limited to three films in 1948-49: Mela, Anokhi Ada and Andaaz. Thereafter, he seems to have forgotten Mukesh for about two decades, until he reappears with some songs in Saathi (1968). By that time, it was clear, Naushad was not too enamoured of him. In Jo chala gaya use bhool ja, a song which is right up Mukesh’s alley, the prelude at high notes has been sung by Mahendra Kapoor, because it was felt that he could not handle it. Not a very flattering revival of their association.
Songs of Yore Award for the Best Male Playback Singer goes to?
The year 1950 too shows, like 1951, that male solos were far outnumbered by female solos (by about a factor of 4), both in the total songs and in my Select List which comprised about 15% of the total songs of the year. There have been many additions by the readers to the Select List. These are overwhelmingly female solos, and within that Lata Mangeshkar songs. If we include those songs the Select list would be about 200, and the female solo dominance over male solos would be even more pronounced. Such overwhelming asymmetry was a feature of film songs in general across all the years. We leave the reasons for such difference for another time; we limit ourselves in this post to intra-male solos’ analysis.