Asymmetric Duets

August 21, 2017

Guest article by Subodh Agrawal

(I have often mentioned that duets, though far less in number than solo songs, present a fascinating variety of music. One variety is on account of the lesser known female singers getting a chance to sing with major playback singers like Rafi and Mukesh, and we are richer for that because we get some absolutely fabulous songs minus the Mangeshkar sisters. The other and, perhaps more interesting, variety is on account of the experimentation the music directors do in composition. On this blog there has been detailed discussion on a number of occasions about the duets in which one singer just hums, or has only a few words or just a couple of lines to sing. I developed a Duet Balance Index for analysing this kind of asymmetry in my post titled ‘Some thoughts on mathematical-taxonomic analysis of Hindi films and songs’. That dealt with what may be called ‘airtime asymmetry’. Another interesting asymmetry is ‘tune asymmetry’.

In this guest article, Subodh Agrawal takes a look at such asymmetric duets. I am sure readers will welcome his taking a break from classical songs. Thank you Subodh for another interesting and ‘different’ article. – AK)

I am taking a break from classical songs in films to write on this topic, which arose from a discussion on AK’s post on duets of Talat and Asha. Duets are common in Hindi film music. I don’t have the encyclopaedic knowledge of Mr Vaishnav, Mr Bhatia or Mr Venkataraman to do a detailed analysis, but my hunch is that male-female duets would account for about one third of all songs.


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(While I had already scheduled the first part and was working on the draft for this part on Husnlal-Bhagatram, I was also in touch with Pt Husnlal’s US-based son, Dinesh Kumar Prabhakar, and Pt Bhagtram’s Mumbai-based son, Ashok Bhagatram Sharma. Communication with Ashokji was difficult as he has kept himself outside the digital word, but I was delighted to get a call from Dineshji who was in Delhi, and I had a most memorable meeting with him and his mother, the 90-year old Nirmala Devi, the wife of late Pt Husnlal. I have incorporated the gist of my conversation with them in the later part of this post.)

Husnlal-BhagatramHusnlal-Bhagatram shone like a meteor very briefly, during 1948-51, when their main singers were predominantly Lata Mangeshkar, Suraiya and Rafi. During this period, they created some absolutely mesmerising songs, but in many songs there was a repetitiveness in the melody and orchestration. In the Golden Era of playback singers, they did not diversify much beyond their above preferred singers. Thus, they were behind the curve when Mukesh and Talat Mahmood were creating waves. However, whenever they used them, HB showed their immense potential, for example in Kismat bigadi duniya badli (Mukesh, Afsana, 1951), or Ai meri zindagi tujhe dhoondhoon kahan (Talat Mahmood, Adal-e-Jahangir, 1955). If there was any doubt that they had a limited range, they dispelled it with an absolutely superb song in Kishore Kumar’s voice (duet with Lata Mangeshkar), Lahron se pooch lo ki kinaaron se pooch lo (Kafila, 1952). We also get a sprinkling of some nice songs in Shamshad Begum’s voice.



Meena Kumari: An enigma

August 1, 2017

A tribute to Meena Kumari on her 85th birth anniversary (1 August 1932 – 31 March 1972) by guest author DP Rangan

(SoY readers are now familiar with DP Rangan’s prolific guest posts. So far, he has focused on themes. He now forays into film personalities. Several readers have suggested that I write on songs picturised on specific heroes or heroines. I have been generally hesitant, because my primary classifications are music directors and singers, and any new category becomes overlapping. Our 70-year-old-going-on-17 Mr Rangan is not deterred by such challenges. The tinsel town is full of stars who were at the height of name and fame, but who had a most unhappy personal life, finally dying in penury. Meena Kumari is the foremost example of such tragic figures. It is befitting that Mr Rangan chooses her to pay tribute on her 85th birth anniversary. He also introduces us to her less known singing talent; and true to SoY’s tradition, he presents a good number of her vintage and unknown songs. Thank you Mr Rangan for another excellent article. – AK)

Meena KumariIt was about a year ago that my ‘writing’ was first published, thanks to the generosity of AK in accepting it for this august blog. It was a wonderful moment for me, and enthused by this success I wrote a number of posts on different themes. Emboldened by my new-found confidence, I decided to foray into areas other than themes and plunge into the field of biography, even though I knew it to be a minefield.



A tribute to Geeta Dutt on her 45th death anniversary (23 November 1930 – 20 July 1972) by guest author Ravindra Kelkar

(A general grievance against SoY is that Geeta Dutt has not been given her due place on the blog. There has been one exclusive post on her best songs by SD Burman which, too, incidentally appeared on her death anniversary, four years ago. My post on SD Burman’s best duets for Rafi, too, contained some songs with her. Her songs have also appeared in some other contexts. However, I am aware this is not commensurate with her appeal among music lovers. I was waiting for a worthier person to do justice to her. My wish was granted when our OP Nayyar-expert, Ravindra Kelkar offered to write a series of articles on OPN. His first article giving an overview of three distinct phases of OPN’s career was highly acclaimed. Continuing his series, he comes up with another outstanding article, on OPN-Geeta Dutt combination, as a tribute to her on her 45th death anniversary. I am sure this would more than recompense for my omission. Thanks a lot Mr Kelkar. – AK)

OP Nayyar-Geeta DuttOP Nayyar-Geeta Dutt association started right from OP’s first film Aasman in 1952, in which Geeta Dutt sang 4 solos. It ended with Ragini in the year 1958. She sang in 22 of OP’s films for 62 songs, which included 35 solos, 22 male duets, all with Rafi, and 5 female duets, all with Asha Bhosle. During their association in Aasman, she was impressed with OP’s potential and recommended his name to his would-be husband Guru Dutt for his maiden venture Baaz (1953), and as everybody knows it was the success of Guru Dutt’s next film Aar Paar (1954) which launched OP’s career. So, he had a lot to be grateful to Geeta Dutt.



Husnlal-BhagatramI have signed off the series on Shankar-Jaikishan recently. Before that I had done series on Anil Biswas, Naushad, C Ramchandra and SD Burman. As the readers now expect the next famous music directors in line, there are some yesteryears stalwarts who shone like meteor for a short while, or who gave great music consistently over a long period, but who were not lucky to get sustained commercial success. Though not counted among the G-5 or G-7, they are very dear to the lovers of songs of yore. I was always conscious while doing the series on the superstars that I have to take care that we don’t miss the lesser, but no less talented stars. Husnlal-Bhagatram occupy a very important place in the history of film music as a bridge between the vintage and the golden era, between the theatre-style singing of Zohra Ambalewali, Zeenat Begum and Amirbai Karnataki, and the smooth, melodious singing of Suraiya and Lata Mangeshkar, between GM Durrani and Rafi.



Devdas_Sarat ChandraSome time back,  there was an interesting discussion between Ashok Kumar Tyagi and Hans about the story of Devdas and as to why Sanjay Leela Bhansali took so much liberties with it. I doubt if they realised that it was the centenary year of the publication of Sarat Chandra’s eponymous novel. Such coincidences have often happened on SoY. When I was planning to celebrate 2014 as the centenary year of Anil Biswas, his daughter Shikha Biswas Vohra happened to visit SoY, and on my request, she wrote the inaugural article of the series on him. Last year, a new visitor RS Ramaswamy visited some old posts and commented about MS Subbulakshmi. It happened to be her centenary year, and N Venkataraman wrote an excellent tribute to her.



Guest article by DP Rangan

(It is ironic that while bicycle is being crowded out by scooters, motorcycles and cars in the developing world, it is the developed world where bicycle riding is being promoted in a big way as a means of transport to commute to work or pleasure. A time may come when bicycle may become a distant memory to be savoured from old film songs in India.  Not too long ago, it was the main mode of transport. It also has a fascinating history going back to about three centuries, but, surprising as it may sound, the modern pedal-bicycle evolved later than trains.

After taking us through horses, tongas and steam engine, our indefatigable DP Rangan now logically takes us on a joy-ride of cycle songs. Along the way, he also writes a dissertation on its history. Blog readers have a short attention span, but SoY has a number of readers who would find this part interesting and useful. I must thank Mr Rangan profusely again for his great effort. – AK)

Cycle songI started my first post on a thematic subject – ‘horse’ – because my knowledge of Bollywood in its various aspects is next to nothing. I even admit to some muted feeling of jealousy on my part at the multi-faceted genius of the blog founder AK who can turn out post after post of a bewildering variety with aplomb and rapidity. Theme writing has already been established and I adopted it conveniently to suit my needs. Dinesh K. Jain, a keen and punctilious commentator of the blog made an observation on my first post:



Celebrating with some newly discovered gems and a tribute to Master Madan

Songs of Yore Seventh anniversaryWhen I wrote on the sixth anniversary, I had been concerned by Gaddeswarupji’s ominous statistics that many promising blogs start losing steam in the sixth year. Seven years is ripe age for a blog. This is the stage when, I guess, a blogger starts thinking whether he/she is able to keep the readers still interested, or is doing more of the same. I believe SoY has been able to do more of different things. We are getting new readers, we also get to know of many who follow the blog regularly, though they may not be participating. A highlight has been the arrival of two new guest authors: Ravindra Kelkar and Ashwin Bhandarkar. Mr Kelkar had already made a mark as an OP Nayyar-expert. He filled up an important gap in SoY as I could not have given him the profile commensurate with his fan following. Ashwin is a Master with a light touch. Readers can expect many more offerings from them.



Guest article by Subodh Agrawal

(I had once hesitantly asked Subodh whether he would be writing on Asavari and Jaunpuri in his series on articles on film songs based on classical ragas. The reason for my hesitation was that these ragas might be too light for a connoisseur like him. Therefore, I was extremely happy to find his article on my favourite ragas without any extra nudging from me. The beautiful Ragamalika painting on Asavari Ragini, used as the thumbnail with the article, located by his daughter, is from the Victoria & Albert Museum, London collection, available on their website, which I have downloaded with their permission with grateful thanks. As credited by the V & A Museum, this is by an unknown artist from Hyderabad from 18th century.

Subodh decodes the similar ragas Asavari, Jaunpuri and Dev Gandhar with his characteristic clarity. About the painting, he pointed out a unique feature: In all the paintings on Asavari, snake figures very prominently for some unknown reason. As you enjoy this post, the experts are also called upon to throw light on the snake-Asavari connection.  Thanks Subodh for another excellent piece. – AK)

Asavari Ragini, courtesy @Victoria & Albert Museum, LondonIndian ragas have different times of the day assigned to them. One begins with Lalit at the crack of dawn, and goes on to the Bhairav family. Asavari and its clones Jaunpuri and Dev Gandhar belong to late morning. The original version of Asavari used all four komal swaras – much like Bhairavi. It then ceded popularity to the modern version of Asavari, which uses shudh ‘re’ but komal ‘ga’, ‘dha’ and ‘ni’. When Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande grouped north Indian ragas into ten thaats, he chose Asavari (with shudh ‘re’) as the key raga of the thaat named after it.



Shankar JaikishanIn the first part of Shankar-Jaikishan’s duets, I covered the songs in which either Mukesh or Rafi sang with a female singer. They being the predominant singers, one would think that that post would cover most of the famous duets composed by them. But SJ were hugely talented and diversified, and played a key role in introducing or boosting the career of many singers. Subir Sen, who was among the top singers of Bengali songs, is mainly their gift to Hindi film music. Mukesh’s forays into acting and film production gave an opening for Manna Dey as the voice of Raj Kapoor, and SJ created some iconic duets like Pyar hua iqaraar hua, Aa ja sanam madhu chaandni mein hum, Ye raat bhigi bhigi etc. Even though SD Burman gave Manna Dey his first big hit Upar gagan vishal, and was his uncle KC Dey’s protégé, Manna Dey credited SJ more for giving him prominence. We have also seen that SJ used Talat Mahmood’s voice in at least nine films, more than most composers, though they may not be counted among the elite group who gave the best songs for him. They have used Hemant Kumar sparingly, but they managed to compose a couple of his greatest duets.