Film Music – First 40 Years.

Musical_Instruments_-_www.filmkailm.comWith this post completes a century (100 posts). I want to extend my thanks to our patrons, regular and wanderers, for working on this relationship the last two years. Cheers for your love, support and feedback. And here’s hoping for more of the same as we roll on to the next 100. Jai ho Cinema.

How did music come to form such an essential part or our films? The answer probably lies in our great cultural heritage. Chanting of Vedic hymns during hawans and yagnas since time immemorial and the traditional singing of bhajans, aartis and later qawwalis all go to prove how music is embedded in our culture.

Music director Naushad Ali explained the over whelming popularity of film music, “Film music was a spontaneous and exuberant growth emerging from an older folk music and adapting itself to an ever-changing social structure.

Naushad with Rafi

On the other hand classical music, which was born in sacred temples and later flourished in the courts of rajas and nawabs, could never be the art of the masses as they didn’t have access to the courts so it remained the preserve of the élite.”

Early Indian films were first made in India they were nothing more than filmed versions of our stage plays, all of which had songs. With silent films an attempt was made to create the musical atmosphere by the exhibitor engaging a harmonium master and a tabla player who would sit in the pit and play appropriate tunes to suit the various situations. With the introduction of sound, the addition of songs was a natural progression.

W M Khan - 1st film song -

W M Khan in Alam Ara

The songs which the talkies had borrowed from the stage were transformed through Western instrumentation and rhythms. The musicologists were quick to protest against this hybrid music and have been protesting ever since. But to the film makers what mattered was their audience.

In ‘Alam Ara’, W M Khan sang India’s first film-song ‘De de Khuda ke naam pe’. The film was a collection of gimmicks held together by 11 songs yet audience response was ecstatic. Film companies struggling against increased costs following the advent of sound, seemed to find a panacea. The flood gates were opened to film music and it was Madan Theatres who seized on the musical film form.

They made three commercial block-busters in rapid succession Shirin Farhaad (7 songs), Laila Majnu (22 songs) and Shakuntala (41 songs including the famous ‘Bachao bachao sakhi ko bachao’). Subsequently as the educated class was drawn to the film medium, film-culture showed a significant improvement and so did film music.


Govindrao Tembe, Pankaj Mullick, Timir Baran, R C Boral

Early stars of film music were composers well versed in classical music. The names which immediately come to mind are Timir Baran (Adhikar, Kumkum), R. C. Boral (Chandidas, Devdas, Dhoop Chhaon)  and Pankaj Mullick (Maya, Mukti, Doctor) of New Theatres, Calcutta; Govindrao Tembe (Maya Machindra, Ayodhya ka Raja), Keshavrao Bhole (Amrit Manthan, Sant Tukaram, Duniya na Mane) and Master Krishna Rao (Dharamatma, Amar Jyoti, Aadmi) of Prabhat, Poona; Saraswati Devi (Achhut Kanya, Kangan, Bandhan) of Bombay Talkies and later Khemchand Prakash (Holi, Tansen, Mahal), Gyan Dutt (Thokar, Sant Tulsidas, Achhut) of Ranjit and Anil Biswas (Watan, Ek hi Raasta, Kismet) of Sagar Movietone, Bombay. The emphasis shifted from quantitative to qualitative.


Anil Biswas, Khemchand Prakash, Saraswati Devi

In particular, the films which Debaki Bose directed for New Theatres had enchanting music exemplified this welcome change in film music. His ‘Chandidas’ and ‘Vidyapati’ (Music – R C Boral) were hailed as “poetry on celluloid” and a critic, commented that these two were the “revolutionary classics which altered the conception of the quality and function of music in films.”

Husnlal Bhagatram

The problem faced by those music directors was how to give popular shapes to our classical ragas. It is a measure of their skill and competence that they gave us any number of Bageshwaris, Bhairavis, Bhim Palasis, Kedars, Darbaris and practically all other ragas; each distinct from the other and yet so melodious.  They took great pains to see that the various songs were sung at appropriate times of day and night as portrayed in the film.

Rafiq Ghaznavi

In Shantaram’s ‘Mahatma’ (1935) Sant Eknath‘s son, who has heard of the ‘irreligious’ activities of his father, decides to confront him. On reaching home he finds Eknath singing a bhajan in Bhairavi ‘Prem jug Bihari’ as it is early morning and is oblivious of the outside world; the son too is apparently completely transformed.

Again there is a scene in Shantaram’s ‘Aadmi’ (1939) where the hero returns from duty early in the morning while his mother sings ‘Jag meethi neend’ in sweet Bhairavi.

1930-40 is considered to be the golden era of the Indian talkie when some of the most purposeful and hit films were produced. In 1939, the Second World War started. Old values gave way to an urge to get rich quick and speed became the order of the day. Even mediocre films earned good profits for their producers. Moneyed people with no knowledge of film craft entered the film industry and started making what became known as ‘formula’ films. Film music too could not remain unaffected.

Ghulam Haider

By 1940, it became obvious that the conventional type of film music could no longer hold its own. It had to undergo a revolutionary change. The credit for bringing this about went to the late Master Ghulam Haider of Punjab. The film which established him was Pancholi’s ‘Khazanchi’ (1941) made in Lahore which broke all previous box-office records. Some of its popular songs were ‘Sawan ke nazare hain’ and ‘Diwali phir aa gai Sajni’.

A novelty about Ghulam Halder’s tunes was that they were composed in pieces which when strung together, produced the most appealing melodies. ‘Khazanchi‘ was followed by ‘Khandaan’, ‘Zamindar’  ‘Humayun’ and ‘Shaheed’.

S. Mohinder

His lead was followed by other Punjabi music directors such as Pt. Amar Nath (Nishani, Dhamki), Shyam Sunder (Sohni Kumharan, Laila Majnu, Gul Baloch), Govind Ram (Himmat, Mangti), Khurshid Anwar (Kudmai, Koel) Rashid Attre, Husanlal – Bhagatram (Chand, Afsana, Badi Bahen) and Hansraj Bahal (Pujari, Rajput, Rajdhani). Later we had Sardul Singh Kwatara (Posti, Goonj, Mirza Sahiban), S Mohinder (Shirin Farhad, Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai) and G S Kohli (Bhai Behen, Shikari) make their mark.

C Ramachandra

Other significant changes took place in the film industry in the period 1940-50. Playback singing, which took tentative steps starting with New Theatre’s film ‘Dhoop Chhaon’ (1935, Music: R C Boral became the dominant form. The song ‘Main Khush Hona Chahun’ had an all women chorus led by Parul Ghosh with Suprova Sarkar and Harimati.

New composers still relied on raga base but fresh sounds emerged and the entrance of Naushad, Firoz Nizami, Rafiq Ghaznavi, C. Ramchandra, N Datta and Shankar Jaikishen ensured it. And after Partition, many of the Muslim music directors and singers migrated to Pakistan which was a big talent drain.

Shankar Jaikishan

The vast popularity of film music became apparent when in 1952 an attempt was made to replace film music on the All India Radio with classical sangeet, people responded by switching over to Radio Ceylon. As AIR smugly broadcast programmes in Sanskrit (a language spoken at that time probably by 493 people) and organised talks on subjects like ‘Evolution of Dhrupada in Hindustani Music’, those concerned with the use of radio as a communication medium were alarmed at its dwindling audience. Subsequently film music was restored on AIR.

O_P_Nayyar_-_www.filmkailm.comNeither was any attempt made to study the grammar of the new hybrid form of music. As Anil Biswas noted with regret in 1955 in a Film Seminar report, “Little research has been made in the field of film music. Orchestration is yet in its infancy in India. Indian instruments have not yet been tested for all their tonal values. Electro-mechanisation is yet new to most of our musicians. Microphones and projectors have enabled us to annihilate space and time, but we’ve not yet been able to appreciate their qualities.”

Madan Mohan

If Pankaj Mullick brought Rabindra Sangeet into films, then Naushad was responsible for Hindustani classical, Madan Mohan, ghazals, C Ramachandra experimented with western instrumentation and R.D. Burman, pop and jazz.

With coming of the fifties, the studio system had collapsed. Fresh creators emerged: S D Burman, old in years but young in compositions, Madan Mohan, ghazal maestro, O. P. Nayyar – master of rhythm, Roshan, Sajjad Hussein, Hemant Kumar, Salil Choudhry, Jaidev, Ravi, Ghulam Mohamed, Chitragupt, Ramlal, Sardar Malik, C. Arjun and in the sixties Kalyanji Anandji, Laxmikant Pyarelal, Sapan Jagmohan, Sonik Omi and R D Burman,.


Some of the most significant musical compositions in the period since the end of II World War have been in the following films; Taxi Driver, Pyaasa, Guide and Aradhana (S. D. Burman), Albela, Anarkali, Navrang and Stree (C. Ramchandra);Anmol Ghadi, Baiju Bawra, Mother India, Mughal e Azam and Mere Mehboob (Naushad); Dil-E-Nadan, Mirza Ghalib and Pakeezah (Ghulam Mohamed); Bari Bahen and Afsana (Husanlal Bhagatram):

Sajjad Hussain

Do Ankhen Barah Haath, Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje and Goonj Uthi Shehnai (Vasant Desai); Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam, Bees Saal Baad, Nagin and Khamoshi (Hemant Kumar); Mamta, Barsaat ki Raat, Dil Hi Toh Hai and Taj Mahal (Roshan); Awara, Shri 420, Anari, Basant Bahar and Amarpali (Shankar-Jaikishen).


Nasir Hussain, S D Burman and R D

Other memorable soundtracks were Naya Daur, Ek Musafir Ek Hasina, Kashmir ki Kali and Mere Sanam (O. P. Nayyar); (Sadhana, Dhool ka Phool, Dharamputra (N Datta); Mujhe Jeene Do, Hum Dono and Reshma aur Shera (Jaidev); Aandhiyan (Ali Akbar); Anuradha (Ravi Shankar);


Sangeet Samrat Tansen and Rani Roopmati (S. N. Tripathi): Anpadh, Sanjog, Hanste Zakham and Dastak (Madan Mohan); Madhumati, Jagte Raho and Anand (Salil Choudhry); Parasmani, Dosti, Milan and Do Raaste (Laxmikant Pyarelal); Saudagar, Chor Machaye Shor and Fakira (Ravindra Jain) and Teesri Manzil, Padosan, Kati Patang and Hare Rama Hare Krishna (R D Burman).

1975 was a tragic year for our film music as three stalwarts S D Burman, Madan Mohan and Vasant Desai passed away one after another – but like life itself, film music too found a way to survive and thrive.

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