Since the early days of cinema in India, Hindustani musicians have worked in film music orchestras, as vocalists and as composers. In addition to working in Hindi cinema, some Hindustani musicians have been involved in regional cinema. Some have composed music for non-Indian films. In rare cases, some even appeared on screen.
This column has previously discussed the connection between Hindustani raags and film songs. Today, we will begin a short series on Hindustani musicians who have composed film songs for Hindi cinema. As will be evident over the next few weeks, despite their training in Hindustani music, these musicians did not restrict themselves to the grammar and compositional forms of raag music. They composed what they felt was relevant to the narrative, which is why their songs were not dhrupads, khayals or thumris, but were very much embedded in the film song genre.
The selection of such composers and their work that will be presented in this series is not comprehensive. Rather, it is illustrative of the fact that not all Hindustani musicians were averse to cinema and film songs. They may have been drawn to this work in their search for supplementary avenues of income or may have felt a creative urge to experiment with a new musical form.
More importantly, whatever their motivation, some of the songs they composed are still remembered. Their work amply demonstrates the fact that Hindustani musicians have not been rigid in their approach to music-making as is often made out to be.
We begin this series with film songs composed by sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. The first three songs are from the film Dharti Ke Lal, produced by the Indian People’s Theatre Association in 1946 and directed by Khwaja Ahmed Abbas. The lyrics for this film were by Ali Sardar Jafri, Nemichand Jain, Wamiq, and Prem Dhavan.
Shankar’s music in the first two songs borrows heavily from the folk idiom.
The next two are songs of protest composed by the maestro for Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar, also made in 1946. Lyrics for the film were written by Vishwamitter Adil and Manmohan Anand.
We end with two of the maestro’s songs from Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anuradha (1960). Penned by Shailendra, the songs from this film are perennial favourites with film music lovers.
Readers can find more information about these films in the Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema by Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen (BFI Publishing, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1998).
One of India’s leading tabla players, Aneesh Pradhan is a widely recognised performer, teacher, composer and scholar of Hindustani music. Visit his website here.