But in this brave new digital and borderless world, there is one Norwegian citizen who has probably done more to turn the people, not just of Scandinavia, but the world, on to the grandeur of [one aspect of] Indian culture than all the official diplomatic efforts of both countries. This Norwegian is a non-Hindi speaking bloke based in Oslo where he lives a normal working life with his small family. His business card identifies him as a graphic designer but in reality he is a much-revered source of information on Hindi film music. Countless people around the world, including thouands of Indians, have book-marked and pay regular visits to his blog where he shares his love of RD Burman, Shankar Jaikishan, Anandji Kalyanji, the "item number" and the great singers of Bombay cinema’s Golden Era.
With a self-deprecation typical of Nordic people, the bloke prefers to remain anonymous all the better to shine a light on the music he loves so much. He grew up surrounded by eclectic music, including the somewhat mis-named sub genre of Bollywood funk and the music of Cornershop (Brimful of Asha), but the penny finally dropped one night in a club. The Disc Jockey spun a disc which sounded so cool, so funky and so different that it forced this "ordinary, football loving graphic designer" to approach the DJ, and demand, “What was that?”
Meri Jawani Upaasna
It was Meri Jawani composed by Kalyanji-Anandji.
“This kickstarted my passion for Bollywood soundtracks,” says our mystery man. “I was originally only aware of the song’s second part (from around 3:30) – acquiring the soundtrack LP and hearing the opening multi-styled miniature suite was almost as big a revelation.”
If the visit to the club proved to be a road to Damascus experience, a few years later, with more than a 150 Hindi film soundtrack long-playing records in his possession, most of which he had not found the time to listen to, he had his Eureka moment.
“I had lost track of which LPs were worthwhile and which ones weren’t, so I decided I would play through them all, systematically, and take notes.”
Rather than keep the fun entirely to himself, our blogger, who identifies himself only as PC, decided he would start a blog. And so history was made. Music from the Third Floor or MFTF as it is known to its followers is now one of the most visited sites on the internet for those looking for music from 1960s, 1970s and 1980s Hindi films.
”I didn’t conceive of a very large audience so I was surprised when what initially was just me coming to terms with my own collection started to gain popularity. I love getting feedback from Western followers telling me I've introduced them to a new, magical musical world, but I'm also pleased that a large percentage of the audience is actually from India and with first hand experience of these soundtracks. A note I received from a music director's daughter telling me I'd reacquainted her father with one of his own scores was particularly gratifying.”
I Am Falling In Love Deewaar
PC chooses this RD Burman composition as one of his top three favorites. (Others are: Aaj Ki Raat from Anamika and Chura Liya Hai Tum Ne from Yaadon Ki Baaraat). The song, sung by Ursula Vaz is “shamefully undiscovered; only partially heard in the film it was left off most versions of the soundtrack album. What an omission.“ The song in its entirety has later been reissued and can be found here.
It should come as no surprise who PC considers the best musical director of all time.
“There’s no way to avoid Rahul Dev Burman. You can’t overstate his importance. I once mistakenly credited him with introducing Western styles into Bollywood music. I later learned that that had actually happened decades earlier. But from the very start of his career, Burman was the one to constantly experiment, mix, innovate, push boundaries, rewrite the rule book… defining an entire generation of music direction in the process. Truly a visionary, he was a genius at arranging and had an uncanny knack for writing unforgettable songs. The amount of fantastic scores he created between the late 1960s and early 1980s is staggering.”
Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho Haste Zakhm
As large as the figure of Pancham Da is in Hindi film music PC’s tastes are catholic indeed.
“This is a mind-blowing Madan Mohan composition that I never tire of. Very different to what Burman, Kalyani-Anandji et al. were up to it’s nonetheless a complex and multifaceted piece of music featuring a multitude of styles, instruments and effects. Eight minutes of mesmerizing magic, soundtracking a lurid-coloured, LSD-drenched car trip.”
PC’s approach to his blog is pithy and no nonsense. He provides a few concise thoughts on the album in question such as:
“I still can’t decide to what (if any) extent I’m a fan of Rajesh Roshan. His music tends to vary from mildly pleasant to pretty good; never really bad but seldom truly spectacular. 'Aap Ki Deewane' is no exception.”
These rather abrupt summations are like a glass of water in the face: shocking and refreshing at the same time.
“As for knowing the records well, it’s important to note that my take on what I hear is from an outsider’s viewpoint. I don’t understand a word of the lyrics, I usually haven’t seen the films so I know very little about the music’s context, and I’m shamefully unknowledgeable about Indian culture in general. But perhaps that’s part of the blog’s appeal: the outsider’s fresh perspective.”
According to PC, the name of the blog, Music From The Third Floor “comes partly from the first soundtrack I posted, Teesri Manzil (meaning Third Floor), and partly from the fact that I was at the time blogging from a third floor apartment.”
What is it about the music of this era that is so attractive?
“What struck me most when I first started listening to Bollywood soundtracks and has remained a large part of the appeal is the eclecticism, the East meets West aspect, finding things in the music I hadn't really associated with India. I’m generally surrounded by Western pop, rock, soul, funk, dance, jazz, electronica and so forth; recognizing these idioms in a context that was unfamiliar to me was very intriguing. Delving further I’ve additionally come to appreciate the musicianship and the craftsmanship involved in both composing and performing.”
Babuji Dheere Chalna Aar Paar
“The Geeta Dutt song I find myself coming back to most often is this one from Aar Paar. The 1970s will always be my favourite decade for Bollywood soundtracks, but every now and then I need old school tonics like this; such an exquisite, nostalgic sound. This is also one of many Bollywood songs that in essence were remakes of Western hits, or in this case Latin - the melody being very similar to Spanish Caribbean standard Quizás, Quizás, Quizás (aka Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps).”
“If there’s a single Bollywood playback singer I’d actually call myself a fan of it is Geeta Dutt. There’s something, not quite definable, about her voice (very different sounding from Lata and Asha) that I find irresistible. There’s a quote about her by critic Raju Bharatan that I really love: ‘The first thing that strikes one when you hear Geeta Dutt sing was that she never sang. She just glided through a tune.’’’
Having said that, PC confesses to appreciating most of major playback singers, but with a certain caveat.
“I love the rock’n’roll songs Rafi did for Shankar Jaikishan and others, Lata has sung some spellbinding ballads, and Asha was obviously queen of the Bollywood cabaret number. For me it has always been the song more than the singer though; great as the above were (along with Kishore, Manna Dey, Mukesh, and later on singers such as Salma Agha and Sharon Prabhakar), if a song doesn’t appeal to me, nothing they could contribute would change that.”
Tere Jaisa Pyara Koi Nahin Hotel
While the number of non-Indian boosters of Bollywood funk continues to grow there are fewer who appreciate Bombay’s dalliance with disco.
“It took me a long while to learn to like Bollywood disco. I found the tackiness of most of what Bappi Lahiri (especially) was doing too much to bear. I’ve since come to appreciate him a lot more though. There’s a number of his soundtracks I now rate highly. But I’m opting for this slightly harder, funkier version of disco as it gives me the opportunity to mention Usha Khanna, the only female music director to have maintained a long-term career in Bollywood.”