At the turn of the last century, practitioners of Hindustani music were suddenly faced with new technologies.  Despite their general initial reluctance to record gramophone discs, they soon saw this as yet another means to disseminate their music to a wider audience and as an additional source of income.

Cinema similarly provided musicians with a new means of sustenance.  With the emergence of the talkies in the 1930s, musicians took up employment with film production houses established in Bombay and Calcutta, working as members of the orchestra, as actor-singers, or as composers. Film songs and background scores placed a different set of demands on practitioners of Hindustani music, who had until then performed art music live or recorded for gramophone discs. In the new setup, they had to make music that was composed and arranged to suit the purposes of the film narrative.   In this situation, the element of elaboration that was integral to Hindustani music was eliminated.

Between those early years and now, several practitioners of Hindustani music have been involved in film music recordings. Most of them were instrumentalists; vocalists seem to have participated less frequently.

Curiously, not all of them wished to discuss their work in films. They probably felt their involvement in film recordings was a compromise that they were forced into in order to make ends meet. To that extent, they did not feel as emotionally attached to their work in films as they did with their presentations of art music.  But they also possibly do not want their film work to take away from their personae as practitioners of art or classical music. As a result, the anonymity lent to instrumentalists as members of film orchestras proved beneficial to them.

The situation today is quite different: many practitioners of Hindustani music see their involvement in film music, however infrequent, as an added qualification.  They are happy to see their names feature in the credits as singers, instrumentalists or composers.

Countless songs that can be cited as examples of superb artistry on the part of instrumentalists.  But here are a few instances of vocalists who have lent their voices to early Hindi film songs. Evidently, these songs are composed along the lines of traditional raag-based ghazal (in the first instance), khayal (in the second and third instances), and thumri (in the fourth instance) compositions. Thus in a sense, they did not steer the vocalists away from their areas of musical comfort.

Begum Akhtar
Six songs from Roti 

Famous for her ghazal and thumri-dadra renditions, Begum Akhtar (1914-1974) acted and sang for the film Roti (1942), the music for which was composed by Anil Biswas.

Saraswati Rane
Bina Madhur Madhur Kachu Bol

The next song features Kirana gharana vocalist Saraswati Rane (1913-2006), daughter of renowned vocalist Abdul Karim Khan  singing playback in the film Ram Rajya (1943), with music composed by Shankarrao Vyas, a disciple of music educationist and vocalist Vishnu Digambar Paluskar.

Amir Khan and DV Paluskar
Aaj Gaawat Man Mero Jhoom Ke

Founder of the Indore gharana Amir Khan (1912-1974) also sang a duet with DV Paluskar (1921-1955) for the film Baiju Bawra (1952).  The music director for this film was Naushad.

Bade Ghulam Ali Khan
Prem Jogan Ban Ke Sundari

The last track features the inimitable Patiala gharana vocalist Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (1901-1968) singing for the film Mughal-E-Azam (1960).  The music for the film was composed by Naushad, but this song is based on a thumri immortalised by Bade Ghulam Ali Khan in raag Sohini.