Often, practitioners and aficionados of Hindustani music are disdainful towards film songs from Hindi and regional cinema. This is evident from their remarks both in private conversation and published interviews. If at all, they temper their criticism with some praise for popular film melodies from the past, particularly those composed between the 1950s and the 1970s which they believe are based on various raags. Indeed, if we were to look at Hindi film songs from this period, we would encounter several that have melodies, which are akin to many raags.
However, we cannot jump to the conclusion that these raags have been portrayed in the manner that is prescribed for art or classical music practice. Neither does the melodic phrasing necessarily follow the rules prescribed for these raags, nor is there any melodic elaboration that one would expect from a raag presentation in a conventional Hindustani performance.
But then, film songs were never meant to be raag presentations. They were and continue to be composed and arranged for cinematic sequences. They do not and were not necessarily meant to represent art or classical music, and therefore, to cite them as illustrations for different raags is misleading.
Besides, why should one form or system of music be understood through the lens of another?
What then is the association between Hindustani music and these film songs? To put it in a nutshell, music composers or music directors as they are commonly referred to in the Indian context have often used melodic patterns associated with raags as an inspiration for their work in cinema.
At times, the notes of the raag have been treated as a scale, which inspires a tune for a song, or at other times the general melodic movement of the raag is kept intact in the film song. Extracts of specific compositions from Hindustani music have also been used to launch into a longer film version with added or changed lyrics.
Similarly, Hindustani taals have inspired rhythm arrangement for many film songs.
Given this context, it is not surprising to find mention of raags associated with specific film songs on various media. A quick search on YouTube reveals several such links.
Readers who have tuned in to Vividh Bharati, the commercial service of AIR launched in 1957, would remember the popular programme entitled Sangeet Sarita, which included numerous episodes that briefly outlined the standardised grammar of the raags and taals and identified films songs based on these raags and taals.
This was a classic example of edutainment programmes for radio and it was a quick and easily accessible way of recognising raags from their film derivatives. But those uninitiated in the nuances of Hindustani music often mistakenly concluded that these film songs in fact represented Hindustani music.
Despite this unforeseen result, it is obvious that the association between Hindustani music and film songs has existed and one that needs discussion. But in my opinion, this discussion could help us understand techniques and aesthetics of composition for film songs rather than help understand the nuances of Hindustani raags and taals.
Here is a link to a Sangeet Sarita episodes presented by vocalist Dinanath Mishra.
Over the years, many Hindustani musicians have chosen to participate in thematic concerts that highlight similarities between raags and film songs. Often, these concerts are organised by sponsors or event managers who wish to reach out to wider audiences while maintaining a connection with the ‘classical’. In many such cases, the exercise is undertaken to bring in the crowds while not appearing to be pandering to populist fare. It is creditable that Hindustani musicians who participate in these concerts do not seem to be bogged down by orthodox ideas of purity and authenticity, which they may otherwise espouse elsewhere.
Here is a link to bansuri maestro Hariprasad Chaurasia demonstrating the links between the raag Bhupali and film songs.
We end with a lecture-demonstration on the influence of Hindustani music on Hindi film songs by Amarendra Dhaneshwar, veteran music critic and vocalist of the Gwalior gharana.
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.