I was a musician with them right from 1966. Laxmikant-Pyarelal exposed everyone to how work in music should be done. L-P’s musical phrasing was crystal clear and nuanced – where should Lata ji sing a harkat and where the weight on a syllable should be put, were clear mandates.

While they were teaching Lata bai the song, they would tell her the minutiae at each point. Most other music directors would sing the song in totality and the singer would catch whatever he or she wanted and sing. But with L-P, it was strict detailing – “This is the dinner I want now, and at exactly 10 p.m., I want this sweet dish, and at 10:30, I want coffee!” That is why L-P’s songs were always different, distinctive and unique.

The mood had to be followed strictly in L-P’s music. And application, more than knowledge, was important. That is where Pyarelal went beyond being a mere arranger – he was like a mother to his songs, teaching the compositions manners, imbibing culture into them. See the orchestration that creates the atmosphere of midnight and the judicious gentle use of the period pipes in “Man Kyoon Behka” (Utsav). I have seen such detailing genius only in one more composer – Sonik, of Sonik-Omi, who earlier arranged music for Madan Mohan.

Some make music, some express themselves

I have worked with Pyare-bhai for 33 years, and he never composed music at home. In 30 minutes in the studio, he would make the theme music of a song. This is what I want to emphasize: some people make music, but Pyare-bhai just expressed himself. It is just how Dilip Kumar’s glance or Rishi Kapoor’s raised eyebrow can speak volumes in place of even 10 lines of dialogues by others.

And when Pyare-bhai composed a tune, it was inwards, reflective, ghazal-like: “Yeh Dil Tum Bin” (Izzat), “Tum Gagan Ke Chandrama Ho” (Sati Savitri) or “Yeh Jo Chilman Hai” (Mehboob Ki Mehndi) are by Pyare-bhai. Laxmi-ji had a more open style, like “Yoon Besabab Jahaan Mein” (Mehandi Rang Layegi). With Pyare, it was more about the detailing of the intricate musical phrases, whereas with Laxmi-ji, it was more about gaayaki (vocal expertise).

As for Laxmi-ji, he too would never come prepared, but was always worked-up. “I want to do something today!” was his credo. I have seen just three other composers like him – Madan ji, Shankar ji and Usha Khanna. Put the words in front of them, and there were dozens of tunes ready in as many minutes.

Laxmikant Kudalkar with his mandolin. Courtesy Jaya Laxmikant.

Both of them never referred to any song as hamara gaana, but as apna gaana, suggesting a sense of belonging. One morning, I recorded a song for Shahenshah, my own film as composer, and in the same afternoon I was playing the violin for them, and Amitabh Bachchan was surprised to see me there. But they both told him, “He is like our baccha (our son).” They never looked on me as a potential rival. They nurtured me like parents do.

If you observe film music, there is only one composer entity that has given the industry a line of singers, and not just discovered or introduced them but made them successful. And the way they treated musicians – do you know that at any recording, where if there were 45 to 50 musicians in the morning, they would swell to 90 by evening? Any musician who had no work for a few days would be cordially invited by Laxmikant to meet Pyare-bhai and sit in the orchestra. This trait was there in Shankar-Jaikishan as well, but to a very limited extent. But the L-P recording was like a fair, an event.

If any other recording was cancelled and Pyare-bhai came to know, he would call the musicians from there – even if he already had 40 violins, he would summon 15 more. Grandeur was L-P – they loved their work! Other music directors would have four or five musicians in the woodwinds section, L-P would have 35 to 40! There was an abundance of sitar – as many as eight! Guitar, banjo, rabab, mandolin, santoor – there was no end! At least 100 families’ households ran because of Laxmikant-Pyarelal – no one else has done it.

And L-P never made anyone feel they were doing any favours. They would say instead, “Hamein chahiye aap log. (We need you.)” Out-of-work composers and arrangers – Prabhakar Jog and Srinivas Khale from Marathi films, Dattaram, who had worked with S-J, Jai Kumar Parte from Kalyanji-Anandji’s team, Master Sonik himself, Basu from R.D. Burman’s team – who would play cello at every recording – and even Babloo Chakravorty, all worked with us.

Including me, there would be 30 to 35 music directors playing at L-P’s recordings, including Viju Shah, Anil Mohile, Arun Paudwal, Sameer Sen, Kishore Sharma and others!

Pyarelal Sharma at his house in Mumbai. Courtesy Pyarelal Sharma.

And L-P were so fastidious that they would wait for even a month for a specific musician. I remember getting a call from Amitabh Bachchan himself when I was doing my own song in a studio, because Pyare-bhai wanted only me for an important part of the Khuda Gawah background score that was being recorded – it was Amit ji’s own production. And for the same film’s song “Tu Na Ja Mere Badshah”, Pyare-bhai told me that he did not want my violin to sound like a typical violin but something with a Pashto ang (feel). He was very specific: “I want Afghanistan, not Arabia, Lebanon or Egypt.”

For Rafi saab’s “Dard-E-Dil” (Karz), Pyare-bhai postponed the recording by three hours because I was delayed at a Pancham recording. My solo violin was there, and there was not enough space to stand next to Rafi saab, so an extra microphone was arranged! All the violin solos in L-P’s songs have always been mine, except for in “Ek Pyar Ka Naghma Hai” (Shor), which was played by Jerry Fernandes.

With any other music director, a violin was a violin, but not with these geniuses. In innumerable cases, a trumpet would be played like a shehnai and vice-versa. Gorakh, Pyare-bhai’s brother, would play guitar pieces to the notes of a sarod, and the reverse too would happen. Working with them was not easy in that sense.

I would like to shed light on one unhappy aspect: that both Lata ji and Asha ji were severely upset with Laxmi-ji when he shifted to the younger singers in the late ’80s and early ’90s. But what could he do then with so much work pressure? The two sisters were frequently out on tours and there was no time to wait for weeks or months. Sadly, the brunt of this anger was borne only by Laxmi-ji, which was very unfair.

Such a team will never return. Shankar-Jaikishan never worked as a pair. It was like a contract – two people working individually. L-P was a proper team that complemented each other.

Excerpted with permission from Music by Laxmikant Pyarelal – The Incredibly Melodious Journey, Rajiv Vijayakar, Rupa Publications.