The 1980s were troubled times for Hindi film music. As several producers from Chennai and Hyderabad went to Mumbai to make films (and a quick buck) based on flimsy scripts, the music quality dipped. The Bappi Lahiri wave, the Sridevi-Jayaprada-Jeetendra wave, the T-Series wave…The decade was a series of such waves that dumped low-grade music on unsuspecting souls.

Most of the stalwart composers from the olden days had either passed away or withdrawn into the shadows of retirement. Very few from the old guard remained. Khayyam was one of them. He made lovely music for Nakhuda, Bazaar, Umrao Jaan and Lorie, but starting pulling back from work in the mid-1980s.

RD Burman began the decade in fine form, but was soon caught off-guard by the choppy waters of change. And, in the wake of a few films that flopped, he found himself out of favour of directors whose mainstay he had been for long. A combination of these factors sent him into self-doubt and a depressive state of mind, leaving him unsure about his music.

Ravi’s output was indifferent. Only Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Rajesh Roshan (apart from Bappi Lahiri, that is) measured up to the changed realities of the industry. But the quality of their music suffered.

It won’t be an exaggeration to say that, as far as Hindi films were concerned, the 1980s saw a battle between melody and cacophony. And in this battle, two unlikely people fought for melody: Shivkumar Sharma and Hariprasad Chaurasia, the celebrated Hindustani classical musicians. Combining their talents to form the composer duo Shiv-Hari, the santoor virtuoso (Sharma) and the master of the bansuri (Chaurasia) emerged as a formidable if surprising team that created some of the finest songs of the 1980s and the early part of the 1990s.

Shivkumar Sharma (left) and Hariprasad Chaurasia at a charity concert for the Paramhansa Yogananda Trust in 2018.

For proof that quality trumps quantity any day, we simply have to look at Shiv-Hari’s work. The fragrance of their music lingers so strongly even today, that most people think they have a large body of work. But the truth is that they composed music for just eight films. And seven out of those eight films had the same man at the helm: Yash Chopra. Collaborating with Chopra in Silsila, Faasle, Vijay, Chandni, Lamhe, Parampara and Darr, Shiv-Hari created a unique sound that was part-folksy, part-contemporary, and highly emotive.

Credit for creating the Shiv-Hari entity goes to Chopra. In a recent conversation, Sharma told me, “Hariji and I knew Yash Chopra from the time we used to play music for BR Chopra’s films. Over a period of time, we developed a good rapport with him. When he branched out as an independent producer-director, Yashji was keen to have us in the orchestra of his films, irrespective of who the music composer was. And then, at a music sitting in the seventies, he suggested that we should start composing music for films.”

But while that made for good talk, it remained a hazy prospect. Sharma and Chaurasia were busy throughout the year, dividing their time between the music studio and the concert stage. But the prospect crystallised into reality in 1980, when Chopra invited them to compose music for Silsila, which he was launching that year.

Dekha Ek Khwab, Silsila (1981).

After Trishul (1978) and Kala Patthar (1979), Silsila saw Chopra return to the soft fold of romance – his favourite genre of cinema. With his trademark staples of a multiple star cast, lush locales and a story that explored the tangled threads of marital and extra-marital relationships, the film promised great scope for music. Sharma and Chaurasia accepted Chopra’s invitation and came together to form Shiv-Hari.

Though it turned out to be a great decision for all concerned, it initially seemed to be a gamble. There was some doubt and snickering that Chopra had roped in classical musicians to compose music for films. Did they understand this genre well? Did they know the pulse of the film audience, which was vastly different from the elitist audience that attended their concerts? Some others said that Sharma and Chaurasia were sacrificing the purity of their art by venturing into a “crassly commercial” field.

But Sharma and Chaurasia were not swayed by any of this, and with good reason. They had been Hindi film musicians for years, and had played in the orchestra of many composers including SD Burman, Madan Mohan and Khayyam. That experience was priceless, because it taught them the intricacies of composing and arranging film music.

Then, having performed live at several venues, they had a good feel for the pulse of the audience. Indeed, they lived on a steady diet of instant feedback. Their collaborations with several stellar musicians from India and abroad had exposed them to diverse musical styles and instruments. They had also moulded them into open-minded people who were keen to meld various influences into their film music. Considering all this, Chopra’s suggestion that they form the Shiv-Hari combine was a masterstroke.

Rang Barse, Silsila (1981).

Silsila was released in 1981. While the film itself received only a lukewarm response, the music charmed the public. Joining hands with another debutant, lyricist Javed Akhtar, Shiv-Hari created melodies like Dekha Ek Khwaab Toh Yeh Silsile Hue, Neela Aasmaan So Gaya and Yeh Kahaan Aa Gaye Hum. Sharma said, “Yashji wanted Yeh Kahaan Aa Gaye Hum to just have Amitabh narrating poetry. But we wanted to give it a different feel. After several discussions, we converted it into a song in Lata Mangeshkar’s voice, using Amitabh’s narration as punctuation. That hadn’t been done in Hindi films before.”

Another refreshing move was to present singer Pamela Chopra’s voice in an unusually contemplative solo. Until then, she had only been the voice of rambunctious wedding songs. But in Khud Se Jo Vaada, whose poignant lyrics were written by Nida Fazli, we hear a Pamela Chopra we had never heard before. Rang Barse, Harivanshrai Bachchan’s bhang-infused Uttar Pradesh-style Hori number, continues to be the Holi song even today.

Hum Chup Hain, Faasle (1985).

Because Faasle (1985) sank at the box office, its music sank too. But the film has some gorgeous songs. In yet another love story that straddles two generations and is set in Kashmir (this had become the Yash Chopra formula, by then), Shiv-Hari work their magic on Shahryar’s expressive lyrics.

While the breezy tunes of Janam Janam and Hum Chup Hain capture the youthful thrum of love, In Aankhon Ke Zeenon Se is really a narration of poetry in the shaayarana andaaz, accompanied by minimal music. And in Yun Toh Milne Ko, Asha Bhosle beautifully articulates the pangs of half-consummated love.

The music of Vijay (1988), though pleasant in parts, is underwhelming by Shiv-Hari’s standards.

Tera Karam Hi, Vijay (1988).

And then, in 1989, came a film that announced that the composers had cemented their place in the industry: Chandni. This chartbuster allowed Shiv-Hari to articulate the myriad colours of love through their music. The mellow notes of Lagi Aaj Saawan, Tere Mere Honthon Pe and Tu Mujhe Suna counterbalance the robust flavours of Mere Haathon Mein and the euphoric nature of the title song, Chandni O Meri Chandni (in which Sridevi’s shrill voice does grate a bit).

Lagi Aaj Saawan, Chandni (1989).

Lamhe (1991) allowed the composers to come up with a score that shows their composing and orchestral abilities in their full glory. As the story travels from Rajasthan to England, the music travels alongside. The film features rustic Rajasthani songs, stylish romantic duets and even a bhajan.

The folksy strains of the sarangi, ravanhatta and duff of Morni Baga Ma seamlessly morph into the Western notes of the trumpet and fugel horn in Kabhi Main Kahoon. Lamhe was one of the best-selling albums of that year.

Morni, Lamhe (1991).

Parampara (1992) has some lovely songs, too, but they went unnoticed because the film flopped. Aadhi Raat Ko and Phoolon Ke Is Sheher Mein are racy numbers, but the best song of the film is the slow and sensuous Tu Saawan Main Pyaas Piya.

In 1993, Shiv-Hari delivered another thundering hit: Darr, a film in which the bold strokes of obsession are painted on a canvas of love. Darwaza Band Kar Lo, Ang Se Ang Lagana and Tu Mere Saamne are all peppy songs, but it was Jadoo Teri Nazar that ruled the airwaves for months after the film’s release.

Jadoo Teri Nazar, Darr (1993).

Darr marked the culmination of a rollicking ride for Shiv-Hari with Yash Raj Films. Sharma told me, “We have always been classical musicians, primarily. Hariji and I had a packed concert calendar. It was becoming increasingly difficult for us to fit films into our respective schedules. We therefore informed Yashji that we wanted to focus on only classical music from then on. He saw our point and agreed.”

Shiv-Hari composed music for just one other Hindi film — Sahibaan, directed by Ramesh Talwar, Chopra’s erstwhile assistant. That film too has some beautiful music.

For 13 years, Shiv-Hari held their own amidst the changing trends in film music without sacrificing the soul of their output or their distinctive style. “A big advantage of theirs was their mastery of classical music,” music arranger and composer Anand Sahasrabudhe said. “It allowed them to bend raags into any form and create lovely tunes. This, combined with their long stint as musicians in film orchestras, gave them an unmatched ability to compose soulful music that met popular taste.”

Also, being master instrumentalists, they had a keen layakari (sense of rhythm). This helped them create songs with a pleasant metre, and communicate them to playback singers and musicians. A YouTube video of Chaurasia breaking down Morni Baga Maa into short musical phrases for Lata Mangeshkar’s benefit is a delight to watch.


Shiv-Hari unpacked pahadi tunes from the Jammu-Himachal region (Sharma hails from Jammu) to superbly evoke the mountainous landscapes in which most of their films are set. In their music, you definitely hear the santoor and the bansuri. But you also hear a range of other instruments: the trumpet, saxophone, accordion, jazz drums, maadal, mridangam, shehnai and many others. The resultant output is a sound that is difficult to pigeon-hole.

Sharma attributes Shiv-Hari’s success to divine guidance and a team of brilliant musicians led by their arrangers Kishore Sharma and Gyan Verma. Kishore Sharma, a close associate of composer Usha Khanna, arranged music for all of Shiv-Hari’s films, and contributed extensively to the songs and background scores. Chopra’s habit of explaining the entire screenplay of every film to them (rather than just narrate the song situations) helped a great deal, too.

Shiv-Hari’s music helped Yash Chopra regain his romantic touch and confidence as a filmmaker. This was their way of paying back the man who had opened a new chapter for them in their musical journey.

Dance music, Chandni (1989).

Also read:

Music and lyrics: Composer Ajit Varman was a meteor in the firmament of Hindi cinema

Music and lyrics: How Shailendra gift-wrapped cosmic truths through his songs

Music and lyrics: ‘Thodi Si Bewafaii’ and the magic of one-off collaborations