One of the youngsters was about 23 years old and the other, 26. They were anxious. After having worked as Hindi film musicians for nearly a decade, they were about to debut as independent music composers. The anxiety didn’t come from the fact that they were so young. It came from the fact that the two films they had signed before this had been abandoned even before the ink had dried on their cheques.
But they needn’t have worried. Hitting the screens in 1963, the unheralded Parasmani turned out to be a jaw-dropping musical hit. People swayed and swooned to the tunes of Hansta Hua Noorani Chehra, Roshan Tumhi Se Duniya, Chori Chori Jo Tumse Mili, Woh Jab Yaad Aaye and Ui Maa Ui Maa.
And overnight, the youngsters became celebrities. Joining their individual identities and destinies at the hip forever, Parasmani gave birth to the musical phenomenon called Laxmikant-Pyarelal. Never again would people refer to Laxmikant Shantaram Kudalkar and Pyarelal Ramprasad Sharma separately.
Not just that. Nobody knew it then, but Parasmani set the tone for an unprecedented 35-year-long run for Laxmikant-Pyarelal, in which they offered us gem after musical gem. The 3,000-odd songs they composed in about 500 films sent several producers laughing to the bank and often topped Binaca Geet Mala.
Laxmikant, so named because he was born on the day of the Laxmi puja in Bombay in November 1937, came from a poor family. He was advised to learn music because it could be his ticket to the Hindi film industry, a good place to earn a livelihood in.
Accordingly, little Laxmi learnt to play the mandolin, first from Hussain Ali and then from Bal Mukund Indurkar. Fortified by this knowledge, he started playing in stage shows, and subsequently, in the film orchestra of the famous composers Husnlal-Bhagatram. Husnlal took a liking to the enterprising boy and taught him to play the violin. Given his felicity with the mandolin, Laxmi started receiving calls from many famous music composers of the day, and was seen scuttling from one recording to another. Being the only child in the orchestra, he would be seated on a high chair or a stack of boxes so that the mike could pick up his instrument’s sound properly.
Laxmi played the mandolin for C Ramchandra, Hemant Kumar, Ravi, OP Nayyar, SD Burman, Shankar-Jaikishan and many others.
While he was taking tentative steps towards his destiny, another little boy, born in September 1940, was doing the same in a neighbouring part of Bombay. Pyarelal may have been the son of talented trumpeter Ramprasad Sharma, but he had to contend with financial hardship in his boyhood.
Sharma was a great music teacher, who shared his knowledge with anybody and everybody. His method of teaching music was so solid and efficient that his students would get a sound foundation in just months. It was from him that Pyarelal first learnt music. His father then introduced him to top film music composers, who he wowed with his violin-playing prowess.
Like Laxmi, Pyarelal too started getting calls to play for film recordings. It was at one such recording that he requested the iconic violinist and arranger Anthony Gonsalves to teach him. Gonsalves agreed. For the next few years, Pyarelal would leave his family’s humble tenement in Ahmed Mansion in Bombay’s Prabhadevi area early every morning, report at Gonsalves’s house at 7 am, take lessons from him until 9 am, play at film recordings through the day, attend evening school and then return home late at night.
At lunch time one day in 1952, a teenaged Laxmikant saw a group of boys playing cricket in a ground near Famous Studio. He asked if he could join them, and they agreed. One of those boys was Pyarelal. By the time the game ended, Laxmikant and Pyarelal had forged a friendship, a bond that grew stronger in the next few years because of their shared circumstances and ambition to make it big in the world of music.
In a conversation with me over the phone, Pyarelal recalled that, even at that tender age, Laxmikant used to take care of his every need. “In all the years we were together, he never said no to me even once,” he said.
From saving money for batata wada and usal paav from their meagre earnings, to prevailing upon him to stay back in India instead of going to Vienna to study Western music, to finding him a place in Kalyanji-Anandji’s film orchestra, to suggesting that they join hands to form a composer duo, Laxmikant was a benign elder brother to Pyarelal. He remained so until he passed away in 1998, a memory that moves Pyarelal emotionally even today.
Surprisingly, the success of Parasmani did not make top producers swarm around L-P. The composers worked on a series of small- and mid-budget films, many of which had unknown faces and weak plots. Even so, they gave their best to every film. Steadily, their craft improved and their reputation grew. Dosti, Lootera, Shriman Funtoosh, Mr X in Bombay, Hum Sab Ustaad Hain, Sant Gyaneshwar, Sati Savitri, Aasra, Dillagi…it was easy to fall in love with L-P’s music.
Their sound from those early years is fresh, sunny and sweet on the ear. Aayiye Bahaar Ko Hum Baantle, Pyaar Baantte Chalo, Jaago Prabhat Aaya and Neend Kabhi Rehti Thi Aankhon Mein are some of my favourites from that time. Even in those early years, L-P showed a refined musical sensibility, a strong grip of story, situation and characters, and a penchant for long preludes and rich orchestration – aspects that would remain their hallmarks for most of their career. And they didn’t compose just easy-breezy romantic numbers; some of their best classical work is from that time.
Migrating from musicians to composers was a little sticky for the duo. Lata Mangeshkar, who played an important role in their growth, introduced them to a few composers. Still, some of them stopped hiring L-P as musicians, thinking they had now turned independent composers. So their earnings reduced. At the same time, lucrative offers to compose music were not coming by. They badly needed a hit, and in Dosti, they got it.
If we remember Dosti (1964) today, it is largely due to L-P’s lustrous music, Majrooh Sultanpuri’s deep lyrics and Mohammad Rafi’s emotive singing. The film fetched the composers their first Filmfare award. In the years that followed, they would win the coveted Lady in Black six more times. For all the laurels they won from this film, they have one man to mainly thank.
Initially, Rajshri Films requested Roshan to work on this film. But the composer is said to have baulked at the prospect of making music for a story revolving around two friends, one blind and the other, lame. When he declined Tarachand Barjatya’s offer, the veteran filmmaker turned to L-P.
But one stumbling block remained. Majrooh Sultanpuri is said to have expressed reluctance in working with the rank newcomers. It took Barjatya’s persuasive skills to convince him of L-P’s talent. As it turned out, the songwriter hit it off with the young composers and went on to work with them in 45 other films.
1967 was a defining year for L-P. Shagird, Night in London, Milan, Farz, Patthar Ke Sanam and Anita were released that year, wowing people afresh.
Ajay Poundarik, who has nursed an abiding love for L-P’s music for nearly five decades, and whose blog www.laxmikantpyarelal.com is an extensive archive of the composers’ music, said, “L-P stabilised as a composing entity, giving every indication that they were in for the long haul. From then on, they averaged about 16 or 17 films every year.”
L-P’s music from the late 1960s to the late 1970s is like vintage wine: rich, sweet, smooth and with a full body. And year after year, it continues to age well. Some of my favourite albums from this period are Mere Humdum Mere Dost, Satyakam, Anjaana, Uphaar, Jeene ki Raah, Man Mandir, Darpan, Mehboob Ki Mehndi, Shor, Daag, Anurodh, Piya Ka Ghar, Mehboob Ki Mehndi and Naya Din Nayi Raat.
The late 1970s saw a new breed of films and filmmakers emerge and grow. Multi-starrers that rode on action, and subsequently, producers from Madras and Hyderabad who had an entirely different outlook on cinema, meant that L-P had to change their music accordingly.
While I am not happy about this, I console myself, saying these were cinematic realities all the composers of that time had to contend with. But I must add that L-P still delivered the goods in films such as Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Ek Duje Ke Liye, Jeevan Dhara, Karz, Hero, Yeh Ishq Nahin Asaan, Utsav, Sur Sangam and Tezaab.
Cinematic trends changed further in the 1990s. Scripts changed and a new wave of filmmakers, music composers and lyricists emerged. L-P fought hard and managed to stay relevant for half that decade, but clearly, their best was behind them. Even then, though, they were capable of pulling a rabbit out of the hat once in a while – like they did in Prahaar and Bhairavi.
Laxmikant’s untimely passing on May 25, 1998, cast a pall of gloom on music lovers. A grieving Pyarelal stopped composing for a few years. But in recent times, his symphonies have been conducted at venues across Europe.
“Theirs was a match divinely ordained. One was incomplete without the other,” Rajeshwari Laxmikant, Laxmikant’s daughter, told me. In retrospect, it seems as if their life tracks were running towards each other until 1952, at which point of time they fused to become one.
Laxmikant and Pyarelal were similar in some ways while being the perfect foil for each other in some others. Laxmikant was gregarious and slightly flamboyant (taking after his idol Jaikishan), whereas Pyarelal was an introvert. Laxmikant was stronger in Indian music styles, whereas Pyarelal came with a strong conceptual grounding in Western music and instrumentation.
At the same time, many things about them were the same. A financially impoverished background, for one. And a strong flair for music, for another. These apart, their humility, immense talent, propensity to learn quickly and hunger to make a mark formed the bulwark of their friendship and creative collaboration.
Both of them had the same musical sensibility and deep understanding of a wide range of instruments. Crucially, each was adept at every aspect of the music creation process: creating tunes, explaining them to the playback singers and guiding them through rehearsals, fashioning musical arrangements and finally, the finer aspects of recording “takes”.
All this meant that L-P were never a hyphenated entity. Indeed, in a recent conversation with me, Pyarelal said with a hearty laugh that people often mistook him for Laxmikant, and vice versa.
Though it was never a strict rule, Laxmikant would create the tunes more often, and Pyarelal would handle the arrangement, notations and rehearsals with the orchestra. Laxmikant’s nature also made him the perfect frontman for the duo. He would interact with producers, directors and the media with aplomb.
L-P’s thumbprint was the fact that their thumbprint changed from film to film. Since they had worked with several composers in their early days, they knew that the styles of those masters could insidiously seep into their own music. And so, they consciously tried to prevent this.
To me, theirs is a music whose soul is wholly Indian. They used Western rhythms and instruments in many songs (notably, the accordion and saxophone), but the overall feel of their music is still Indian. Their songs are rich with the fragrance of our soil. The extensive use of instruments such as the shehnai, santoor, bansuri, sarod, tabla and dholak stands out.
L-P varied their soundscape from film to film, even when working with the same filmmaker or banner repeatedly. Occasionally, some rhythm phrases, especially of the dholak and tabla, are the only clues that a song is an L-P creation. But the tunes, arrangement and overall sound are fresh and different.
Take the case of Raj Khosla, for instance. L-P created a new mosaic of sound for each of his films they composed for. You’d be hard pressed to imagine Anita’s music in Mera Gaon Mera Desh or the latter’s music in Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki. And, even if you listen to their music from any two consecutive films, you will find that it sounds different.
Staying in step with the music of the times without compromising on mood or melody was another thing they did well. In creating their textured music over the years, L-P were helped by Shashikant and Gorakhnath, extremely talented musicians, arrangers and assistants. The former was Laxmikant’s brother, while the latter was Pyarelal’s sibling.
Seeing L-P’s unique abilities, many filmmakers forged long-term collaborations with them. For several years, leading lights like J Om Prakash, Raj Khosla, Rajshri Productions, Manmohan Desai, T Rama Rao, Subhash Ghai, LV Prasad, Manoj Kumar and others didn’t look beyond L-P.
Rakesh Anand Bakshi, Anand Bakshi’s son, narrated a telling incident to me. Soon after Taal was released in 1999, Subhash Ghai told Rakesh Bakshi to inform his father that he (Ghai) wanted to make a musical, and that Anand Bakshi should get ready to write its songs. When Rakesh Bakshi conveyed this message to his father, the veteran songwriter smiled and replied, “Usse poocho, L-P kahaan sey laayega?”
Listening to Vividh Bharati throughout the eighties, the sentence one heard most frequently from the announcer was, “Geet likha hai Anand Bakshi ne, aur sangeet se swarbaddh kiya hai Laxmikant-Pyarelal ne” or some variation of this. Gaadi Bula Rahi Hai, Aate Jaate Khoobsoorat and Darpan Jhooth Na Bole are among the first few songs that hooked me onto Hindi film music.
L-P worked with Anand Bakshi in 303 films, creating 1,680 songs in the process. Working together for the first time in Mr X in Bombay, the three greats went on to form a never-before, never-after kind of partnership over the next three decades. The credo of ‘the song is in the story’, a keen ear to the ground and an easy camaraderie were the key elements of their vibrant partnership.
Working with poets such as Bharat Vyas, Pradeep, Asad Bhopali and Farooq Kaiser helped L-P build their reputation in the early days. Later on, they enjoyed a good rapport with Rajinder Krishan, Santosh Anand, Inderjeet Singh Tulsi, Verma Malik and Vasant Deo.
Curiously, when I try to describe their work with Majrooh, I fumble for words. There is an extra something – an indefinable beauty – that sets it apart from the rest of L-P’s work. The songs of Dosti, Patthar Ke Sanam, Mere Humdum Mere Dost, Imtihaan, Ladies Tailor and others testify to this observation. L-P collaborated with the senior poet in about 45 films.
The brightest jewels in L-P’s treasure chest are the songs based on Hindustani classical raags. Peep into the chest closely and you will identify the likes of Shivranjani, Yaman, Todi, Bhairavi and Kalavati jostling for space. Just imagine – even in their first two years as composers, L-P were deftly handling these raags and getting Manna Dey and Lata Mangeshkar to deliver them with their customary finesse. It was perhaps this ability that led Dey to effusively praise their talent and dedication to music.
From L-P’s oeuvre of songs with a classical base, these are some of my favourites.
Kabhi Toh Miloge Jeevan Saathi (Sati Savitri)
L-P learnt raag Kalavati when they played in Ravi Shankar’s orchestra for Haaye Rey Woh Din Kyun Na Aaye (Anuradha). Four years later, they used the same raag in Kabhi Toh to convey a woman’s yearning for her soul mate.
Jaago Re Prabhat Saya (Sant Gyaneshwar)
Manna Dey wonderfully evokes the hope and promise of dawn with this mishr Todi-based song.
Yeh Birha Ki Aag Aisi (Ponga Pandit)
L-P pull off Manna Dey on Randhir Kapoor, and heavy classical raags on a romantic situation! They invited Ustad Amir Khan to sing this song, but when he asked for the freedom to sing the alaap and bandish the way he wanted, the idea fell through. The mukhda is in raag Bhatiyar and the first antara, in Anandi Kalyan. Note how the tempo builds up towards the end, until Manna Dey finishes in a stunning crescendo.
Dharti Ambar Neend Se Jaage (Chaitali)
A highly underrated song from one of only two films in which L-P worked with Hrishikesh Mukherjee.
Saanjh Dhale Gagan Tale (Utsav)
“As soon as Laxmiji sang the tune of the mukhda to me for the first time, I was enthralled,” said Suresh Wadkar, who sang this raag mishr bhibaas-based number. He added that the composers accepted his suggestion of slowing down and stretching the last few words of the song for heightened effect.
L-P’s rich legacy is not just their wonderful music. Several musicians who worked with them have gone on to become leading composers. These include Rajesh Roshan, Aadesh Shrivastav, Amar-Utpal, Anand-Milind, Mithoon, Ismail Darbar and Monty Sharma.
Hindi film music historian Rajiv Vijayakar, whose book on L-P will be out in a few months, echoed a widely held sentiment when he told me, “In range, versatility, consistency of quality and body of work, Laxmikant-Pyarelal are unmatched in the entire history of Hindi film music.”
Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s is as much a story of friendship and staying power as it is of music. “I don’t grieve Laxmiji’s absence because, even today, I feel he is right here with me,” Pyarelal told me. That reminded me of Majrooh’s lovely words from Dosti: “Mera toh jo bhi kadam hai woh teri raah mai hai, ki tu kaheen bhi rahe tu meri nigaah me hai.”
Laxmikant composed the mukhda of Ek Pyaar Ka Nagma Hai on a miniature harmonium gifted to his son Rishikesh on his first birthday by arranger-composer Manohari Singh.
Before they became independent composers, Laxmikant acted in a film called Harishchandra Taramati, while Pyarelal acted in Rail Ka Dibba and Humlog.
Early in the 1960s, L-P composed a tune with the words Rut Paapan Morey Jee Ko Jalaye. But the film in which that song was to be used was canned. Some time later, they used the same tune with Majrooh’s lyrics to create Chahoonga Mai Tujhe Saanjh Savere for Dosti.