Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 23:55:32

Melody Is Still The King But where are the melody makers?

Updated: April 30, 2011 5:26 pm

One was inadvertently privy to a totally unplanned, impromptu meet between three leading contemporary Bollywood lyricists, Gulzar, Javed Akhtar and Prasoon Joshi, leading to discussing about the missing melody, and the absence of melody makers in Hindi cinema. What comes first: the tune or the lyric? In times when melody was the king, and the melody maker the custodian, it was invariably the lyric, though a good tune also mattered. Akhtar said, “Give me the lines, and I will tell you whether the lyric was written first or the composition.” One wondered how anyone could decipher that. That indeed was the moot point. “There were composers like RD Burman, who lived to the nick name of ‘Pancham’, who would almost instantly create tunes on the harmonium, and there were those who liked to take their time,” said Gulzar adding, “but they always had alternate tunes. If you did not like one, they would move on to another, and yet another until the maker was satisfied.”

Lyrics were often punched to the tunes. Singers finished the playbacks in just one shift while now every song and composer uses six to seven shifts to complete a recording. Musicologist Raju Bharatan has rightly observed: “Today songs vanish as swiftly as do their singers. A number is here today, gone tomorrow, landing in the dung heap of instant history. Television as a medium has composers, singers and song-writers indulging in nothing less than dogfights. Do they realise how diminished, in barking stature, they emerge, from such mock shows, in the public eye.” At the same time this connoisseur of Hindustani cine music also accuses AR Rahman for he “compulsively aligned his musical versifying to the lingo of the gun-ho-generation” whose other puppeteers are Himesh Reshammiyas, Salim-Suleimans, Vishal-Shekhars, Aadesh Srivastavas and others, many of them being shrill-voiced self-styled singers as well a practice set in vogue by Bappi Lahiri.

There have been times when clash of egos would take place between the lyricist and the composer; when a composer would insist on the choice of the lyricist; and there have been times when the composer has declined to work with a certain lyricist. Against the standard practice it is normally the lyricist who comes to the music director’s ‘sitting room’, listens to the tune and writes the song according to the composition. But when Jaidev got his big chance to set the melody for Hum Dono, Sahir Ludhianvi insisted that the composer go to his house with the harmonium. On another occasion, Sahir refused to give his poems for Phir Subah Hogi because he felt Shankar-Jaikishen couldn’t do justice to his work, and insisted on a composer who had read Crime and Punishment (the inspiration for the film), and who could grasp the intensity of his lyrics, and recommended the name of the lesser-known Khayyam for the job.

During his heydays, Naushad always articulated his preference for Majrooh Sultanpuri or Shakeel Badayuni as his lyricists, and almost always used the voice of Mohammed Rafi, conceding and succumbing to use Kishore Kumar when the singer had almost sent everyone else out of the market. Then there is the instance of normally uncomplicated Madan Mohan, who had no preference for any lyricist or singer (nay Lata Mangeshkar), who had been so upset when at the last minute Chetan Anand rejected both his tune, and Kaifi Azmi’s lyric for Heer Ranjha, got drunk and woke up the film maker in the middle of the night with self-composed opening line, and tune: Yeh duniya, yeh mahfil, mere kaam ki nahin picturised on Raaj Kumar in Rafi’s voice.

Those were the times when songs could be rendered as poems, and vice versa, and composers would go to any length to set them to the right rhythm. Lyricist Anand Bakshi vied especially well with Pancham, and the Laxmikant-Pyarelal duo, and would come up with appropriate lines on the spot. He walked into Pancham’s ‘sitting room’ with a lighted cigarette between his fingers, heard the tune the melody maker was trying to write, walked up and down, and sang Dum maro dum, mit jaye gam, bolo subah shyam, hare Krishna hare Ram which film maker had initially rejected. Bakshi had also been apt at setting the mood and pace of his lyrics, if not the tune itself. Who can forget Ramta jogi, ramta jogi from Subhash Ghai’s Taal.

In recent times it has invariably been the works of Gulzar, Javed Akhtar, Prasoon Joshi that have been enthralling the audiences. “Today’s songs are a reflection of changing times,” says Gulzar. But that’s a weak defence for, even though chart-busters, perpetuating meaningless wordplay in songs like Beedee jalaayale jigar se piya, or Kajraa re kajra re tere naina, or ibne batoota bagal mein juta. And in this band-baja race to the box office Javed Akhtar, Prasoon Joshi, and Swanand Kirkire are not far behind.

Many young directors and composers have been willing prey to remixing golden melodies that have been frowned upon. Veteran actor-filmmaker, Dev Anand has threatened to take Rohan Sippy who has remixed Anand Bakshi-RD Burman composition Dum maro dum from Hare Rama Hare Krishna that made Zeenat Aman a cult figure overnight. Lyricist-filmmaker Gulzar calls remixing of old numbers a crime, and went on record: “I am against remixing. The songs are now used only to dance. Who are you to temper with someone else’s creation.”

As against these there is the successful example of verbatim reuse of an old hit like Laxmikant Pyarelal composition from Pratigiya Jat yamala pagla dewana picturised by director Dulal Guha on Dharmendra which is believed to have contributed substantially to the mild success of the veteran actor’s new home production, Yamala Pagla Dewana. No one has even raised an eyebrow whether to the song or the use of a line for the title of the film which in any case has been a familiar exercise over the decades.

By Suresh Kohli

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