Not a filmy take

Not a filmy take

Tuned in

Not a filmy take

Their classical tunes mesmerised music lovers across the world. But, when it came to film music, India’s finest maestros failed to strike the right chord, notes Ranjan Das Gupta.

When Pandit Ravi Shankar composed the background score for Tapan Sinha’s, Kabuliwala in the late 50s, he used a special Pathan folk tune, Ya Mustafa, in a male voice to give the right musical angle to protagonist Chabi Biswas. Ustad Ali Akbar Khan used a sarod counter in Raga Iman Kalyan to give a sublime effect to the 800 ft sequence in Anjali, in which Nimmi (Chandalini) tries to break Chetan Anand’s (Bhikshu Anand) meditation.

Ustad Vilayat Khan used a sitar counter with a rebelling jhankar in Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar to prove the end of a feudalist society, which paves the way for capitalism.
The 50s and 60s saw the icons of Indian classical music create history by composing for films.

The trend of utilising classical maestros for scoring in films was started by the dynamic and imaginative Chetan Anand with Neechanagar in 1946 and Aandhiyan in 1952. He introduced Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan and flutist Pannalal Ghosh to score for films directed by him. He did yield brilliant results, and was aptly followed by K A Abbas, who used Ravi Shankar to compose for his maiden directional venture, Dharti Ke Lal.

After being influenced by the works of Chetan Anand and K A Abbas, Satyajit Ray also opted for Ravi Shankar to compose music for his Apu Trilogy, Paraspathar, and asked Vilayat Khan to score for Jalsaghar and Ali Akbar Khan for Devi. This trend was quite successfully carried forward  by Ritwik Ghatak in Ajantrik, and Tapan Sinha in Khudidito Pashan and Kabuliwala. Though not of the same standard, Hrisikesh Mukherjee and Trilok Jetly also experimented with Ravi Shankar in Anuradha and Godaan.

Yet, in all fairness to these classical giants, they never succeeded in becoming popular music directors for films. Ustad Bismillah Khan, who played the shehnai to perfection in Goonj Uthi Shehnai, did admit that performing for films was not his cup of tea. Vilayat Khan decided never to score for films, after his experience with Jalsaghar, citing that he never got full freedom as a composer. Ali Akbar Khan went to the extent of criticising Satyajit Ray for his dictatorial attitude and doubted his knowledge of Indian classical music.

What is the reason that these stalwarts could not create the desired impact in films in totality? A detailed analysis of their creations in cinema shows that they actually lacked the required talent to compose film songs in order to make them acceptable to both the classes and masses.

Performing on stage and in concerts is different from composing music for films. To an extent, their background scores in some films have definitely been noteworthy. Unlike their western counterparts like Maurice Jar or Nino Rota, Indian classical music composers were never reflexive in their creations. They could not understand song sequences as effortlessly as Shankar Jaikishan, S D Burman, Salil Chowdhury or Madan Mohan.

Satyajit Ray started composing his own film music from Teen Kanya in 1961. He said, “I have the highest regard for Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan and Vilayat Khan as composers. When it comes to composing for films, they have certain limitations. So, I decided to compose on my own to create the right music for my films.”

Chetan Anand did confess, “Ali Akbar Khan created wonders for both the English and Hindi versions of Soni Lumiette at Shri Fort, which I directed. Yet, when it came to composing for films, S D Burman, Madan Mohan and Khayyam were far more effective, taking into consideration the compositions of Ali Akbar Khan in Aandhiyan, which were very good.”

Each of these maestros have been outstanding performers individually. Yet, while wielding the baton as Mohd Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar or Vani Jayram rendered melodies, they only succeeded to a certain extent. Explaining the situation, once Ali Akbar Khan himself confessed, “There is a sea of difference between my compositions and that of S D Burman’s, for a Lata Mangeshkar solo. While I am more concerned about the music and performance, Burman created history taking a serious note of arrangement, composing, utilising the singer in the right manner, and also giving that special effect to a song the situation in the film demands.”

Even Ravi Shankar had often said, “When Shankar Jaikishan or Salil Chowdhury composed, they knew how to touch unknown chords of every listener’s heart, making music dear to everyone. Composing for films and modern songs requires more of the heart than the mind. To us, the feeling of our own performances always remains a hangover.”

No wonder, after criticising the usage of the sitar counter in O Sajna Barkha Bahar Ayi in Parakh by Salil Chowdhury, the sitar maestro withdrew his statement, after noticing his view was not exactly acceptable. However, Ravi Shankar did yield good results, as he earned a silver medal for his score in Kabuliwala.

Speaking about classical music and film collaborations, there is an interesting anecdote about Vilayat Khan and Madan Mohan. The sitar lord was moved to tears after listening to the latter’s Main Ye Soch Kar, rendered by Mohd. Rafi in Hakeekat. He asked, “Madan, how do you create this fountain of pathos so lyrically?”

Madan Mohan laughed and said, “I feel, cry and let my emotions flow from my baton in a simple manner, which my arranger, crooner and musicians understand easily. If I was to have directed you, I would touch your heart first, and you would be automatically inspired to perform exactly as I require. That too, keeping in mind I am nowhere compared to you while playing the sitar.”

R D Burman was candid in his statement in the 80s, “I myself learnt classical music from a genius like Ali Akbar Khan. When I hear him play the sarod, I am in another world. In the arena of film music, a completely different mental setup and working style is required to create popular melodies. In this aspect, I consider Baba (S D Burman) way ahead.”

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