Musical journey of Indian cinema

Filmi ragas

Inspired by a lecture on bachelorhood and nationalism, the hero (in 1938 Marathi film Bramhachari) vowed to become a celibate. A few frames later, dressed in a swimsuit, Meenakshi Shirodkar sings a sensational number Yamuna jali khelu khela kanhaiya ka… and all the vows of the hero Master Vinayak come crashing down. It is debatable whether it was the visual, of the heroine in the pool, that made this happen because the music composed by Dada Chandekar needs to be credited too.

In the poster of the film displayed as part of the exhibition, ‘Rhythm, Raga and Melody’, such tidbits not just heighten the viewer’s curiosity but even add to the information of film buffs.

Organised as part of the ongoing 10th Habitat Film Festival, the exhibition presented in collaboration with the National Film Archive of India, Pune, rewinds the entire journey of Indian cinema through posters of films that had unforgettable music. One could even say it is a tribute to the music of Indian cinema that is now a century old.

Beginning from Alam Ara, India’s first sound film which released on 14 March 1931, to as recent as the 2008 Slumdog Millionaire, there are about 90 posters that create a fond nostalgia. In this chronological narrative, however, one thing that remains constant is the use of raag Bhairavi – the song De de khuda ke naam pe de de in the former and Jai Ho in the latter have both been composed in the same raga; with a touch of raga Pahadi in the latter that brought the much-awaited Oscar to India.

It is next to impossible to select a few names from the list and talk about the music scores in them, since each has some interesting anecdote that transforms into a historical fact. Take for instance the 1936 Marathi film Sant Tukaram, in which the actors rehearsed to the live music composed by Keshavrao Bhole; the 1941 Hindi film Khazanchi – which garnered a royalty from music, more than the production cost of the film; the 1943 Hindi film Ram Rajya that established Manna Dey as a playback singer and Gyan Mukherjee’s Kismet in the same year that had the song Door hato…, akin to Mahatma Gandhi’s call for Quit India in 1942.

It seems to be a necessity to incorporate in this list, names of iconic films such as Anarkali (1953), Pather Panchali (1955), Devdas (1955), Mother India (1957), Mughal-e-Azam (1960), Guide (1965) and Pakeezah (1971). A look at the names of the music composers and singers of these films and one understands why they are etched in our memories for not just their screenplay or story but also their music.    

Meera (1945), Baiju Bawra (1952), Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje (1955), Goonj Uthi Shehnai (1959) and Geet Gaya Pattharon Ne (1964) are themed on music and therefore find a prominent place in the exhibition as well as the history of music in Indian films.

Beyond the lyrical tunes, it is the experimentation in creation of music that has gained notice of curators. Remember the peppy numbers of the cult Sholay (1975)? Its music has been mixed and remixed innumerable times but in the original score, Panchamda (RD Burman) used electronic instruments to produce loud music in order to appeal to the younger audience. Bet one will start humming a few tunes on seeing these posters!
The exhibition is on display at the Convention Centre Foyer, India Habitat Centre till May 17.

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