Musical musings

Musical musings

One of the few musical greats of Kannada cinema, Hamsalekha’s compositions resurrected the stagnant music scene in the 80s.  Shruthi Srinath talks to the legend about his foray into the industry and more...


Once, a school-goer named Govindaraju Gangaraju scripted a play called Belakina Mane to fame, writing with a Swan ink pen given by his guru, Lavani Neelakantappa. Upon seeing the script signed Hamsalekhani, the boy’s headmaster asked him to drop the ni.

Now, Hamsalekha, the ‘Nada Brahma’ of Kannada music arena, has written lyrics and composed music for 300 movies, and counting.

Hamsalekha’s simple lyrics roll off listeners’ tongues with ease to the accompaniment of pitch-perfect music. He has given the steadfast young lovers their anthem — Preethi maadabaaradhu, maadidhare jagake hedarabaaradhu (Ranadheera 1987), an ode to friendship in the words Snehakke sneha, preetige preeti... (Sipayi, 1996), life lessons through the song Ee bhoomi bannada buguri (Mahakshatriya), which have been recently included in school and college text books. And also the strains of Kannada folk, devotion in the songs from the films Hagaluvesha (2000) and Sri Manjunatha (2001) respectively, and the patriotic unofficial anthem Huttidhare Kannada nadalli huttabeku in Dr Rajkumar’s Aakasmika.

Hamsalekha was pushed to take up lyrics and music to fill the musical vaccum in the 80s. “There was a sonic lull then, and it suggested a period of change. There was absolutely no second line in the music directorial department. About 18 directors with immense experience were out of the picture, a few of them depressed and on the verge of suicide even. All senior writers had had their turns. So, I got to play the pioneer, with opportunities to experiment. Although I wanted to direct movies, N R Rao convinced me to begin with music composition,” discloses the musician, adding that his family of musicians and the opportunities to dabble in theatre, orchestra and lavani shows anchored him to music.

A successful partnership

But the popularity of Hamsalekha’s rhythmic music snowballed when he met Crazy Star V Ravichandran, who he calls the most “soulful, forward-thinking, updated” film personality, who also “knew the knack of glamourising women on screen”. The chemistry between them produced the trend-setting blockbuster Premaloka in 1987. “When Ravichandran was mulling over the theme for Premaloka, I suggested a musical script, on the lines of Sound of Music, Grease 2 and other musicals. In an Indianised way, it became the song Nodamma hudugi... Many elements could be covered in a song. For example, the heroine’s (Juhi Chawla) entrance to college, the necessary ragging, her time in the class, and finally, her encounter with the ‘hero’ (Ravichandran). This trend caught the industry’s fancy for the first time!”

A trendsetter himself, he gushes to acknowledge the talents today. “Lucia is a wonderful trial. Today, talent matters most. Products are open. Anybody can handle cinema direction. In this galaata, talent is recognised worldwide, and backed too. Crowd-funding is quite innovative and an extremely powerful tool. The film is also good, and personally, I think it would have done better if it was put in a simpler fashion.” And appreciates the success of music director Mano Murthy. “He gave new ideas that were traditional.

 He adopted the oldest ideas of Shankar Jaikishan for this age. He brought back Kalyani Raga, which we avoided usually. R D Burman was the composer all of us looked up to, who set his compositions to D minor key. It sounded new then. Ilayaraja shifted it all to E minor. My compositions were tuned to F short minor. We usually avoided major scales, which are Shankarabharanam and Kalyani, because they sounded old. But Mano Murthy brought these major scales back.”The veteran says that the Tamil film industry stands for experimenting. “Folks there think innovatively. Their cinema-goers are quite a fanatic bunch who welcome new ways. And our family usually follows the Tamil industry, which is why I always challenged it by not adopting their ways.” 

Changing with time

The Dr Rajkumar Prashati awardee of 2012 believes that there is a need to cultivate music-oriented interests among youngsters in the home ground, which is why the Hamsalekha Desi College is open to anyone for Bachelor’s and Master’s courses in all genres of music for almost free of cost. “At my college, anyone with an interest in music is welcome,” he says.

The creative streak in him sparks when he says, “There is no harm in welcoming foreign words into our word basket, which will increase because of the language’s adaptability. For example, D is a Roman numeral, English took it. In the 10th century, there was Pampa’s Kannada, not understood by the sharanas. So, they created their own version of it, and this was modified by Kumaravyasa. Vachanakaras changed this to suit their tunes.

Lavanikaras used up multi-languages of commoners to convey messages. It’s as simple as turning market into maarukatte in Kannada. A linguist doesn’t point you towards understanding a language easily, but folk artistes do. In fact, I think we should protect our language in our music and performing arts. It will be safe there always. That is our main duty. It is pointless to challenge the education system when the world is turning into a cosmopolitan unit.”

The mandolin, guitar and harmonica player calmly says that technology has its place and that “Nature is a great teacher, especially when technology tends to make music mechanical. Technology should only complement music, and not overshadow human effort, which is the core of music.”

To the present-day music composers, he reiterates a simple advice — “The man who inspires a concept is most important for a music director. A music composer should always observe the concept-giver, in most cases director, understand his tempo and justify his words through composition. For the next composition, the musician should concentrate on the next concept-giver, without any spillover. Only then can one tap into perfect tempos. That’s how music happens.”

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