the 30s 14 March 1931: Alam Ara brings sound to Indian cinema through the efforts of sound engineer-director Ardeshir Irani. The first Indian talkie is 10,500 feet long and costs Rs 40,000. Singer-actor Wazir Mohammed sings the first-ever song in Hindustani cinema - De de Khuda ke naam pe pyaare/Taaquat ho gar dene ki - to the music of Pherozeshah M. Mistry.
It is the decade of Kundan Lal Saigal. In Promathesh Barua’s New Theatres’ classic Devdas, he symbolises the frustration of the nation’s youth. In its Hindi version, sarod virtuoso Timir Baran gets Saigal to render Dukh ke din ab beetat naheen that has a whole generation of viewers feeling traumatised. Pankaj Mullick created countless evergreens for Saigal at New Theatres, and the 1939 Kapal Kundala had a gem - Peeya milan ko jaana. Bodily lifted by a couple of upstarts in Malayalam cinema, the tune won that duo the state award!
Bombay Talkies’ Bandhan caught the fancy of the nation for its hit-pairing of Ashok Kumar and Leela Chitnis. Writing the songs was fresher Pradeep, whose flair for adapting the romantic motif to the patriotic theme, so significant at the time, remains unrivalled. Witness Chal chal re naujawaan, chalo sang chalen hum, the Ramchandra Pal-tuned duet symbolic of the spirit of the ‘30s. But the ‘30s cannot be complete without a dekko at Shanta Hublikar’s Ab kis liye kal ki baat in Prabhat’s Aadmi. Conceptualised by V. Shantaram, Hublikar opposite Shahu Modak was such a draw that the young lady was left singing the number in Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali, Gujarati, Tamil and Telugu, apart from Hindi.
the 40s As something that truly epitomises her vocal persona, I single out a Kanan Devi song from the 1943 Hospital, with music by her husband Kamal Dasgupta : Zara nainon se naina milay jaao re.
Ranjit Movietone’s Bhakta Surdas, as tuned by Jnan Dutt, was K.L. Saigal all the way. Yet, remembered from the film is singing-star Khursheed’s duet with Saigal, written by Dina Nath Madhok: Chaandni raat aur taare khile hon.
Bombay Talkies’ Kismet, a Mumtaz Shanti-Ashok Kumar starrer ran at a Calcutta theatre for nearly four years. The film’s score was the handiwork of the seniormost of our living composers: Anil Biswas. It had Pradeep penning Aaj Himalay ki chotee se phir hum ne lalkara hain in a style that had the whole nation agog and stirs even today’s youth. This Amirbai-rendered choral number’s Door hato, door hato, door hato ae duniya waalo Hindustan hamara hai has become a part of the nation’s mindset. Pradeep was surpassingly clever in the way he got it past the British censors with his refrain of Ab na kisi ke aage jhukna German ho ya Japani!
If Madhubala and Kamal Amrohi’s Mahal are synonymous, so are Lata Mangeshkar and Aayega, aayega, aayega. This proved to be Lata’s breakthrough song as written by Nakshab, the tune by Khemchand Prakash. To think that the song happened to Lata at a time (1949) when film music stood all but banned on AIR and there was no Radio Ceylon either! It was from Radio Goa that we first heard Lata’s hauntingly beautiful voice.
Who but Naushad, who had begun to dominate by the late ‘40s, could have spotted a singing-star in Suraiya, who never took herself seriously as a singer. But look at the way Naushad, in A.R. Kardar’s Dastan, brought out the essence of Suraiya’s singing-star personality through those vivid words of Shakeel: Nainon mein preet hai, hoton pe geet hain!
As for ‘Malika-e-Tarannum’ Noorjehan, I take my pick from the repertoire of K. Datta - from the film Badi Maa (1945), in which Lata, too, sang as a stripling. The song: Diya jala kar aap bujhaya.A number to tell you why Noorjehan was Lata’s inspiration all along the line.
It was with the Dulari solo in Raag Pahadi - Suhani raat dhal chuki - that Naushad spotted Mohammed Rafi’s potential to be the voice of Bharat Bhooshan as Baiju Bawra - the 1952 film that fetched this composing doyen his first and last Filmfare Best Music award.
the 50s The Lata-C. Ramchandra duo’s Albela lullaby became the standard by which to judge the lori in Hindustani cinema: Dheere se aa jaa ri aankhiyan mein nindiya. A Lata lullaby to come probably somewhere near was Salil Chowdhury’s Aa jaa ri aa nindiya tu aa on guest-star Meena Kumari in Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen.
Lata’s Jagte Raho classic, so sweepingly orchestrated in Raag Bhairav, Jaago Mohan pyaare jaago on Nargis, is how I choose to represent Salil Chowdhury. This number is named as the Shailendra-Salil creation symbolising the memorably cinematic end of the Nargis-Raj Kapoor togetherness.
How can a millennium be complete without a Raj Kapoor selection? Raj Kapoor means Mukesh. And Mukesh means, ideally, either Shanker-Jaikishan or Roshan. But my choice is Dattaram’s Aansoo bhari hai yeh jeevan ki raahen(set in compelling Yaman) by SJ’s assistant, Dattaram, for Parvarish.
the 60's In classical virtuosity as a playback performer, Manna Dey is way ahead of the field. His Ahir Bhirav interpretation of S.D. Burman’s Poochcho na kaise maine rain beetayi (Meri Soorat Teri Aankhen) on Ashok Kumar is perhaps something unmatched by any professional playback in Hindi films. Did Asha Bhosle ever sing something for O.P. Nayyar that Lata was caught clandestinely humming? Yes, the Mere Sanam heart-stealer, Jaayiye aap kahaan jaayenge! If Lata so warmed to Asha under O.P. Nayyar in Jaayiye, who are we to disagree?
the 70's Can you imagine Lata’s Dastak classic in Raag Charukeshi, Baiyyan na dharo balma, losing out in the Sur-Singar Best Classical Film Song competition? Yet the Sur-Singar committees’ vote, four-to-one, was for Vani Jairam’s Miyan Ka Malhar-based Vasant Desai creation, Bole re papihara, picturised on Jaya Bhaduri debuting as Guddi. To this day, Vani’s Bole re papihara is remembered as the song that caught the imagination of young and old alike and has, therefore, a special place in our song lexicon.
In Mili, Kishore Kumar came in to render Badi sooni sooni hai zindagi yeh zindagi, for Amitabh Bachchan, under the baton of S.D. Burman. As the song was on the point of being okayed, "SD" had that stroke which was later to claim his life. In came son "RD" to complete the recording and the song has willy-nilly to find a place among the songs of the millennium.
the 80's When a marriage band on the streets of Bombay played Aap jaisa koyi meri zindagi mein aaye (from Feroz Khan’s Qurbani), 13-year-old Nazia Hasan was seen to run up to the balcony of the Hasans’ suite and cry out in joy; "Daddy-Mummy, Daddy-Mummy, my song, my song, it’s my song they’re playing!" Coorgi Biddu had tuned the song in London. Then the tape of the song had been sent to India for Indivar to ‘write to tune’. This one stays in the memory as the Pakistani breakthrough number that changed the face of Indian film music.
the 90's That makes it 20 songs to mark the end of the millennium. As for the ‘90s, on A.R. Rahman, Anu Malik, Jatin-Lalit, Anand-Milind, and the rest, we have to withhold value judgment till at least 2020. Only by then could we be in a distanced-enough position to see their career graphs in perspective. But it is with difficulty that I resist picking R.D. Burman’s Ek ladki ko dekha to aisa laga (from 1942 - A Love Story), rendered by Kumar Sanu, as fit to rank as the Song of the 90s.Let us wait and hear.
Ace crossword puzzle-setter and cricket writer Raju Bharatan’s last book is Lata Mangeshkar: A Biography.