Anmol Fankaar Blog

Golden Era of Hindi Film Music

Written by Manohar Iyer

Dadasaheb Phalke, the Father of Indian Cinema, made the first indigenous film. His magnum opus Raja Harishchandra, starring D D Dabke in the title role and an effeminate looking Salunkhe as Taramati, released to rave reviews in Bombay’s Coronation Theatre on May 3, 1913. That heralded the Silent Era in films. And the sound of silence dominated for about two decades.


The Thirties

The world economic crisis and the Great Depression of the late 20s fostered another new marvel. Ardeshir Irani, the pioneer of Indian Talkie, made Alam Ara, the first full length Indian talkie film. The film inaugurated a new chapter at the Majestic Cinema on March 14, 1931. Ergo, the ‘Sound’ Era began and the idea of synchronising recorded sound with running pictures clicked.


The film had seven songs and only three instruments viz. Harmonium, Tabla and Violin were used in their recording. Wazir Mohammed Khan sang the beautifully worded minstrel song :


De de Khuda ke naam pe pyaare, taaqat ho gar dene ki,

Kuch chaahe agar to maangle mujhse, himmat ho gar lene ki.


Since then, music lovers haven’t stopped begging for more songs and are reveling in the feast of the flow of good songs, ad infinitum.


Close on heels of Alam Ara followed a few more musicals like Madan Theatre’s Laila Majnu, Shakuntala and Shirin Farhad featuring the legendary singing stars Jahan Ara Kajjan and Master Nissar. With their good looks, sound musical background, good command over Urdu and an impeccable dialogue delivery (thanks to their rich theatre experience), they became the most popular and successful singing star pair of the 30s.


The Indian talkie, then in its nascent stage paved the way to the studio system. Prominent studios like New Theatres, Bombay Talkies, Prabhat Films, Sagar Movietone, Ranjit Films held the sway providing unabashed entertainment with lot of songs and dances. These studios had their in-house talents i.e. actors, directors, musicians, technicians who worked under a contract to be paid a monthly stipend, whether films were made or not. There was no playback system and the actors had to willy-nilly sing their songs and huddle around low fidelity microphones. An attempt, however, was made by Nitin Bose, in house Director of New Theatres, along with his brother Mukul Bose, a sound engineer during the filming of a song for the film Dhoop Chhaon in 1935.


Film music then had strong theatrical influence and songs with literary flourish were rendered with dramatic flamboyance and in a declamatory style. Prolific names like R C Boral, Pankaj Mullick, Timir Baran (New Theatres), Saraswati Devi (Bombay Talkies), Anil Biswas (Sagar Movietone), Khemchand Prakash (Ranjit Films), Govindrao Tembe, Keshavrao Bhole, Master Krishna Rao (Prabhat Films) wielded the baton and laid the cornerstone of Hindi film music.


As there was no playback system, the actors who were ‘forced’ to sing included renowned names like Ashok Kumar, Billimoria, Devika Rani, Leela Chitnis, Maya Bannerji, Motilal, Sardar Akhtar, Sitara Devi to name a few. The other actors who sang well were names like Ashraf Khan, Asit Baran, Bibbo, Kanan Bala, Krishna Chandra Dey, Pahadi Saigal, Pankaj Mullick, Parul Ghosh, Shanta Apte, Surendra, and not the least, Kundan Lal Saigal, turning out to be the most successful singing star of the pre-independence era.




Much of what was created in the 30s is now a remote reality. The noteworthy significance of this phase is that it was the beginning of film music. The composers and singers worked in primitive conditions and constraints in the matter of sound recording. Today, with technical and technological revolutions in the matter of sound recording and reproduction in the form of magnetic tapes and CDs, the music industry is reaping a rich harvest. Looking back, one cannot help reiterating the fact that the latter day progress and accomplishments were made possible by the initiatives taken in the 30s, however imperfectly, by providing a Sound T(h)reat to Silence which had dominated the scene till then.


The Forties

At the time when songs from films made by New Theatres, Bombay Talkies, Prabhat et al. were reverberating in the air, World War II broke out in the late 30s. War generated a lot of unaccounted wealth in the hands of a few unscrupulous businessmen. Many of them, with no aesthetic values or idea of the art and craft of filmmaking, turned to the lucrative business only to absorb their unaccounted wealth. In the process, genuine film companies and studios suffered a setback. And with them, the purist composers of Prabhat, New Theatres and Bombay Talkies too suffered. Their principles clashed with the non-idealistic ways of film making and they were reluctant to churn out music which had more mass appeal. Expectedly, they faded away into oblivion and paved way to new composers who were more flexible and susceptible to the changing trend. They combined puritanism with populism, made the orchestration modern and trendy and presented the songs in a light and listener-friendly manner. And they succeeded.


Master Ghulam Haider brought about this musical revolution in the early 40s. He brought with him Punjab’s rich and vibrant folk music and rustic and robust instruments like the Dholak, Dhol, Duff, Matka, Khanjari etc. which added verve and vigour to the songs. The phenomenal popularity of his refreshingly free-wheeling songs from Pancholi’s Khazanchi brought him instant name, fame and money. Ghulam Haider became the highest paid composer of his time and got what he demanded, an incredible sum of Rs. 25,000 per film in the mid-40s. He not only took the nation by storm but also made his contemporaries sit up and take note. Credit also goes to him for introducing legendary singers like Shamshad Begam, Noorjahan and Lata Mangeshkar.


Other composers who stylised Punjab’s folk music and presented the Punjabi tappa in a catchy and hummable manner were Shyam Sundar, Pandit Amarnath, his younger brothers Husanlal-Bhagatram (the first composer duo), Pandit Gobindram, Hansraj Behl, G A Chisthi, Vinod, etc.


It wasn’t just the Punjabi tappa which reverberated in the air; folk music from all parts of the country became a major inspiration to the composers. Naushad based his compositions on UP’s folk music and purbi thumris and created great musical waves in some of the biggest blockbusters of the 40s like Andaz, Anmol Ghadi, Dillagi, Mela, Rattan and Shahjahan. Maestros like Anil Biswas and S.D.Burman banked heavily on the Rabindra Sangeet, Nazruli Sangeet and the folk music of Bengal like baul and bhatiali as also the kirtans; Khemchand Prakash and Ghulam Mohammed popularised Rajasthan’s folk music and Maand. All these composers and others with classical leanings like S N Tripathi and Vasant Desai drew heavy inspiration from traditional ragas and bandishes also. As such, the songs and their orchestration were simple and uncluttered, pleasing and soothing to the auditory senses.





Prolific poets and lyricists like Kidar Sharma, Pt. Indra, Pt. Sudarshan, Pradeep, D N Madhok, Bharat Vyas, Wali Sahab, Qamar Jalalabadi, P L Santoshi too cascaded from all over the country whipping up patriotic fervor, revolutionary spirit, philosophical zeal and /or churning out idyllic and romantic sentiments in chaste Hindi, exquisite Urdu and / or dialects of the northern region.


Anil Biswas was the only successful composer who held his esteem even in the changing music scenario of the 40s. He introduced and / or gave a major thrust to singers like Surendra, Mukesh,Talat Mahmood and Lata Mangeshkar in their formative years. In sharp contrast to Anil Biswas was his one time assistant C Ramchandra who combined both the oriental and occidental music and established an identity of his own. C Ramchandra’s career got a major boost through the films made by Filmistan, one of the newer and leading film companies of the 40 (and the 50s).


The classic but formula ridden studio set up which started crumbling during the war years eventually came to a virtual end by the close of the 40s. The fate of New Theatres, Bombay Talkies, Prabhat, Ranjit and others was almost sealed though some of them tried their best to survive. A classic example is Bombay Talkies which lost its glory after a few key people like S Mukherji, Ashok Kumar, Pradeep, Rai Bahadur Chunilal left it (following some internal dispute) and formed Filmistan in 1944. However, the fading glory of Bombay Talkies was resurrected towards the end of the decade when Ashok Kumar took over the reins of the company and made the monumental musical marvel Mahal with himself and Madhubala in the lead. The haunted citadel had immortal music by Khemchand Prakash but he was not fortunate enough to savour the success of the film and the unprecedented popularity of his all time classic haunting creation Aayega aanewala; he died just two months before the release of the film.


With Aayega aanewala, Lata Mangeshkar arrived in a big way and, thereafter, there was no looking back for her. With her captivating and heart-tugging songs which she sang in the two year period 1948-49 for great maestros like Anil Biswas (Anokha Pyar and Ladli), Khemchand Prakash (Ziddi and Mahal), Ghulam Haider (Majboor and Padmini), Shyam Sundar (Bazar and Lahore), Naushad (Andaz and Dulari), Husanlal-Bhagatram (Badi Bahan and Jal Tarang),

C Ramchandra (Patanga and Sipahiya) and Shankar-Jaikishan (Barsaat), Lata Mangeshkar became the undisputed melody queen of all times. She came, sang and conquered. The end of the decade heralded the beginning of a new era – The Era of Melody Queen Lata Mangeshkar.


The Fifties

The beginning of the 50s marked the end of organised film making. Big studios were closing down and independent producers came in and new production concerns were being floated which attracted freelance directors, composers and glamorous stars. The star system gave rise to star tantrums and star idolization. The triumvirate of Dev Anand-Raj Kapoor-Dilip Kumar called the shots and ruled the hearts of cine goers and the marquee in the 50s.The stars were not required to sing their songs any more. Playback, which had made an unobtrusive beginning in the 40s, came in full force in the 50s. Composers imbued their tunes with all their creative skills and ingenuity and provided ample scope to the singers for displaying their vocal talents. The songs sounded more refined and sophisticated. The entire music scenario underwent considerable changes.

In the early 50s, maestros like Khemchand Prakash, Ghulam Haider and Shyam Sundar died while still in their prime and at their creative best. By mid 50s, Anil Biswas and Husanlal-Bhagatram, who did not change their composing styles with the changing times, were considered commercially less viable and faded away. Others like Naushad, C.Ramchandra, S.D.Burman, Shankar-Jaikishan who had made impressive debuts in the 40s became great names of reckoning in the 50s and competed with each other for the top slot; the numero uno position was, however, held by Naushad, the Maestro with the Midas Touch.




The chartbusting effervescent musical score of the formidable foursome, along with the rebel maestro O P Nayyar who made his debut in the early 50s, contributed hugely to the phenomenal success of films like Aan, Aar Paar, Albela, Anadi, Anarkali, Awara, Azaad, Baazi, Baiju Bawra, C I D, Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, Chori Chori, Daag, Deedar, Mother India, Mr. & Mrs. 55, Munimji, Naya Daur, Phagun, Pyaasa, Shree 420, Tumsa Nahin Dekha, Udan Khatola in the 50s. Unlike many of his seniors and contemporaries, Nayyar made it to the top rank and continued to remain there for two decades without ever depending on the vocal prowess of Lata Mangeshkar; the nayyar daur was marked with magic he created with other accomplished singers like Shamshad Begum, Geeta Dutt and Asha Bhosle and Mohammed Rafi among the male singers.


Meaningful and thought-provoking lyrics complemented the mellifluous music with a good number of progressive writers and litterateur-lyricists like Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shakeel Badayuni, Sahir Ludhianvi, Shailendra, Rajinder Krishan, Hasrat Jaipuri, Indivar, Kaifi Azmi joining the fray. They penned varied kinds of evocative lyrics voicing emotions ranging from human feelings and follies and mawkish sentiments and sensibilities to pains and pangs of love and essence of life and ephemeral relationships to beauty and bounty of nature and celebration of fiestas and festivals to decadence of society and degeneration of moral values….


The feverish competition became tough with the influx of many talented composers like Roshan (Neki aur Badi - 1949), Madan Mohan (Ankhen - 1950), O.P.Nayyar (Aasman - 1952), Hemant Kumar (Anand Math - 1952), Khayyam (Foot Path - 1953), Salil Chaudhary (Do Bigha Zamin - 1953), Ravi (Vachan - 1955), Jaidev (1956) and Kalyanji Virji Shah (Samrat Chandragupta - 1958) (Anandji joined him later). These maestros had their distinct style of composition and orchestration and had their respective share of success in different measures at different points of time. Truly, these Maestros were the Kings and Melody was the Queen in the 50s.


The Sixties

The 60s saw the emergence of a new generation of stars, stars who symbolised style and showmanship, stars who dissipated inhibitions and displayed vim, vigour and vitality and stars who serenaded and swayed, sizzled and swooned. Colour added a new dimension to both cinema and songs. Subodh Mukherji’s hugely successful film Junglee, released in 1961, was the first colour film. Hindi films and film music broke free (the spirit of freedom captured with animated vivacity and boisterous sensuality by Shammi Kapoor screaming Yahoo) from the stark and sultry studio setting of the 50s to snow clad mountains, silvery lakes, serene landscapes, smoky valleys, shimmering shikaras and spectacular foreigh locales, not to forget our own scenic spots like Shimla and Srinagar. In line with this fascinating transformation, songs also became more frothy and flamboyant but still retained the earlier decade’s melody and magic. Only now, they were embellished with more effervescent and easy-on-ears lyrics, trendy and tortuous orchestration, boisterous and rumbustious singing and colourful and captivating picturisation. In other words, the real star of the sixties was pancake i.e. gloss, glamour and grandiose.


Among the old guards, Naushad, S D Burman and O P Nayyar held the sway in the 60s; however, it was Shankar-Jaikishan who ruled the roost through a string of musicals starring their mentor Raj Kapoor and the new romantic icons of the 60s viz. Shammi Kapoor and Rajendra Kumar. The two stars, by their own admission, owe their stardom not only to the composer duo but also to the versatile singer Mohammed Rafi. In fact, ‘Mohabbat’ Rafi was the only choice for playback to most of the heroes and he indeed was the real star of the romantic 60s.


Maestros like Chitragupta, Roshan, Madan Mohan, Hemant Kumar, Salil Chowdhary, Ravi registered their mellifluous presence in the 60s though big time commercial success eluded most of them with the exception of Ravi.


Younger composers like Kalyanji-Anandji (with hit musical score in Chhalia, Himalay Ki Godmein, Jab Jab Phool Khile and Saraswati Chandra) and Laxmikant-Pyarelal (Aaye Din Bahar Ke, Do Raaste, Dosti, Farz, Jeene Ki Raah, Milan, Parasmani, Shagird) went on to become big and bankable names in the 60s (and also 70s) posing threat to the ruling duo Shankar-Jaikishan. They were not only inspired by Shankar-Jaikishan to become musical partners but also influenced, in the initial stages of their careers, by the music style of the latter till they developed their own styles. The 60s saw yet another musical revolution in Hindi film music brought in by

R D Burman, the talented son of S D Burman, with his trendy and youthful compositions, modern orchestration and innovative usage of percussions. After a promising start in some B-grade films, the Chhote Nawab made it to the top manzil with his westernised and rhythm oriented jazzy score in Nasir Husain’s Teesri Manzil, one of the best musical suspense thrillers of all times.


The spectacular success of Shakti Samanta’s Aradhana released during the fag end of the 60s worked wonders for many… Rajesh Khanna, hero of the film and, arguably, the last romantic star of the pure innocent romantic era, became the new youth icon and sensational super star overnight; the multifaceted maverick Kishore Kumar found the much-delayed and much-deserved big time commercial success come his way in full glory; the ageing and ailing Dada Burman, who scored youthful music for the film, resurfaced with new found vim and vigour. R D Burman was in complete charge of the musical arrangements and orchestration and had a major hand in the phenomenal popularity of the songs. And the trio Rajesh Khanna-Kishore Kumar-R D Burman was to create a new musical history in the 70s which is otherwise marked as a decade of action and the angry young man Amitabh Bachchan.


The Seventies

The 70s saw the emergence of a new generation of macho and brawny stars, new composers, new singers, new concepts and new trends in film making (alongside the mainstream commercial films, the 'new wave' or 'art' films too emerged). ‘Love’, in its varied form, continued to remain the favourite subject of the film makers from Barua and Bimal Roy to Basu Chatterji, Guru Dutt to Gulzar, Raj Kapoor and Raj Khosla to Ramesh Sippy, Shantaram to Subodh Mukherji and Shakti Samanta, Mehboob to Manmohan Desai, Nitin Bose to Nasir Husain, Chetan Anand to Vijay Anand, B R Chopra to Yash Chopra, Amiya Chakravarty to Pramod Chakravarty and F.C Mehra to Prakash Mehra… Sadly, the roses, romance and rishtedaar filled pristine love stories of the 50s and 60s took a back seat in the 70s and gave way to a new genre of films – that of vendetta and violence, razzmatazz and rebellion and, above all, action and Amitabh Bachchan. The films also became more bold and brazen with relatively open attitude to sensuality and sex.

The changed scenario provided less scope for pleasing and soothing music. Instead, there were violent and venom-spewing songs, songs which depicted anger and attitude, challenge and chauvinism, rebellion and revenge like Maar diya jaay ke chhod diya jaaye (Mera Gaon Mera Desh), Jaise ko taisa mila ....maaroon ke chhodoon, teri taangen todoon (Jaise Ko Taisa), Meri nazar se bacha na koyi ... aaj tu dhoka khaayega (Chori Mera Kaam), Haan jab tak hai jaan ... main naachoongi (Sholay), Hai agar dushman dushman ....Hum kisise kam nahin (Hum Kisise Kam Nahin), Anhonee ko honee karde, honee ko anhonee (Amar Akbar Anthony), Ye mera dil ....mushqil hai pyaare tera bachke jaana (Don) . Yet, there were films like Abhimaan, Amar Prem, Chitchor, Kabhi Kabhi, Mera Naam Joker, Pakeezah, Satyam Shivam Sundaram which stood out on the strength of their melodious scores and tried to assert and assure that melody was not completely mauled and massacred in the maar-dhaad era of the 70s.



All the hit-n-hate songs were mostly from action-oriented films of a promiscuous nature where conflict struck more than cupid and guns and goons popped up more than roses and rishtedaars. These vindictive ‘maar’vels were neither written nor composed by the senior maestros who ruled the 50s and 60s with their benign and gentle musical wands and words, but by their energetic and exuberant juniors like Kalyanji-Anandji, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and R.D.Burman who had to yield to the diktats of the changing times. The lyrical support to the trio (particularly the latter two) was mostly lent by the most prolific and versatile wordsmith Anand Bakshi who had the PENchant for expressing the character’s lingo. The trio, arguably the last of the composers of the Golden Era, were the monarchs of all they surveyed in the 70s.


Over the years, maestros like Anil Biswas, Naushad, C.Ramchandra, O.P.Nayyar, Shankar, Salil Chowdhary and Hemant Kumar had ceased to be in the race and reckoning and / or opted for voluntary retirement. By mid-70s, composers like Roshan, Ghulam Mohammed, Husanlal-Bhagatram, Jaikishan, Madan Mohan, S.D.Burman and Vasant Desai departed one after the other in that order. And in the years to come, most of the others too passed away and left us ..… bichhde sabhi baari baari rather bichhde sabhi ‘bhaari bhaari’. And with their passing away, the Golden Era of Music also came to an end and ushered in the Golden Era of Mediocrity.

Each of these maestros was a genius, a master, a wizard with exemplary creative capabilities of an exalted order. Setting new trends, creating new records and scaling new heights, each was a pioneer, a leader and a torch bearer in his own way. Each became a legend during his lifetime and inspired immense awe and admiration. And each of them has given us a legacy of rich tuneful treasures to keep their melodious memoirs alive.















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