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Trends in Hindi Film Music

Pankaj Rag

Hindi film music began with the first talkie Alamara in 1931 and the first film song was ‘De de khuda ke naam pe pyaare, taaqat hai gar dene ki’ sung by W.M. Khan and composed by Feroze Shah Mistri. The character of early film music was functional like a narrative and songs were used to take the story forward and to express various emotions. The early songs were often based on the classical ragas and as such early Hindi film music largely lacked that creatively accomplished melodic quality that became the hallmark of film music in later decades. Most artistes came from a Parsi theatre background or from what is called the ‘Kotha’ culture, and their style of music reflected their roots. The songs were sung by the actors themselves and the harmonium, tabla and flute were the main musical instruments. Since they were not always trained singers, the tunes were often kept so simple that the early Bombay Talkies compositions of music director Saraswati Devi, (like ‘Main ban ki Chidiya ban hi ban men dolu re’ and ‘Khet ki mooli’ in Achhoot Kanya, 1936) have been compared to nursery rhymes. The simplicity of expression could vary - from the straight and unembellished compositions of Lallubhai Nayak for Prakash (for whom Raj Kumari of Benares sang her earliest songs) to the more classically complex ones of Pransukh Nayak for Imperial Films and of Jhande Khan for Ranjeet Movietone (who would go on to compose all the songs of Chitralekha in 1941 in rag Bhairavi). In the days of the studio system, when music directors were employees of a particular studio, Madan Theatres of Calcutta would also see Parsi theatre style music from Brijlal Varma, mainly sung by superstars of those years like Master Nissar and the glamorous Jahanara Kajjan. However, the musical magnum opus of Madan Theatres proved to be the operatic Indrasabha (1931) with an all time record of 71 songs tuned by Wazir Khan and orchestrated by Nagardas Nayak, comprising songs based on a variety of genres like the folk musical theatre of Braj, traditional ghazal styles, Parsi theatrical rhetoric and even shades of European opera. The religious and social films of Prabhat Studios of Kolhapur (later shifted to Poona) like Ayodhya Ka Raja (1932), Maya Machindra (1932), Sairandhr’ (1932), etc., produced the harmonium based classically tuned compositions of Govindrao Tembe which in a way were only slightly modified extensions of the Marathi ‘Sangeet Naatak’ ...

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