Listening to music will be a much richer experience henceforth, thanks to music historian, Nalin Shah. Aptly titled ‘Yaadon ka safar’, Nalin Shahji brought to life one hundred years of Hindi cinema and the music through the ages. I turn on the radio next time and it is bound to be a much richer experience with one visual after the other and one anecdote after the other to accompany it. A listing of all the songs and the people associated with it, showcased in the course of the day, is all I have to do to make this an interesting read. That is the power of Nalin Shahji’s narration.
It was Alam Ara and the song ‘De de khuda ke naam pe’ that started it all, the beginning of sound in one hundred years of Hindi cinema. While Raja Harishchandra was made way back in 1913, it was not until 1931, and Alam Ara, that sound came to Hindi films. Who better to present the journey than Nalin Shahji who has been witness to it right through? Suchitra Film Society did well in bringing him to present Hindi music through the ages. To choose 125 songs from over 75,000 and to be able to tell us the story of music in Hindi films is an achievement by itself. There were the odd complaints, from the audience, about how Salil Choudhary or a Raj Kapoor and Shankar Jaikishen’s contribution was not mentioned, like I felt Hemanth Kumar and Manna Dey and quite a few others were ignored. But then, in Nalin Shahji’s own admission this was not about individuals. Else, how could he ignore someone like Madan Mohan for instance whose song appears only briefly in a medley. And, like Nalin Shahji mentioned, it is easy to say you did not include this music director, this singer and this song. But then, can you say that one particular song in the video did not have to be there? Well… the silence from the audience sure was acknowledgement.
There is no hiding the fact that K L Saigal and Talat Mehmood are his favourites. But then, you could see his love for Mohammed Rafi and Geeta Dutt too. There is a certain pathos in their voice, and when that happens the song becomes memorable and strikes a chord with the listener. Nalin Shahji went on to say that there are only two songs that will live forever, one because of the singer and the other because of the composition, K L Saigal’s ‘Babul mora naihar chhooto hi jaaye’ and Lata Mangeshkar’s ‘Aayega aayega aayega, aayega aanewala’ respectively.
The early years were dominated by heavy voices be it Shamshad Begum, Noor Jehan, Amirbai Karnataki, Zohrabai Ambalewali, Kanan Devi and many others. Lata Mangeshkar found it tough to make an entry into films and she is possibly one of the very few who benefited from the partition, after which most singers moved to Pakistan. Leading film-makers and music director’s who dismissed her voice as being no comparison to the heavy voices of the era had no choice but to get her to sing in their films like ‘Hum Log’ and ‘Anarkali’. Such was her domination. Quite evidently Lata is no favourite of Nalin Shahji and he believes she is because of the masters of her era, be it Khemchand Prakash, Anil Biswas, C Ramachandra, Naushad, Sajjad Hussain (another favourite of mine), Ghulam Haider and many others. He believes her toughest song would have to be ‘Uthaye ja unke sitam, aur jiye jaa, yunhi muskuraye jaa’ simply because that song would make or break her career. Naushad deserved all credit for having extracted that performance from her. He also mentions how Kishore Kumar had to wait for almost 20 long years from ‘Marne ki duaen kyon maangoo’ in 1948 to make an identity of his own amongst stalwarts like Talat Mehmood, Mohammed Rafi, Manna Dey, Hemanth Kumar, Mukesh and others.
Nalin Shahji’s passion is evident right from the start. Between some of the songs he would interrupt to narrate an anecdote. One anecdote after another made this an interaction that just can’t be put into a format. While I can see how disjointed this piece of reporting is, you would agree the evening wasn’t. It seemed like each anecdote was written in, and at the very apt place, to spice up the session. Nalin Shahji would sift through his hand-written notes from time to time, each time coming up with another gem of an anecdote. O P Nayyar’s confession on why he never used Lata mangeshkar’s voice after she did not appear for two successive recordings for his film ‘Aasmaan’ and how he himself ignored Geeta Dutt who was instrumental in his early success; how Naushad found Rajkumari among a group of people who were to sing chorus for the song ‘Mere pairon mein ghunghroo pahna de…’; how S D Burman asked Talat Mehmood not to ruin his song ‘Jalte hain jiske liye’ and talat gave it all he had; how Sahir Ludhianvi insisted on being paid at least One rupee more than the music director S D Burman; how R D Burman confessed to why he had to compose some of the songs he did so he could have an identity distinctly different from that of his father; how Devika Rani was responsible for giving a break to Yusuf Khan (Dilip Kumar), Baby Mumtaz (Madhubala) and Raj Kapoor; how the records of the time used to give credits to the character rather than the singer which explains why the film Mahal’s songs are attributed to Kamini rather than Lata, and many many more. There were anecdotes galore about Khan Mastana, Sahir Ludhianvi, Thakshanta Apte, Ghulam Haider, Shakeel Badayuni, Kavi Pradeep and others too. I lost count.
Here is one trivia from me to Nalin Shahji. Madan Mohan lifted Sajjad Hussain’s ‘Yeh hawa yeh raat yeh chandni’ tune to compose ‘Tujhe kya sunaoon ae dilruba’. Sajjad Hussain supposedly called Madan Mohan a thief to which he replied with “I am proud I lifted your tune and not anyone else’s.” I don’t know if this is apocryphal but then I like the story. Maybe Nalin Shahji can confirm it for me.
You can appreciate a song only if you know the period from when it is, and circumstances under which it was made. Some of the songs were recorded live and you had to literally shout into the microphone to make sure it had been recorded. The irony of it all was when the latest technology that we have today went to nought at the venue, and it took some time to get the sound on the DVD player right. Makes one appreciate an old song even more. But then, I for one would much rather do away with some of the new technology. The mobile phone for instance, which went on at regular intervals. It is a shame how we have become slaves to the gadget, even when we should be enjoying the music in solitude and getting transported to another era.
It wouldn’t be wrong to presume that Nalin Shahji could have day-long sessions on almost every Singer, Composer, Director and Producer from the 30s to today. What a resource one individual’s simple passion for music has become to one and all. Very simply put, he is a one man National Film and Music Archive of India.
He did briefly talk about how Hindi films have been responsible for giving classical music its due. A song rooted in classical base always did well, for instance Tansen, Baiju Bawra, Shabab, to name a few. He went on to say how it was a tough job those days with everything being censored. It is commendable what people like Kavi Pradeep did when he penned songs like ‘Duur hato duur hato duniyawalon Hindusthan hamara hai’ which is nothing short of contribution to the freedom movement. The role of lyricists like Kavi Pradeep, Arzoo Lucknavi, N. Madhok and a host of others in the early days, to name a few, was tremendous. It was not just lyricists or composers or singers but the coming together of so many committed and talented individuals that made it the industry that it is.
He did showcase some of the work of R D Burman who he thinks is one of the last few geniuses. And, so also A R Rahman. But then, he says, they have had to compromise because of the demands of the market. Khaiyyam’s wonderful ‘Umrao Jaan’, ‘Ghulam Mohammed’s ‘Pakeezah’, Naushad’s ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ were also part of the wonderful music of another era. There were a few instances where he compared the old to the new to make a point but I think it was unwarranted considering it is self-evident. Most of the new is jarring to the ear, but it was even more so in the context of the melody of old. Like Nalin Shahji mentioned, if he were to point out one basic difference between the old and the new it would have to be that while music of old was aural, the new is visual. How true.
I hope Suchitra Film Society brings him back for the Bangalore International Film Festival as part of the 100 years of Hindi cinema celebrations. I sure will be there because some of the anecdotes will happen only over another conversation. Until then let me relish the one hundred years of music ‘Yaadon ka safar’ spent with Nalin Shahji. ‘Yaad na jaaye beete dinon ki, jaake na aaye jo din dil kyon bulaaye unhe dil kyon bulaaye, yaad na jaaye beete dinon ki…
Nalin Shah is a noted film music historian and has been the recipient of the prestigious K L Saigal Award. He has one of the best music collections in the country and is nothing short of a one man National Film & Music Archive of India. Nalin Shah took up classical music under Pt. Jagannath Prasad, cousin of music composer Khemchand Prakash. ‘Yaadon Ka Safar – The History of Film Music’ is a video compile of Hindi music, in film, through the ages.