A Journey Down Memory Lane || Raju Bhartan

Rating : 3/10

It’s one of those books which you’ll like only if you have the context. Personally, I couldn’t finish it [happens rarely]. It does seem that if I knew Hindustani music better, I might have liked it. I might have liked it more also if I liked scandals of artists more than their process.

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So instead of writing a review, let me post two existing reviews which I personally resonate with.

Review number 1 : Seven K Sinha @Business Standard

” offers a look behind the scenes of the old world of Bollywood music.

counted “Koee humdum na raha”, his solo, among his 10 best songs. The film marked his debut as music director. Majrooh Sultanpuri’s lyrics, rendered with feeling by Kumar in Raga Zinjhoti, enter straight into one’s heart.

But tells us that it was not a composition, nor was he the first to render it. That privilege went to his elder brother, Ashok Kumar. The original lyrics, by Jamuna Swarup Casshyap, were composed by Saraswati Devi for the 1936 hit Jeevan Naiya, a film that affirmed and Devika Rani as the reigning stars. Someone has even posted a clip on YouTube of this song (www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgX3MbF7z1Y) in which starts it and then Kishore steps in.

How does Bharatan know this? Saraswati Devi (Khorshed Minocher-Homji in real life), the Hindi film industry’s first music director, invited him in September 1969 to an evening during which she sang her genteel hits from films made by Bombay Talkies, the studio that ruled the industry in the 1930s and 1940s. She also sang the “Koee humdum” number, after announcing it as Ashok Kumar’s solo. What made the experience unique for Bharatan was that Saraswati Devi did not say a word about Kishore or Jhumroo. She just let the rendition speak for itself.

In Kishore Kumar’s defence, it can only be said that he was an impressionable seven-year-old when he first heard the original. It may have entered his subconscious, and come out note-for-note when he needed to create the right mood in Jhumroo.

After all, for some of the best music directors, the mood came first. In the opinion of Shanker, of the Shanker-Jaikishan team, the musician, in trying to evoke or match the mood on screen, could go into any raga. For instance, all that Shanker wanted to do while composing “Tu pyaar ka saagar hai” (Seema, 1955) was to capture the bhajan’s mood, as mirrored by Balraj Sahni on screen. It just so happened that the number went into Raga Todi.

Naushad, known for his numbers based on the classical ragas, only thought of the character while composing. For instance, he believed that “Bekas pe karam keejiye” (Mughal-e-Azam, 1969) would be accepted by the viewer-listener so long as it captured the agony of Madhubala’s Anarkali regardless of the raga it was based on (Raga Kedara).

How does Bharatan know this? They told him.

As Bimal Roy picked to play the jobless hero in Naukri, the singer-actor justly assumed that he would sing his own songs. But Salil Chowdhury, the formidable music director from Bengal, sought Hemant Kumar’s vocals. Kishore rushed to Chowdhury’s music room at Mohan Studios, Andheri, only to be told: “But I have never heard you before… Not one song of yours did I hear in Calcutta.” To rectify the anomaly, Kishore began to sing, but Chowdhury cut him short, saying: “You don’t know the ABC of music.”

Kishore, pursuing his case, later went to Chowdhury with records of two of his best songs — “Marne kee duaaen kyun maangoon” (Ziddi, 1948) and “Jagmag jagmag kartaa niklaa” (Rimjhim, 1949). Chowdhury dismissed both as “laboured”. It was only after many others put in a word that Chowdhury relented, though under protest (“This Kishore lad is no singer, I tell you”).

Seventeen years later, the same Chowdhury stood transfixed as Kishore made magic with his composition, “Koee hotaa jis ko apnaa”, in Gulzar’s Mere Apne (1971). “I salute Data Burman [S D Burman] for spotting the spark in the boy,” he said. Equally interestingly, Hemant Kumar, who almost became Kishore’s voice in Naukri, chose him to sing his immortal composition, “Woh sham kuchh ajeeb thi” in Khamoshi (1970).

How does Bharatan know this? They told him.

Soon into the book, you begin to feel jealous of Bharatan. He was there at recordings and music “sittings” in the golden era of Hindi film music — when journalists were not anathema and some of them, like Bharatan, were actually asked by music directors for their opinion. O P Nayyar, for instance, valued the insights of Jitubhai Mehta (of the Gujarati Vandemataram and Bombay Samachar). Madan Mohan turned to Screen’s R M Kumtakar for final ghazal approvals.

Among many other things, Bharatan watched Lahore-based Ghulam Haider, who used to come down to Bombay for a film and get paid as much as Rs 50,000 for it, teach Indian stalwarts like Naushad, who depended on meagre monthly salaries, to demand and get their worth. He watched as Lata and Rafi fought over the issue of royalties and did not sing together for three years. He witnessed the blatant plagiarising of “music operators” like Bappi Lahiri, Anu Malik and Pritam, as well as the selective copying of great grand composers like Shanker-Jaikishan, Kalyanji-Anandji and Laxmikant-Pyarelal. And, of course, he watched the coming-of-age of Kishore Kumar.

Somewhere along the line, though, this privilege began to weigh upon Bharatan’s mind. It shows in his efforts to try and cram too much into each sentence. He also tends to lose his way at times while narrating the hundreds of delightful anecdotes. Second, perhaps he feels that the present age, with its quick-fix journalists with their cameras, does not value the real deals like him as much as it should. In his writing he appears to be trying to tell us that he was there when it all happened. That may explain why there is so much of him in the book. He may have been better off employing Saraswati Devi’s subtlety.

Nevertheless, this book deserved better than the “pavement” look that its cover has, despite the gloss. The photographs inside, though, are a treasure trove, quite like the music in the book.”

 

Review number 2 : Shashi Baliga @The Hindu

Raju Bharatan drowns his anecdotes in a sea of facts, making the book a tedious read, says Shashi Baliga.

“On p.65 of this book, Raju Bharatan recounts how he once corrected the legendary composer Naushad, when the latter mistakenly named two of his compositions as being from “Deedar” (1951) when they were, in fact, picturised on the actress Nutan in “Shabab” (1954).

Writes Bharatan, Naushad reflected before responding: “Yes, on Nutan in ‘Shabab’ it is — as you say. Remember, I compose and dispose. You impose restraints on me by expecting me to remember the film’s name all the time, all the way!”

One can only empathise with the imperious Naushadsaab after plodding through this book, which could be a statistician’s delight but makes painfully tedious reading for the average film buff.

Bharatan, who had the enormous privilege of interacting closely with some of India’s greatest composers and singers, could have given us a marvellously nostalgic, readable book that brought alive those legendary names. For, he has a ear for the telling anecdote as much as for hidden musical gems, as well as the depth of knowledge to place them in their historical context.

Getting it straight

Alas, in this look at Hindi film music down the decades, he drowns his anecdotes in a sea of mind-numbing facts and figures, much like a cricket statistician who gets caught up in the batting pattern of a Tendulkar innings rather than revel in the glory of the master’s shots. Bharatan does say upfront, “The aim of this book…. is to set the gramophone record straight…” Getting the facts right is indispensable, of course (and Bharatan does so in many instances) but when the effort overwhelms the sheer joy of a performer’s artistry — in sports or films — you’re tempted, like Naushadsaab, after a moment’s reflection, to sweep them aside.

Luckily, Bharatan does offer quite a few revelations and nuggets. There is Vijay ‘Goldie’ Anand — considered by most directors to be the master of song picturisation — telling Bharatan how he chose his songs: “… The song I am okaying must be ‘actable’. Once the song is ‘actable’, it automatically becomes ‘singable’.”

And composer Shankar of the Shankar-Jaikishan duo has the definitive word on the classical subtext in film music: “The knowledgeable musician always plays in sur. After that, the tune he is trying to evoke, to match the mood on the screen, could go into any raag.”

There are quite a few spicy anecdotes too, especially about the love life of sisters Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle (Bharatan has also written a biography of Mangeshkar). He traces Mangeshkar’s rise to supremacy and how the industry referred to her as the ‘High Command’. Mohamed Rafi, who once called her “Maharani” sarcastically, paid the price for that and other indiscretions with a long stand-off and Bharatan recounts Rafi’s poignant decline in one of the many examples of filmdom’s harsh side.

There are some surprises as well. The author reveals how Naushad and Salil Chowdhury were dismissive of Kishore Kumar for many years till they finally acknowledged his genius (Naushad refused to ask Kishore Kumar to sing for him for 27 long years!)

And we learn that Jaidev had composed eight songs for “Umrao Jaan” before he was displaced by Khayyam and his now-memorable score for that movie.

Hard truths

Bharatan tells of how plagiarism was common all those decades ago, and one-upmanship as cut-throat as it is today. He gives us the inside story on what is commonly believed to be Lata Mangeshkar’s edging out of her sister Asha in her historic performance of “Ae mere watan ke logon”: “New Delhi, discreetly, let it be known, at the last minute, that it wanted only our ‘nightingale on the highest branch’; performing before Prime Minister Nehru,” reveals Bharatan, letting Mangeshkar off the hook.

Like many steeped in the music of the 1950s and 1960s, Bharatan is largely dismissive of much of the music that came after. “If you… asked me to underpin the one solid reason for the decadent decline of Hindustani cinesangeet, I would say it is Amitabh Bachchan,” he insists, remarking that the art of music “passed, irrevocably, into the fists of the fight composer from the baton of the song composer.” While there is certainly some truth in that reasoning, such a sweeping allocation of blame seems quite undeserved, really.

To his credit however, Bharatan has the grace to acknowledge: “Am I being too condemnatory of the music being made today?… Am I expediently forgetting that music at its root… is generational in its appeal? Hearing the music of Rahman extensively, recently, did make me wonder if I was not a whole generation behind the times in my daily listening.”

Expectedly, Rahman is the one composer who has his approval. By the time Bharatan’s musical expedition has reached Rahman, however, the reader is somewhat weary, having suffered a deluge of statistics and the author’s predilection for phrases like “‘Musey’ musicality”, “coiled-springy Vyjayanthimala” or “Pam Choprapport” (no, I’m not kidding). Long-winded sentences and paragraphs don’t help either; this book could have certainly done with a firm editor. If we didn’t have to dig so much for those nostalgic nuggets, this journey could have been both shorter and sweeter.”

 

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