Bollywood's Great Music Maestros
1. Anil Biswas (1914-2003): One of the pioneers of Hindi film music, he moved to Mumbai from Calcutta in 1934, and is credited for the shift of focus from New Theatres, Calcutta to Sagar Movitone, Bombay, in production of Hindi musicals. He initially assisted composer Ashok Ghosh in Manmohan and Deccan Queen .The famous producer-director Mehboob Khan, mainly to compete with New Theatres’ films with K. L. Saigal, produced these films with his discovery, the singing star Surendra. These were followed by his music compositions for Jagirdar, Hum Tum Aur Who, Alibaba (in Hindi and Punjabi), all great musicals produced by Mehboob, with Surendra as the singing lead player. Inspired by MGM’s The Good Earth, Mehboob produced Aurat (1940), which was remade by him as Mother India. Anil Biswas composed songs of Aurat were much appreciated by audiences. Then followed Asra, Apna Paraya, Roti and Anokha Pyar, all musical hits. Kismet was his biggest hit in the 40s – ‘Door Hato Ai Duniawalo Hindustan Hamara Hai’, ‘Ghar Ghar Mein Diwali Hai’, ‘Dheere Dheere Aa’. Suraiya sang for Anilda in Gajre, Jeet, Do Sitare and Waris. In the 50s he shifted to Delhi for academic work and was appointed Vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal University. He also remained Chief Producer (Sugam Sangeet) at AIR, Delhi from 1963 to 75. He later scored music for Doordarshan’s pioneering TV serial Hum Log (1984) and a number of documentaries for the Films Divisions.
2. Vasant Desai (1914-1974): Vasant Desai was the composer who could easily pivot the various situations of life around his simple and classy tunes. He was a man of great musical insight. Who can forget his composition, ‘Aei Malik Tere Bande Hum’, which is still sung as Morning Prayer in most schools throughout India. After acting in some films he started his training in music when he was refused the lead role in V. Shantaram’s Admi. Ironically, it was Shantaram who gave him break as music director in Shakuntala (1943). The film was a major hit of those times that ran for 104 weeks at a single theatre. After Shakuntala’s overwhelming success, Vasant Desai became a part of V. Shantaram’s Rajkamal Studio. He gave unforgettable music for Shantaram’s Do Aankhen Barah Haath and Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje. He composed music for 14 films in 1940s including the hit movies, Parbat Pe Apna Dera, Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani, Ram Joshi, Jivan Yatra and Udhar. In the 50s, Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje, Toofan Aur Diya, Do Aankhen Barah Haath and Goonj Uthi Shehnai were his most popular films. Desai used pure classical, folk and theatrical music perfectly for these films. JJPB was purely based on dance theme, so he composed classical dance tunes. He used the voice of great vocalist Ustaad Amir Khan for the title song of the film. In 1960s he did comparatively less number of films but he managed to maintain his style and melody of his tunes. The decade saw the release of Pyar Ki Pyas, Rahul, Yaadein, Bharat Milap and Aashirwad. He introduced Vani Jayaram in Guddi (1970) as a playback singer. He also introduced Dilraj Kaur in Rani Aur Lalpari (1975). Vasant Desai believed in quality and not quantity. Therefore, he composed music for only 46 films in his career spanning four decades.
3. Naushad Ali (1919-2006): Regarded as one of the greatest music directors of Hindi cinema, Naushad moved to Mumbai in the late 1930s from Lucknow to try his luck as a musician. He really had to struggle hard before he joined music director Khemchand Prakash as his assistant. Prem Nagar (1940) was his first break as independent composer but he got noticed with Sharda (1942) wherein 13-year old Suraiya did the playback for Mehtab. It was Rattan (1944) that took Naushad right to the top. ‘Sawan Ke Badlo’ became the most popular song of the day. Every film Naushad composed for in the 40s was a great musical hit – Shahjehan, Anmol Ghadi, Dard, Elan, Anokhi Ada, Dillagi and Andaaz. Naushad’s greatest contribution was to bring Indian classical music into the film medium. He went on to score the music for perennial classics – Baiju Bawra, Mother India, Mughl-E-Azam, Ganga Jamuna and Mere Mehboob, besides blockbusters, Mela, Dulari, Dillagi, Babul, Deedar, Aan, Udan Khatola, Ram Aur Shyam etc. A winner of Dada Sahib Phalke award, the last film that Naushad composed music for was Akbar Khan’s Taj Mahal, before he passed away in 2006.
4. Ghulam Haider (1908-1953): An early music composer of great repute, Ghulam Haider had the distinction of working both in India and Pakistan. He started his career as a composer in Lahore with Dalsukh M. Pancholi’s Gul Bakawali (1939) that became an instant hit. Baby Noorjehan’s songs ‘Shala Jawania Mane’ and ‘Pinjare Wich Kaid Jawani’ were on the lips of every Punjabi fan. His biggest hit came with Khazanchi (1941). The music of Khazanchi caused a revolution. Combining popular ragas with the rich verve and rhythm of Punjabi music, Haider ensured the Indian film music would never be the same again. He moved to Mumbai in 1944 where he worked for films like Chal Chal Re Naujawan, Phool, Humayun, Bairam Khan and Shama. His best known compositions are sung by Shamshad Begum, and invoke Punjabi folk song. Haider also composed music for Bombay Talkies’ Majboor featuring Lata’s ‘Dil Mera Toda’. It was Haider who gave Lata Mangeshkar her major break in Hindi films with Majboor (1948). He had earlier taken 16-year old Lata to S. Mukherjee to try and win her the opportunity to sing for Shaheed, but Mukherjee rejected her, saying her voice was too thin. Haider predicted that this “poor little thing” would soon put every other singer to shame, including Noorjehan. Other singers he introduced were Sudha Malhotra and Surinder Kaur in Shaheed, his last big hit in India. Who can forget the patriotic song ‘Watan Ki Rah Par Watan Ke Naujawan Shaheed Ho’? Ghulam Haider later migrated to Pakistan where he died in 1953 at the age of 45.
5. Khayyam (b 1927): Mohammed Zaheer Khayyam Hashmi, popularly known as Khayyam, evolves memories of soothing, lilting melodies. Since the late 40s, the veteran composer has done films at his pace – less than one film a year. But oh, what songs he has given us. Think of Footpath, Kabhi Kabhie, Umrao Jaan and Razia Sultan and Khayyam evokes nostalgic memories in music lovers. Khayyam became a household name with his songs in Footpath, Mohabbat Isko Kehte Hain, Lala Rukh, Shagun, Shola Aur Shabnam, Aakhri Khat and Phir Subah Hogi. However, his all time greatest musical is Umrao Jaan, which brought glory not only to him but also to Asha Bhonsley for her beautiful rendering of the songs composed by Khayyam. Currently he is composing for two films – Banares 1918 and Yatra. In Yatra Rekha plays a dancer, which gives a lot of scope for music. Asha Bhosle, the playback voice for Rekha in Umrao Jaan, once again sings for Rekha in the film. The three of them seem to be working hard to recreate the magic of Umrao Jaan music. Khayyam has also recently come up with Shaguftagi, a ghazal album with lyrics penned by long time friend Kaifi Azmi. This album has given Khayyam the opportunity to work with contemporary popular singers like Alka Yagnik, Udit Narain, Roop Kumar Rathod and Kavita Krishnamurthy. Ofcourse, they have all sung in the Khayyam style and enjoyed every note in it. Humble to the core, Khayyam says he owes his success to God, his wife, singer Jagjit Kaur and the blessings of his gurus Pandit Amarnath and Husnlal Bhagatram. Not once do you hear him referring to his talent.
6. S. D. Burman (1901-1975): The greatest all-rounder in Indian film music, S. D. Burman could be equally classy and jazzy. His grip on Indian folklore, his sound classical base, his capacity to absorb from the scene around him made him in high demand right till the end of his life. Initially a music director in Calcutta in the late 30s, he moved to Mumbai in 1944. His first major breakthrough came in Filmistan’s Do Bhai (1947). ‘Mera Sunder Sapna Beet Gaya’ sung by Geeta Dutt is remembered till today. Shabnam (1949) was his biggest hit with Filmistan with the multi-lingual song ‘Yeh Dunia Roop Ki Chor’ becoming the rage of the day. Burmanda composed the music for Dev Anand’s production company, Navketan’s first film Afsar (1950). With the success of their second film Baazi (1951) he made it to the top and a long association with Dev Anand was on its way. Baazi’s jazzy musical score was astounding success for Burmanda and singer Geeta Dutt with every song in the film a raging hit. Ill health caused a slump in his career in the early 60s but his compositions for Bandini, Guide, Jewel Thief and Aradhna showed that S. D. Burman could still dictate trends. Aradhna was responsible for Kishore Kumar’s second coming and went on to make him the top male playback singer of Hindi films. Burmanda was also responsible along with O. P. Nayyar in shaping Asha Bhonsle as a singer of repute. S. D. Burman’s memorable movies include Do Bhai, Shabnam, Baazi, Bahar, Jaal, Taxi Driver, Devdas, Munimji, Nau Do Gyarah, Paying Guest, Chalti Ka Naam Gaadhi, Kala Paani, Lajwanti, Kagaz Ke Phool, Sujata, Bombai Ka Babu, Kala Bazar, Bandini, Guide, Jewel Thief, Aradhna, Sharmilee and Abhiman.
7. Madan Mohan (1923-1975): Son of the Hindi cinema mogul, Rai Bahadur Chunilal, Madan Mohan was a famed music director of the golden era of Hindi film music – 1950s-70s. He is particularly remembered for the ghazals he composed for the film industry, mainly using the voice of India’s melody queen, Lata Mangeshkar. After assisting S. D. Burman for a short time, Madan scored his first big break with the film Aankhen (1950). This film saw the beginning of a long partnership with Lata Mangeshkar. Madan Mohan songs sung by Lata have certain magic and sweetness to them that few music directors, if any, have been able to recreate. ‘Woh Chup Rahen To’ from Jahan Ara and ‘Maine Rang Li Aaj Chunaria’ from Dulhan Ek Raat Ki are just two such examples. Madan also crafted beautiful songs for male singers such as Talat Mehmood – ‘Phir Wahi Sham’, ‘Main Teri Nazar Ka Saroor Hun’ and ‘Teri Aankh Ke Aansoo’ from Jahan Ara and ‘Meri Yaad Main Tum Na’ from Madhosh. In 1957 Madan Mohan came out with a huge musical blockbuster Dekh Kabira Roya in which legendary singer Manna De gave his voice to the very sweet song ‘Kaun Aya Mere Man Ke Dware’. In the same movie he used Talat Mehmood’s voice for the superhit song ‘Hum Se Aya Na Gaya’. One of Madan’s famous films was Chetan Anand’s Haqeeqat (1964). In this film he used Mohd. Rafi for the songs ‘Kar Chale Hum Fida’and ‘Main Yeh Soch Kar’, and Lata for the hit song ‘Zara Si Ahat Hoti Hei’, enthralling millions of moviegoers. And the same film saw Rafi, Talat, Manna De and Bhupinder singing ‘Hoke Majboor Mujhe Usne Bulaya Hoga’. When Madan Mohan composed the classic ‘Aap Ki Nazron Ne’ from the movie Anpadh (1962), Naushad Ali is reported to have complimented him saying, “Let me have this ghazal and take all my compositions in return”. In 2004, his son Sanjeev Kohli recreated Madan’s unused tunes for the Yash Chopra blockbuster Veer Zara.
8. O. P. Nayyar (b 1926): Born in Lahore, O. P. Nayyar came to Mumbai after partition. Lady luck smiled on him when Santoshi dropped the then most sought after music director Naushad and signed him instead. Around the same time Guru Dutt too opted for him. Fortunately for him Aar Paar was a major hit and later on they worked together in Mr. And Mrs. 55. Thereafter there was no looking back. His compositions for B. R. Chopra’s Naya Daur created sensation with their distinctive Punjabi influence – ‘Ude Jab Jab Zulfen Teri’. In the late 50s, audiences immensely appreciated his songs from Tumsa Nahin Dekha, C.I.D., Phagun, Howrah Bridge etc., with their strong western influence and yet original melodies. Nayyar’s music for many hit musicals of 50s earned him the epithet ‘Rhythm King’ for his inimitable and exclusive brand of music. However, his glory would perhaps have been incomplete without her favorite playback singer Asha Bhonsle’s lilting rendition of his compositions, though he did compose some of his best works with two of the most naturally gifted singers – Shamshad Begam and Geeta Dutt. Their personal close relationship resulted in a strong professional bonding as well. In Asha’s repertoire there are several songs that have been marked as everlasting and most of her career best have been Nayyar’s compositions – ‘Mang Ke Saath Tumhara’, ‘Aao Hazoor Tumko, ‘Who Haseen Dard Dedo’, ‘Jaiye Aap Kahan Jayenge’ etc. Just like the way he became Asha’s mentor, who can ever forget Rafi’s ‘Banda Parvar’, ‘Aapke Haseen Rukh Pe’, ‘Tareef Karun Kya Uski’, ‘Lakhon Hein Nigahon Mein’, to name a few that have the stamp of Nayyar’s brilliance and Rafi’s incomparable range. O. P. Nayyar’s mode and technique to this date have not been replicated, and for this he remains a legend in the industry.
9. R. D. Burman (1939-1994): It was R. D. Burman who ushered in the era of electronic rock, providing Hindi film music with a whole new happening sound. His hip and energetic youthful compositions proved extremely popular from the late 1960s till the mid-80s providing much of the music that defines the reputation of singers Asha Bhonsle (whom he married) and Kishore Kumar. R.D. entered films assisting his father S. D. Burman, and occasionally composed a tune or two – ‘Sar Jo Tera Chakraye’ from Pyasa (1957). Comedian Mehmood gave R.D. his first film Chote Nawab (1961). However, his big break came with Nasir Hussain’s Teesri Manzil (1966). The songs like ‘O Haseena Zulfon Wali’, ‘Aaja Aaja Mein Hun Pyar Tera’, ‘O Mere Sona Re Sona Re’, ‘Dewana Mujh Sa Nahin, were unlike anything audiences had heard till then. The music of Teesri Manzil was hummed across the nation. R.D. formed a formidable team with Nasir Hussain scoring music in all his movies thereafter. With popular hits like Padosan (1968) and Hussain’s Pyar Ka Mausam (1969) behind him and informally assisting his father in Aradhna (1969), R.D. hit his peak in the early 1970s with Kati Patang and Amar Prem. Even as he stunned his audiences with a classical gem like “Raina Beeti Jaye’ in the latter, that same year also saw his phenomenal rock score in ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’. Even as R.D. became a pop icon with films like Apna Desh, Jawani Dewani, Yadon Ki Baraat, Khel Khel Mein and Hum Kisi Se Kam Nahin, he teamed up with writer-director Gulzar to give such evocative masterpieces like ‘Beeti Na Bitayi Raina’ (Parichay), ‘Is Mod Se Jaate Hein’ (Aandhi), ‘O Manjhi Re’ (Khushboo). With Love Story (1981), R.D. became the first choice for teenage love stories like Betaab (1983). His last score to stand out was perhaps 1942-A Love Story (1994), released after his untimely death due to heart attack.
10. A. R. Rahman (b 1966): The new millennium composer, A. R. Rahman’s technical wizardy is well complemented by his artistic innovation. He started his film career in film music with Mani Ratnam’s Roja. The score of Roja was the first step in changing the face of Indian film music. Roja won every conceivable award for music that year. Time Magazine of the US listed Roja album in the top ten music sound tracks of all time. His 1995 sound track for Bombay crossed 5 million units, and Rehman had arrived as the king of Indian pop with sale of 40 million albums over a period of three years. Rahman goes on from strength to strength with the release of each one of his movies – Roja, Bombay, Dil Se, Doli Sajake Rakhna, Hum Se Hei Muqabla, Rangeela, Lagaan, Saathia, Swades, Kisna, Pukar, Taal, Tehzeeb, Yuva, Water, Zubeida, The Rising and Rang De Basanti. After wowing the international audiences with Bombay Dreams, The Lord of the Rings and the Chinese venture Warriors of Heaven and Earth, he is lending music to the sequel of Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth and a musical London Dreams. Back home, Mani Ratnam’s Guru, Shyam Benegal’s Chamki Chameli and the periodical Akbar Jodha are some of the projects that are keeping him busy. Recently Rahman has come with his own rendition of the national anthem Jana Gana Mana. This comes after the popular Vande Matram. On July 16, 2006, Rahman performed to a sell-out crowd at the 26000 plus capacity natural ampitheatre, Hollywood Bowl. Rahman is the only music composer of Indian cinema who has so far won National awards for Best Music Director 4 times (Roja, Minsaara Kanavu in Tamil, Lagaan and Kanathu Muthamulla in Tamil) and Filmfare awards 5 times (Rangeela, Dil Se, Taal, Lagaan and Saathia).
No article on Hindi film music can be complete without applauding other great composers in the industry who have given immortal melodies in their days of glory and made many a movies super hits with their music – Khemchand Prakash (Mahal), Ghulam Mohammed (Pakeeza), Roshan (Barsaat Ki Raat), C. Ramchandra (Anarkali), Ravi (Chowdhavi Ka Chand), Jaidev (Hum Dono), Usha Khanna (Dil Deke Dekho), Salil Chowdhry (Madhumati), Hemant Kumar (Nagin), Bappi Lahiri (Sharabi) and Ravindra Jain (Ram Teri Ganga Maili), and the most creative composer- combos – Shankar-Jaikishan (Barsaat), Laxmikant Pyarelal (Dosti) and Kalyanji-Anandji (Kora Kagaz). Before concluding, I would also like to complement the brilliant composers of the new millennium who are bent upon reviving the glory of the Golden age of Hindi film music with their beautiful creations – Anu Malik (Main Hoon Na), Rajesh Roshan (Kaho Na Pyar Hai), Ismail Darbar (Devdas), Uttam Singh (Dil To Pagal Hai), Pritam (Dhoom), Himesh Rishmmiya (Tere Naam), Vishal Bhardwaj (Omkara), and the combos, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy (Bunty aur Babli) and Jatin Lalit (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai).