The company that holds the largest repertoire of music in India works like the Large Hadron Collider - only, rather than zipping around at light-speed, its particles seem to move in super-slow motion. So when this company, Saregama, comes up with even a small bang, music lovers may have reason to go, 'Ahh!' Such a moment came after long with Sunheri Yaadein, a series on rarely-celebrated music directors who, despite their superb creations, enjoy only an observer status in the musical Valhalla. In an industry where 'rare' is a loosely-used word, this series amply deserves the qualifier.
The level of obscurity some of these composers suffer from can be gauged from the confusion over their identities. Even among those who cherish his creations, Iqbal Qureshi is often confused with another composer who started in the profession as Iqbal (on films like Night Bird), went on to be known as Chhota Iqbal, and ended his career in the 1990s as Ikbal Gill (on films like Kaala Coat). Some self-appointed experts even claim it was Chhota Iqbal who composed for the film Sipahsalar, from which one song - Asha and Talat's 'Dil ne chheda hai tarana' - is included among the 16 selected for Iqbal Qureshi in the new series.
But Najma Merchant, the 65-year-old curator of the series who cut her teeth working for Ameen Sayani's Binaca Geetmala radio show, says she is sure of the song's provenance. Underlining her research, she says, "It took months of legwork to just get Iqbal Qureshi's picture for the cover."
Even more fuddlesome is the case of N Dutta. Named Datta Naik at his birth in the Goan village of Arabo, the young musician made his mark in Hindi filmdom as an apprentice to SD Burman. Around the time he came into his own, the better known 'Datta' in film music probably was Dattaram Wadkar, assistant to Shankar-Jaikishan and father to Suresh. (Also, music director to Dara Singh's bare-bodied classic from 1965, Tarzan Comes to Delhi.) Naik adopted the not-so-different 'N Dutta' and confused music lovers for ever more.
Apart from his dance-friendly compositions on western instruments for films like Mr X, Black Cat and Doctor Shaitan, there are exquisitely crafted songs such as Asha-Rafi's 'Samhal aye dil' from Sadhna and Mahendra Kapoor's 'Aaj ki raat' from Dharam Putra.
The Husnalal-Bhagatram collection begins with 'Do dilon ko yeh duniya', a hit from their first score, Chand (1944). This version is sung by the little-known Manju though the song is said to have been recorded by Noor Jehan, too. The duo, brothers to the then-well-known classical singer and composer, Pandit Amarnath, was among the favourite composers of Lata. Included here is one of her early hits, the playful 'Chupchup khade ho zaroor koi baat hai' set to a classic daf-lined beat, from Badi Behen.
Surely it's odd to place Jaidev and Vasant Desai in the same league of obscurity as the rest. After all, Jaidev composed Hum Dono and Desai made Goonj Uthi Shehnai, two all-time musical hits. And what about Ghulam Mohammed, who brought to screen the best-known Rajasthani maand, 'Thare rahiyo' in Pakeezah? You ask: how can such stalwarts be considered unheard? Then you zoom out and wonder how many in the post-AR Rahman generation would know these composers. Yes, some may have been bored by their parents or grandparents going on about 'Mein zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya', or 'Haule haule ghoonghat pat khole'. But few are likely to know much more. To attract such younger generations, Saregama could at least put out biographies introducing the composers and placing them in their musical ages. Such texts could be put exclusively online.
But even the more informed listener would delight in the rarer songs of the better-known composers. We have Jaidev's 'Jab gham-e-ishq satata hai' from Kinare Kinare and 'Tu chanda mein chandni', rendered by Lata at the top of her form in Reshma Aur Shera. From master of rhythm Vasant Desai, apart from hits like Lata's 'Jhir jhir barse' from Aashirwad and Vani Jairam's 'Bol re papihara' from Guddi, we get the rare voices of Jayshree and Mohantara Talpade.
There are other composers approaching different levels of greatness whose works are being curated for future collections in the series. Merchant reveals among them are Khemchand Prakash, whose song in Mahal, 'Ayega aanewala', was Lata's first hit, and Ramchandra Chitalkar, composer of superhit soundtracks such as Anarkali and Albela.
If there's one composer I could vote into the series it would be Sajjad Hussain, creator of one of Lata's best duets - 'Dil mein sama gaye sanam', sung with Talat for Sangdil. Sajjad was such a stickler for tonality that he is said to have called two of our most loved singers 'Galat Mahmood' and 'Shor Kumar'. I would surely want to hear more of his works. Now if only the large collider would churn faster.