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Review: Bollywood Melodies

The book, that captures the history of Hindi film songs, could be a reference point for casual music lovers but not 'hardcore' music fans.

books Updated: Mar 17, 2008 17:32 IST
Pankaj Vohra

Bollywood Melodies: A History of the Hindi Film Song
Ganesh Anantharaman
PENGUIN * RS 295 * PP 261

This book seeks to tell the story of the Indian film song. But in doing so, it ends up as a book that could be a reference point for casual music lovers and not 'hardcore' Hindi film music fans.

Ganesh Anatharaman, however, has tried to recapture some of the great musical moments and tried to present the history of film music from the prism of an ageing Lata Mangeshkar, India's most outstanding singer. <b1>

Having outlived virtually all her contemporaries, and thus having an opinion that many may not want to challenge given her status in the industry, the book could be seen as a book with a single perspective: Mangeshkar's.

Anatharaman seems to be greatly influenced by the noted critic, Raju Bharatan, whose style he tries to replicate in some of the narrations. But somehow, the author has got many of the release dates of films wrong in the book.

For a person who grew up in Bombay and is essentially from the South, Anatharaman does show exceptional knowledge of Urdu poetry, a strong ingredient in Hindi films.

The author has interviewed Lata Mangeshkar whom he obviously holds in very high esteem. But he fails to ask her some probing questions. Though she makes the point indirectly - that in her time there were composers to guide the singers through, she sidesteps the issue of today's scenario in which music directors are not too strong on melodious compositions.

Unlike talking about the HMV video she did more than a decade ago, Mangeshkar does not mention three of the greatest music composers who helped her to evolve as a great singer: Shankar Jaikishen, C.Ramachadran and Madan Mohan. They do not get their due acknowledgement for helping her along with some others, including Naushad, to get her out of the 'Noor Jahan' mould and excel as the subcontinent's top singer. <b2>

What comes out clearly in the book, however, is that when melody was the queen in the 50s 60s, Shankar Jaikshen were the undisputed kings. The book states this obliquely through the words of legendary singer Manna Dey and composer Pyarelal (of the Lakshmikant-Pyarelal duo fame).

There is also an indirect suggestion that Raj Kapoor, India's greatest showman owed a lot to Shankar Jaikishen for his success. But Anatharaman goes off the rails when he writes of Jaikishen's premature death and states how the composer did not get to see Raj Kapoor's Mera Naam Joker and his last song, Zindagi ek Safar hai Suhana for Andaaz became a hit.

This can't be correct as Jaikishen died in September,1971 while Mera Naam Joker was released in 1970. Raj Kapoor's last film with Jaikishen was Randhir Kapoor's debut film, Kal Aaj aur Kal that was released in December, 1971.

The book would have been better had some of the anecdotes concerning Lata's tiffs with Mohammad Rafi or Shankar been mentioned. Her fondness for Jaikishen and her close associations with C.Ramachandran and Madan Mohan would have also made the book more interesting.

The fact that it was singer Mukesh, who owed so much to Jaikishen for his success - or Lakshmikant-Pyarelal to Raj Kapoor for Bobby - also does not find any mention.

But since there have been very few attempts made to recapture Indian film music by writers, Anatharaman needs to be commended. He has taken pains to recapture old maestros like K.L. Saigal and Pankaj Mullick. He would have benefited if he had also spoken to Amin Sayani, the legendary compere of Binaca Geet Mala: a minefield of information, and some other great composers who are still alive.