Journey Down Melody Lane
Rs399 n PP 280
If there was an award for 'Encyclopaedic Knowledge of Bollywood Music', Raju Bharatan would need more display cupboards in his home. The veteran journalist and columnist, often cited as the Last Word on Hindi film music, has come up with a book so crammed with information that he may as well write that encyclopaedia.
And therein lies a problem, though it may seem like a minor one. Presumptuous as this may sound, Bharatan's writing skills are way below the depth of his knowledge. As a result, this richly informative book makes for exhausting reading. But it probably wouldn't be fair to blame Bharatan alone for this. Evidently, what he needed was a capable editor, or editors, and more than a little help with organising his ornate, flowery sentences.
Additionally, he has a habit of wandering off, from potentially significant passages into the endless alleyways of trivia, which makes it impossibly difficult for the reader to keep up. An excerpt is in order here. "Yet that Raag Bhairavi solo became a hallmark number. Recorded as it was, by Naushad, to revive Rafi's vocal self-belief in the face of the Kishore Kumar onslaught. The My Friend Rafi solo, coming over as Naiyaa meree chaltee jaaye, is by no means Naushad at his Bhairavi best. Still, it is a highly timely 1974 rendition by Rafi, seeing how it recharged that Singing Atlas into mounting a fresh offensive on Kishore Kumar…" Clearly, as already mentioned, the firm editing hand is absent.
So what this potentially engrossing book turns out to be is a work meant solely for the connoisseur, or buff, if you will. Yet, if one can overcome the initial hurdles and expend some patience, it is a highly rewarding read, an incredibly detailed history of Hindi film music from the 1950s to the 90s. And it isn't just a list of names and numbers either.
Thanks to his journalistic instincts, and probably a justifiable desire to display his access to some of Bollywood's biggest names, Bharatan loads the pages with anecdotes that ought to fascinate the lay reader. Of course, that reader probably needs to belong to a certain generation to fully appreciate the nuances of the Rafi-Kishore war, or the Lata Mangeshkar-SD Burman rift, or the Lata-C Ramchandra affair, but given that these names are still very much part of Bollywood's living memory, the stories should appeal to all.