Shrinivas Khale, one of Maharashtra’s most creative composers, who passed away on Friday morning, did not write an autobiography.
But his large body of work testifies to his imagination and artistry, for which he received the Padma Bhushan and Maharashtra’s Lata Mangeshkar Award.
Like many music directors of his generation, Khale was trained in classical music. He received some training from the Agra/Rangeela gharana’s Ustad Faiyaz Khan, a court musician in Baroda, from where Khale hailed.
In the early 1950s, Khale came to Bombay and worked at the All India Radio and HMV.
At around this time, his Gori Gori Paan Phulasarkhi Chhaan, Dada Mala Ek Vahini Aan, became hugely popular. It is a mischievous song about a teenage sister teasing her elder brother to get her fair-skinned sister-in-law, and was sung with rare innocence by Asha Bhonsale.
In the early 1960s, Shukratara, based on raga Yaman, also became a great hit and made him a household name. It was a duet, sung by Arun Date and Sudha Malhotra, and gave a decisive turn to the former’s singing career.
Khale’s tunes were full of complicated note arrangements and tonal curves and twists. He would use a komal swara (minor note) when it was most unexpected. Like his contemporary Hridaynath Mangeshkar, he created complex tunes for Lata Mangeshkar, such as Yaa Chimnyano Parat Phira Re.
“I thought that playing this song on my instrument was a big challenge,” said Pandit Ulhas Bapat, who was Khale’s favourite santoor player for more than three decades years. “He would give us difficult passages and demand their perfect execution.”
But while being complex, Khale’s tunes also had a wide appeal. Shravanant Ghannila Barasala, which describes the beauty of nature during Shravan, for instance, is quintessential Khale because although it is not an easy tune it became extremely popular. In this way, he unpretentiously broke the barriers that separated the music of classes from that of the masses.
Khale had an agile mind and his musical antennae picked up distant voices and talents. At a recent programme felicitating him, the singer Shankar Mahadevan publicly acknowledged his debt to Khale, who spotted his talent in the 1980s. “I have watched Khale directing Bhimsen Joshi at the recording studio and it was great education for me,” Mahadeven said.
Over the years, Khale worked on several albums with classical singers such as Bhimsen Joshi, Shobha Gurtu and
Veena Sahasrabuddhe, producing wonderful and lasting numbers.
(Dhaneshwar is a Hindustani classical singer from the Gwalior gharana and a writer on music)