Every weekday morning, Priyantha Gamage teaches Sinhala to monks in a Buddhist temple in Colombo. In his spare time, the 40-year-old government teacher worships at an alternative altar of ‘gods’ — Saigal, Naushad, SD Burman, OP Nayyar, Majrooh Sultanpuri… ‘gods’ who are old Hindi song writers and singers. Priyantha is the secretary of the popular Old Hindi Film and Song Lovers’ Society of Sri Lanka and cannot stop raving about Hindi music of the yesteryears. The society was formed in 2002 and now sings of more than 2,000 registered members. “Bureaucrats, lawyers, doctors, professionals, teachers, politicians…we have members from across society,’’ said Rohana Vickramasiriwardhane, a Hindi translator.
The society has bought and collected nearly 3000 cassettes and CDs of old Hindi songs. Some of the music has been donated by song lovers. “The earliest cassette we have is of the Ashok Kumar-starrer movie, Kismet. And we took a decision of limiting our collection till the music of Abhimaan, released in 1973,’’ Priyantha said.
At least twice a year, the society holds programmes where members and singers from across the Island spend an evening singing songs of and remembering a great, say like, Mukesh. “Mukesh, Salil Chowhdury, Talat Mehmood are like gods to us. What they wrote and sang was so beautiful, so melodious and so sweet,’’ Priyantha gushed.
Both Priyantha and Rohana literally held their noses and ears in disgust when asked about contemporary Hindi film music. “It does not have a soul,’’ Rohana said gravely.
The Society may not want to hear it, but one cannot escape the popularity of modern Hindi films’ music in Colombo. Popular and current Hindi music is widely available in the Tamil markets of Wellawatte. Some of the three-wheeler drivers, when driving their metre-less Bajaj ‘trishaws’ like maniacs, like to play songs from Dhoom.
The current obsession of a neighbour for example is the songs of Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. For the past few months, since the time I took up residence in the otherwise patrician neighbourhood, the day for the couple and their two noisy boys usually begins with Ticket to Hollywood and then Ticket to Hollywood again. In the evening on some days, if I am lucky, I get to hear Move your body from Johnny Gaddar. It truly does not move my soul enough, but maybe RD would have liked it.