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Article: Music in Indian Movies

By Haresh Bakshi
  The Background

Look at what changes we have passed through as we started at the beginning of the twentieth century, and now, as we enter the twenty-first century: our values in culture, aesthetics, and morality and society. We have gone a long way in travel, transport and communications, technology and medicine,. We possess the technological ability to control almost every aspect of our lives; but we also have developed the tools and techniques to end all life in an instant.

What, during the same one hundred years, happened to our fine arts and entertainment? Entertainment and learning have been basically revamped by these advances. As a matter of fact, what you are doing at this very moment would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. We take for granted the fact that we can send and receive and even share messages -- text and graphics; sound and video -- instantly.

Our Music: Art and Popular Music

Consider the following points:

(1) In addition to the very musical sounds (classical, folk, bhajans, ghazals, thumri, movie songs of the early period etc.), several new sounds have beocme available. New instruments and the synthesized sounds of popular music have changed the sound repertoire as we are preparing to enter the twenty-first century.

(2) Rythms have expanded in variety, complexity, and sheer abundance.

(3) Melodic constructs have become subservient to the beat of the music. Melodic lines can be sometimes quite long; but more often they are mere gestures, hints and barest suggestions. Counterpoints and harmony have taken possession of our musical soul, uncerimoniously and ruthlessly. And, the harmonic combinations range from perfect consonance to devastating dissonance.

(4) Musical styles, forms and contents vary from naive to nasty.

Music in Indian Movies:  Highlights

Introduction.  Music in Movies, commonly called "filmi" music, belongs to the category of popular music; it is not art music.  It is applied music.  It is music made for a specific purpose like the episode on the screen, or a dance sequence, or any particular situation.  On the other hand, any art music, like classical music, enjoys its own, lofty existence.  Art music entertains, but it also gives values, norms and criteria for appreciation. It guards the realms of ethics and aesthetics.  It is required, ideally, to be "pure" -- no contamination, no hybrids, no concessions, no laxity, no compromises  It depicts the sociopolitical scene, but tries to present it as an ideal.  Primarily, it does not aim at popularity.

Movie music has two-fold existence.  it exists as an integral part of a movie; and it also exists in its own right, you can enjoy it just as music, outside of the movie.  Again, the movie music can be broadly divided into two categories, viz. the songs, and the background score.
It takes several disciplines and a large number of specialists to make the music available.  The specialists include the music director (composer), arranger, lyricist, musicians, singers, recordist and other technicians, high-quality sound equipment .... the list goes on.

For the time being, let us concentrate on the songs in the movies.  The movie songs are available as audio productions on the CD, or on audio cassettes.  Sometimes, the song version available on the CD (or a cassette) is a modified version of the same song in the movie.  The modification can take place in duration (shorter/longer), orchestration (different arrangement), lyrics (different words/ number of stanzas).

The songs can be male voice only, female  voice only, duets, with or without a chorus.  And they can be fast or slow, with or without tempo , sad or joyful. The songs, along with the screening of the movie, are capable of conveying all kinds and manners of shades and hues, nuances and colors and textures of sentiments. In most cases, the songs follow the "sthaayi-antara" pattern.

The Rhythm. 

The taal-s commonly used in the movie songs are keharva, dadra, deepchandi, roopak, jhaptal,teentaal, folk rhythms, "imported" beats, and their infinite number of variations.  The percussion instruments employed include the membranophones like tabla, dholak, naal, pakhavaj; the idiophones like jhanj, manjira, bells,  In addition, mostly in parts, rhythm employs just piano, guitar, cello and/or strings for tempo, with no regular percussion instruments.  The type and number of percussion instruments used for "imported" beats can be very large (and out of scope for this article).

The making of a song. The composition (the tune, the melody) of the song is its very heart.  Having said that, we have to admit that the movie music is becoming more and more beat-dependent, and less and less melody-based.  But there still exists a large enough number of modern compositions set to very melodious tunes.

How does a movie song take shape?  What processes it undergoes, and in what order?  How does the making of a song start -- Tune? Lyrics? Situation of the song in the movie?  And how do the music directors choose the singer?  Do they keep the singer in mind when composing?  Well, there are no mandatory rules and regulations to follow..  And so there are no standard answers to those questions.  However, let us say that the song situation will decide the details like the singer, the number of singers, the nature of tune, the structure of the song etc. etc.  Another question: What comes first -- the tune or lyrics? Sometimes the tune, sometimes the words.  The whole song-making process is a high-level, huge workshop.  There is the music director, the lyricist, the arranger, the score writer the rhythm, the keyboard, recording equipment for trials, the "judges" to give suggestions, these days, sometimes, the computer with professional music software, the producer to approve or reject or modify the song, and so on. The song, once approved is taken to the rehearsal stage, in the recording studio.  The singer or a "shadow singer" is present.  He (or she) gets the rehearsals to the satisfaction of the music director.  The musicians rehearse sufficient number of times, with the score right in their front.  The technicians go to work.  The assistants to the music director help musicians tune their instruments properly. The recordist gets busy.  The music director and the recordist adjust microphone arrangement and recording levels.  The music director, who is also the conductor, gives the green signal by announcing " ...... song number 1, running, take 1; one, two, three four ...."

The Tune. 

Music directors draw ideas from all kinds of musical sources, from all over the world. These sources include all genres of Indian music, namely (i) dhrupad [and hori-dhamar] (ii) khayal (iii) tarana (iv) chatarang (v) thumri (vi) bhajan (vii) ghazal (viii) tappa (ix) tirvat (x) dadra (xi) qawwali (xii) sadra (xiii) khamsa (xiv) lavni (xv) kajri (xvi) kirtan (xvii) chaiti (xviii) sugam sangeet (xix) folk music, etc. etc.; all genres in the Western music, including pop, rock, world music, alternative, fusion, blues, music from various countries like African countries, Western classical, Western movies, to mention a few, because the list is too big.   If the situations depicted on the screen become stereotyped, so do the movie songs.

The Raga-s in the Indian Movie Songs.

According to one estimate, the number of "filmi" songs published so far ,exceeds  fifty thousand, the number of movies estimated at about ten thousand..  Many movie songs are based on raga-s of Indian classical music.  To betechnically more correct, those songs are not based on the raga-s;  theyare based on the NOTES of the raga-s. A movie song is not required to bringout a raga in its pure form, and most of the time, it does not.  Also,the first part of the song (called the sthayi)  may have been composed in the notes of one raga, but the later part may use notes of another raga, or not use any raga at all. Many music directors have used the notes of various raga-s to make some beautiful compositions,while strictly avoiding the format of the raga-s themselves.

The raga-s more frequently used by music directors include Yaman/yaman kalyan, Bhairavi, and Pahadi, out of almost one hundred raga-s listed in our database.  Some other raga-s, more commonly  used as the base, include Ahir Bhairav, Bageshri, Bahar, Basant, Bhairav Bhimpalasi, Bhoopali, Bihag, Charukeshi, Desh, Kalavati, Kedar, Kirvani, Lalit, Malkaus, Malhar, Piloo, Shiv Ranjani, Sarang, Tilang, etc.  Several folk songs have provided the base for many moviesongs.  Those folk songs themselves can have their own raga-s,many ofwhich have been adopted in Indian classical music.

Some popular Music Directors.

We have been fortunate enough to have many highly talented composers as music directors. My reference is to those who have been prolific composers. They have come from all  walks of life,  all kinds of background, but none of them has ever made a name in the field of Indian classical music.  On the other hand,  we do have a few big names in the field of classical music, who have composed music for movies -- but, only a few movies.  So, we have composers like Naushad and Shanker-Jaikishen -- to name only two--who have each produced music for more than four hundred movies. They werenot known in the fiield of classical music.  And we have examples likeRavi Shankar, a highly respected name in the field of classical music; buthe may have given music for hardly a dozen or so movies.  Please do notmisunderstand me:  I am NOT referring to the quality of musicof eithergroup;  I am trying to bring out a fact which has not attracted sufficientattention..  Once we realize that this strange phenomenon does exist,some of us may try to pursue it further. This hypothesis applies also to famousGhazal singers and famous performers in other genres of Indian music. 

Now let us make a first list of  music directors.  It includes, in no particular order, Kalyanji-Anandji, Datta Ram, Ravindra Jain, S D Burman, R D Burman,  Naushad, Roshan, Madan Mohan, Salil Chaudhary, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Ravi, Shiv-Hari, Ravi Shankar, Gulam Mohammad, Husnalal-Bhagatram, Vasant Desai, Anil Biswas,O P Nayyer, Ravindra Jain, Jaidev, Ramlal, Hemant Kumar, Kishore Kumar, SN Tripathi, C Ramchandra, Vanraj Bhatia, Khayyam, and Sardar Malik.  And many more -- all great.

Here, it will be pertinent to mention one more point.  Over the last few years, movie music has tended to sound unlike the movie music of the earlieryears.  The Indian society as a whole has "westernized" , and likes to continueto be more "westernized".  Melody appears to have been largely replacedby some kind of a hybrid style based on hot beats and harmonization of sorts.  We do not wish to enter into the realms of ethics and aesthetics; but, sufficeit to say, that the new sound is less and less Indian. But,it can be argued,are not Indians becoming less and less Indian? I will leave it at that.  But it is definite that, as a direct result of this migration in norms, wehave suffered the loss of several music directors and singers  Again,on researching, we may find this to be a universal phenomenon. Well, the next question will be:  We have lost melody; in return, have we gainedanything more than "passing pleasure" of some unrecognizable hybrid sound?  At a later date, we will try to understand this new medium. We will makesure that it is not designed only for the  inflatable heart or ego;wewill also ascertain if it is a mere "khichri" of various sounds jealouslyand clandestinely imitated and garbed as "Indian"  music. We will evaluateit for what it is, not trying to brand it as "good" or "bad"or "ugly".

Some recent popular music directors include Jatin-Lalit, Nadim-Shravan, Anu Malik, Ismail Darbar,  Sanjeev-Darshan, Aadesh Srivastava., Vishal,Viju Shah, and other talents.  Later, we will take some examples of their compositions.

Some Popular Singers.

The variety, novelty and quality in case of singers who once graced the world of Indian movie songs, have suffered the same fate as the music directors who composed melody-based music.  Those singers, the torch bearers of movie singing,  reached the zenith in the period 1940-1985.  But what happened later, is a sad story for the melody lovers.  I am specifically referring to Kundan Lal Sehgal, Pankaj Mallik, Suraiya, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle,Mukesh, Mohammad Rafi. Shamshad Begum, Kishore Kumar, Suman Kalyanpur, HemantKumar,  Manna Dey, and some others -- they were like brilliant starsshining on the "filmi" firmament.  The question is: Would they have shownthe ability or inclination to sing many of the songs made in the recent years?  Again, permit me to leave it  at that.

Those days,  there existed a wide variety of versatile voices .  Voicesthat were rich, mellow, expressive and progressive.  Voices that hadthe hallmark of quality and costantly upgrading novelty.  The definition of beauty is: that which attains novelty every moment.  And, those were the voices,  inspired, self-motivated, supported by matching high standards of compositions by maestros.  That is how lovers of melody felt.  Very few instruments to accompany, very beautiful songs that followed..  Recording studios were small and moderately equipped; the orchestra for accompaniement was small but dedicated.  The results?  Immortal melodies.  Melody, indeed, was Queen.

The current scene does offer some very beautiful melody-based songs.  However, the songs these days are more designed for dancing and "group activity" of sorts.  These songs invite you to participate and energize, rather than reminisce and dream.  They keep you tightly tied to their own world; they do not give you much scope to get lost in  your own world.  They can be loud, tumultuous, sometimes even downright noisy.  If you cannot bear them, well, you cannot avoid them either.  The popular singers of today include, in no particular order,  Kavita Krishnamurthy, Kumar Sanoo, Hariharan, Udit Narayan,Alka Yagnik, Anuradha Podwal, Sonu Nigam, Sukhwinder Singh,  and someothers, equally talented. The songs enjoy support of heavy orchestration,well-equipped sound studios,  excellent aid from advertising. The abilityand/or willingness of people to spend money on entertainment is amply reflected,too.  The sales of  "filmi" song  CDs in the last seven yearsfar exceed the total sales of all the records, CDs and tapes combined  for all the remaining previous years.  The sustained popularity of thesemovie songs -- and movies themselves -- has assumed global proportions.



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