Sunday, January 25, 2009

Books on Indian Film: Part 2 - Filmi Music (1)


The books in "Part 2" of this series focus more on the soundtracks of films than the films themselves. But film music, in my opinion, is just as important in analysing and studying cinema, especially Indian cinema moslty because that specific cinema gives much space to music.

That said, these books only focus on Hindi film music, and not all filmi music from across India. (Maybe I should write that book one day!)

A little history

The tradition of filmi music seems to have started before cinema even existed, as musicians and vocalists would serve the same purpose as in films today, but in theatre. Most of this "theatre music" is lost principally because it was not recorded (no recording technology) or was later recorded but no copy has survived. The term Indian Film Music or "Hindustani Cine Sangeet" was first used by Raju Bharathan. This new type of music, born with the art of "Talkies" or films with sound*, could only be heard on Radio Ceylon because All India Radio would only play classical music. With the gaining popularity of films and their music, slowly but surely filmi music got its place on the airwaves and became, what I think, the music of the people.

* I would like to add that a study on filmi music should start (both books I read start with the 30's) with recorded music for plays and continuing to music played for silent films. It would be interesting to hear what was done at the beginning of the merging of the two art forms, cinema and music.

Book 3: Bollywood Melodies: A History of the Hindi Film Song (2008)

Do Lata, Asha, Mohd. Rafi, Kishore Kumar or Mukesh ring a bell? Or, maybe, Laxmikant Pyarelal, R. D. Burman, Kalyandji Anandji, Shankar Jaikishan or C. Ramchandra? Well if none do, then I strongly suggest that you familiarise yourself with these wonderful talents. Bollywood Melodies: A History of the Hindi Film Song is just what a curious filmi fan needs to familiarise his or herself with the different people who made film music legendary. It is written by self proclaimed filmi music buff Ganesh Anantharaman (yet, before writing the book he had never listened to any other Naushad soundtrack besides Mughal-E-Azam and Baiju Bawra?) who specifically wanted to write about music from the 50's and 60's but his editor convinced him to broaden his horizon. After doing some extensive research he discovered many other talented people like Saigal and Naushad Ali (Naushad is not overlooked on this blog anyway!). I wrote a list of all the personalities you can find in the book at the bottom of the page.

The book is called Bollywood Melodies: A History of the Hindi Film Song, but in actuality the number of pages dedicated to history are only 18 in a book of about 250. So really what you are getting is a "brief" overview of the evolution of the Hindi film song added to short essays (about 90% of the book) each on specific singers, music directors or lyricists. In their turn, they comprise of some biography, low and high points in the specific persons career and some of their most memorable songs. There are also five interesting interviews, one of Dev Anand, Pyarelal, Gulzar, Manna Dey and Lata Mangeshkar (the last to which he lied to get the interview. Oh my!). But besides those first pages in the book most of the history of the Hindi film song is found in the people from all different eras.

But since musical taste differs from one person to the other, and in the book a singer’s best song is ultimately either one of the author’s favourites or a classic that many people appreciate. Anantharaman tries his best to stay objective and please everyone by not insulting anyone but always lets a few of his thoughts slide trough (e. g. his favourite music director is S. D. Burman or he finds “Choli Ke Piche” from Khal Nayak (1993) lyrics repulsive).

Also, like me, the author is a fan of older soundtracks (50’s and 60’s). Sadly, this affects the content somewhat when he pushes aside music from the 1970's, but mostly the 1980's and beyond, because it is seemingly invalid. The name of the section about film music of the 70's is called "When music becomes secondary" and do I agree? Yes and No. Personally, I think, that in those days it did not become secondary but rather detached from the film. Because, as we see in some cases, especially in films starring Amitabh Bachchan, there is no need of good music in films (from a financial perspective, anyway). But on the other hand some films succeeded on most part because of the songs. Other than the bollywood start system talking over, I think that the past “clans” (or teams) e.g. Naushad-M. Khan, R. K. Films -Shankar Jaikishan-Lata-Mukesh or Dev Anand-S. D. Burman were either no longer existent or changing. This made music more independent of the film it was being composed for.

Bizarrely, the cover of this book resembles very much a book on the same subject yet more expensive and rare called Hindi Film Songs and the Cinema written a year earlier by Anna Morcom (I really want to get my hands on that one! Also to compare, the cover picture is beside the book I am presently reviewing).

Pictures - the same picture of Meena Kumari in Pakeezah (1972) on Ganesh Anantharaman's book (2008) and Anna Morcom's (2007)


He is one of the few to write about hindi film music, and one of the very few to write about filmi lyricist. They deserve more recongrition. (I'm starting to understand, now that I'm learning Hindi).

The book is easy to read, as he writes in a laid back manner.

Interesting interviews and insight on many different personalities.


The book is aimed at an indian public and if you don't understand hindi (it is atleast written in roman script) then you will have trouble apreciating the book.

The book is for begginnier's but not for the total ingnorant, because you need to have enough filmi knowledge to know what songs he is refering too. So, I wish all books on the subject of filmi music would have a CD or tracks you can download that play in the order in which they are mentionned, so when the author name's a tune, you can hear it right away. (But in the meantime, thank god for Youtube).While reading the book I felt very "handicapped" because I cannot understand Hindi/Urdu, and it truly took away from me fully understanding what he was trying to demonstrate or prove in the text.


To list all the people mentioned in the book:

Music Directors:Pankaj Mullik, Khemchand, Anil Biwas, Naushad Ali, C. Ramchandra, Shankar Jaikishan, S. D. Burman, Madan Mohan, O. P. Nayyar, Salil Choudhury, Roshan, Hemant Kumar, Ravi, Jaidev, Vasant Desai, Kalyanji Anandji, R. D. Burman, Laxmikant Pyarelal, Khayyam, Ravindra Jain, Bappi Lahiri, Rajesh Roshan, A. R. Rahman, Anand-Milind, Nadeem-Shravan, Annu Malik, Jatin-Lalit.

Lyricists: Kidar Sharma, D.N. Madhok, Pradeep, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shakeel Badayuni, Sahir Ludhianvi, Shailendra, Kaifi Azmi, Gulzar, Anand Bakshi, Javed Akhtar.

Playback Singers: K. L. Saigal, Noorjehan, Suraiya, Shanshad Begum, Lata Mangeshkar, Geeta Dutt, Asha Bhosle, Mukesh, Talat Mehmood, Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Udit Narayan, Kumar Sanu, Anuradha Paudwal, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Sonu Nigam, Alka Yagnik.

Previous Posts (Book Series):

- Indian Film (1963) by Erik Barnouw and S. Krishnaswamy
- Bollywood: A History (2006) by Mihir Bose

Stella_1's score: 3.5/5