Who are the 3 best composers of the golden era (1950s and 1960s) of Indian film music? This is really tough given the fact that all composers were at the peak of their music prowess during this period. Stalwarts like Shanker-Jaikishen, Naushad, Salil Choudary, O P Nayyar, Madan Mohan, C Ramachandra, Hemant Kumar, Vasant Desai, Anil Biswas, Chitragupt, Roshan, SD Burman, Ravi and N Dutta were at their peak. In addition, R D Burman, Kalyanji-Anandji and Lakshmikant-Pyarelal also started making waves in the 1960s.
In this golden era of high quality music compositions, choosing the best 3 composers is really tough. Further, each individual will have their own liking and preferences and criteria which make it very difficult to arrive at a common list.
I have attempted to focus only on two criteria to shortlist the 3 best composers. At the outset, let me state the criteria I am NOT USING:
Criteria NOT Considered
The following criteria have NOT BEEN CONSIDERED:
1) Number and type of awards – Filmfare, National awards or any other awards have not been considered
2) Popularity – Binaca Geet Mala, Record or Cassette sales have not been considered
3) Number of films – More number of films does not automatically mean higher quality music. However, I have ruled out composers who composed for less than 50 films.
4) Innovativeness or trendsetting capabilities
5) Success of films – Number of silver or golden jubilees of films was not the criteria.
All of the above could potentially have been used as ‘quantifiable’ or ‘measurable’ criteria for shortlisting the ‘best’ composers. However, music is not about tangible things. It is about feeling, emotion, joy, ability to stir the soul, admiration and a personal connect that can be evoked by a composition.
Only two criteria used
I have used the following two SUBJECTIVE criteria to shortlist the top 3 composers. I must admit that these two are very personal and opinions can vary widely about whether a song adheres to these criteria or not. Please consider this purely as a personal opinion.
Criteria #1: ADHERENCE TO CLASSICAL BASE
Our Indian classical music makes you feel different emotions and can get you involved in the music with the intricacies of the raga, the melody and the variations in singing including taans or gamaks. The adaptation of classical raags to film music make it easier to hear and simpler to perform at the same time retaining the ability of the raag to involve you and make you feel various emotions. Most film songs can be linked to some raag or the other. However, mere linking to a raag does not make it adhere or invoke the beauties of a classical raag. Murkis (vocal curves) adapted to the needs of film music (gamaks in South Indian music, also called mini tones), variations in tune, soft undulations in singing, weaving of notes and stressing and accentuating specific notes lend beauty to a song, retain the purity of the classical base and add rich melodic content to the tune.
What is the difference between these two classical based songs?
a) Baiyya Na Daro O Balma (Madan Mohan, Lata from Dastak) and
b) Mera Jeevan Kora Kagaz (Kalyanji-Anandji, Kishore from Kora Kagaz).
Both are classical based songs. However if you listen closely, Madan Mohan brings out more intricacies, variations and the undulations in the song. The Kora Kagaz song is more of a ‘straight’ song with lesser intricacies and variations.
Similarly, notice the difference between two R D Burman ‘classical base’ compositions – Listen to Raina beeti jaaye from Amar Prem and Tere Bina Zindagi se from Aandhi – which one is more intricate and appears closer to the classical base? Listen to a bit of the Aandhi song below.
The only undulations and variations are in nahin in ‘kamee to nahin’. Rest of the Aandhi song is relatively straight with no elements of gamaks, stress on notes or any other undulations.
and listen to Raina beet jaaye below, with beautiful gamaks and stress on notes.
Both of them may be based on a classical raag. But, I would vote for the Amar Prem song as closer to the classical base that makes for more pleasurable listening, makes you more involved where you really feel the variations and undulations in the notes (at least to me!!!!).
Criteria #2: LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY OF COMPOSITION
Music composition is inspirational, based on moods. Sometimes a composer can create the tune in minutes and sometimes it may take many days. I am not trying to classify a song based on whether it took minutes or days (no one knows this other than the composer). I am using again a personal barometer of level of difficulty, which is purely a personal judgement.
The difficulty of composition can be gauged by the intricacies and length of the song in each line. Compare the two songs:
Titli Udi (Shanker-Jaikishen and Sarada in Suraj). Listen to the bit below.
and listen to Rang aur noor ki baraat kise pesh karoon ( Madan Mohan and Rafi in Ghazal) below.
Which one do you think is difficult to compose and is more challenging to a composer? Regardless of what inspired the composers or how long it took for them to compose, in my view, the Ghazal song is more difficult to compose because it involves weaving together many notes melodiously into a “lengthier” tune. A composer who can weave together many notes melodiously into a ‘lengthier’ tune is either extremely talented, inspired or has put in plenty of hard work.
Try it out yourself. Take any line from any poem and try to make it into a tune. Shorter tunes come easily but weaving together many notes into a longer tune is more difficult.
I will list out the 3 best composers of the 1950s and 1960s, using the above two subjective criteria where you ‘feel the music’. This list is three top composers. That does not mean I am ranking them as 1,2 or 3. All I am saying is these three are the best when it comes to making you ‘feel’ their music and enjoy the songs because their songs are 1) higher in melodic content by adhering closely to pure classical elements and 2) more difficult to compose because of the length of the tune.
NAUSHAD – The Legend
Naushad, in my view is among the 3 best composers of the golden era. With Baiju Bawra, he created a landmark and a very important milestone in Indian film music. He showed that music can be popular AND based on classical ragas. Tu Ganga ki Mauj, Man Tarpat Hari Darshan and Mohe Bhool Gaye are real gems. He went on to compose many other classical based songs in Kohinoor, Mughal-E-Azam, Mere Mehboob, Mother India and countless other movies. Another characteristic of his songs is the emphasis on each word and note. Just listen to the title song in Mere Mehboob with your eyes closed. You will hear Rafi caressing each note lovingly, almost as if each note is dripping honey!!!!
Also listen to the song Aaj Purani Raahon Se from Aadmi, Again you will feel each note and the intricacies of each note dripping with pathos. You will hear Mukesh also caressing each note in the songs from Andaz.
Apart from making classical based songs popular, Naushad also brought out the best in folk music. Listen to Mere Pairon Mein from Sunghursh or Nain Ladjai Re from Ganga Jamuna or Dukh Bare din from Mother India. Even when he experimented with western music (primarily in orchestration), he retained the beauty of Indian style composition in the vocals. Listen to Mere Jeevan Saathi and Mera Pyaar Bhi Tu from Saathi. The vocals retain the beauty of the Indian music though the interludes have western instruments. Notice how in both the songs, the antra has intricate variations and is basically ‘long’. Naushad also was among the first composers to experiment with orchestration, try out new instruments and make orchestration integral to the song. The flute you hear in Dillagi and Mela are two of the memorable interludes you will hear in film music. Lata has written that Naushad was the first composer to introduce the combination of flute & clarinet as well as sitar & mandolin in Hindi film music.
Most of these are, in my view, difficult to compose, retain the purity of the song and classical base and stress notes beautifully. The folk based songs also have a wonderful feel.
Enjoy 12 of these songs in the player below.
If you are in the USA or Canada, you can also listen to the 12 songs on the player below. The player automatically shuffles songs. You can skip, but with limits. Click the play arrow below to enjoy the beauty of Naushad’s compositions.
( A tip to enhance your listening pleasure: When listening to the songs in the player, if you want to browse further on this site or another one, open a new window for further browsing. The player will continue to play Naushad songs in the current window while you are browsing)
Here is my list of top 25 Naushad songs. Since most of them are anyway popular, I have written some notes only for a few songs.
1) Tu ganga ki Mauj – Baiju Bawra
2) Do Sitaron Ka Milan – Kohinoor
3) Madhuban Mein Radhika – Kohinoor. A lovely pure classical song by Rafi.
4) Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya – Mughal-e-Azam
An iconic song – made unforgettable by the grand visuals. This song was on everyone’s lips.
5) Mere Mehboob Mujhe – Mere Mehboob
If you close your eyes and follow the tune and variations, you can feel Rafi bringing out the beauty and feel in each note.
6) Jhoom Jhoom Ke Gao Aaj – Andaz
7) Dukh Bare din beete re bhaiyya– Mother India
8) Aaj Purani Raahon Se – Aadmi
The music, instruments, high notes all combine to make this a memorable haunting song. Again, Rafi caresses each word. The poet also makes you philosophical with his words!!!!
9) Gujre Hai Aaj Ishq – Dil Diya Dard Liya
10) More Panghat Pein Nandlala – Mughal-e-Azam
11) Gaye Ja Geet Milan Ke – Mela
Beautiful flute interludes in this Mukesh song.
12) Awaaz De Kahan hai – Anmol Ghadi
13) Mohe Bhool gaye Sanwariya – Baiju Bawra
14) Yeh kaun aaya – Saathi.
15) Afsana lik rahi hoon – Dard
16) Tu mera Chand – Dillagi. This duet has one of the best flute interludes you will hear in Hindi film music.
17) Jogan Ban Ayee Hoon – Shabab
18) Teri Husn Ki Kya Tarif – Leader
19) Dil Todne Wale Tujhe Dil – Son of India
It appears that Naushad had the capability to make each note literally dance to his tune. The antra seems to be one long beautifully interwoven melody. The flute prelude before the mukhda is also a beauty.
20) Milte Hi Dil Hua Deewana – Babul
A true vintage song. Notice the piano.
21) Maan Mera Ehsaan Are Dil – Aan
Naushad again shows his mastery of the tune and making it as close to pure classical as possible.
22) Kal Ke sapne Aaj bhi Aana – Aadmi
23) Bachpan ki Mohobbat Ko Dil se – Baiju Bawra
24) Dhoondo Dhoondo Re Sajna – Ganga Jamuna
A lovely, lilting folk song that also adheres closely to a classical base.
25) Mere Pyaar Bhi Tu Hai – Saathi
A rare western touch from Naushad to the beauty of Indian music.
If you observed and ‘felt’ his tunes, you will notice that Naushad did not ‘break up’ a tune into little pieces just to make it more catchy or popular. His tunes are not ‘straight’ tunes with little or no tonal variations. Each line is his tune is ‘long’, has undulations and the notes are seamlessly interwoven into beautiful melodies, without any breaks or jerks. Many a tune has accentuated notes and by stressing on the words and specific notes he is able to bring out the emotion in the song. If there is any measure of a ‘perfect’ composition, his tunes will be the closest to composing perfection! He showed that you can compose beautiful melodies that are both perfect and extremely popular.
Over his distinguished career, Naushad changed the landscape, ruled like a colossus, commanded the respect of all his peers and gave us songs that are truly evergreen, celebrate the beauty of Indian classical music and are a delight for discerning ears. My humble salutations to this legendary ‘classical’ composer who was truly a King of his times.
Click here to read ‘top 3 composers of the golden era – part 2’
You can also enjoy more songs of Naushad among of medley of songs from the top 3 composers at Top 3 composers of the golden era – rationale & conclusion.