Top 3 composers of the golden era in Indian film music – part 1

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.


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 murkis, stress on notes or any other undulations.

and listen to Raina beet jaaye below, with beautiful murkis 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!!!!).


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.Tick_Yes

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.

This entry was posted in Classical base in film music, Great music directors - Hindi, Hindi film music, Naushad, Top 3 composers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Top 3 composers of the golden era in Indian film music – part 1

  1. Songs Of Yore says:

    I am coming back after reading your entire series. You have done a very thorough analysis. Congratulations. In the criteria not included, I agree with your exclusions, except No.4, i.e. ‘Innovativeness or trendsetting capabilities’, I thought is an important factor for determining a composer’s merit.

    A small factual correction – #14, Tasweer banata hun tasweer nahi banti, is composed by Nashad (Shaukat Ali Dehalvi), and not Naushad. They are two different persons.

    • rsbaab says:

      Thank you very much AK. Really appreciate the feedback from a seasoned and experienced person like you. Thanks for pointing out the factual error. For some reason, since childhood, I have heard this beautiful Talat song several times and it was locked in my mind as a Naushad tune. I will correct the error. You are right, innovativeness and trendsetting capability is important for determining a composer’s merit. I may use it in other contexts. Thanks again.

  2. Naresh says:

    if awards has no value then why these awards are there to compare the song titli udi with rang aur noor is no means compare rang aur noor with yad na jaye beete dino ki or kahan ja raha hai tu e jane wale these songs directly enter in the heart you are just giving importance to naushad who has given sad songs which is not enough on the other hand listen songs of sdb like yeih kisne geet cheda teri surat se nahin milty from ziddi heart touching three songs of rafi sahib from guide tere mere sapne din dhal jaye and kaya se kaya ho gaya etc there are so many songs of sdb in different moods i have read somwhere a guy has written that music of azad has been composed by naushad whille the composer is genius c ramchander you guys just look your favourite composer every where in fact all the composer of golden era are genius listen tunes of khyam sahib like jeet hi lenge bazi hum tum jane kyoon dhoondti rehti hain from shola aur shabnam or the songs of umrao jaan and kabhi kabhi listen the songs of bluff master especially e dil ab kahin na ja composed by kalyanji anandji and so many super hits from chalia saraswati chander himalaya ki god main and samrat chandergupat rafi and lata song chahe pas ho then so many songs composed by the legend citragupta like lagi chute na chal ur ja re panchi and many more then listen the songs composed by the great sardar malik then listen songs of mamta and chiterlekha you will come to know the class of great musician roshan listen with constant mind the songs of anarkali like yeih zindgi usi ki hai and songs like mere man ka banwra panchi just listen these melodies you will come to know how genius is c ramchander you are talking about naushad in fact you have not seen that period neither you have listen the songs of lata ji properly in fact from the film barsat lata career started there were 10 solos of lata and all these songs created history from this film shankar jaikishan were on the top this is hard fact even naushad sahib considered them as magician of swaras because when he listened the song rasik balma from chori chori he was deeply impressed then the other film with all the songs of classical touch basant bahar like sur na saje nain miley chain kahan kar gayo re and main piya teri this was all magic of the greats sj listen the songs of kashmir ki kali naya daur and ek musafir ek hasina you will come to know how genius was o p nayyar so all the music directors of golden era have given great songs but as far as manna dey is concerned his songs like pyar hua ikrar hua yeih raat bheegi bheegi aaja sanam tu pyar ka sagar hai jjoomta mausam jhanak jhanak tori baje payaliya are songs which created history this was all due to the greats shankar jaikishan lata songs like lag ja gale naino main badra chaye aap ki nazron ne jana tha haum se door zara si aahat hai tere sath and so many other malodies composed by the genius madan mohan is a great contribution to the hindi film music i am greatfull to all the music directors of golden era as they have given us a treasure of evergreen tunes

    • rsbaab says:

      Thank you Nareshji for your comments. Yes, all the songs you listed by all the composers you listed were great and memorable songs. In fact, we can also add some memorable songs from Hemant Kumar, Salilda and Ravi. Since all the music directors (including senior music directors like Anil Biswas) were at their peak during 50s and 60s, this period was truly the golden era of film music. As mentioned in Part 1 of my post, choosing top 3 composers from such an elite list is not easy. I hope you got a chance to go through all my posts in the series, especially the conclusion, where I explained the context and rationale for identifying Naushad, Madan Mohan and Roshan as the top 3 according to the two criteria I used. I also have other posts on S D Burman and Kalyanji Anandji. My blog is about great music directors and I will cover other great composers as well in future posts.

      Awards, especially Filmfare awards were known to have been manipulated and also influenced by astute PR work by composers. There were reports that showed that composers used to buy many copies of Filmfare and used the nomination tear aways in those issues to send in nominations and influence the outcome. This is the reason why I did not consider Filmfare awards. There are perhaps genuine cases of Filmfare awards, but they do carry an ‘influenced’ image. I did not consider Dadasaheb Phalke or Government awards even though perhaps they are more reputed and genuine. Only a few great music directors got government awards. As music lovers, perhaps we would have wished for all the elite composers of the golden era to have received some government award like Padmasri or Padmabhushan. Naushad figured in my list not because he got two reputed awards (Dadasaheb Phalke and Padmabhushan), but based on the two criteria I identified.

      Titli udi and Rang aur noor were not compared based on ‘type’ of song (sad or cheerful), but based on ‘length’ of tune. I used these two examples to illustrate a ‘short tune’ versus a ‘lengthier’ tune.

      It is true that Naushad composed some exceptional sad songs. At the same time, some of his more famous hits are not sad songs. Consider legendary songs like ‘O jane wale baalamwa’ (Rattan), Jawaan hai mohabbat (Anmol Ghadi), Mere mehboob tujhe (Mere Mehboob), Duk bhare din beete (Mother India), Madhuban mein radhika (Kohinoor) and Pyaar kiya to darna kya and Mohe Panghat pe (Mughal-e-Azam). These were great memorable hits and not at all sad!!!

      Thank you again Nareshji for listing great songs from great composers. Truly we are all blessed to have heard the songs of all the elite composers. My blog is about great songs and great music directors. I will also write posts about other composers beyond the ones I already covered.

  3. alice says:

    Great post. Very informative

  4. mehran says:

    Brother i feel very happy and refreshed after reading this amazing blog. u hav done a great job. Being a huge fan of old music this created a very pleasant impact on me.
    Indeed selecting 3 top composers among the great maestros is a very difficult job. But frankly speaking your arguments and selection is very justified. It is also important to say that this blog does not belittles the other great composers of that time like Shankar-Jaikishan , S D Burman , O P Nayyar , Ravi or Others . Each were the legends and had there powerful impacts.The stature that Shankar Jaikishan enjoyed in the golden era is quite unreachable . i could hardly find any song of shakar jaikishan which does not have powerful melody(personally i listen more songs of sj) . Like wise the pureness and simplicity in S DBurmans songs are unique.. The effectiveness of emotions in Ravi’s songs are unmatchable.
    But in the criteria you have laid down i also agree that these 3 composers fit undoubtedly. The raagas of Hindustani classical music was very strong and deep rooted in the lengendary nausad’s composition. The title “MUASIQAR-E -AZAM” perfectly suits him. The “KING OF GAZAL” , Madan Mohan was another gem.The complex tunes of madan mohan went straight across the heart and soul. What a songs he created. Similar was the impact of roshan’s compositions…….

    • RSBAAB Ravi says:

      Thank you Mehran for your comments and your understanding. As authors of the posts, it is very gratifying if someone like you reads all the posts and understands the ideas in the posts.

      As you rightly said, the top 3 composers (based on the two criteria) were outstanding. But that does not diminish the greatness of other music directors of the era. Each composer brought special talents and skills and carved a place in history for themselves. Dada Burman. SJ, Hemant Kumar, Salil Chowdary, C Ramchandra, OP Nayyar, Ravi gave so many memorable and evergreen songs. We are indeed blessed to be enjoying their creations. Thanks once again.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Peculiarly no one speaks of s d burman.

    Till now in 2016 the younger generations love croon his tunes
    50s- Thandi hawae. Tum na jane kisi jagah per kho gaye, dukhi man mera, hae apna dil toh awara, movie pyasaa,chalti ka naam gadi and many more
    60s- all of teen deviyan,jwel thief,tere mere sapne, bandini,.
    Oh yes, naushad music was complex but always filled with sadness than joy.
    Of course, madan mohan, laxmikant pyarelal ( Mere mehboob of mr x in Bombay) were versatile.
    After sd burman, it will be shankar jaikishan in 50s at their peak and which you like to croon and in 60s they lost sheen excepting raj kapoor movies. Songs like lal chhadi maidan khadi types were miserable
    Salil chowdhury with his lilting tunes.
    Then came rd era. Some songs were really worth mention in. 60s and early 70s especially of movie aandhi, and listless till kuchh na kaho in1920 before his death. He also lost his versaralities in 80s.

    I give no. 1 mark to sd, then rd, shankar jaikishan, madan mohan, kalyan jee anand jee, salil chowdhury, op nayyar, laxmikant pyarelal serially.
    About naushad I feel depressed after hearing his songs, frankly, though it is made of complex tunes for no reason

  6. KB says:

    I too agree that SD Burman and SJ should find a place in the top.Of course, OP Nayyar,C Ramachandra and Salil Choudhury also are in the top slot.In fact some of these composers and also Chitragupta have created as good music as,say , Naushad or Roshan but Madan mohan was a genius.

  7. pk surendran says:

    Agree. your criteria are exdellent. I find Binaca geetmala etc puffs, not worth listening to as it is commercially oriented. classical base is must. Naushad the top

  8. Alok says:

    SJ was undisputably no.1. That is the reason they dominated for 20 long years.

  9. A melodious errors ,JAIDEV has been rated as the best music composer in film music industry by none other than Sarsawati LATA Mangeshkar..who can dispute this’s a great FACT studied and researched..also accepted by music maestros Madan Mohan , SD burmen even Naushad ji..they used to secretly admire Jaidev’s work as most classic legendary piece of music art form.

    • RSBAAB Ravi says:

      Subashji…..Thank you very much for your interest and for taking the time to read the posts. About Lata Mangeshkar and Jaidev, I would love to know where she said that – if you can share the details of the book, quote or article, that would be great. Looking forward to hearing from you.

  10. KB says:

    While in this topic two more composers can be added into this list -Ravi and N Dutta. Ravi was lucky to get top banners and hit films.While N Dutta ,one time deputy of SD Burman,got few good banners like Chitragupta,but created unforgettable melodies.

  11. Pingback: Amateur review of Indian Film Music – RandomDoofus

  12. Saurav Mukherjee says:

    Naushad is the correct choice being among one of the top 3 composers, according to me, other two are Shankar jaikishan & Salil Chowdhury.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I am totally ignorant to the technicalities of music. Following is my top five melodies from Hindi Cinema (not in particular order). Tumhi mere mandir (Khandan, Ravi), Yeh sama sama he yeh pyara ka (Kalyanji Anandji, Jabjab phool khilen), Chandako dhoondane sabhi (Jeeneki raha, laxmikant Pyaralal), Kahetosen sajana (Ram Laxman, Maine Pyar Kiya), Aah neela gagan tale (Shankar Jai Kisan, Badshah).
    My own personal (strictly own) criterion would be whether a song can spellbind me when I listen to it. All of those songs pass this criterion. There are many other songs. So I would list spellbinding songs for each composer and see who has the most numbers.
    Many thanks for posting such a wonderful article.

  14. Rafiq Jaffer says:

    I think trying to select only 3 top Indian music composers is unfair to the great composers that India has produced, and to the person trying to do this task. And of course the criteria for selection would invariably be subjective, since listening to music is also an intense personal experience.

    Since I am an avid listener, and an amateur singer/instrumentalist, I have put together a list for myself based on only one criteria, namely the number of songs of a composer that are still highly popular after many decades. Despite sounding objective, I know that the criteria remains subjective. Here is the list:

    A+: OP Nayyar, Hemant Kumar, Naushad, SD Burman, Madan Mohan, RD Burman, C. Ramchandra, Roshan, Ravi, Shankar-Jaikeshan

    A: Jaidev, N Dutta, Anil Biswas, Salil Chowdhry, Sardar Malik, Kanu Roy, Chitragupta, Lakshmikant-Pyarelal, Kalyanji-Anandji

    B+: Khemchand, Vasant Desai, Husnlal-Bharatram, S. Mohinder

    While most will put Anil Biswas and Salil Chowdhry in the first category, the only reason they are not there is the smaller number of highly popular songs composed by them compared to others in the list.

    • RSBAAB Ravi says:

      Thanks Rafiq for going through the post and commenting. Yes, any list of top 3 will be subjective. Each one of us may use different criteria and come up with different lists. Even if music fans come up with different lists, that does not take away anything from composers who may not have figured in the lists, or named in the Top 3 or whatever.

      We are extremely fortunate that we are able to enjoy the music of these great composers of the Golden era – the 50s and 60s. They had immense talent, were highly creative and struggled hard with the rudimentary technology and facilities of the 50s and 60s to create melodies that all of us hum even today.

  15. Anonymous says:

    shankar jaikishan were the best amongt all due to sheer variety and touching melody

    • RSBAAB Ravi says:

      Yes…SJ were undoubtedly stars and were versatile….Any list of Top 3 will be subjective, there is no right or wrong about any person’s preference. I also like SJ a lot. They created many immortal songs.

  16. Srikant says:

    Top Tier – [SJ, Naushad , SDB] ; [KA, RDB,LP]
    2nd Tier – [C Ramachandra, Anil Biswas, Madan Mohan , Roshan]; [Ravi, Khayyam, Salil da]; OP Nayyar
    3rd tier – Vasant Desai, ChitraGupt, HemantKumar, Usha Khanna
    4th Tier – SN Tripathi, Hasnraj Behal etc.
    Any glaring omission or names not in the right spot

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