Top 3 composers of the golden era – rationale & conclusion

top 3

As mentioned in Top 3 composers of the golden era in Indian film music – part 1, I ignored several popular criteria to filter the top 3.  The only two criteria I used focused on the melodic content and challenge of composition. Naushad, Madan Mohan and Roshan, in my view, created most of their songs with a lot of melodic content and challenged themselves to create memorable songs despite the level of difficulty and hard work involved.

Together, the top 3 composers of the golden era created some of the most memorable songs and enhanced the beauty of the songs with nuances and elements of classical music. At the same time, their songs enjoyed tremendous popularity.  They stuck to the pure style of composing songs, despite the temptations to ‘go western’ or to adopt other techniques for gaining immense mass popularity. All 3 composers had a strong grounding in classical music, which shaped their composing style.  Their focus was mostly on singing and melody and not much on instrument arrangements and orchestration. Among the 3, Naushad laid more emphasis on arrangements and instruments. They could appreciate similar composing styles and the greatness of each other.  Naushad of course, enjoyed tremendous respect of his peers. Naushad in turn was a great admirer of Madan Mohan and Roshan.

With similar ‘purist’ composing styles and focus on melodic content, the 3 brought out different effects. Naushad was classical and purist, Madan Mohan soulful and mesmerizing and Roshan was sweet and enchanting.

Their foundation in the purist style of composing helped them to excel in a variety of situations. Hear a medley of 18 songs that includes folk songs, classical tunes, western feel, Ghazals, Qawwalis, Bidaai and of course romantic songs. The medley also includes a song from the 1970s. I selected some lively songs that make you feel good. 6 songs each from the Top 3 composers make up this medley of 18 songs.

If you are based in the USA or Canada, you can also enjoy these 18 songs on the player below. Click on the play arrow below and discover the joys of these evergreen songs. Enjoy!

( A tip to enhance your listening pleasure: When listening to the 18 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 the 18 songs in the current window while you are browsing)

But, what is the purist style that helped these composers to excel?

Purist style


All melodic lines start with one note and end with another or the same note. But what is important is how the starting note leads to the endnote and how gracefully each note is woven into the next till the tune reaches the endnote. In maths, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But in music, a straight line between two notes is not melodic. Composing straight tunes is relatively ‘straightforward’ in terms of composition and does not present too many challenges to the composer. In music, a lot of graceful and smooth curves, undulations, wavy movements, stressing and accentuating a specific note or sur and melodic weaving of one note to another till the endnote is the hall mark of a good composition. You can feel the contour and shape of the tune (curves and undulations or relatively straighter) only when you listen intently and follow the tune closely.


In dance, we appreciate graceful and fluid body movements that make the dance beautiful and aesthetically appealing. Do you like dance with jerky steps and jerky body movements with hands and legs protruding at odd angles? Do you like dance where the dancers make mostly ‘straight’ movements with no grace or fluidity? In music as well, we need fluidity, smooth movements and grace to make the song aesthetically appealing.

Also, in dance, a long series of graceful and fluid movements is more difficult than one or two graceful or fluid movements. Similarly, in music, the longer the distance between the starting and ending notes of a line, the greater the challenge of weaving notes melodiously with grace, undulations to create a wavy effect. In other words,weaving together a number of notes in a longer line is more difficult than weaving them together in a shorter line. Among tunes with undulations and variations, it is easier to stretch the end note and build undulations in the end note. However, the real challenge is in building undulations, variations and graceful touches in the notes that precede the end note.


In sculpture or in art, we admire the skill, talent of the artist based on clarity, attention to detail and many finer points in the sculpture or painting that are apparent only when we examine them closely. Similarly, in music, when we play close attention to the shape and contour of a song, we can discern and appreciate the grace, undulations and wavy effect in each line of the song – through the voice or through the instruments.

Let me illustrate what I mean by some examples. I gave some examples in Part 1 of this series. I will add a few more examples here.

Curvy examples!

Examples of curves and straight

Here are some examples of songs that are popular, but with different shapes and contours of the tunes.

I have embedded audio players with bits of the songs that play from about 20 seconds to 50 seconds each. If you listen intently to these bits, you can notice and feel the differences I describe in the accompanying text.

1) Madan MohanMeri awaaz suno (Naunihal) is a relatively straight tune with very little undulations and variations compared to Aap ki nazron ne samjha (Anpadh). Listen to the Naunihal bit below.

Now, listen to the Aap ki nazron ne samjha bit below and observe the beautiful undulations, curves and stretching of notes in almost every line.

Meri awaaz suno was hugely popular and has its own appeal. But, the Anpadh song scores higher in terms of richness of melodic content.

2) R D BurmanRaina beeti jaaye (Amar Prem) is a tune with lovely undulations, mini tones (technically called gamaks or murkis, a term for vocal curves), stressing and stretching of notes. Notice especially, the beautiful stretching of notes and undulations in each line before reaching the end note of that line. Listen to some bits of this song below.

Compare this tune with Tere bina zindagi se from Aandhi. Listen to the Aandhi bit below.

The Aandhi song is relatively straight compared to the Amar Prem song. There is hardly any undulation or variation except for the ‘nahin’ in ‘kamee to nahin‘ towards the end. The Aandhi song may be hugely popular, but in my assessment the Amar Prem song is more aesthetically attractive, difficult to compose and sing than the Aandhi song. Everyone can relate to both these R D Burman songs as ‘classical based’, but there is a difference in terms of adherence to classical base, purity of composition and overall melodic content.

3) Kalyanji AnandjiMera Jeevan kora kagaz (Kora Kagaz) is a relatively straight tune. Listen to the bit below and look out for undulations, stress on notes.

Compare this song to Nadiya chale chale re dhara (Safar). Listen to the Safar tune below.

The Safar song has variations and smooth curves in almost every line sung by Manna Dey or the chorus. The entire bit is also like a ‘wave’ with graceful ups and downs. I would rate the Safar song higher in terms of melodic content (undulations, wavy effect) even though the hugely popular Mera jeevan kora kagaz finished on top of Binaca geet mala in 1974.

Straight lines and curves

curve and straight line

The song Swapn jhare phool se from Nai Umar Ki Nai Fasl serves to highlight the difference between a musical composition and ‘straight’ type of composition. This tune is relatively straight, has very few variations and undulations and sounds very much like a recital of poetry. This ‘straight, recital, no undulations’ style was required because the poetry was so strong (considered the best) and required this treatment. But if all types of songs were to be composed in this style, there is no need to have music directors with knowledge of music! Most of the songs I featured in my lists for the top 3 composers are more of musical tunes and not straight tunes. If you notice all the songs by Mannadey, Asha Bhonsle, Mohammad Rafi and Lata have more undulations, variations than tunes sung by relatively straight singers like Mukesh or Hemant Kumar. This is what I mean by style of composition – straight compositions are required in some situations, however the beauty of a composition is enhanced many times by adding classical touches like minitones, stress on notes, variations in flow, undulations and wavy type of compositions.

At one extreme of this desired ‘purist’ style is ‘pure classical songs’ composed by music directors like Roshan, Naushad or Madan Mohan.  (Laaga chunri mein daag, Kaun aaya mere man ke dware, Madhuban mein radhika nache re are examples of ‘pure classical songs’). These types of songs are also likely to be very popular. But then, these are very difficult to sing for the common man. Hence we need musical compositions of varying degrees to make film music accessible and enjoyable by the common man.

The other extreme style of composing is to compose in short lines and relatively straighter tunes. This style will appeal to the common man because these types of songs are easy to sing (Imagine mukhdas of Awara hoon (Awara), Mere joota hai japani(Shree 420)). These are relatively straighter and shorter tunes which can straightaway appeal to everyone because these are simple (the mukhdas). While it is easier (in relative terms) to compose shorter, straighter tunes, there is also an additional element of inspiration, creativity and skill that is needed to make such shorter, straighter tunes popular.  There is also the difficult to define element of “appeal to the soul” which can make a short, straight tune appealing to almost everyone. The mukhdas of Awara hoon and Mere joota hai japani  may not be ‘purist style’, but they are creative, inspirational and skillful and of course, extremely popular. In fact, most music directors try to make the mukhda catchy, easy to sing. If you have a catchy and simple mukhda, the antra could be more complicated but no one cares!

As you can see from the above examples, the popularity of a song has no connection to the melodic content in the song. Whether a song is relatively straight or not, may depend on external factors like the situation for which it is composed, the lyrical content, the singer’s ability and other factors. However, for filtering the top 3 composers of the golden era, I am assessing the songs and the composers ability and talent purely in terms of melodic content and not any external factors.

So we have two extremes – pure classical film songs that are difficult to compose and sing on one extreme and on the other extreme we have shorter and straighter songs that are appealing to everyone. Between these two extremes are songs with varying degrees of melodic content – based on length, stretch, stress on notes, mini tones and undulations. This is illustrated in the picture below.


As you can see from other posts on this blog, I enjoy a variety of songs in multiple languages without being restricted to only the ‘purist’ style all the time. Like most people, I do enjoy popular songs as well and like Awara hoon and Mera joota hai japani types of songs immensely. But when it comes to filtering top 3 composers, I prefer to use difficulty level and melodic content to filter them.

The predominant and preferred style of the top 3 composers is “more difficult to compose”, musically pure, aesthetically correct, ‘purist’ types of compositions.  Not all of their songs are of this ‘purist’ type. However, they have used this style much more than other composers since this style of composing comes more naturally to them. The melodic content is more in these types of songs, in my view. I therefore used the two criteria to filter the top 3 composers.

Lenses and filters


As I mentioned in part 1, this selection of top 3 does not mean that Naushad is #1, Madan Mohan is #2 and Roshan is #3. It is unfair to compare stalwarts like this, especially since comparisons are based on personal preferences and likings. I therefore prefer to call them the top 3 as a group.  There is no right or wrong about these lists or groups. My selection of the top 3 does not make me right and others wrong about their choice of a top 3.

Also, the fact that these 3 are in the top 3 does not diminish the greatness of other composers like S D Burman, Shanker Jaikishan, Salil Chowdary or anyone else. Each of these composers brought their unique talents, skills to film music and they were great as well. All of us have many lenses, which we can use to look at film music selectively. I happened to pick up a lens and used the filters of ‘pure style of composition’ and ‘length of tune’ to select the top 3. The color of the lens we use is based on our personal preferences and the type of music that appeals to ‘something’ within us.  You may use a different colored lens to filter and you would be right from your own perspective.

This blog is only to share my views and preferences. It is not necessary that you share the same views and preferences. I am of course looking for endorsement and acceptance of these views from as many people as I can reach out to.

What I described above is only one dimension of composition – pure classical, high melodic content or short, straight tunes. I am using this single dimension to assess and filter the top 3. There are other more complex, feel factors such as the ability to appeal to the soul or ‘dil’ of a person. These songs appeal immediately to emotions. It does not matter whether the tune is a straight, short one or a lengthy, pure classical one. All that matters is emotional appeal to the dil.  This of course cannot be felt by anyone else other than you. Your soul or ‘dil’ is the king and the ultimate judge of music !

Note: Here is the link to the preceding post “Top 3 composers of the golden era – part 3

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20 Responses to Top 3 composers of the golden era – rationale & conclusion

  1. coolone160 says:

    What a lovely post! I also like ‘pure style of composition’ than short, straight tunes.We really cannot compare musical legends such as Naushad,MadanMohan or Roshan as they are great in their own league.Some of my favorite songs from these legends are——–
    Man re tu Kahe na-Chitralekha (1964)-

    Tu Ganga Ki Mauj Mein- Baiju Bawra

    Tu Jahaan Jahaan Chalegaa- Mera Saaya (1966)

    • rsbaab says:

      Yes…..these 3 are great songs by the 3 legends. Chitralekha song was voted as the #1 favourite song by Bollywood artistes in a survey. The purist style is truly a delight for discerning ears. Hope you liked the 5 sweet Lata numbers by Roshan and the lively Lata songs in the medley of 18 songs.

  2. raunakjoy says:

    Great analysis. I envy your understnading of music. I love all these masters be it Naushad, Madan Mohan or Roshan. It’s another matter altogether that if i was to select my fav 3 composers based on your criteria. they would have been Madan Mohan, Anil Biswas & S.d.Burman.

  3. raunakjoy says:

    Oops i meant understanding not understnading!!

    • rsbaab says:

      Thank you very much Raunak for going through my posts and for your ‘understanding’. I loved your recent tributes to Manna Dey as well. Glad you enjoyed the posts.Looking forward to read more of your posts.

      • raunakjoy says:

        No i actually meant what i said. I was particularly liked your concept of complex tunes-ones with more undulations and variations. I have not thought like that and it helped give me a new perspective to my understanding of music.

  4. Bhaskar says:

    Thanks for the detailed analysis of these three great music composers of the golden era of Indian cinema, each of them have contributed immensely to Hindi cinema and stand tall with their peers. They have had their challenges in their life but managed to and never compromised on the quality of music that they created, they will never be forgotten by music lovers

    • rsbaab says:

      Thanks a lot Bhaskar. As you rightly pointed out, these 3 stood tall and never compromised or diluted the quality of their music. Their music is truly evergreen and will live forever in the hearts of music lovers. Thanks again.

  5. Pingback: Carnival of Blogs on Golden Era of Hindi Film Music – November 2013 | The world is too small? or Is it?

  6. Rajeev says:

    Would like to read much more like this sir ..can you suggest?

    • Bhaskar Iyer says:

      In my opinion all the three music composers were not in the top three bracket though they did have an impact and composed good music. Even if we consider the two criteria of melodic content and challenge of composition composers like Shanker Jaikeshen, SD Burman, OP Nayyar and Kalyanji Anandji stand on top of other composers. I am certain others will have something to say on this

      On 18 August 2015 at 01:23, Evergreen Indian film music wrote:

      > Rajeev commented: “Would like to read much more like this sir ..can you > suggest?”

    • RSBAAB Ravi says:

      Thank you Rajeev for going through the entire article on Rationale and Conclusion. I do not have too much to say beyond what I have written about purist style, melodic content, ‘long tunes’, popular styles and related perspectives. In fact, if you come across any articles or book that discuss styles in Indian film music, please let me know. I would love to read more about these topics.

      All I can share is how I try to really understand and appreciate our film songs. I listen to songs on a iPod or music player with earphones and really focus 100% on the shape, contours of the tune. This enables me (or anyone else) to identify, understand and appreciate the differences between:

      Short tunes vs. lengthier tunes (how long is one line in a tune?)
      Straight shapes of tunes vs. tunes that have more of curves, undulations in shape
      Emphasis, stress on individual notes vs. lack of emphasis
      Gamaks, harkats or murkis by singer vs. straight singing
      Smooth connection of one note to another vs. jerky connections between notes.

      This also enables to me really appreciate the emotions conveyed by the lyricist and singer and the creativeness of music directors.

      I hope this helps. I sincerely wish you enjoy and appreciate our wonderful world of film music even more when you listen to songs.

  7. jimihndrx says:

    Well written post..enjoyed it reading!
    But the discussion on ‘Golden Age Of HFM’ will remain incomplete without mentioning works of S.D. Burman & C. Ramchandra (thats my view!).
    Would you consider composers Chitragupt and Jaidev in the Purist category?

    • RSBAAB Ravi says:

      Thank you very much for going through the entire post.

      At the outset, I must clarify that in my view, almost all music composers of the golden era without exception created melodious music. If they had not created melodious music, they would not have become music directors in the first place. We are indeed fortunate that 15 or so composers from the Golden era gave us such lovely music. All of them could not have made it to their respective positions if they did not have the talent, creativity and hard work involved in film music. In that sense, all the Music Directors are GREATS and composed superb melodies. And I am sure all of them faced several challenges in their compositions.

      However, I try to go beyond the first level of obviously melodious music to understand a bit more in depth about different types of melodious tunes. I therefore tried to analyse what actually goes into the making of a melodious song. In my view, there are various possibilities in both content and outcome and the music director could choose different styles if he wanted. Of course, some tunes are created by pure creative instinct and some others are created by deliberate effort. The purist style of songs could have been either by creative instinct or deliberate effort, though it is more likely it is a bit of both (In the case of Naushad, there are several documented reports of how he used to spend a lot of time on a single tune, implying a lot of deliberate effort) . Though I classified melodious tunes as “purist style” based on two criteria, that is only one of the ‘lenses’ to analyse and filter composers and their styles.

      There are other filters also that could be used and you could perhaps classify melodious tunes in other ways. This is the reason why I emphasised that we cannot take away anything from the great music of stalwarts like S D Burman, Salil-Chowdary, Shanker-Jaikishen, C Ramchandra, O P Nayyar, Hemant Kumar, Kalyanji-Anandji, Ravi or anyone else. Each one of these music composers did compose some songs in “purist” style, though that may not have been their predominant style. Some like SD Burman, deliberately stayed away from purist style (though SD Burman could have easily composed in the purist style) and created their own melodious and popular styles. Some like Kalyanji-Anandji and Ravi preferred “simple melodies” rather than purist style. Between Shanker and Jaikishan, Jaikishan was more inclined and closer to purist style than Shanker. That does not take away anything from the greatness, talent or effort of any of the music directors.

      I also wrote posts on Music directors other than what I called as “The Top 3 of the Golden era”. In each of the posts, I try to identify their styles that set them apart. I will be writing posts on other music directors as well and hope to include Chitragupt and Jaidev in some of those posts.

      Certainly Chitragupt and Jaidev composed some delightful numbers with high melodic content as well as length in tunes. Unfortunately for them, they did not get too many movies and their body of work is not as substantial as the 3 composers I discussed. In my view, while they composed a number of songs in purist style, they could not demonstrate high standards of ‘purist style’ compositions consistently and over an extended period of time. This is only due to lack of body of work and not anything else. Both Chitragupt and Jaidev had obvious talent, creativity and skill. Some of Chitragupt’s songs from Bhabhi, Oonche Log, Akash Deep, Kaali topi Laal rumaal, Vaasna and Ganga ki lehren are a delight to the ear. Hopefully, I will get a chance to showcase some lovely numbers by Chitragupt and Jaidev in some future post.

      I am sorry for the lengthy reply, but I wanted to ensure that I shared my thoughts with you as well as Bhaskar Iyer who commented earlier. Thanks to both of you again for going through my post in detail and sharing your views.

  8. jimihndrx says:

    Well that was quite a lengthy reply indeed..and as you mentioned “Some like SD Burman, deliberately stayed away from purist style (though SD Burman could have easily composed in the purist style)”..I would rather ask “wasn’t his Bengal’s Folk Music inspired tunes(Baul Sangeet to be precise) a kind of purist style”?(Naushad also brought best of Indian Folk in the mainstream cinema!)
    Even composer Vasant Desai will fall under the Purist tab(IMO).
    yes I agree with you on the “lack of body of work” of the two composers Chitragupt & Jaidev.(will wait for some informative articles about the two composers in your future posts.)

  9. What would you rate the song “Woh Hain Zara Khafa Khafa” from Shagird

  10. And also Mujhe Tum Mil Gaye Humdum from Love in Tokoyo

    • RSBAAB Ravi says:

      Thank you for going through the posts and commenting. Since your comment is in the post where I discussed ‘purist’ style songs, the two songs you mentioned will not figure in my definition of purist songs. Yes, they may be popular (though SJ had many hugely popular songs than the one from Love in Tokyo), but they will not figure as songs close to the purist style. Thanks again for making the effort to comment.

  11. Rakesh says:

    Great Post.

    A small typo, I think. Binaca.

    Binance(crypto platform)

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