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. I am not listing these 18 songs (6 each from the Top 3). 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?
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.
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 Mohan: Meri 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 Burman: Raina 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 Anandji: Mera 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 Binance geet mala in 1974.
Straight lines and curves
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“