Our wonderful world of Hindi film music absorbs, adapts and accommodates styles and influences from all over India and the world. In this post, I will highlight key aspects of South Indian music that have been absorbed in Hindi film songs, that have added what I would call as a dash of Southern spice in Hindi film music. I do not mean vocal styles from South India, but instruments from South India.
Three instruments play a key part in Southern music, especially classical music – Mridang, Ghatam and Morsing. These 3 are percussion instruments played with the hand. Morsing is considered side percussion. All three share a common ‘twangy’ sound that can be considered spicy! The Mridang is called Mridangam in South India.
While these 3 instruments are used predominantly in Southern classical music (also called Carnatic music), other regions of India also have instruments that are similar or closely resemble these 3 instruments. Interestingly, Morsing is played with the hands but the instrument is placed in the mouth.
Check out the sounds of these instruments in the short audio samples below (less than 6 seconds each). Here is the Mridangam.
Here is the sound of Ghatam.
And enjoy the sound of Morsing below:
A number of Hindi film songs have used these three instruments and as you can observe, the songs that I highlighted are very popular.
Enjoy 12 of these songs from the playlist below. All the songs are from 1940s to 1960s (with one exception). In some of the songs, the instruments can be heard clearly. In others, they are a part of a wider range of instruments and you have to listen very carefully to hear them.
(This link will take you to Gaana.com where you have standard features of Play all, Shuffle and Skip song available. Sometimes, you may have to skip Ads to enjoy the music! Unlike my earlier posts, this player opens in a new window/tab. Since the music player opens in a new window/tab, you can browse through this site or others and enjoy the music playing in the background while you browse!)
Naushad’s spicy touch
Among the music directors of the golden era (1950s and 60s), Naushad was a perfectionist. He worked very hard to get the vocal melody right. In addition, he also paid a lot of attention to the accompanying instrument arrangements and introduced a number of innovative arrangements and combinations. (You can check out Lively songs from Naushad for some of his innovations). It is not surprising therefore, to find that Naushad used the 3 instruments in a number of his songs.
Tu kahe agar (Andaz) features Ghatam that captures the rhythm of the song beautifully to accompany the graceful dance on the screen. And observe, how he starts with Ghatam with a folksy rhythm in the hugely popular Door koi gaaye (Baiju Bawra).
Tere sadke balam (Amar) is a song that I love very much. I can hear it a thousand times without getting tired of the song. I enjoy the beautiful waves in the song that take you up and down for a sweet and melodious ride. You may not observe the Ghatam, but it is playing throughout and lends a beautiful twangy background to the song. Incidentally, this song is not easy to sing – once you try it, you can appreciate Lata’s ability to move smoothly from one note to another in waves.
Naushad made innovative use of Mridang along with bongos in Mera pyaar bhi tu hai (Saathi).(See Enjoyable western beats)
Naushad also used Morsing in a number of songs. Check out the sound of the Morsing in Na toofan se khelo (Udan Khatola) from 00:30 to 00:40 in the song below.
The twang of the Ghatam
Many stalwarts from the golden era used Ghatam to great effect.
Shanker-Jaikishen used Ghatam beautifully in Yeh shaam ki tanhaaiyan (Aah). Ramlal used Ghatam to create an impact in Tere khayalon mein hum (Geet gaaya patharon ne) and add to the haunting effect.
Nashad (not to be confused with Naushad) was actually Shaukat Ali who composed several popular songs. Apparently, a director Nakshab Jarachavi approached Naushad to compose music for his film. And when Naushad did not agree, he was angry and got Shaukat Ali to compose music after changing Shaukat Ali’s name to Nashad. Baradari has a lovely Talat Mahmood song Tasveer banataa hoon that features Ghatam prominently.
Madan Mohan, the master of soulful songs used Ghatam in Mere piyaa se koi jaake (Ashiana). As always, he stretched Lata’s voice in this song as well to add a delectable touch.
Spice in the Golden Era
SD Burman made heavy use of Mridang in Tere naina talaash (Talaash). You can hear the tabla and other instruments in the first few minutes. After those few minutes, the mridangam takes over and can be heard clearly, and in several places, as the sole percussion instrument to accompany the dance on the screen.
The Mridang becomes a natural accompaniment for Mehmood, the dance teacher from the South in the comic Ek chatur naar karke (Padosan) by RD Burman.
Pakeezah is actually a golden era movie even though it was released in the early 70s. The Morsing is actually playing throughout the song Mausam hai aashiqana. However, you may not observe it except between 3:08 and 3:11 in the song below where it is played as the lead instrument.
AR Rahman masterpieces
AR Rahman raised the bar in instrument arrangements, even in the days of computerized arrangements. He introduced new sounds and rhythm patterns in percussion, among many other outstanding features in arrangements. In many of his songs, you can hear each instrument distinctly even when the percussion and rhythm appear to be heavy and all encompassing.
Jiya jale (Dil se) is a masterpiece that is a beautiful fusion of folksy vocals from Kerala with the vocal melody of Lata Mangeshkar. You can hear the Morsing and Mridangam in this song clearly. The Morsing accompanies Lata’s voice from 0:05 onwards and can be heard through most of the song. The Mridangam starts with a short roll at 1:05 and is used primarily to create the percussion roll through the rest of the song.
Another of his masterpieces is Taal se Taal mila (Taal). He used many percussion instruments to emphasise the Taal, but the Ghatam can be heard clearly from 1:23 to 1:37 and later whenever the line Taal se Taal mila is repeated.
Thus far, I discussed songs that had one or two of the 3 instruments being discussed. Is there a song that has all 3 of them? Yes, but it is a regional song that truly embodies the Southern Spice. Check out the section below.
Authentic Southern Spice
There are of course innumerable songs from South Indian films that feature the 3 instruments. However, I would like to draw your attention to two special songs.
Madhura madhura tara Meenakshi (Telugu movie – Arjun) is one such special song. If you listen to the song carefully, you will observe that there are many percussion instruments used in the song. Apart from this, the combination of percussion instruments and the pattern they play in the song changes frequently – it varies between female and male singers, between chorus and interludes, between high and low pitch and in every possible combination you can think of. These variations really call for perfect arrangements and orchestration. Mani Sarma composed this song and you can hear all 3 instruments in the song (though not all of them at the same time). From 1:41 you can hear the Mridangam joined shortly by Ghatam and other instruments till 1:51 and shortly thereafter you can also hear the Morsing join the percussion from 1:53 to 2:17.
The music of Ilayaraja, the genius from South India defies description. He combines many different styles to create amazing effects. Listen carefully to Poongathave thal thiravai (Tamil movie – Nizhalgal) below. In his arrangements and orchestration, there are sounds of western symphonies, ‘conversations’ between the keyboard and violin, beautiful use of humming, seamless transition from western to traditional instruments and as a final flourish in the song, the blending of the sounds of violin and the humming. And all of these superb combinations and blends are in addition to a wonderful vocal melody!
In the midst of all this wizardry, did you notice the use of Mridangam? The Mridangam adds a final twangy beat to complete the pattern played by bongos. This single beat on the mridangam is one more amazing combination among the many wonderful combinations in the song.
We are indeed fortunate to enjoy the wide variety of influences and styles that Hindi film music gives us. I hope you enjoyed the twangy sounds that added southern spice in Hindi film songs!