A trip down memory lane to the golden era of film music in India.
Writing well with an appeal for the audience that one may want to target, cannot be cultivated at will. It is a benevolence and grace that has to descend upon you. Thoughts have to be transformed and scripted into words that will charm and hold you spellbound. Lyrics from old Tamil and Hindi movies of the 1950s and 1960s set to immortal musical patterns had this great quality of bestowing peace and harmony while choking you with myriad emotions and vibrant passions deep within, as they carried you back in time to a world of beauty, sanctity and innocence. You literally relive the past while listening to an immortal Rafi, Lata, Noor Jehan or Shamshad Begum number.
Similarly A M Raja, Jikki, T M Soundararajan. P Susheela, Ghantasala and others enriched our lives while singing to the perennial music patterns of the great masters like G Ramanathan, Viswanathan Ramamurthi, Veda, C R Subbaraman, Adi Narayan Rao , Sudharsanam, Venkataraman, Papanasam Sivan etc,. The Indian film scene of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s is considered the golden period in the history of cinema. During the decades mentioned, there was no television, and movie music which had such sway on the populace could only be heard through radio broadcasts. Only those who were affluent could buy L P records, monopolised by HMV.
Listening to one’s favorites was not easy either. Akashvani was still in its infancy and commercial broadcasting was unknown at that time. Subsequently, a few programmes like the the Binaca Geetmala were introduced and fabulous songs were broadcast at specific hours during the day and night. Eager listeners waited anxiously and with bated breath to hear the song of their choice. Melodies lingered in the air. Those were the days which saw immortal legends like the one and only Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Hemant Kumar and many more whose name and fame were linked to incredible music directors and lyricists like Kannadasan in Tamil and Sahir in the north.
Classical music too witnessed glorious days. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Begum Akthar, Ravi Shankar, Hariprasad Chaurasia and a host of others in the north and the female musical stalwarts like D K Pattammal, M L Vasanthakumari and M S Subbulakshmi in the south along with colossuses like Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Madurai Mani Iyer, G N Balasubramaniam, Harikeshanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar, T Balasaraswathi, T R Mahalingam etc. strode the scene with majestic gait. Music and melody were so much a part of the Indian psyche, and films which had lilting songs were box office hits even though otherwise they may have been substandard like Dosti, Geeth Gaya Pathron Ne, etc.
Music then was the main draw that brought people together, and you related to people with the medium of music, overwhelmingly so with film songs. There was a song fit for every mood and occasion. Glad or melancholy days, they were made memorable through the magical spell, spun through film songs. Even today, we recall the songs of Madhumati, Kashmir Ki Kali, Pakeezah, Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai, Pyasa, Taj Mahal, Mughak e Azam etc with joy. These are only a few of the hundreds that come to my mind. The Tamil film scenario of the 1950s and 1960s was momentous and the range was breathtaking—vast and yet consistently excellent.
Film songs of the previous decades have gladdened millions and many of them with their finely crafted lyrics carried messages of love, hope, compassion, devotion, bhakti and sometimes, simply innocence, and hence are enduring.
Radio Ceylon was a pioneer in broadcasting and its commercial broadcasts of the Fifties and Sixties were unmatched. All India Radio later took its cue and came with the idea of Vividh Bharati but could not match the professional excellence and charm of Radio Ceylon commercial programmes. In every nook and corner of the island at that time, there was mass music whether Tamil, Hindi, English or Sinhalese. During the time of Indo-Pakistan war when Lal Bahadur Shastri was Prime Minister and Dr S Radhakrishnan our President, our soldiers were propelled into action and grand nationalistic sentiment evoked through live programmes on the warfront by singers like Mohammed Rafi, Lata, Manna Dey and others, stirring the latent and most potent emotions through familiar and captivating songs.
Due to the glorious effect of the film media and its doyens, lead stars like Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Nutan, Kishore Kumar and a host of other celebrities from the film world contributed to the bubbling buoyancy and national pride by their presence, and rendition of songs by Lata, Asha Rafi etc urged them to greater heights.
The fact that film music had a mesmerising sway and motivation over our social and cultural interactions cannot be undermined. Lyrics matched the tunes that poured out from the depth of the souls of Naushad, Salil Choudhary, all giants in the field. All classes of people irrespective of their social milieu were uniformly familiar with this mass music. The urban and rural with their varied landscapes from Kashmir to Kanyakumari reverberated with popular film music. Whatever your age, film music invokes a nostalgia and the old movie clips of actors like Suchitra Sen, Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Sharmila Tagore and the poignant grace of Jaya Bhaduri still thrill the viewer. Looking at these film stars and the films of the yesteryears can be a therapeutic experience for stress and anxiety. I was overwhelmed by the 1961 film Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai and the song sequence featuring Asha Parekh and Dev Anand. They remain frozen in the mind of the viewer with their perennial youth and gaiety and one forgets how they looked in their old age. This is the sad fate of out-living your youth but not being able to come to terms with age as most of the actors and actresses do with their cultural and moral bankruptcy when they go about with gross repulsive makeup and ill suited wigs and thick walls of plaster to hide their wrinkles that do not go away despite cosmetic surgeries and other props. This is the mystic quality about those films frozen in time like the Grecian Urn. They remain ageless and hence never will lose their relevance while life goes on and death has fallen on many of them like Madhubala and Meena Kumari. Kishore and Rafi are gone but not their eternally youthful music.