You Must Have Heard His Songs, But Have You Heard About S N Tripathi? 

Poster of Rani Roopmati
  • Music director S N Tripathi doesn’t even get a passing mention in the list of Hindi cinema’s music directors of reckoning. The man behind some of the finest duets is the unsung hero of many memorable compositions.

No perspective on Kishore Kumar is considered complete without a reference to that achingly haunting song ‘Koi humdum na raha’ from his written-directed-acted-music-composed 1961 film Jhumroo. But the fact is that Kishore didn’t compose this song. Rather, as the story goes, it was sung by bade bhaiya Ashok Kumar in his debut film, Jeevan Naiyya (1935) and Kishore, just six years old when he first heard the song, was so enamoured by it, that he would sing it constantly as “riyaaz”!

But there was another singer-actor in that film. You could say singer-actor-composer because of the man - whose name is Shri Nath Tripathi - was also assistant to the film’s music director, Saraswati Devi. Tripathi not only acted in a small role in the film but also sang a playback song for Ashok Kumar - ‘Ae re daiya lachak lachak chalo’. And so, almost two decades before Kishore Kumar astounded us with his one-man-show ability to do everything cinematic, other than play the heroine’s part (though in Half Ticket, he sang perfectly in both male and female voice!), there was S N Tripathi.

His cinematic journey began in 1935 when Saraswati Devi, who was studying with him in Lucknow’s famous Morris College of Music, decided to bring him along with a few other students to Mumbai to work for Himanshu Rai who was, at the time, looking for classically trained musicians to work for his Bombay Talkies productions. But Tripathi’s apprenticeship with Saraswati Devi didn’t last long, and in 1939 he made his debut as an independent music director in Chandan, (released in 1941) in which he also sang a duet with Rajkumari, ‘Nanha sa dil deti hoon'.


But it was two years later, after his first success as a music director with Panghat that the floodgates opened. From then, for an astonishing five decades (of which the most prolific was 1950-60, when he composed for over 30 films), Tripathi composed music, sang, acted (his most well-known role was as Hanuman!), wrote screenplays, dialogues, even lyrics and finally, directed his own films.

And the statistics of that flood are breathtaking . . .

He worked in 79 films as music director (some say 92). So no wonder then that the music archives at All India Radio Vividh Bharati have 751 songs composed by Tripathi. Of over 70 films, he acted in 27 of them and directed 18, of which some of the most well-known and successful were Rani Roopmati (his debut), Sangeet Samrat Tansen, Kavi Kalidas, Janam Janam ke Phere and Piya Milan ki Aas.


Tripathi has one other also a little-known credit to his name. The close association with Geeta Dutt. It was in 1946 itself, the year of her debut in playback singing that she sang her first duet with Mohammed Rafi. The song was ‘Jai hind yeh hind ki kahaniyaan’ for the film Manasarovar. And the music director? Tripathi, of course.

In her short career of 25 years, Dutt sang 50 songs for Tripathi. Gems like these duets, two with Manna Dey – ‘Woh dekho udhar chaand’ (Roop Kumari ,1956), ‘Naya naya chand hai ji’ ( Khuda Ka Banda,1957), with Mohammed Rafi – ‘Hum aur tum joh mil gaye’ (Nav Durga, 1953) and an utter surprise – an enthralling dance duet with Asha Bhosle ‘Dirna tan dir dirna’ (Shiv Parvati, 1962). Solos like ‘Lag-lag-laaga nazar ka teer’ ( Jagga Daku ,1959) and ‘Taaron ke palne mein jhoole chand hamara’ (Shree Ganesh Mahima,1950).

Dutt sang as many as five solos for Meena Kumari in this film. And this does not take into account the songs that she sang in the very successful Bhojpuri films that Tripathi not only composed music for but also wrote and directed, the most famous being Bidesiya. (The movie’s music, which contributed hugely to its success, also has a gorgeous chaiti number by Suman Kalyanpur – ‘Ban jaion piya ki jogan’).

So, why is it that Tripathi more often than not doesn’t even get a passing mention in the list of Hindi cinema’s music directors of reckoning? (For example, except for her website, there is no mention anywhere of Geeta Dutt’s association with him. Is it because he was considered just a jack-of-all-trades ‘factory’ of mediocrity or was his work of any consequence?


Perhaps it was because he wore the very difficult mantle of music composer/director of “mythological/fantasy/historical” films. (Which is often a polite way of saying B-grade films.)

But lift that lid, and you uncover the quality of Tripathi’s compositions – not just in musical excellence but also in its staggering variety.

So, it is expected that as a musician trained in classical music, his work would be teeming with raga-based songs (of which two that deserve special mention are the Rafi and Manna Dey duet ‘Sudh bisar gayi aaj’ from Sangeet Samrat Tansen, and the Rafi/ Lata ‘Jhananana jhan baje payaliya’ from Rani Roopmati). But, if you examine his body of work, he was equally adept at all other genres of film music.


Duets, not just the romantic ones like the beautifully plaintive sung by Lata-Rafi ‘Toone chhal kiya’ from (Piya Milan ki Aas, 1961) or the frothy Rafi-Asha ‘Jhoomti hai nazar’ (Hatimtai, 1956), or the oh-so-tender Mukesh/Lata ‘Aji dekho zara toh kya’ (Maya Jaal, 1962) or the Rajasthani folksong-based ‘Thane kajaliya bana lun’ (Veer Durgadas, 1960), but also unusual surprises like the charmer - ‘Chandni jhilmil kare’ (Chandramukhi ,1960).

Bhajans like Lata’s exquisite ‘Ao re hey hey Giridhari’ (Rajrani Meera, based on the life of Meera Bai is, naturally, full of them) and 17 years later, Asha’s ‘Palkon ka palna nainon ki dori’ (Shri Krishna Leela, 1970). Dance numbers like Suman Kalyanpur’s ‘Abhi aye nahin dil dhakne laga’ (Naag Devta, 1962) and Mubarak Begum’s ‘Gham chhodo ye sare zamane ka’ (Piya Milan ki Aas, 1961).

And a galaxy of solos by a galaxy of great singers – Rafi, Mukesh, Manna Dey, Lata, Asha, Suman Kalyanpur (interestingly enough, Kishore Kumar never sang for!), of which, according to one estimate, as many as 71 were by Lata including the enchanting ‘Chand dhalne laga’ (Amrit Manthan, 1961), ‘Nigahon Mein Tum Ho’ (Jadoo Nagri, 1961).


And these are only a few examples of Tripathi’s more, shall we say “obscure” work, the stuff mostly heard by Hindi film music buffs and writers like me who went looking for the music director who composed and made Geeta Dutt sing in perfect Bhojpuri that glorious dance number - ‘Neek saiyan bin bhavanva nahi laage rasiya’ (Bidesiya, 1963) .

But there are also these other songs like ‘Jhoomti chali hawa’, ‘Badli, badli duniya hai meri’, ‘Aa laut ke aaja mere meet’, ‘Na kisi ki aankh ka noor hoon’, ‘Lagta nahi hai dil mera’ and so on.

Who hasn’t heard and hummed, even sung these beauties. But how many of us know that the composer of these fabulous compositions was S N Tripathi?


And to crown it all, in the year 1957 when the star music directors like O P Nayyar had ‘Maang ke saath tumhara’, ‘Reshmi salwar kurta jaali’ and ‘Ude jab jab zulfen teri’, S D Burman had ‘Chhod do aanchal’, ‘Jaane kya toone kahi and ‘Mana janab ne pukara nahi’ Shankar Jaikishen had ‘Yeh raat bheegi bheegi’ and C Ramachandra had ‘Eena meena deeka’, there was one song that topped the Binaca Geetamala chart for that entire year and that was ‘Zara saamane toh aao chhaliye’ sung by Rafi and Lata, in the film Janam Janam Ke Phere. The music director of this blockbuster?

Did S N Tripathi ever win a Filmfare award? Sadly, No. He didn’t even get a nomination.

But, in an interview many years ago when Narendra Modi was still the chief minister of Gujarat, he was asked by Deepak Chaurasia about his favourite film song. Modi said, ‘O pawan vaig se urrne wale rhode’, from Jai Chittor ,1961 sung by Lata Mangeshkar. And the music director?

Do I still need to answer the question?


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