We live in an era of paradoxes — sometimes respectable, or every so often ear-splitting music, or typecast ‘stamp’ and/or just as raucous as ever remix[ed] diversions, thanks to hi-tech glitz.
This isn’t all. There seems to be a new penchant for Punjabi-accentuated songs — rather than tangible Hindi numbers in Hindi movies. This is for scores of music buffs’ enjoyment too. However, for most of us, there’s nothing better than ‘tapping’ our minds to the Golden Age of Indian film music — a wholesome idea that finds enormous goodwill by way of soothing, calming, uplifting and, above all, transcendental, divine music.
Call it a rainbow synthesis, or what you may, the Golden Age was, and is, without equal.
It was, indeed, the era of Shankar-Jaikishan [S-J] — two names that stand out as one among our awe-inspiring music genii of all time. They will continue to hold an extraordinary position of their own — so long as music lives.
Melody was S-J’s complete existence, a vast reservoir of joy. It was amazing, too, and far ahead of their time. Just listen to the prelude of Lata Mangeshkar-Hemant Kumar’s lilting number, Aa Neel Gagan Tale Pyar Hum Kare from Badshah , and you’ll sure think you are listening to the first of India’s media-sponsored ‘Mozart of Madras’ A R Rahman’s AirTel ‘jigs.’ Or, take this — the ‘pounding’ tabla beats and surge of Lata’s Meri Tumhari Beech Mein from Jhuk Gaya Aasman , resonating in Shaan’s Shubhanallah in Fanaa . Or, recall how the virtually sizzling Mohammed Rafi number, Jaan Pehchaan Ho from Gumnaam , was used for the titles in the Hollywood movie, Ghost World , not to speak of Heineken’s commercial, The Date . Or, listen to Nadeem-Shravan’s hit number, Tum Dil Ki Dhadkan Mein Rehte Ho from Dhadkan , which is, quite simply, a ‘facsimile’ of S-J-Lata’s melodious number, Mujhe Tum Milgaye Humdum, from Love in Tokyo .
There’s more… Just tune into their non-film, hugely original Raga Jazz-Style compositions , anytime, and you’ll also know why they were also outstandingly progressive, and peerless.
As the legendary sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan analysed surgically in a newspaper interview, “Did not Rahman compose the hit number Aye Ajnabi for Dil Se ? It’s a straight lift of S-J’s immortal number, Manzil Wohi Hain from Kathputli .” Khan compares Chal Chaiyyan Chaiyyan, again, from Dil Se. He asks, “Is it not similar to S-J’s Oh Maiya Bata Maiya from Shree 420 ? Rahman has just accelerated the tempo.” Now, let’s move further and pay attention to Talat Mahmood’s Tum Ko Dil Ke Taar Ched Kar fromRoop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja . You’ll, unwittingly, find a ‘connect’ in Rap star Eminem’s classy hit, We Made You . Or, go rewind and listen to Rafi’s Oh Meri Baby Doll and Iqbal Singh’s Beautiful Baby of Broadway, from Ek PhoolChaar Kaante , two, good-old, typical S-J ‘rock-n-roll’ numbers, at a time when Elvis Presley was gaining great ‘fan ground’ and the Beatles were yet to make their debut album.
The list is incomplete — whether or not you include the Welsh singer JEM’s sampled prelude and interlude of Baharon Phool Barsao to their lilting number, Come on Closer .
Jaikishan [born November 4, 1929] was just 42, when he passed away, 45 years ago [September 12,1971]. Yet, his genius and verve were tantamount to someone who’d have lived a hundred years to leave one’s mark on the sounds of time. This simile applies just as much to Shankar, Jaikishan’s senior partner, when the duo was at its peak — despite the fact that Shankar’s magic 'waned,' what with the other wheel of his chariot 'lost,' as critics attribute, though they used it as a tool, aside from other extraneous factors, just as more than a handful of the maestro’s films, despite some vintage S-J quality numbers, flopped, in the late ‘seventies… That Shankar continued to use the hyphenated name was passé, all right. The sad fact, indeed, was Shankar [born October 15, 1922], who died exactly 30 years ago [April 26,1987], almost unsung, notwithstanding all the glories the duo had attained — dominating the Indian musical landscape for 22 melodious years.
S-J were exceptional. The power of their melodies evoke a distinctive feeling, replete with that perpetual velvety feel — of fragrance as everlasting as musk. This isn’t all. Their sophisticated luminosity, juxtaposed by swanky changes, in tune with the tides of time, or what people wanted, never ever lost its distinguished feel — you’d know S-J’s melodious benchmark and eternal appeal at the ‘drop’ of a song. Most importantly, there’s that innate sense of transcendent divinity running through their compositions — like the eternal beating of the waves of the ocean, or the insidious blooming of a flower. As the one and the only Lata Mangeshkar articulated so well in Nasreen Munni Kabir’s quintessential book, Lata Mangeshkar in Her Own Voice, “I believe no one can equal the music composed by Shankar-Jaikishan. They composed classical songs, cabarets, dance numbers, love songs, sad and happy songs. Few composers have been able to match their range. Their music has extended the life of many films — films that would have otherwise been forgotten..."
S-J proved that music was, indeed, their raison d’être, not just of the heart, but also the soul of every number. If Jaikishan, who made his film music debut when he’s just 18, was the heart of the S-J school of music, Shankar epitomised its nucleus. They were the two sides of the same denomination. What took one’s breath away was their intense lilt and subtle burst through classy orchestration — matchless, inimitable, and elevating. Their melodious leitmotiv was just as sophisticated and profound. They were constantly trying to do better and better, injecting into their music a unique, flavoursome elegance that none could replicate.
S-J were also pioneers in ‘reverse music’ — with the orchestration in songs running, or colluding, against each other, at the same time. This wasn’t all. S-J gave all their compositions strong, potent orchestration. Jaikishan, whose statue, a tribute from Swami Sachidananda, their biographer Padmanabh Joshi and the ex-Maharaja, adorns his home-town, Vansada, in Gujarat, insisted on a bare minimum of a 65-piece ensemble. Following his death, most film-makers cut down on the figure. This evidently led to Shankar’s so-called downfall — because, he could not quite reproduce the old magic with the same panache sand full orchestral support. It was something akin to asking Roger Federer to play tennis with a badminton racquet.
Critics argue that S-J’s ‘protégé’ Sharda was no less a supplementary ‘fault.’ Shankar’s liking for an upcoming, fresh-voiced singer — a Raj Kapoor ‘find’ — did not go well with Lata. It also provided enough dissenting grist to S-J critics’ mill. Picture this: Shankar had to cope without Lata, for more than a while — it was a costly gaffe. This also, perforce, led to ‘make-do’ a handful of mediocre songs — including some English/Western ‘replicas’ — from their stable. Blame it on the law of averages, perchance. However, let’s give them the benefit — a reprieve we often grant to the greats in other arenas. You can’t just win all the time. It’s humanly not possible. Even the legendary Sir Don Bradman recorded a few ‘ducks’ in Test cricket.
But, reflect on this — a multitude of S-J’s works, or songs, continues to be spanking new as the first light, till this day, is evidence of their class. To cull a functional inventory of their epic songs would, therefore, be next to impossible. Their melodies are not just breath-taking, but also timeless: from Raj Kapoor’s Barsaat, with which they made their debut, over sixty-five ago , Awaara, Boot Polish, Shree 420, Basant Bahar, Halaku, Chori Chori, Yahudi, Anari, Professor, Sangam, Junglee, Love in Tokyo, Mera Naam Joker, Kal Aaj Aur Kal, Lal Patthar etc., You’d select your favourites — all utterly pristine, up-to-date melodies. It was this novel attribute, or original stamp, that enables S-J to hold their wave — with every generation.
S-J were unstoppable at their best. As one critic extolled, “S-J could have been knocked out by the duo itself — not someone from outside.” This was their terrific ability. What’s more, their classy refinement was not bound to conventional norms. They imbibed the best of musical luminosity from both East and West — yet the end result was characteristically, even distinctively, S-J. Call it also the coming together of two divergent streams, or modes… quite akin to David Warner’s lofty Occidental pulls and Virat Kohli’s impeccable Oriental drives, square of the wicket, too.
Nothing, however, is ever perfect. As Shankar, a dazzling percussionist, gifted pianist and composer, and Jaikishan, a magnetic composer in a league of his own, grew in their standing, each began to realise that they were full-fledged composers in their own right. They slowly began to waft into a confederacy of their own, though they had a pact that they would not disclose who composed which song. For the last few years, before Jai’s passed away into sunset, their joint venture was not 'just a ruse' as critics exemplified, albeit their ‘magnified rift’ was used as a knob to bring them down. Result: the hyphen, S-J, never lost its mesmeric appeal. S-J continued to create songs — each choosing their pieces individually to suit their own classy ‘gamut’ of songs. This is not all. Their background score was insuperable — with Sangam and Mere Naam Joker rated to being, by far, the best-ever in film music history.
S-J were not alone in their great musical act. They had great contemporaries: Anil Biswas, Naushad, C Ramachandra, S D Burman, Salil Chowdhury, Madan Mohan et al — each man, an institution, so to speak. What made them truly special was how their ‘rivals’ rated them. The legendary Naushad Ali, who often referred to S-J as "magicians, not just musicians," once eulogised: “Jaikishan had the rare gift of instant mental notation. He had to only see a reel unfold on the screen, and the whole thing was stamped in his mind to the last detail.” Said O P Nayyar, the rebel originator, “Shankar was one real composer — if ever there’s one.”
India’s greatest showman, Raj Kapoor, surely shaped the duo’s career, in S-J’s early years. This is one reason why many credit S-J’s unparalleled success to Kapoor. The idea is, however, grossly iniquitous. The big point is: critics have often overlooked the reality, that, while Kapoor may have, perforce, contributed much, with his bright ear and understanding of music, he could by no means repeat the same success with the likes of Laxmikant-Pyarelal, R D Burman, a long-time ‘media-obsession,’ or Ravindra Jain — all top-class, worthy composers. There never was, quite simply, another Awaara, Shree 420, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, Sangam, or Mera Naam Joker. It was ditto for Shammi Kapoor too. His two directorial ventures, Manoranjan and Bundal Baaz, with music scored by R D Burman, were not a patch, also far from 'match,' on Junglee, Professor, Janwar et al and their timeless, sempiternal numbers.
Adds Raju Bharatan, the noted Bollywood music critic and author: “When Aah failed to woo the box-office, Raj Kapoor, perforce, had to bring in S-J, and within a matter of weeks, they came up with that memorable score for Boot Polish. And, just take a close look at the background score for Shree 420. You’ll find at least three tunes which were used for Anari.” This was music in creation, conceptualised in advance: of melodic sweetness and resonance on seventh of their existence. Kapoor naturally insisted they be used in his later films — when the ‘arty’ showman ‘cold-shouldered’ his long-time melodic connection, S-J.
COMPOSERS LIKE NO OTHER
No composer exploited the one and only Mohammed Rafi’s silky voice so amazingly and skilfully. Or, transformed the belligerent romanticism of Shammi ‘Yahoo’ Kapoor with it. Not Rafi alone, the Sultan of Melody, the refined Manna Dey, the cheery Kishore Kumar, the wobbling Talat Mahmood, and the resonant Hemant Kumar, all varied talents, found a medium of graceful perfection under the S-J baton. Not only that. While the plaintive Mukesh was masterly in every tune, Lata Mangeshkar, the Queen of Song, was magnificent — as only she can be. Asha Bhosle was just as effulgent. And, so were the adept Suman Kalyanpur, and others. And, the backstage? It was just as talented: Shailendra, Hasrat Jaipuri etc., lyricists beyond compare.
S-J were gifted with a cogent, peerless grasp of traditional music — they were at home both with Hindustani and Carnatic schools too, just as much as English classical music. There’s also a riveting element of the Mozartian ‘component,’ and other inspirational motifs, in some of their greatest compositions — a blend of the subtle with the refined, the overall result, of course, being inimitably S-J. Well, when Shankar was once asked about the upshot, pat came the response: “That people have ‘spotted’ the Mozart aspect in our compositions is music to our ears. We are honoured.”
It goes without saying that S-J were the first composers to be paid huge professional fees — on par with some of the ‘superstars’ of their time. Their popularity was so enormous that films became runaway hits with just their name — and, would you know that they made the first-ever National Savings Certificate Scheme a household name with their ‘logo’ attached to it? This wasn’t all. With a multitude of awards, including nine Filmfare trophies, under their belt, S-J were also the first to have a legion of fans worldwide. While George Harrison, the legendary Beatle, visited them in their studio, and exchanged notes, Narghita from Romania — a roving statistician of their musical creations — was not just an ardent admirer, but also a crooner, no less, of their delectable songs... in her own right.
“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent,” wrote Victor Hugo. This sums up the timeless ornamentation of S-J’s music: one that will resound, glow, and endure through posterity. Small wonder, then, that, their perpetual melodies continue to leap out from sepia-tinted frames to enthuse a whole new generation of music lovers and musicians… wherever they are, or whenever you turn your music system on.
THEY DEFINED A NEW REFINED RAINBOW SYNTHESIS
What made S-J’s music such a melodious, ever-refreshing experience was their refined synthesis of both substance and form. If their film numbers, including folk, modern, and other variations, highlighted their transcendent virtuosity, their uplifting explorations into jazz music celebrated a matchless harmonic form, never before incarnate.
Just think of it: raga is based on a melodic concept, and jazz from harmonics. Melody is, indeed, the soul of Indian music. It is replete no less with deft refinements of tone and delicate changes of rhythm. Harmony is fundamental, innate and intentional to jazz. It is elemental and intrinsic, not deliberate, to Indian music. S-J, with their one-of-a-kind Raga Jazz-Style album , brought together a melodiously harmonic synthesis — a delectable mix of the conventional and the modern, without compromising on the tenets of either stream. If this isn’t genius, what is?
… Feeling great, happy, sad, or depressed? There are S-J melodies for your every mood — you will feel better for it. They also have it in them to lighten, soothe, and nurse you back to good health and well-being – or, elevate you to savour the spiritual dimension of good music in a manner born.
S-J could have won a few Oscar Awards — nothing less — if their creations were submitted, or nominated. It was Oscar’s loss, not theirs — any which way you think. This is also reason enough why there cannot be one all-inclusive ‘Best List’ of S-J, who scored everlasting music for over 200 films, aside from other embellishments, including documentaries, such as Everest  — for which they did not charge a fee, because the makers were short of funds — a fitting metaphor for their Everest-like status in music... for today and tomorrow.