It goes without saying that we now
live in an age of raucous music, stereotyped "branding,"
and frivolous remix[ed] excursions, thanks to technological
razzamatazz. It's fun, all right, although one would be forced
to harp back to the Golden Age of Indian film music -- a philosophy,
which found favour by way of lilting, soothing, heart-warming
and, above all, transcendental melodies. Far from today's
well-orchestrated hype, and glorified larger-than-life extensions
-- of composers, nay orchestrated directors, who maybe "good," but not necessarily
as "great" as they have been made out to be
A tribute to the original kings
of melody: Shankar and Jaikishan.
Theirs was an age of tuneful chemistry,
even supreme artistry: of instinctive flavour, without equal.
It was the epoch of Shankar-Jaikishan
[S-J] -- two names that stand out as one among the sublime
genii of the period
all in a special niche of its own.
Music was S-J's whole life, a great source
of joy. It was astounding too. Jaikishan, for one, was just
thirty-nine, when he died an untimely death, over three decades
ago. But, his virtuosity and vitality were exemplary to leave
their imprint on the sands of time, as much as Shankar, Jai's
senior partner, who continued to use the hyphenated name,
until he departed into a world beyond space and time.
What made the two so extraordinarily special
was the power of their melodies -- melodies that had within
them a distinct sensibility, replete with the eternal softness
of petals and the long-lasting aroma of musk. What's more,
their gentle radiance, what with the unmistakable changes
that came later, in tune with the tides of time, never ever
lost that characteristic form -- a S-J benchmark of both attractiveness
and timeless appeal.
Art, quite simply, knows no age. And,
the creative, melodious alchemy of S-J proved to be the central
theme, not just the heart, of such a credo. Jaikishan was
the soul of the S-J school of music, all right. So was Shankar
-- two sides of the same coin. What took one's breath away
was S-J's heartfelt pulsation, and delicate breakthrough of
orchestration -- one that could not be imitated, nay emulated.
S-J's theme song was simple and profound: the two were endlessly
trying to do better and better, bringing to their music a savoury elegance that none could duplicate.
Which is precisely the reason why even
some of their not-so-great tunes have remained evergreen,
fresh as the early morning dew, and stayed ahead of the best
that is being dished out today. To cull a short list of their
monumental songs would, therefore, be well-nigh impossible.
It's, quite simply, awesome: from Raj Kapoor's Barsaat,
with which the duo made its debut, in 1949, Basant Bahar,
Shree 420, Awaara, Boot Polish, Anari,
Halaku, Chori Chori, Sangam, Junglee, Love
In Tokyo, Professor, Yahudi, Mera Naam Joker to Kal Aaj Aur
Kal. You'd choose your pick -- all supremely vintage-modern
stuff. Which is also one primal reason why the gifted twosome
held its sway for over two decades, at the peak of its prowess
-- and, continues to rivet added attention
our very present epoch of unwanted biff-bang.
Nothing could stop the two classy maestros,
of course, in their prime. As one critic put it, "S-J
could have been knocked out by the duo itself -- not someone
from outside." Because, S-J, in unison, exuded sheer
magic? Doubtless. More importantly, the duo's artful finesse
was not limited to conventional norms. S-J absorbed the best
from both Oriental and Occidental musical spheres, yes. But,
the end result was typically, even uniquely, S-J. So much
so, the confluence of the two distinct parallels, or styles,
made S-J's ascent to the top
almost akin to cakewalk.
Yet, not everything's flawless. As Shankar,
a brilliant percussionist and pianist, and Jaikishan, a charming
musician in a league of his own, grew in their stature, each
began to realise that he was a full-fledged musician himself.
Quite understandably, too. They began to drift
a world of their own. For the last few years, before Jai's
intempestive death, their partnership was just a facade, although
their "rift" was never made public. Thank God, for
big mercies, and the hyphenated acronym, therefore, never
lost its hypnotic fervour. S-J continued to compose songs
in movies -- each taking up pieces separately, or those that
were best suited to one's own template of propensity.
S-J did not have midgets for contemporaries:
Anil Biswas, Naushad, C Ramachandra, Madan Mohan, S D Burman,
Salil Chowdhury et al -- each man, an institution by himself.
Hence, the big question: how were they rated by "rivals?"
Says the legendary Naushad: "Jai 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." Avers O P Nayyar, the rebel composer:
"Shankar was one real composer, if ever there's one."
And, so was Jaikishan -- no more, no less.
Raj Kapoor shaped the duo's career graph,
all right. Which is also one reason why many believe that
the credit for S-J's phenomenal success ought to go -- to a
great extent -- to the greatest Showman of Indian Cinema. The
idea is grossly unfair. Because, critics forget the fact that
while Raj Kapoor may have, indeed, contributed much with his
fine ear and ken for music, he could never repeat the same
success with the likes of Laxmikant-Pyarelal and R D Burman
etc., -- all top-class, brilliant composers. There never was,
quite simply, another Jis Desh Main Ganga Behti Hai, Awaara,
Shree 420, Sangam, or Mera Naam Joker without
Adds a long-time analyst: "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
take a close look at the background score for Shree 420.
You'll find at least three tunes which were used for Anari."
That was music in creation
conceptualised in advance
-- of dulcet sweetness and sound in the seventh heaven of its
Raj Kapoor once said: "We, S-J, and
I, picked out this bountiful raga, Bhairavi, right at the
beginning with Barsaat, because all three of us knew that
it would lend itself to a number of variations." Result:
viola! So much so, that, on a close scrutiny of S-J numbers,
it becomes a Hobson's choice to pick the best. Each S-J number
is a gem. Priceless. Beyond compare. To pluck but one example.
No composer exploited the one and only Mohammed Rafi's velvety
voice so wonderfully, and expertly. Or, transformed the aggressive
romanticism of Shammi "Yahoo" Kapoor
Why only Rafi, the Sultan of Melody: melody,
so mellifluous! The classy Manna Dey, the ebullient Kishore
Kumar, the wobbling Talat Mehmood, the sonorous Hemant Kumar
all varied talents, found a medium of elegant perfection
under the S-J baton. Not only that. While the elegiac Mukesh
was masterly in every tune, Lata Mangeshkar, the Queen of
Song, was glorious -- as only she can be. Not only that. Asha
Bhonsle was just as effulgent as ever. And, so were Suman
Kalyanpur, Mubarak Begum, and even the straight-voiced Sharda.
And, the backstage? It was just as talented: Shailendra and
Hasrat Jaipuri etc., lyricists par excellence.
S-J duo, endowed with great empathy for classical
music, was at home both with Hindustani and Carnatic traditions,
as much as the symphonies of Mozart. There's more than an
element of the Mozartian "spur" in some of S-J's
great compositions: a blend of the delicate with the sophisticated.
When Shankar was once asked about the corollary, pat came
the riposte: "That people have 'deciphered' the Mozartian
influence in our compositions is music to our ears. We are,
quite simply, honoured!"
It goes without saying that Shankar and
Jaikishan, who scored music for about 200 films, in Hindi,
and other languages, aside from dozens of documentaries, including
their own jazz presentations, were the first movie composers
to be paid big professional fees -- charges totally uncommon
in their time. Along with a host of national, and international,
awards under their umbrella, they were also the first to have
a legion of fans, and even genuine following, at the global
level: from Russia, China, etc., to the US, and the UK. For
example, one of the duo's fans, Nargita, from Romania, was known
to have been not only a roving statistician of their musical
creations, but also a singer in her own right!
"Music vibrates in the memory,"
wrote Shelley. This sums up a big keynote of S-J music: one
that will reverberate, glow, and survive through posterity.
Small wonder, then, that, over thirty-six years on, after Jai's sad adieu, and almost 20 years after Shankar's final goodbye, their ageless melodies continue to
leap out from sepia-tinted frames.
They are sure earmarked to inspire young
music fans, enthusiasts, and critics, including composers
of every new generation -- aside from the "age bracket"
that grew up with the duo's wonderful beats, right from the
1950s -- wherever they are, or whenever they hear S-J's music
being played in their mind's ear.