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Is film music shrivelling?

Suhani raat dhal chuki, na jaane tum kab aaoge (Dulari, 1949), Man re tu kaahe na dheer dhare (Chitralekha, 1964), Chain se hum ko kabhi aap ne jeene na diya (Pran Jaye Per Vachan Na Jaye, 1974), Woh tere pyaar ka gham (My Love, 1970), Baharo mera jeevan bhi sanwaro (Aakhri Khat, 1966)… Out of a humongous repertoire of film songs over the decades, I’ve mentioned a few immortal ones as random samples of rare poetic beauty.

Music has been an integral part of Indian cinema. In fact, until a decade ago, films sans music was unthinkable to the movie-goers. It’s still unthinkable, but things have changed. Mind you, these aren’t rants and regurgitations of a nostalgic connoisseur of film music. My point is: When there were such exquisite film songs in the past, what happened to cinematic music of this era? Isn’t it a kind of a bathos; an anticlimax?

Today’s songs are mere item numbers and have nothing to do with the story, plot and sequence. In other words, these item numbers or pedestrian songs are just thrust upon the films. Why is this happening? There could be many reasons for this sharp decline in the standard of film songs. The discerning listeners of film music who listened to the gems of the ’50s and ’60s will vouch for the fact that the film music in the past was not something perfunctory.

Music was dove-tailed to the plot and songs would capture the mood, stories and emotions — acting as catalysts or facilitators in the movies. For example, the background number Waqt se din aur raat  from the iconic film ‘Waqt’ (1965) encapsulates the whole story. This theme song is the USP of the film.

There were great poet-lyricists like Sahir Ludhianvi, Kaifi Azmi, Shakeel Badayuni, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shailendra, Hasrat Jaipuri, Indeevar etc. who had a command of language and who also knew how to ‘dilute’ their sublime poetry for the masses without killing its spirit and beauty. At the same time, an array of composers such as S D Burman, Madan Mohan, Chitragupt, Roshan, Khayyam, Ravi, Jaidev were composing ethereal compositions. K L Saigal, Rafi, Lata, Asha, Mukesh and Kishore were lending their unique voices to the songs. It was a fertile ground for quality production. Alas, nothing lasts forever. Once that generation departed, film music also started declining. Mind you, creating film music demands team work. Sadly, composers, singers and lyricists of today cannot hold a candle to their distinguished predecessors. The command of Hindi and Urdu has also declined. Back in time, poets often wrote songs, now it’s the pen-pushers.

Directors and producers these days think music in films is unrealistic. Their argument is, do lovers in real life sing while expressing love? It is a valid point. The musical taste and inclination of the listeners have also undergone a sea change. Youngsters have little poetic sensibilities and their perceptions and parameters have changed drastically. Boisterous numbers are more in vogue because janta ko yahi pasand hai (the masses like this). An incongruous item number is more in demand than a thematic song.

Long ago, filmmaker and writer Khwaja Ahmad Abbas aptly wrote that music was a slave to its time. We must accept the fact that times and climes have changed and cinematic values and mores are also no longer the same.

Connoisseurs may rue that they don’t get to listen to songs like Chaudhvin ka chand ho (Chaudhvin Ka Chand, 1960) or Rahein na rahein hum mehka karenge (Mamta, 1966), but they also accept that new values are in vogue and in the age of widespread mediocrity coupled with a decreasing span of serious listening and viewing, whatever you get cannot be classy. It has to be humdrum and banal. 

(Published 07 October 2023, 04:08 IST)

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