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Classical Music in Bollywood

In the Post-independence era wherein Hindi became the national language that increased the sense of nationalism in films lending to the feeling of a unified nation, the Bollywood music acted as a unifying factor for the nation. Incorporating various styles from various traditions—both Hindustani and Carnatic Classical, religious and folk music, the film music saw international music influences from Latin to Chinese to reggae. With the time the Indian films became more widely known internationally especially for their musical repertoire.

While Playback music became the heartbeat of the Indian cinema, the playback singers and the music directors became a huge component of the films, who came from a variety of backgrounds. Some being classically trained, others belonging to a folk tradition, while some were self-taught. Some of the Notable music directors being  S D Burman, Naushad, Khaiyyam and R D Burman, while the popular playback singers who reigned the industry were Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammad Rafi, Manna De,Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar predominantly.

Indian film music from the early 20th century and until the 1960s, had a heavy influence of Indian Classical Music showcasing a large number of scales (Ragas) and Rhythm patterns (Talas) they being its characteristic features. Most of the composers chose the popular Ragas like ‘Asavari’, ‘Bilawal’, ‘Kalyan’, ‘Kafi’, ‘Bhairav’ and ‘Khamaj’ while at some points rare ragas like ‘Nayaki’, ‘Kirwani’, ‘Shivaranjani’, ‘Megh’ have also been utilized.

Naushad Saheb is considered the pioneer of his times to introduce the classical melodies and the folk lore in the film music thereby giving it many dimensions reaching the pinnacle of popularity during the 1940s, 50s and 60s. He created some of the musical masterpieces. In Pakeezah his skills in orchestration and background music were par excellent, as he used several attractive ‘Thumris’ with Lataji’s hauntingly beautiful ‘Aalaps” creating a  fine blend of rhythm and melody. “Ek shahenshah ne banwa ke haseen” in the film ‘Taj Mahal’ based on ‘Raga lalit’ was a beautiful morning melody, while “Man tarapat hari darasan” a bhajan composed in ‘Raga Malkauns are still popular amongst the masses.

1970s and early-1980s was the era of Khayyam Saheb who gave memorable music, his composition ‘Dil Cheez kya hai’ in ‘Raga Bihag’ happens to be Ashaji’s most memorable performances in Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan.

In early 80s and 90s, Pt.Hari Prasad Chaurasia the renowned flutist and the Santoor maestro Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma collaborated as the duo Shiv – Hari, who were nominated thrice for the Filmfare award. In ‘Silsila’ one of their biggest hits they amalgamated classical melodies of ‘Raga Pahadi’, with the folk tunes, mesmerizing their listeners. The Classical Duo definitely left a challenge for future Bollywood musicians to keep up the standards.

As the time passed, almost a quarter of the songs composed by music directors Shankar-Jaikishan(1953- 71), Kalyanji-Anandji  (1960-81), R. D. Burman  (1971-81), A. R. Rahman  (1992-2013, and Pritam Chakraborty (2004-2013) were influenced by new musical genres, that they amalgamated to create Bollywood music.

A.R. Rehman amalgamated the elements of Hindustani and Carnatic music and Qawwali styles with Western classical and electronic music to create unique timbre, forms and instrumentation, thus appealing his global audiences. Rehman’s first soundtrack for ‘Roja’ based on Raga ‘Khamaj’ was listed in Times “10 Best Soundtracks” in 2005. With Jodha Akbar’s  “Jashn-E-Baharaa” he created a tranquil-feel with stringed instrumental, while in ‘Khwaja mere khwaja’ he aesthetically incorporated the traditional classical Qawwali style depicting the Mehfil- e Sama in Akbar’s royal abode.

Over the time traditional Indian music genres and raga nuances were imbibed to create iconic melodies even in the most commercial cinema. Sanjay Leela Bansali adapted the song ‘Albela Sajan Ayo Re’ from an original  Khyal Bandish in Raga ‘Ahir Bhairav’ in his film Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, while in Bajirao Mastani  he churned out ‘Aayat’ from Raga Bhopali. While Preetam Chakroborty tried his hands on experimenting to create a modern Thumri and ‘Aoge Jab Tum O Jasna’ rendered by Us. Rashid Khan topped the chart busters. ‘Aan Milo Sajna’ a ‘Thumri’ rendered by Pt.Ajay Chakroborty and Parween Sultanaji from the film Gadar, was indeed a great success, which depicted two lovers who call to unite. All it required was these master composers and their artistry to present classical music in its simplest form to create melodies that touched hearts…


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