Now isn’t that an interesting topic to discuss and debate? This is not an issue where we are likely to get a unanimous verdict. The song-lists will vary depending on the listener’s age, attitude and aptitude. Some would choose songs that are close to their heart for personal reasons; some would pick numbers representing different musical styles and some would just go for the most popular songs that they admire.
Here is my approach towards this query. For me, the 5 songs that define Hindi film music are the 5 songs that would encapsulate the entire evolution of Hindi film music,right from the time it began way back in the 1930s to its current status in the post-Millennium era.
So here’s my Top 5 song-list.
- Jab dil hi toot gaya – Film: Shahjehan, Year: 1946, Singer: Kundan Lal Saigal, Composer: Naushad
- Barsaat mein humse mile tum – Film: Barsaat, Year: 1949, Singer: Lata Mangeshkar, Composers: Shankar-Jaikishan
- Aaja aaja main hoon pyar tera – Film: TeesriManzil, Year: 1966, Singers: Mohd. Rafi, Asha Bhosle, Composer: Rahul Dev Burman
- Roop tera mastana– Film: Aradhana, Year: 1969, Singer: Kishore Kumar, Composer: S.D. Burman
- Jai ho – Film: Slumdog Millionaire, Year: 2009, Singer-Composer: A.R. Rahman
Here’s the reasoning.
Jab dil hi toot gaya
Film: Shah Jehan
Singer: Kundan Lal Saigal
The early Hindi film-music of the 1930s and 40s had a distinct identity. It mostly relied on Hindustani classical and folk-tunes; had sparse orchestration and had a surplus of sentimental melancholic songs. KundanLalSaigal’snasal tinged voice was undoubtedly the star voice of that era.
When Saigal sang Jab dil hi toot gaya under Naushad’s baton in the 1946-film Shah Jehan, he was fighting a losing battle against alcoholism. In a few months after the film’s release, he bade final goodbye to this world. A legend goes that it was Saigal’s last wish that the song should be played at his funeral!
Thus Jabdil hi toot gaya became the swansong for Saigal’s brief but path-breaking career. Not only did it represent a sad waste of talent; it also represented the end of an era for the typical Pre-Independence style of singing and songs.
Barsaat mein humse mile tum
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
This song represented the onset of the Post-Independence era. Its lyrics (which meant ‘You met me in the rains!’) could well be looked at as a metaphor; for Barsaat was the meeting point for so many artistic talents.
Musically speaking, it was the meeting point of Lata Mangeshkar and Shankar-Jaikishan. The Mangeshkar-girl had already made her mark through a mesmerizing Aaye gaaanewala in Mahel, but it was S-J’s Barsaat which truly catapulted her to the position of No.1 playback singer in the industry. She never relinquished that top spot and her voice became the prototype ‘heroine’s voice’ in Hindi cinema since.
The young composer-duo of Shankar-Jaikishan went on to establish the most popular composing style of the 50s and 60s. Their style complemented the mellow Indian melodic core with a forceful Indo-Western orchestration. The norms set by S-J’s music remained popular right till the 1990s and were followed by many important latter-day composers such as Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Kalyanji-Anandji, Anu Malik and Nadeem-Shravan.
Aaja aaja main hoon pyar tera
Film: Teesri Manzil
Singers: Mohd. Rafi, Asha Bhosle
Composer: Rahul Dev Burman
Aaja aaja main hoon pyar tera from 1966-film Teesri Manzil ushered in another new era. It was the breakthrough composition for Rahul DevBurman, a man who would go on to give a new dimension to Hindi film music with his innovative fusion of various musical styles. Pancham had debuted five years before Teesri Manzil but his early compositions had failed to separate him from his father Sachin Dev Burman’s towering shadow.
Teesri Manzil’s songs, particularly Aaja aaja showed Pancham in a different light as a composer who could break norms and compose some rousing, rhythmic Westernized tunes. In fact, these tunes were so unusual for those times that stalwart singers AshaBhosle and Mohd. Rafi had to rehearse them many times before they could record them! The zingy electric guitar, the delirious drums and the swashbuckling Shammi Kapoor…. Aaja aaja represented the essence of the 60s Hindi film music. Its success paved the way for Pancham’s musical genius to break new grounds in the 70s and the 80s.
Roop tera mastana
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Composer: S.D. Burman
1969-film Aradhana and the song Roop tera mastana represent another important milestone in the evolution of Hindi film music. True, it is the song which began the superstar-innings for Rajesh Khanna, but even more importantly, it is the song which resurrected Kishore Kumar’s singing career.
Kishore Kumar’s smoulderingly passionate rendition of Roop tera mastana (and for that matter his other Aradhana-renditions like Mere sapnonki rani and Kora kaagaz tha yeh man mera) brought in a new macho romanticism. His easy-going, straight-to-heart singing now became the preferred style over Mohd. Rafi’s more intricate yet nuanced style. As a singer, for almost two decadesKishore had stayed in Rafi’s shadows. There were even times (as in Ragini and Shararat) when composers had used Rafi’s playback for his screen persona. But Aradhana’s success changed all that. Kishore Kumar was the new rage of nation and he emerged as the voice, who would dominate the 70s and the 80s.
Film: Slumdog Millionaire
Singer-Composer: A.R. Rahman
I know that Jai ho from Slumdog Millionaire is a controversial choice as it is neither just a Hindi song, nor a song from a Hindi film. But I look at it as the song truly representing contemporary Bollywood music’s hybrid nature and its global impact. Every musical norm – be it lyrics, composition, orchestration or rendition – has changed dramatically over the last decade.
If one artiste is to be credited for this mind-boggling paradigm shift, it would have to be A.R. Rahman. With his genius, this Mozart from Madras has blurred the musical boundaries between Bollywood, Kollywood and Hollywood. He has changed Hindi film music like no one has. His critics may be right when they say that under his influence Hindi film music has no longer remained Hindi (or Hindustani) in its essence.
But it is not Rahman alone who has caused this change. Things like satellite TV, internet and economic liberalization have exposed today’s audience to a multitude of musical genres. This process has dramatically altered the tastes and trends in India’s or for that matter every country’s popular music.
Rahman might have composed many better and much more brilliant compositions as compared to Jai ho, but none surpasses the song in terms of its historic significance. Its Oscar-win was Hollywood’s admiring nod to Bollywood music’s infectious appeal.
“From the firmly rooted to the Indian earth Jab dil hi toot gaya and Barsaat mein humse mile tum, to increasingly westernized Aaja aaja and Roop tera mastana, and finaly to the free-flying globalized Jai ho, it is an interesting journey which captures the major artistic influences and milestones in Hindi film music’s evolution. That’s why these 5 songs define Hindi film music to me!”