“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..."
Lata Mangeshkar (in Nasreen Munni Kabeer’s book, Lata Mangeshkar in Her Own Voice)
1949 was a significant year for Lata Mangeshkar in that it marked the beginning of her domination in the world of Hindi film playback singing - a domination that would last several decades. This year also saw the debut of one of the most successful composer duo in Hindi films - Shankar Jaikishan. Over the next 35 years, Lata and SJ collaborated on over 450 songs, many of which are firmly etched in the minds of Hindi film music lovers.
In the first part of this post, I will talk about the songs from the period 1949-59. This was the period when, in my opinion, SJ were at their creative best and Lata at the pinnacle in terms of voice quality. This was also the period when Lata was the main singer for SJ. She sang an unbelievable 65% of all songs composed by SJ during the period. And I really mean ALL songs, including those sung by male singers. During this period there were several SJ soundtracks (Mayurpankh, Kali Ghata, Parbat, Poonam, Aas, Aurat, Patrani, Halaku, etc.) where every track had Lata’s voice - solo, chorus backed, or with other co-singers. For this post I am focusing only on solos and chorus backed songs of Lata, although I believe that when it came to composing romantic duets for Lata there were very few composers who could come close.
Although people largely believe that Aayega Aanewala from Mahal that made Lata, I don’t think that’s entirely correct. True that the song is a masterpiece, but it was the simultaneous release of many outstanding soundtracks in a single year (1949) that established Lata Mangeshkar as a singer. And I also think in terms of popularity, the songs of Barsaat had a huge role to play in creating the legend of Lata Mangeshkar. With 10 songs by Lata, each a gem, SJ’s Barsaat is one of the most impactful debuts ever by a composer. I can never get tired of listening to the songs of this film.
Following the super-success of Barsaat, SJ got a number of assignments outside the RK banner where they came up with compositions that established the unique SJ stamp -simple, but extremely melodious tunes embellished with lush orchestration. Given below is a random sample of SJ compositions from the year 1951 sung by Lata. These songs demonstrate that the singer-composer duo was equally adept at sad songs and light, dance numbers.
Each and every soundtrack SJ produced in the 50s had many lovely songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar. The only exception was RK Films’ Boot Polish in 1953. It was a big surprise because both Raj Kapoor and SJ had by now become staunch Lata loyalists. But this remained an aberration because Lata continue to be the main female singer for SJ till the mid 60s. Here are some more of my favourite Lata-SJ songs from the early fifties.
In the following song from Pooja, notice the prelude music, which formed the basis of a song from Seema a year later (Tu Pyar Ka Sagar Hai). There are many instances where SJ developed a tune used in the background music or preludes/interludes in song into full fledged songs.
In 1955 came Seema. I think it is a fairly significant film in SJ’s oeuvre, primarily because of two songs, both sung by Lata. This was the first time SJ composed something that was semi-classical. The first was Manmohana Bade Jhoote, a composition in Raag Jaijaiwanti. This (in my opinion) is one of the best (if not the best) Lata-SJ song of all time. Starting off with a lovely alaap, the songs highlights are the wonderful taans that Lata negotiates so effortlessly. The other noteworthy song from this film is Suno Chhoti Si Gudiya Ki, a composition in Raag Bhairavi. While the song is sung well by Lata, the real star of this song is Ustad Ali Akbar Khan who demonstrates one of the best use of Sarod in Hindi film music.
1956 was another big year for the Lata-SJ combo, who produced 50 songs this year. This meant that roughly one out of every 4 songs sung by Lata this year was composed by SJ. The 7 soundtracks SJ produced this year are in my opinion their very best. My personal choice includes Raj Hath, Patrani, Chori Chori , Halaku and the biggest of them all - Basant Bahar.
The producers of Basant Bahar had taken a big risk by taking on SJ as the composers instead of the favourites Naushad or Anil Biswas. While there was no questioning SJ’s ability to provide great, popular music, but they hadn’t demonstrated enough their mastery over songs based on classical music, which was so essential to this film. But see, what SJ produced - a soundtrack that made classical music so accessible to people! This was a soundtrack that can keep both the purists and laymen happy. Every song from this film is a masterpiece, but the Lata song I love Main Piya Teri, which is based on SJ’s favorite raga - Bhairavi - and has some amazing flute interludes by Pannalal Ghosh.
This clip includes the lovely flute prelude which unfortunately is not included in most audio releases of this song.
In my book, the following song from Halaku ranks very high on the melody quotient. The fluidity of the tune is brought alive by Lata Mangeshkar’s dulcet voice.
In order to round-off this write up on the first 10 years of the SJ-Lata collaboration, I select one song per year from 1957-59, each belonging to a different genre
First, a soothing lullaby …
Next, a light, romantic number …
Finally, a sad song. For me the high point of this song is the way Lata renders the second line of the mukhda - Koi Dekhe…
In the next part of this post, I will talk about Lata Mangeshkar and Shankar Jaikishan in the 60s and beyond.