Magic of Shankar-Jaikishan

By..Arun Bajaj

When Shankar Jaikishan made their entry with Barsaat in 1949, the musical space was dominated by giants like Naushad, C Ramchandra , Anil Biswas S D Burman and Hemant Kumar. Waiting in the wings to make a splash were Madan Mohan and O P Nayyar. However, the music of Barsaat followed immediately by Awaara, established the supremacy of the new duo, for a very very long time, in no uncertain terms. 

It would be an interesting study to have an insight into where exactly Shankar Jaikishan excelled – – – and why. I will spell out four key areas as under :-

Selection of the right musical instrument :

Selection of the right singer keeping in view the demand of the composition

In the crafting of matching interludes to expand on the mood of the song and signing it off at a tonal point from where the singer can effortlessly resume to take on the Antara to the next level

Simplifying the melodic structure to a rhythm and pace which would render it hummable even by a layman 

Right musical instrument:

Musical instruments owe their origin to various genre like String family, Brass, Percussion, Wind, Woodwind etc and its is always a tough challenge for any composer to select the right instrument to convey the dominant mood of the screenplay, as perceived by the director. This is usually done by two methods : score of background music which comes in undertones and through use of songs which is blatantly done in overtones. The combined effect of these two methods help in carrying the story forward. 

Music steps in where words fail. One poignant sweep of bow over a violin will convey far more melancholy than a barrage of dialogue by a dying mother. Little strumming on mandolin will communicate oodles of joy and well-being than a verbal explanation of his smile by a happy character.

With this backdrop to appreciate and appraise film music, when you look at the oeuvre of compositions created by Shankar Jaikishan, you are amazed by their ingenuity in not only selecting the right instrument for their compositions but also in choosing the right player to work on those instruments. Now sample some very ingenious use of musical instruments :

Three octave use of Accordion in Awaara hoon in Aawara : melodic use of flute played by Pannalal Ghosh in Main piya teri in Basant Bahar, rhythmic beat of earthern matka in Yaad aayee aadhi raat ko in Kanhaiya, interlude piece on Dilruba in Chali kaun se desh guzariya in Boot Polish, use of sitar in Dil me samake milane na aaye in Kanhaiya, fleeting strains of oboe and fife in Pyar huwa iqrar huwa in Sri 420, use of mandolin in Ghar aaya mera pardesi in Awaara , magical use of violins in Aa ab laut chale in Jis desh mein ganga behti hai, clever use of ghunghroo and tambourine in Tera teer o beeper dil ke aar paar hai in Shararat, use of bagpiper in Bol radha bol in Sangam — these are pure music lessons to understand the virtuosity of these musical instruments and how effectively they can be used to heighten the mood.

Selection of the right singer keeping in view the demand of the composition:

Even though S & J always had the most popular singers like Mukesh, Rafi and Lata, at their beck and call, to do justice with any kind of composition, they always selected the voice most appropriate to the need of the song. Examples:

Picking up Subir Sen for Manzil wohi hai pyar ki (Kathputli)
Selecting Hemant Kumar for Rula kar chal diye (Badshah)
Using Talat Mahmood for Ae mere dil kanhi aur chal (Daag)
Selecting Asha Bhonsle for Dhani chunri pehan (Hare kaanch ki choodiyan)
Zeroing in on Rafi for a Kishore-starrer Ajab hai dastaan teri (Shararat)
Mubarak Begum for Mujhko apne gale laga lo (Humrahi)
Manna Dey for Ye raat bhigi bhigi in Chori Chori
Shamshad Begum for Ek do teen (Awaara)

Crafting of matching interludes:

Listen to the song “Raat gayee aur din aata hai” from Boot Polish. In the interlude piece the mandolin starts strumming after the aspirations of hungry, flat-bellied urchins are vocalized and with each strumming of mandolin string, the aam aadmi’s heart begins pounding. One can almost see the dark, miserable night dissolving into a golden dawn in the midst of slum and deprivation. The imaginative chorus adds luster to the mood of the song and the listener gets transported to a surreal world; and precisely that is what the film-maker wanted the music directors to deliver. That’s one reason why all Raj Kapoor films seem to be woven with wistful magic which no commercial film maker has been able to recreate thus far.

In the interludes of Aja re ab mera dil pukara and Sunte they naam hum, both from Aah, lower octave is blended with higher tones, to create effect of passion and longing. The interludes of Sub kuchh seekha humne (Anari) and the theme song of Awaara, the accordion pieces in three octaves run the entire gamut of emotions and re-kindle the mood of a Nehruvian era of a resurgent India conveying the hopes and frustrations of the youth of fifties.

With these techniques, Shankar Jaikishan changed the grammar of film music altogether. You can now identify a song by guessing whether it is of pre-SJ era or post – SJ ! In retrospect, one can safely conclude that the unique combination of Raj Kapoor, Shailendra, Hasrat, Mukesh, Lata and Shankar Jaikishan was the best thing that ever happened to Hindi film industry.