Lakshmi Kanta Tummala
Maestro Shankarsingh Ramsingh Thantri was born in Hyderabad into a Telugu family on October 15, 1922. His father was Ramsingh and mother, Ellamma. He was the elder brother of twin sisters, Gangamma and Gowramma. Gangamma had no children of her own and Gowramma had two daughters, Janaki and Rani. Janaki and her younger sister Rani are married to Anella brothers and live in Hyderabad and Secunderabad, respectively. Janaki has two daughters and four sons, Rani a daughter and son.
On completion of his 10th grade education, with his great interest in fine arts, Shankar went on to learn the tabla and classical dance, both with a high degree of excellence. Raja Dhanrajgir of Hyderabad encouraged Shankar to accompany dancers Hemavathi and Satyanarayana on a national tour. It ended at Mumbai in 1945 where he found a job at the famous Prithvi Theatres founded by the well known stage and screen actor Prithviraj Kapoor who was the father of the Raj Kapoor, working as a staff musician playing tabla and acting cameo roles. Shankar was also looking for assignments to compose music for movies and met Jaikishan at a director’s office, also waiting to be interviewed for employment. Shankar found him a Jaikishan a job at the Prithvi Theatres, as a harmonium player. They struck an immediate friendship that lasted all through their lives.
Shankar once had an opportunity to accompany Ustad Ali Akbar Khan on the Sarod as the scheduled tabla player failed to show up. He was asked to play a five minute tabla solo. The audience was greatly impressed and this was the momentous beginning of his stellar career as a great composer. While working at Prithvi Theatres, Raj Kapoor, who was making his second movie, Barsaat, gave Shankar an opportunity to compose music for the film. Shankar readily accepted with a condition that Jaikishan be his music partner, to which RK agreed. Thus, started their joint career and the birth of the Shankar Jaikishan banner that brought them closer to form a unique relationship that was stronger than any. Shankar was like a brother, parent, adviser, business and professional partner and well wisher to Jaikishan who always looked up to him with utmost love, regard and respect.
With his music partner, Shankar created and rewrote the history of Hindi film music that changed the role of music in movies. Against all odds, he gave a boost to Lata’s career by having her sing ten of the eleven songs filmed on three female characters in their very first movie, thus establishing her career and Lata never looked back! SJ’s very first venture, Barsaat broke all norms in composing music. Their history making debut set a record that has yet to be broken. The record industry realised that film music has become a major component in movie business. In Famous Studios, Mahalaxmi in Mumbai, Shankar Jaikishan composed music in every genre possible: classical, semi-classical, dance music, ghazals, bhajans, folk, qawwalis, romantic, sad (touch of pathos), marching tunes, national, patriotic, street songs, chorus, Western style, cabaret songs, Arabian, Latin American, jazz, rock, pop, etc. They even recorded private albums of which, Raaga Jazz Style and the theme for The Everest are well known. Being proud of his heritage, Shankar introduced Telugu words in his songs that became instant winners. With their immense talent and innovation, the SJ banner flew high earning them domestic and international fame and name.
Being philanthrophic in nature, Shankar took time off from his very busy schedule to contribute to national causes. In 1970, along with his partner Jaikishan, he arranged a Shankar Jaikishan Nite at Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai. The gala evening, organized by Raj Kapoor, raised more than fourteen crores for the Indian Naval Officers. The Indian government showed its appreciation by bestowing the Padmashree on Shankar Jaikishan. When Shankar was first given the news that the government was going to decorate him with the national award, Shankar insisted that he would accept it if Jaikishan be included. That’s how great his value for friendship was!
Shankar held high moral values. He gave importance to honesty, gratitude and loyalty. Having been given his first break into movies as a full fledged composers, Shankar felt gratitude towards RK all his life. Even when Lata Mangeshkar would not work with him for an extended period, he never held it against her. He was never one to harbor grudges against anyone. Shankar scored music for his friend, actor/producer/director, Chandrashekhar for his movie Street Singer under the psuedonym Suraj so as to not deny any remuneration for his partner Jaikishan. He also composed music for his one time domestic helper, producer/lyricist Sudhakar Sharma for his movie Gori at a nominal fee of Re.1. Shankar never demanded a fee for his compositions and was very cooperative with his producers. Whatever high remuneration the SJ banner received was generously paid to their orchestra. Being a man of high work ethics and a thorough professional, his work was always delivered in a timely fashion that was appreciated by all producers.
The special friendship that Shankar Jaikishan had and their immense success in their profession was the envy of all in the industry that led to a lot of fictitious stories spread about a rift between the two. Non of this could change the strong bond that held them through all their lives. Shankar was shattered after losing his close friend Shailendra and his partner Jaikishan. After Jaikishan’s passing, Shankar offered unconditional moral support to his family.
Just as he was about to gather his spirits and carry on with his work under the banner he had created with Jaikishan, he was let down by many of his close friends and associates. Despite all the negativity happening in his professional life, Shankar forged on ahead with his head held high and remained in the business till his last breath. Never did he utter a word against his detractors or disloyal friends. Although his so called “friends” might have deserted him at the time of his need for moral support, his true and ardent fans will always remember him and his music forever. A consummate musician, he spent a major portion of his life devoted and dedicated to music which gave him the utmost happiness, peace and solace.
It seems like Shankar was born into this world to create great music that offered immense pleasure to millions of fans worldwide, but exited a loner with a heavy heart. An unsung hero was he. His mortal body might have left us years ago, but his spirit lingers on with those who love him. RIP.