Where exactly Shankar-Jaikishan excelled !!


Shri 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 :
1. Selection of the right musical instrument..
2. Selection of the right singer keeping in view the demand of the composition..
3. In the crafting of matching interludes to expand on the mood of the song and singing it off at a tonal point from where the singer can effortlessly resume to take on the Antara to the next level..
4. Simplifying the melodic structure to a rhythm and pace which would render it hummable even by a layman..
1. Right musical instrument.. Musical instruments owe their origin to various genre like String family, Brass, Percussion, Wind, Woodwind etc. and it 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 wellbeing 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 composition 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 Harmonium played by V. Balsara in Awaara Hoon in Awaara, melodic use of flute played by Pannalal Ghosh in Main Piya Teri in Basant Bahar, rhythmic beat of earthen matka in Yaad Aai Aadhi Raat Ko in Kanhaiya, interlude piece of dilruba in Chali Kaun Se Desh Guzaria in Boot Polish, use of sitar in Dil Mein Sama Ke Milane Na Aaye in Kanhaiya, fleeting strains of oboe and fife in Pyar Hua Iqraar Hua in Shri 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 Behati Hai, clever use of ghunghroo and tambourine in Tera Teer O Be Peer in Shararat, use of bagpiper in Bol Radha Bol in Sangam…these are pure muisical 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, 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 Wahi Hai Pyaar KI (Kathputli)
Selecting Hemant Kumar for Rula Kar Chal Diye Ek Din (Badshah)
Using Talat Mahmood for Ae Mere Dil Kahin 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 Ai Zindagi (Shararat)
Mubarak Begum for Mujhko Apne Gale Laga Lo (Humrahi)
Manna Dey for Ye Raat Bheegi-Bheegi (Chori-Chori)
Shamshad Begum for Ek Do Teen (Awaara)
Crafting of matching interludes :
Listen to the song “Raat Gayee Phir 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 The Naam Hum both from Aah, lower octave is blended with higher tones, to create effect of passion and longing. The interludes of Sab Kuchh Seekha Humne (Anari) and the theme song of Awaara, Accordion-Harmonium pieces in three octaves run the entire gamut of emotions and re-kindle the mood of Nehruvian era of a resurgent India conveying the hopes and frustrations of the youth of fifties..

4 thoughts on “Where exactly Shankar-Jaikishan excelled !!

  1. Arunji’s examples convey the spirit involved in the hundreds of songs follows by SJ and it is difficult to sort out each song from the bulk. 50s and 60s saw the play of melody and rhythm in tremendous order to claim supremecy in Hindi Film Music thru experimentation, selection of easy wordings, giving touch of music from Arab, French, Beatles, Japanese varying the beauty in their tunes, captivating the human psychology on Indian Sugam sangeet blending it with films which was followed by their contemporaries, particularly in tunes and more importantly in orchestration. They did not crave for supremacy, but gave to the world best in them and in their thinking, which was similar to the common man’s inner feelings who hummed their songs innocently in their daily chores. My tributes go to them for creating faster tunes for sad songs, that reduced the intensity of pangs.


  2. Beautifully written analysis of greatness of shankerjaikishan.some little known pictures like poonam,halaku,rajhut,badal,college girl,mayurpankh could also be added in narrative with specific songs: ex. Ch.Atma in nagina,sharda in pyarmohabbat, kishore in Rangoli & shararat…suman in rajkumar etc.the haunting melodies with integral interludes as well as the take off is their hall mark.either flute in Basant bahar or dholak in his desh mein or mridang in amrapali or sitar in suraj,violins of gunahon ki devta,saxaphone of aarzoo drums of gumnam.add experimentation of going with solo singer in amrapali & aurat.the range is complete.
    If someone could use manna dey to his full capacity- seema,chori chori et al- till gumnam they should be labelled visionaries
    Unbeatable churning of melody .
    They persisisted with kishore when others ignored him in early career.Even though mean not to acknowledge, they gave some of the best tunes to Lata Mangeshkar through out.
    Thanks,the article made my day.
    I grew up on 78 rpm records of aah,aas ,poonam, nagin,bhagi,anarkali etc in my early child hood.SJ are in my system.they are part of my life-1968~1973 along with shilendra.


    1. Thanks for visiting the blog and giving your invaluable comment. Please I will be adding more and more such features and photos contributed by fans of Shanker-Jaikishen.
      Please keep visiting.
      Sudarshan Pandey/Kolkata



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