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Shankar, The Legendary Music Director


by-Rajan Shah

SHANKAR the legendary music director of the Shankar Jaikishan fame was the lone survivor as destiny took away his partner in 1971. There was a huge void in his personal life as well as the music industry as a whole. He faced the music alone. He held on to himself and kept the SJ flag flying. Betrayals, accusations, broken promises, all this he had seen them all, but the man with a heart of steel, refused to crumble. His pride held him in good shape, so did his confidence.

Shankar Singh Raghuvanshi, fondly known as Shankar, knew only three passions in life- tabla, gaana and kasrat. Harmless pleasures these all but Shankar Singh Raghuvansi was of an age when books ought to have been more important as he was only a child. But unlike most children he never studied, only indulged in his passions. His mother often despaired “Yeh to gaanewali ke piche hi tabla bajaayegaa. These turned out to be Prophetic words of sorts. The little boy grew up to be a part of the duo whose music took the film industry by storm. The unbeatable combination of Shankar-Jaikishen rose from the new horizions in the late fourties. Their music still mesmerizes us….Jiya bekaraar hai, yeh mere diwanapan hai, Yeh aasoon mere dilki….

“It all began for the little Shankar in Hyderabad. Those were the days of the Nizam and Maharajas. Their influence was strong and music pervaded every house; it was a part of their lives and inseparable culture. For the little boy too, music was all that mattered. And he was attracted to anything that was connected with it, be it acting or dancing. Though his parents wanted him to study and do well, he didn’t care about books. One day, while passing by the house of a nobleman, he heard the strains of the melodious voice of a singer, Saraswati Bai. But it was spoilt by some cacophonous sound which was supposed to be that of a tabla. It was unbearable for the little boy. He rushed into the mehfil, pushed aside the incompetent tabla player and took over. It all sounds very filmy, but after the little boy finished, wah-wahs poured from everybody who were present there. .

Mumbai, then Bombay was then the centre of theatre activity. So he decided to come down to try his luck. He wanted to join the theatre–perform, sing, dance, play instruments. He learnt kathakali from Krishnan Kutty, Kathak from the Jaipur Gharana and Manipuri and Bharat Natyam as well. Slowly he also learnt to play the piano, the accordion, the sitar and the harmonium quite well. Fate somewhere during this time introduced him to Papaji (Prithviraj Kapoor).

According to Shankar, Papaji looked like some Greek God. At that time he had just started his Prithvi Theatres and one day he called Shankar over to witness a play called Shakuntala that he was staging. He had enrolled many great musicians for this play and while he was watching it, he suddenly asked Shankar to go on stage and accompany the Sarod player with the tabla. He later learnt that he was none other than the great Ali Akbar Khan). After the show, Papaji called Shankar and embraced him. He even asked Shankar to join Prithvi Theatres.

“Jaikishen was a frequent visitor to Prithvi, but it was at a friend’s place that they first met . There were instant good vibes and they slowly became good friends. Shankar introduced him to Papaji and he too began working at Prithvi. Raj Kapoor was also working with his father in those days. When he began Aag, SJ helped him with the music.

“Jai and Shankar decided to be partners. RajKapoor at that time, was working on Barsaat. They composed a tune for him, Jiya bekaraar hai. RK loved it. That was their first major break. None of the two even dreamt of becoming a music director, and suddenly they got a break and it was all like a dream come true. Here they met Shailendra, who was a close friend of Raj and also Hasrat Jaipuri who was with Prithvi. They formed a group and our foursome clicked. Shailendra and Hasrat wrote the lyrics while SJ composed the tunes.”

Barsaat broke records. Then followed the deluge — Nagina, Mayur Pankh, Badal, Badshah. It was all so unexpected. A pair of eighteen year old youngsters causing existing edicts to tremble. Shankar-Jaikishen were creating a furore. They had descended upon the domain of Naushad, S.D. Burman, Husanlal Bhagatram, Ghulam Mohammed, O.P. Nayyar. The seniors were at first sceptical, Yeh ladke kitne din chal sakte hain , was what they thought and discusssed. But the matter worsened for the seniors.They got worried. But C. Ramchandra was one man who always appreciated the young duo. He used to tell the others, “Yeh ladke hum sabko hairan karke rekhenge. Hindustan mein dhoom machayenge.”

The Shankar-Jaikishen era had begun. The old order was displaced. Given their propensity to compose songs that appealed to both the box-office and people’s tastes, it wasn’t strange or surprising that almost every top hero insisted on Shankar-Jaikishen as part of his contract. With Raj Kapoor there was Awara, Aah, Shri 420, Boot Polish, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, Sangam, Mera Naam Joker. Shammi Kapoor danced around hills and dales and beautiful gardens teasing his pretty heroines, while Shankar-Jaikishen’s music kept mercurial pace in Junglee, Janwar, Badtameez.

Rajendra Kumar rarely worked in a film that didn’t have Shankar-Jaikishen on the credits. Aas Ka Panchi, Zindagi, Sasural, made the ‘jubilee’ hero, just because of Shankar-Jaikishen.

As partners, Shankar had a perfect tuning with his junior partner. Their relationship strengthened over time. They shared instant empathy, an inherent understanding and a deep bond of friendship. Whenever they both wanted to compose a particular song, they would toss a coin to decide who would do it. Tensions between them were only over music but they would always sort them out. When Shankar composed Nanhe munhe bachche teri muthi mein kya hai for Boot Polish, Jai didn’t like the tune. But Shankar convinced him otherwise. In fact, Boot Polish as planned earlier, was to be a song less film. Later Raj kapoor decided to add songs.

They always trusted each other completely. They never listened to those who poisoned their ears about the other. And it was like that till Jaikishans death. It is absolutely untrue that they grew apart after Sangam.

“Being basically a good Gujarati businessman, Jai also handled all the business matters. He was a financial juggler and did his job well. When he died, Shankar was shattered. For 3-4 years after his death, he could not work…could not build up the mood. And people tried to provoke him by saying things like their work was mainly Jai’s doing. But Shankar refused to speak out in retaliation.

“After Barsaat, Shankar bought an M.G. Racer Car. It was the first car between the four of them. Jai bought his own, later. Since it was a two-seater, Shankar and Jai would draw back the hood, sit in front while Shailendra and Hasrat would fit in behind . Later, Jai and Shankar both, bought Chevrolets. For the Filmfare Awards function they would drive in their Chevrolets and enter in style.

In many ways they revolutionized the industry. They were amongst the first who thought of giving due respect to the Press, calling for Press Conferences,…hosting parties. They were never afraid of change. Barsaat was the first film where Lata sang all the songs. Before that, she would be signed for only one or two of them per film as she had a very thin voice as compared to other to singers of those days for example Noorjehan, Shamshad, Zohra and Suraiya. Those days Manna Dey sang mainly bhajans. SJ took him for light songs like Chori Chori, Aa ja sanam and Yeh raat bheegi bheegi, which changed things for him. Mukeshs popularity also grew especially after he sang Yeh mera diwanapan hai for Yahudi.

Shanker had few setbacks too. Like Raj Kapoor’s betrayal. Dost Dost Na raha was one of Shankar’s contribution to Raj Kapoor’s Sangam. Perennially haunting, stirring, it exuded pathos. While at that stage no one would have dreamt that the Raj Kapoor-Shankar-Jaikishen team would one day not exist, years later the ‘dosti’ was not the same. They parted professional ways. Shankar insists he wasn’t upset when his ‘dost’ signed up Lakshikant-Pyarelal for Bobby.

Their songs have been translated in Chinese. Russian, German and even Arabic. How ever Rajkapoors son wanted some change. Thus they chose other music directors.

Another jolt came from Prasad Productions, whose films had been transformed from mediocre family dramas to musical hits….Teri pyari pyari surat to (Sasural), Jaoon Kahan bata ae dil (Chhoti Bahen)….all this courtesy, Shankar-Jaikishen. Even G.P. Sippy didn’t take after Brahmachari and Andaz.

Most of Shailendra’s lyrics were Shankar’s compositions. They both complemented each other perfectly. “When they were discussing the music of Shri 420, Rajkapoor was describing a scene. Shankar instantaneously sang out Ramaiya vatavaiya, which in Telugu means ‘Ramaiya, will you come?” And Jai spontaneously gave his rejoinder, ‘Maine dil tujhko diya’. It was the beginning of this iconic song. When they were driving past a bus-stop and Jai saw a pretty girl, he turned around instinctively to take a look. That’s how Mud mud ke na dekh (Shri 420) was born. Recalls Shankar, Shailendra was great. He wrote beautifully. People would cry at the beauty of his lyrics.

From small beginnings in a South Indian lodge at Parel to a well-appointed home at the ‘Beacan at Churchgate, Shankars success story was truly established. . His rehearsal room at Famous Studio in mahalaxmi still remains. Many moons ago, hordes of producers thronged its long corridors, waiting patiently with wads of notes, hoping to entice the two gentlemen into signing a contract. And it wasn’t easy.

posted by Lakshmi Kanta Tummala



I am one of the lakhs of fans of Shankar-Jaikishan.

3 thoughts on “Shankar, The Legendary Music Director

  1. Most film albums composed by Shankerji in 1972 were not up to the famous SJ level. Only Beiman was an exception. The reason was that he was crestfallen due to Jaikishan’s death and was all set to leave the industry by completing the assignments anyhow. But the success of Beiman gave him confidence. He composed excellent music in Naina (1973), Archna (1973), Vachan (1974), Resham ki Dori (1974), Sajish (1975), Sanyasi (1975) and Do Jhoot (1975). Sanysi was a big musical hit. I remember I was a teenager then and the music of Sanyasi was more popular than R.D. Burman’s Sholay. But Shankerji did not get more films till 1979. Despite his superb performance in Garam Khoon (1979), Eeentka Jawab Patthar (1981) where he introduced disco music, and Chorni (1982) and even in Kanch ki Diwar (1986) he was almost forgotten but by a few fans like me. It is true that out of the 40 films he composed music for , only 20 were musical hits. Not because he was less talented than Jaikishan, but because he believed in perfection and less interested in popular tunes. Both Shanker and Jaikishan were equally talented only that Shankerji was more versatile than Jaikishan in Raga and orchestra while Jaikishan had cutting edge over him in tunes more popular in nature. A Shanker number differred from Jaikishan number only in degree, not in kind. They lived in each other’s heart. i have observed that though they recorded separately during the 60s (due to workload) a Shanker number had more symphony than a Jaikishan number while both believed in jaaz and fusion and surprisingly both have same style. They both imitated each others’ style deliberately and altered the lyricists and it was difficult to say which was composed by Shanker and which was by Jaikishan.



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