I have been writing about Shankar Jaikishan’s music, almost every single day of my life since , late 2013, when I had joined this Facebook page dedicated to Shankar Jaikishan and their music, and will continue to do so, as long as I can.
This is something, which has become an integral part of my daily tasks, which I have to do , lest my day is incomplete.
What I have written, doesn’t even cover a speck of what they have created, and the body of work they have left behind, for millions and millions of music lovers, for so many generations, across so many nations and cultures. My limited knowledge and understanding of music , may have touched upon , just a flimsy layer of the kind of work they have left behind, like the clichéd “ Tip of the ice berg”
Shankar , the senior partner and the founder of this brand called SHANKAR-JAIKISHAN left this mortal world on this day, and left such a void , which can never be filled. What is it that makes Shankar, such a giant in the world of Hindi Film Music? This is a tough question which , perhaps very few can answer with precision. Each answer will be a perception from their point of view , but never a complete assessment of this genius.
One has to take a look at where he came from, what was his background, and then match it with the priceless body of work they left behind. When we assess Shankar’s work, we cannot do it in isolation without Jaikishan’s name and contribution. This is because , they not only had a pact of not to reveal their identity in creations, but also because , they were two bodies and one soul.
Let us take a look at the first question; where did he come from? His question , not only includes his geographical roots, but also about his cultural exposure as well. Without this, our understanding of Shankar will be incomplete and inadequate. He was born in a Telugu family in Hyderabad, and his family did not have any exposure to any music. The locality where he was born, is Dhoolpet, which has nothing cultural about it. His early interests were wrestling and tabla.
These two interests defined his life and style. Disciplined lifestyle and lack of diplomacy ( an euphemism for hypocrisy)
He did not have the luxury of exposure to rich cultural backgrounds like all the other composers before him, his contemporaries and those who came after him. He managed to reach Bombay, and earn an employment with Prithvi Theatre of Prithviraj Kapoor, who was not only a big name in movies but a colossus in the field of theatre as well. He was kind of doing everything , from playing tabla/dholak to doing any odd job which was entrusted to him. His exuberance and energy was his strength , and that is what impressed the great Prithviraj Kapoor.
How he met Jaikishan is a part of the folklore, and within no time they were working together in Prithvi Theatre as musicians and odd job men. How they secured their assignment for Barsat, and what was the impact of Barsat’s music on Hindi cinema is now an indelible part of the History of Hindi and Indian cine music. I will not dwell on this, and would simply like to state a fact that, Shankar was 24 and Jaikishan was 17, and both of them came from very poor backgrounds and underprivileged sections of the society. This is the most important aspect in assessing their body of work.
I am listing their first 10 movies which will give us an idea of the vast canvas of their music. Barsat 1949, Awara, Badal, Nagina, Kalighata ( 1951) Daag, Parbat, and Poonam 1953, Aas, Aah (1954). Barsat and Awara, were two albums which liberated Hindi film music from the shackles of conventions and traditions, and infused a fresh air of energy and exuberance which touched and impressed the most common listener on the street and the experts alike.
Shankar , a man who came from the most uncultured part of Hyderabad, was the founder of this brand, and his vision for music was larger than life canvas, which blended the purest form of Indian classical , Western Classical and Indian folk, to create their own brand “ The Shankar Jaikishan” style, which was the new syntax and architecture of Hindi Film Music.
If one were to describe their contribution to Indian Film music, then it is “ Fresh energy” to the existing melody and richness. Between the two of them, Shankar was the one who was more inclined to give their songs a larger than life feel, rich and full orchestra, multi-layered architecture for their songs. Many of their songs , have this larger than life feel to them, without compromising a bit on the melody and feel of the songs.
Awara , was their very second movie, and its dream sequence is something which remains unmatched till date about its wide range of feel and energy in each part of the song. This song is structured in three parts; first is melancholic where the heroine is in agony, missing her beau, and pleads for him to come and join her, the second part is where the hero is caught in his own inner struggle of which way to go; follow his mentors path or abandon his path and go to his loved one; here the chorus, with wild devilish cries, create a feel of hell, and the rhythm is agonizing with frustration, and the last part is where the lovers meet, where the music is full of blissful feel, with mandolin notes. This kind of wide canvas composition was something unheard of, and could never be replicated by any other composer.
This one song, in their very second movie is their stamp of authority on Hindi Film Music, which swept the listeners and audience off their feet. The title song of Awara, is such a masterpiece, which conveys the theme of vagabond in each note, that the song became an international hit, and is sung and all over the world, including major events like greeting the heads of states, visiting India.
This was and is the stamp of Shankar Jaikishan which changed the very face and feel of Hindi Film Music for ever. The composers who came after Shankar Jaikishan and the filmmakers who could not sign them, had their music as the bench mark. Quite a few composers pitched themselves like wannabe Shankar Jaikishans, and walked the path created by these magical duo.
Why was their music so popular and successful ; again a very tough one to answer. In my humble opinion, they simplified the compositions, making them easy to hum and recall. While they simplified their compositions, their orchestration was very sophisticated, which was not easy to comprehend and replicate. They created multiple layers of music, which gave a depth to the songs, and conveyed the emotions with greater effect.
Shankar was immensely influenced by Western symphony, and its huge orchestration, with many violins, and multilayered music. Western symphonies, seldom have a prominent rhythm side, which is often taken care of by cellos, pianos and other cord sections. Shankar followed this pattern, for Hindi songs as well; he composed tunes based on Indian classical raagas, but embellished these tunes with rich and deep multi-layered Western symphonic orchestra.
Large section of violins was Shankar Jaikishan’s hallmark signature style, as these violins gave the song a special depth , which made the song acquire a third dimension of depth as well.
Very few composers , used choir like Shankar Jaikishan did , many of their songs have such a rich chorus in them, that the entire feel of the song acquired a different feel altogether. He could replace group violins with chorus, and use lead singer as an obbligato, against the chorus singers.
He composed many classical Indian dance numbers and has used group violins and sitars the way no other composer ever did, and enriched the song. All this they did , when the sound engineering and recording facilities were primitive; this makes one wonder, what kind of enormously rich music they could have created , if they had these facilities.
I will take the liberty of citing the same dream sequence song from Awara, to substantiate my point. Each frame of the song was structured on perfect notes by Shankar Jaikishan making the job of the filmmaker all that easy.
Shankar Jaikishan were the best composers for the filmmakers as they facilitated, the narrative with their near perfect music. Cinema is an Audio-visual medium, and audio part consisted of dialogues, background score and songs. Shankar Jaikishan were the best in business, to facilitate the filmmakers vision into musical narrative, thus easing more than 50% of their task.
It was no wonder that, they remained the most sought after composers, from 1951 to 1971. Jaikishan’s death in 1971, changed the situation. But, Shankar , the brave heart, continued his mission, with the same missionary zeal and worked till his last breath, which no other composer had the privilege of; in April 1987. His music retained the same class, and virtuoso, but times had changed.
The law of nature has to catch up with every living thing, and the end had to come. Shankar was unfortunate in his death, as he did not get the honours he so rightfully deserved.
Perhaps his destiny was somewhat similar to that of the great warrior Karna of Mahabharata, who despite being the best , had to live with facing the world’s wrath for no fault of his.
Shankar , you will remain one the best things to have happened to Hindi Film Music, and will be remembered till eternity, as long s your songs are heard and enjoyed.
I end my tribute to the greatest composer ever to have worked in Hindi cinema along with his partner Jaikishan, these lines from their song from Basant Bahar..
sat suro ke sato sagar, sat suro ke sato sagar
man ki umango se jage, man ki umango se jage
too hee bata
too hee bata mai kaise gau behri duniya ke aage
behri duniya ke aage
teri yeh bina abb tere hawale
teri yeh bina abb tere hawale
charno me, charno me tere charno me, charno me
Rest in Peace, Shankar, the Mahadev of Music !