Violin maestro Ernest Menezes plays the notes of his musical memories
What’s the similarity between the movies ‘Howrah Bridge’ and ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’? Any guesses? It’s a man called Ernest Menezes. He played the violin for both these movies and in countless more.
Music Plus met with ace violinist Menezes to get into a conversation about music, movies and more. The man immerses himself in the world of music, so much that his melodious violin can be heard right from the gate.
Practising his skills religiously, the 78-year-old began his career with O.P Nayyar’s classic ‘Howrah Bridge’ in 1958. Dedicating 10 years of his life in the pursuit of learning the art of playing the violin, Menezes stepped into the world of music at the age of 18.
“Every day, I would practise for five hours in the morning and then again for five hours in the evening Maybe that’s the reason why I can still play at this age,” said Menezes.
Having mastered the art of playing the string instrument from his uncle, Menezes became popular for his exceptional work. With his uncle’s training and encouragement, Menezes was introduced to the music industry to support his family. Hailing from a modest background, Menezes found his calling in the violin.
The talented violinist has worked with the likes of O.P Nayyar, Shankar Jaikishan, Roshan, Madan Mohan and others. Making a debut with celebrated music composer O.P Nayyar was a blessing for an 18-year-old Menezes. Nayyar, who was known to be extremely strict, was every musician’s delight. In an era when producers would refrain from compensating musicians, Nayyar would take make sure that the musicians’ payments were cleared first. He was the pioneer in fixing rates for the musicians.
“He always said that he was in the industry because of the musicians. No music director has ever said this before. He was strong-headed and always knew what he wanted. Nayyar Saab would finish recording in one or two takes. Once Rafi Saab asked him for one more take and he denied it because he felt the song was ok,” recollects Menezes.
Having extensively worked with Shankar-Jaikishan, Menezes possesses an insider’s view of the legendary Raj Kapoor’s work regime.
Menezes added, “Raj Saab was a visionary. He had learnt music when he was young and that’s why he could explain what he wanted exactly to Shankar-Jaikishan. For background score, he would use pieces of music which were used in his earlier movies just to get the exact music he wanted. Raj Saab had a unique working style. He would explain a scene that needs to be shot in a different way to people and then shoots it in a completely different way. For all his musical sessions, Raj Saab would travel to his farmhouse in Loni along with composing team to work in peace.”
According to Menezes, The Raj Kapoor Films theme song is actually a classical waltz called ‘Waves of the Danube’. “Raj Saab had paid the International Performing Rights Society a handsome amount of ₹35,000 to use the waltz. Such was the integrity of the great man,” expresses Menezes.
It’s not a coincidence that his favourite movie soundtrack is ‘Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi’. He had worked with Shankar-Jaikishan on every song in the movie including the famous ‘Ajeeb Dastan Hai Yeh’. Lamenting the loss of Jaikishan, Salil Chowdhary, Roshan and R.D Burman for their early deaths, Menezes fondly recalls how Jaikishan composed entire songs out of counter melodies composed by his assistants.
Other than Jaikishan, Menezes has had the opportunity to work both R.D and S.D Burmans. He reminiscences the enriching experience of those times. While RD was ahead of his time, SD was more rooted in folk.
“Both had same assistants, Manoriji, my uncle Joe and Gomes. All were world-class musicians who helped shape the music of that time. Though RD was a fun-loving guy, he was moody. He would change the song completely even if a little part was not right. RD had the best music room at the time. He used to compose, record and listen to the songs in his room. His rhythm team was the best in the industry,” opines Menezes.
In 1986, Menezes along with three others would play at Hotel Oberoi for six months on the 3rd-floor lobby. Zubin Mehta came to Mumbai with his orchestra for a concert. He was staying at the Oberoi on the 21st floor. “Zubin complimented me and told me that he could hear us play even on the 21st floor,” recalled Menezes. Speaking of another incident, Menezes remembered how Odissi dancer Protima Bedi her Italian friend began dancing to the waltz music while we were playing at the hotel.
Menezes has always been at the forefront to help fellow musicians in the industry. It was during his term as the Secretary of the Cine Musicians Association in 1995-97 when musicians got their biggest pay hike. Later, Menezes was also elected as the Secretary of the Film Federation of India. “I fought for artists’ rights and what helped in my fight was that all the producers knew me.”
Looking back at his life and his career, Menezes confesses, “I am not very intelligent and I wish I had done many more things in my career but I couldn’t. I also feel that I could have been much better. Back then, I didn’t know the tricks of the trade and I still don’t know much. But, I still won’t go and beg for work.”
With his never-ending passion for the violin, the man is forever ready to play his favourite tunes. At the end of the conversation, the maestro played ‘Yaad Kiya Hai Dil Ne Kaha Ho Tum’ sung by the legendary Hemant Kumar and composed by his favourite Shankar-Jaikishan.