Shankar Jaikishan – the name itself is so lyrical and inspiring that none is surprised that the music director duo created some of the greatest songs ever for Hindi film screen. If Shankar was named after the great Hindu deity of dance and Jaikishan’s name was the very embodiment of God of music, such a lethal combination of blessed talent had to be conjurers of exemplary notes. Obviously, when they captured the music lovers’ imagination and hearts with mesmerising array of melodies it didn’t surprise anyone since it was always expected of their formidable ability.
If Naushad exuded classical charm, Sachin Dev Burman exemplified the Himalayan tranquillity and O. P. Nayyar executed nature’s countless rhythms, then Shankar Jaikishan (SJ) duplicated various colours of the seasons in their enticing compositions. From high brow symphonies to rustic ballads, they had enthralling masterpieces to bind every listener’s heart in delightful ecstasy. Their years at the great Prithvi Theatre made them understand how music could be utilised to heighten the dramatic elements and this intrinsic talent of using sound to convey subtle emotions won them mass adulation without difficulty.
What compels attention in most SJ creations are the intricate and elaborate introductory pieces that not only set the mood and tone but also became tour-de-force of the melody. Though SJ conducted huge orchestras, they always ensured that the distinctive sounds of different instruments came forth with immaculate clarity without distorting the harmony of the overall composition. Listen to the harmonium crescendo before Mohammed Rafi creates nostalgia with “Yaad Naa Jaaye” (“Dil Ek Mandir”) or the sitar, violin and piano notes chiselled within a humming chorus prior to Rafi’s evergreen “Ye Mera Prem Patra” (“Sangam”) and you realise how the operatic preludes arrest our attention even before the words come into play.
Similarly their instrumental interludes between verses were a treat to hear as they were set to enhance the evocative appeal of the image on screen. Remember how the violins meander around accordion notes to augment Sadhana’s pristine beauty and Lata Mangeshkar’s voice in “Tera Mera Pyaar Amar” (‘Asli Naqli’) or the way saxophones enhance Mukesh’s romantic aura in “Ae Sanam Jisne Tujhe” (‘Diwana’). The list is long and difficult to mention within the confines of a small article but suffice to say that several music directors tried to master this art but couldn’t reap the same results.
If Nayyar created unforgettable rhythmic patterns from stray objects, then SJ gave life to many established rhythms like foxtrot, waltz and teen taal (16 beat tempo) with their dexterous use of bongo drums, dholaks, octopads and congos. Within the limited scope of a song sequence, SJ designed wonderful patterns of sounds that not only helped raise the quality and mood of the song but also exhibited their irrepressible virtuosity. Described as “ultimate composers” by Nayyar, the talented duo even composed elaborate Hindustani classical ragas on prominent western instruments and vice versa with astounding success. Though their popular numbers are well entrenched in public memory, it must be stressed that they were the pioneers of fusion music and their exceptional non-film disc “Raga Jazz Style” was its finest example. Judging from the overseas response to their exquisite English number by Usha Uthup in “Bombay Talkies” to the accompaniment of tabla, flutes and sitar, one can say that they could have certainly ‘rocked’ the western world if they had so desired. For greater proof, visit youtube.com and see why their “Jaan Pehchaan Ho” (“Gumnaam”) and “Dekho Ab To” (“Jaanwar”) songs are such smashing hits amongst western listeners!
Raj Kapoor may have played an integral role in establishing SJ but it is a fallacy to credit him for all their success. Even excluding the RK films, the sheer range of their musical compositions and success is breathtaking with such diverse films as “Daag”, “Seema”, “Halaku”, “Basant Bahaar”, “Humrahi”, “Sasuraal”, “Amrapali”, “Asli Naqli”, “Arzoo”, “Dil Ek Mandir”, “Junglee”, “Professor”, “Love in Tokyo”, “Suraj”, “Brahmachari”, “An Evening in Paris” and several others that cannot be listed for want of space. In fact, apart from Raj Kapoor’s super stardom, SJ also played a big hand in establishing Shammi Kapoor and Rajendra Kumar and many of their films actually ran to packed houses only because of SJ’s enchanting musical bouquets.
One must confess that the contribution of two outstanding lyricists Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri has to be etched in gold since they gave life to SJ music and their lyrics created their legend. If Shailendra was brevity personified with philosophical gems embedded in every line, Hasrat was the Urdu poet with romantic sensibilities and their simple poetry from everyday language made SJ music connect instantaneously with the masses. Veteran film critic Raju Bharatan reveals that that most of the times the writers wrote the lyrics to an already prepared SJ tune but such was their mastery that not only would they quickly adapt the metre but also pen easy to decipher words. This is easier said than done and it is fair to say that these two accomplished writers were great assets for SJ music.
Alas, when Jaikishan died young and Raj Kapoor too abandoned the SJ banner, it led to a steady eclipse of business. Though Shankar never lost his magical prowess; his acidic tongue made Bollywood enemies push the SJ name out of the creative arena. Nevertheless, it is safe to predict that centuries later when many composers would have been forgotten, the SJ name would be eulogised for its remarkable, life infusing Shammi-Rafi numbers as they impart immense joy and strength to every human being. There is an immense rejuvenating power in most SJ creations but nowhere are the joie-de-vivre and the exultation of youth more visible and infectious than in the magical bond of Shammi, Rafi and SJ that will live forever. If imitation is the best form of flattery, I still think Rahul Dev Burman’s score for “Teesri Manzil” is the ultimate tribute to the genius of Shankar Jaikishan!