Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

Archive for December, 2013

Farooque Shaikh and the 1980s ghazal revival in Hindi cinema


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Farooque Shaikh and Rekha in ‘Umrao Jaan’

THE sudden and untimely death of Farooque Shaikh has come as a huge shock to friends, colleagues and fans, who are at a loss when it comes to speaking about his immense contribution to the world of films, theatre and television. Some wonderful tributes have been written, both in the print and social media, describing his brilliance as an actor, his simplicity as a human being, his passion for cinema and food, and his vast knowledge of politics and current affairs.

This blog aims to touch upon another aspect revolving around Farooque ― of his being the actor who regularly symbolised the late 1970s and early 1980s ghazal revival in Hindi cinema. More than any other actor, it was he who was picturised on some of the best ghazals released between 1978 and 1982, when the ghazal wave was at its peak. Even today, those songs are popular among the generation that grew up on them.

To be precise, of the six films that focused on ghazals during that period, whose music was commercially successful then and is considered timeless even today, four featured Farooque. These were ‘Gaman’ (1978), ‘Umrao Jaan’ (1981), ‘Bazaar’ (1982) and ‘Saath Saath’ (1982). The other two were Mahesh Bhatt’s ‘Arth’ and BR Chopra’s ‘Nikaah’ (both 1982), the former having Kulbhushan Kharbanda in the male lead and Raj Kiran in a supporting role, and the latter featuring Raj Babbar and Deepak Parasher.

In these four films, quite a few songs were picturised on Farooque ― either portraying him singing them, or being part of the scene when the heroine is singing them. But before talking of the music of these films, here’s a bit on the overall music scenario during that period.

WHILE the late 1970s brought back the genre, ghazals were actually nothing new in Hindi cinema. Ghazals basically involve a certain format while writing poetry, and poets like Shakeel Badayuni, Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri and Jan Nisar Akhtar had been using that structure for film songs, which were set to tune by music directors from Naushad to Madan Mohan to SD Burman. From the 1940s onwards, all major singers like KL Saigal, Talat Mahmood, Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Mukesh, Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle had sung them.

Besides ghazals, Hindi films also featured related forms like the nazm, which involves free-flowing poetry, or the simple ‘geet’ or love song. But trends changed and by the late 1960s, there were fewer ghazals in the traditional sense of the term. So what happened in the late 1970s was essentially a revival sparked off for two reasons.

The first was that the Hindi parallel cinema movement had gained momentum, and directors like Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani, Saeed Mirza, Gulzar, Muzaffar Ali, Kumar Shahani and Mahesh Bhatt, to name a few, came up with a realistic alternative to the fantasy-ridden commercial films of the day.

Even for their music, such filmmakers preferred something that differed from and went against the popular commercial sound. Some chose light classical or folk music, while others relied on simple melodies not belonging to any genre as such.

Still others opted for the ghazal, as the genre had been making waves in the non-film segment. Artistes like Jagjit-Chitra Singh and Rajendra-Nina Mehta had become popular, and the late 1970s and early 1980s saw the discovery of new artistes like Hariharan, Talat Aziz, Pankaj Udhas, Anup Jalota and Penaz Masani in the non-film ghazal segment.

Thus, the second reason for this revival was that with ghazals becoming popular outside of films, it was only natural they found a place in parallel cinema too. With commercial films getting into disco and loud music that went with the violence and sleaze, ghazals acted as a refreshing change. Ghazal singers like Jagjit Singh, Chitra Singh, Talat Aziz and Hariharan got opportunities to sing in films.

However, one just couldn’t put in a ghazal everywhere for the sake of it. The song had to fit with the storyline and the situations. So while there were quite a few films that used one or two ghazals (like Jagjit Singh’s ‘Honto Se Choolon Tum’ in the 1981 film ‘Prem Geet’ or the couple of songs in Bhimsain’s 1979 venture ‘Dooriyan’), only a handful of them focused entirely on the genre. Of these, four starred Farooque Shaikh.

LET’S now look at the music of these four films, in the chronological order of their release. Needless to say, even today, their songs create the same impact, though it’s unfortunate that large sections of the younger generation are yet to discover them.

Gaman (1978): Directed by Muzaffar Ali, ‘Gaman’ had music by the great Jaidev. Two of the songs, written by the brilliant Shahryaar, were picturised on Farooque.

‘Seene Mein Jalan’ gave a huge boost to the career of Suresh Wadkar, and the lines “Seene mein jalan, aankhon mein toofan sa kyon hai; Is sheher mein har shaks pareshan sa kyon hai” became a hit among Mumbai residents.

The second ghazal is an absolute beauty sung by Hariharan. Titled ‘Ajeeb Saaneha Mujhpar Guzar Gaya Yaaron’, it has marvellous lines like, “Woh kaun tha, woh kahan ka tha, kya hua tha usey; suna hai aaj koi shaks mar gaya yaaro.” Hariharan is a treat to hear, showing perfection in classical technique and Urdu diction.

The film has two other beauties. In ‘Aap Ki Yaad Aati Rahe Raat Bhar’, Maqdoom Mohiuddin’s lines are sung by the National Award-winning Chhaya Ganguli. The traditional semi-classical ‘Ras Ke Bhare Torey Nain’ is rendered soulfully by Hiradevi Mishra.

Umrao Jaan (1981): Music director Khayyam, lyricist Shahryaar and singer Asha Bhosle combine to make this an unforgettable collection of songs. For Farooque, Talat Aziz charmingly sings ‘Zindagi Jab Bhi Teri Bazm Mein’, which had those amazing lines, “Har mulaqaat ka anjaam judaai kyon hai; Ab toh har waqt yehi baat sataati hai humein.”

The other songs are picturised on Rekha, and in some cases Farooque, who plays Nawab Sultan. These include evergreen numbers like “In Aankhon Ki Masti’, ‘Dil Cheez Kya Hai’, ‘Yeh Kya Jagah Hai Doston’ and ‘Justuju Jiski Thi’. Poetry, melody and cinematic beauty at their best.

Both Khayyam and Asha Bhosle won the National Award for this film.

Bazaar (1982): Starring Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah, Farooque Shaikh and Supriya Pathak, Sagar Sarhadi’s ‘Bazaar’ made amazing use of the ghazal medium. Makhdoom Mohiuddin’s ‘Phir Chiddi Raat Baat Phoolon Ki’, sung by Talat Aziz and Lata Mangeshkar, is picturised on Farooque and Supriya, and Lata’s solo ‘Dikhayi Diye Yoon’, written by the legendary Mir Taqi Mir, is one of the best songs she’s rendered in that era.

Jagjit Kaur renders the touching Mirza Shauq-penned ‘Dekh Lo Aaj Humko Jee Bhar Ke’, which shows Farooque in an emotional scene. Finally, ‘Karoge Yaad Toh Har Baat Yaad Aayegi’, written by Bashar Nawaz and sung by the outstanding Bhupinder, is picturised on Naseeruddin and Smita.

Saath Saath (1982): With music by Kuldeep Singh and lyrics by Javed Akhtar, Raman Kumar’s film had some wonderful ghazals and geets sung by Jagjit and Chitra Singh, and filmed on Farooque and Deepti Naval.

Jagjit’s ‘Tumko Dekha Toh Yeh Khayal Aaya’ remained one of his concert favourites till the end, with lines like, “Aaj phir dil ne ek tamanna ki; Aaj phir dil ko humne samjhaaya” and “Hum jisey gunguna nahin sakte; Waqt ne aisa geet kyon gaaya.”

‘Kyun Zindagi Ki Raah Mein’, ‘Pyaar Mujhse Jo Kiya Tumne Toh Kya Paaogi’ and ‘Yeh Bata De Zindagi’ are still admired by connoisseurs, and the lighter ‘Yeh Tera Ghar Yeh Mera Ghar’ has become a staple among newly-weds.

Of the four films, ‘Saath Saath’ had the most accessible music, attracting both serious ghazal lovers and lay listeners.

WITH these films, Farooque just had a wonderful repertoire of ghazals to portray on screen. Though the music of his ‘Noorie’, composed by Khayyam, was successful too, and other films like ‘Chasme Buddoor’ had a couple of popular songs, the ghazals recorded during that five-year span had a different class altogether.

Sadly, after1983, the ghazal fad slowly died down in films. In concerts and non-film albums, it lasted another few years, but by the second half of the 1980s, the overall consistency of the existing singers had declined, and the entry of too many singers had affected the quality. Only a few artistes survived, and continued to carry the baton for years.

As a tribute to Farooque, it would be ideal to get back into the music of these four films, and understand the beauty and depth of the ghazals. The actor will definitely be missed. But as that song said in ‘Umrao Jaan’, “Har mulaqaat ka anjaam judaai kyon hai; Ab toh har waqt yehi baat sataati hai humein.”

Percussion from India – 2/ The tabla (Contd.)


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Allarakha and Zakir Hussain represent the Punjab gharana of tabla playing

After the 14-part monthly series ‘Instruments from India’, which talked of Indian melody instruments, I began the series ‘Percussion from India’ last month, to highlight various rhythm instruments played in India.

Like in the previous series, the aim is two-fold: one, to make Indian readers aware of certain artistes they might not have heard before, and secondly, to expose relatively new audiences, mainly from the West, to the beauty that various Indian instruments offer.

In this series, I shall not go into too many technicalities and playing styles, unless really necessary. I shall focus on how the instrument is used in different genres, and mention the leading performers in each style.

Naturally, the first part of the new series was dedicated to the tabla, as it is obviously the most popular percussion instrument in the region. However, since any discussion on the tabla would be really extensive, I had focused on only a few aspects last month. These were the instrument’s basic features, its history, some basic terms and its role in a performance.

This month, I shall talk of the different schools or gharanas of tabla-playing, and mention the main players in each. I shall also mention those players who follow a variety of styles and are not associated to any particular gharana.

Just a clarification: The world of tabla has seen so many great maestros and talented musicians, that it is very likely that some names have been missed out in this piece. Some musicians reading this blog may feel that their gurus or senior members of their gharana have been left out. While every effort has been made to include all the major names, any omission is regretted.

LIKE in Indian vocal and instrumental music, different styles of tabla-playing can also be identified according to the schools or gharanas they belong to. This is unlike other forms of Indian percussion music, which are played on a more limited scale as compared to the tabla, either in that they are restricted to fewer genres or geographical regions.

The main gharanas of tabla playing are: Delhi, Lucknow, Ajrara, Farrukhabad, Benaras and Punjab. Most of them have well-known players associated with them ― for instance, Ustad Allarakha and his son Zakir Hussain represent the Punjab gharana. However, there have been players like Ahmedjan Thirakwa who have played compositions from more than one gharana (Farrukhabad and Ajrara in his case) and others like Suresh Talwalkar who play compositions from various gharanas.

Though the gharanas have their own importance in tabla-playing, a large section of today’s audiences are relatively unaware of the differences between the various schools. Barring the musicians’ community and true connoisseurs, many listeners are not familiar with who represents which gharana, with the exception of maybe a few examples they can site. Thus, it becomes important for both musicians and musicologists to spread knowledge about the gharana system, in order to create more awareness among lay listeners.

Before we talk of the gharanas, it is important to mention two styles, called the ‘bandh baaz’ and ‘khulla baaz’. The former refers to the closed or bound style of playing, where the sounds are muffled. In contrast, ‘khulla baaz’ is an open style, where the beats of the tabla are allowed to sustain. The use of these styles is an important factor in each gharana, as it is on this basis that compositions like ‘peshkar’, ‘kaida’ and ‘rela’ (discussed last month) are prepared.

Having said that, let’s look at the main gharanas, and mention some of the important players of each.

Delhi gharana: This was the first style of tabla-playing, and is said to have originated in the early 18th century. Sidhar Khan Dhadi is said to have created this style, which is more in favour of using the right hand fingers, and avoiding overuse of the ‘baayaan’ (bass drum). As it uses two fingers prominently, it is also called the ‘do ungliyon ki baaj’ (in Hindi, “technique of playing with two fingers”).

Important players from this gharana are Siddhar Khan, Kallu Khan, Ghasit Khan, Nathu Khan, Gamay Khan, Latif Ahmed Khan, the great Chatur Lal and Shafaat Ahmed Khan. Before his untimely death in 2005, Shafaat used to regularly accompany top musicians like santoor maestro Shivkumar Sharma, flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia and sarod exponent Amjad Ali Khan, and was considered one of India’s leading tabla players.

Lucknow gharana: This gharana branched out of the Delhi gharana, and was said to have been started by brothers Modu and Bakshu Khan, who were two generations younger than Siddhar Khan of the Delhi gharana. A common characteristic is the use of palms as much as the fingers, making it a style commonly used as an accompaniment in dance forms like Kathak.

Well-known practitioners include Abid Hussain Khan, Biru Khan, Munne Khan, Wajid Hussain Khan, Santosh Krishna Biswas, Anil Bhattacharjee and Swapan Chaudhuri, who has regularly accompanied sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, sarod great Ali Akbar Khan and vocalist Pandit Jasraj.

Ajrara gharana: This gharana was started in the beginning of the early 19th century by Kallu and Miru, disciples of Sitab Khan of the Delhi gharana. Its playing is characterised by rhythmic patterns that have an unusual complexity, and the use of three fingers with specially emphasis on playing on the ‘syahi’ (black central part).

Important Ajrara players include Shamsuddin Khan and Habibuddin Khan, but its compositions were played extensively by versatile maestros like Ahmedjan Thirakwa, Amir Hussain Khan and Shaik Dawood (a top-notch accompanist to legendary vocalists Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Bhimsen Joshi). Manju Khan, Niazu Khan and Sudhirkumar Saxena were earlier representatives, and the later generations have comprised Hashmat Ali Khan, Ghulam Sarwar Sabri and Akram Khan.

Farrukhabad gharana: This was formed by Haji Vilayat Khan, son-in-law of Bakshu Khan of the Lucknow gharana. The speciality of the school is the variety in compositions and the use of open strokes on the ‘baayan’ or left drum.

Thirakwa, Amir Hussain Khan and Shaik Dawood were primary exponents of this gharana, though they also played compositions of the Ajrara and Delhi schools too. Other famous exponents are Gnan Prakash Ghosh, whose disciples Anindo Chatterjee and Abhijeet Banerjee have made a mark, and Shankar Ghosh, whose son Bickram Ghosh has excelled in both classical music and fusion projects. Tanmoy Bose, who has also learnt from Shankar Ghosh, has made a name in classical and fusion too.

Nikhil Ghosh studied from Gnan Prakash Ghosh, Thirakwa and Amir Hussain Khan, and has passed on his skills to son Nayan Ghosh. Aneesh Pradhan is another talented musician to be groomed by Nikhil Ghosh.
From the Farrukhabad style, another well-known name is Sabir Khan. Female player Rimpa Siva, who made a name as a tabla child prodigy, is among the young players in this style. Nayan Ghosh’s son Ishaan is also shaping up marvellously as a young talent to look out for.

Benaras gharana: Known for its powerful, resonant sound, the Benaras gharana has a large number of followers. It was formed in the early 19th century by Ram Sahai.

Besides instrumental and vocal music, and solo performances, the Benaras style is also used prominently in dance forms. Reputed musicians include Anokhelal Mishra, Kanthe Maharaj, Kishen Maharaj, Mahapurush Mishra, Samta Prasad, Ramji Mishra, Chandra Nath Shastri, Ashutosh Bhattacharya and Sharda Sahai. Later generations are represented by Kumar Bose, Ananda Gopal Bandopadhyay and Sanju Sahai.

Punjab gharana: Today, the Punjab gharana is probably the best-known among the schools, as it was popularised by Ustad Allarakha and is currently represented by Zakir Hussain, his brothers Fazal and Taufiq Qureshi and a whole line-up of illustrious disciples who are currently popular on the concert circuit.

Though there is a debate as to who started it, some of the other early masters were Qadir Baksh II, who taught Allarakha. Among the gharana’s special features, it uses a style based on the two-headed pakhawaj drum, and has an influence of the Punjabi language in the pronunciation of bols. The use of the ‘baayaan’ is given special focus.

Some of Allarakha’s and Zakir Hussain’s disciples have made it on their own right. These include Yogesh Samsi, Anuradha Pal and Aditya Kalyanpur. Other renowned Punjab gharana players included Abdus Sattar ‘Tari Khan’, Pakistani maestro who has played with ghazal greats Mehdi Hassan and Ghulam Ali and Sufi legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. London-based percussionist and producer Talvin Singh has also learnt tabla in the Punjab style.

Other maestros: While we have mentioned representatives of the main gharanas, there are a few musicians whose technique imbibes styles deom different gharanas. Prominent among them would be Suresh Talwalkar, one of the most versatile tabla players in India, and disciple of such esteemed players as Pandarinath Nageshkar and Vinayakrao Gangrekar.

Talwalkar’s brilliant disciple Vijay Ghate and son Satyajeet are also among those who use a good blend of compositional styles. Well-known jazz drummer Trilok Gurtu, an accomplished tabla player too, has also taken regular guidance from Talwalkar.

The others not associated with any specific gharana include Taranath Rao, who blended various styles, and Badal Roy from Bangladesh, who has been involved with jazz and world music since the late 1960s. Aban Mistry, India’s first professional female tabla player, blended the Delhi, Ajrara, Farrukhabad and Benaras schools to create her own style. Nana Muley and Omkar Gulvady, who often accompanied the great vocalist Pt Bhimsen Joshi, also blended different schools.

As mentioned earlier, we’ve tried to name all the main artistes. The field of tabla, however, is so wide that there is always a chance that someone has been missed out. Yet, for those who are yet to hear many of those named above, it would be a great time to start, as this is one instrument that has seen a tremendous explosion of talent.

CD review/ Lightning Bolt — Pearl Jam


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Lightning Bolt/ Pearl Jam

Genre: Alternative rock

Universal Music/ Rs 395

Rating: *** 1/2

LET’S flash back to the beginning of the 1990s, when the term ‘grunge’ suddenly became trendy. A sub-genre of alternative rock originating in Seattle, US, it boasted of heavyweights like Kurt Cobain’s band Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. And yes, there was Pearl Jam, which took the world by storm with its 1991 album ‘Ten’, featuring the super-hits ‘Jeremy’ and ‘Alive’.

Ever since, Pearl Jam gained the reputation of being one of the most significant bands in modern rock. Each album is awaited with eagerness, and some of them, like ‘Vs’, ‘Vitalogy’, ‘No Code’ and ‘Yield’ remain fan favourites years after their release. While Eddie Vedder is considered one of the most powerful and distinct vocalists on the scene, the band has consisted of an incredibly talented bunch of musicians, comprising guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, bassist Jeff Ament and drummer Matt Cameron, who came in on board in 1998.

The group’s latest album ‘Lightning Bolt’ comes four years after its commendable effort ‘Backspacer’. And like one has seen with most of its albums released during the past 15 years, there seems to be some evolution in sound while sticking to the same basic roots and rules. Yet, despite the fact that this is one of the best Pearl Jam albums post-2000, there are some basic drawbacks. Or maybe that’s where the cleverness lies.

The major flaw is that the 12-track venture starts rather predictably, in a possible bid to woo those who loved them in 1991 and haven’t matured musically or otherwise ever since. Thus, the first two songs ‘Getaway’ and ‘Mind Your Manners’ have that typical early 1990s grunge-meets-thrash sound that’s become so old-fashioned now. The younger audience should love them, but one presumes the older fans would have grown up by two decades now.

The third song ‘My Father’s Son’ is the most rebellious of the lot, as it is an ironic and hatred-filled lament of a son for his father, who also loves his mother. May strike a note with some folks, but musically again, it doesn’t offer anything new. Thankfully, it’s after this that things change, and how! Maybe that was the way the album was structured deliberately.

Among the remaining nine tracks, you find plenty of goodies, written with maturity and style. Tempos are varied, the lyrics get deeper, the instrumentation gets tighter and sheer grunge power is replaced by emotional intensity and lyrical depth. Barring the title song, which starts on a catchy note but gets raucous later on, what stays constant is the sheer elegance of Vedder’s singing. He traverses a wide range of notes, and has a distinct timbre that makes him sound so charming. The mix of rhythm and lead guitar, that has always characterised the band’s sound, is once again put to best use.

On ‘Sirens’, which has faint shades of Pink Floyd, Vedder keeps varying his pitch as he sings: “Hear the sirens, covering distance in the night; The sound echoing closer, will they come for me next time?; For every choice mistake I’ve made; It’s not my plan, to send you in the arms of another man.” A beautiful riff adorns this song.

With its haunting melody and gorgeous arrangement, ‘Pendulum’ talks of the ups and downs, and the highs and lows of life. ‘Swallowed Hole’ has an infectious hook with Vedder singing, “I can feel the dawn, I can feel the Earth, I can feel the living all around; Round round round, All around, round round round.”

The group switches to blues-rock on ‘Let The Records Play’, which talks about a person’s regular trip while listening to his favourite music. ‘Infallible’ is a symbolic number with philosophical lines like, “By thinking we’re infallible, we are tempting fate instead; Time we best begin, here at the ending.”

In terms of tempo, the three slowest songs are reserved for the end. Each one is a beauty in its own right.

‘Sleeping By Myself’ is about a man’s feelings after the end of a relationship. Vedder’s voice brims with emotion when he sings, “I should have known there was someone else, Down below I always kept it to myself; Now I believe in nothing; Not today, as I move myself out of your sight; I’ll be sleeping by myself tonight.”

‘Yellow Moon’ is probably a tribute to Neil Young, hailed by many as the ‘Godfather of Grunge’, as the lines ‘Yellow moon on the rise’ are borrowed from his song ‘Helpless’ with the band Crosby Stills Nash & Young. Finally, ‘Future Days’ ends the album on an optimistic note, as it talks about how a relationship weathers all the storms. “When hurricanes and cyclones raged; When winds turned dirt to dust; When floods they came or tides they raised; Ever closer became us,” go the lines. Brilliant!

One, of course, wishes this kind of songwriting consistency was there throughout the album. It’s prominently there on half the songs, present in passing on a couple and absent on the rest. But never mind. This is an album that should please both Pearl Jam fans and those who’ve grown up on the later rock generation. And what’s most creditable is that the band is still going strong 22 years after arriving on the scene, and coming out with one lightning bolt after another.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding

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