Sunday, December 09, 2007

Mallika-e-tarrannum* and I.

Incredible as it may seem to you, I used to be a student of music as a child of ten. A music teacher used to come to 233 Khetwadi Main Road to teach me to sing and to play the harmonium and the tabla. Incredible as it seems to me today, I abhorred those music lessons. I was fond enough of film songs of the era, though. I used to listen to them on a hand-cranked gramaphone and on the radio. I distinctly remember my poor hapless teacher once coyly singing Noor Jahan’s Aayee Ghadi Yeh Suhani from Dil (1946) – the film eclipsed by her super-hit released the same year, Anmol Ghadi – and Hum Khelenge Aankh Mein Choli from her 1942 hit, Khandaan – in which she co-starred with Pran. I also recall my music masterji trying to entice me with Tu Kaunsi Badli Mein, also from Khandaan. To no avail. I just did not make any progress in my singing or harmonium-playing. Using the desperate excuse that the music lessons and the (non-existent) riyaz were eating into my study and play time, I managed to wriggle out of the hated chore. This memory morsel came to me while listening to NJ’s old songs which I often do while working. My love for film music as a listener continued apace, though. Later on, goaded by snobbery no doubt, I began to listen to Western pop and classical music and – wonder of wonders! – even enjoy it. There’s something undefinably charming about old 78 rpm Indian film songs – specially from the 40s and 50s – that nothing done since seems to possess. Oh, I forgot to mention that the NJ oldies are on a CD that somehow came into my possession. Whoever sent it my way deserves a ton of thanks. Apart from the cream of Mallika-e-tarrannum’s pre-Independence repertoire, it has songs by Suraiya, Shamshad Begum, Suman Kalyanpur and Geeta Dutt. I may not be able to make you understand the immense joy these 40s. 50s and 60s no- Lata, no-Asha musical feast gives me. Imagine Noor Jahan leisurely crooning raag-based poetic lyrics, as if she had all the time in the world, often repeating a line or two with complete command, confidence and authority. Imagine the range of her voice and style variations. And, the subtle nuances. One thing that really amazes me is how the music directors never went over the top. In other words, no overdramatization, no crescendos. All that crept into Hindi film music soon afterwards, though, after NJ's exit. Take her duet with Mohamed Rafi from Jugnu (Yehan Badla Wafa Da). There’s an eerie, chilly feel they convey by their quiet rendition, a sense of inevitable disaster ahead. Brrrrr! Listening to these songs stirs the pool of memory. For instance, I get the feeling that I’ve seen some of these movies in theatres (Majestic, Imperial, Central, Krishna). Anmol Ghadi and Jugnu for sure. Khandaan, I’m not so sure about. And, I somehow cannot get rid of the feeling that the song, Aayee Ghadi Yeh Suhani from Dil, is sung in the movie just before the interval. By the way, there’s a story, probably apocryphal, about how Noor Jahan met the young Lata and Asha when she was starring in Vinayak’s Badi Maa in which both the Mangeshkar sisters were playing supporting roles. During the breaks, Noor Jahan used to ask Lata (“Latto”) to sing with her. She sensed her new friend’s potential and told Vinayak about her discovery in no uncertain terms. They evidently continued their friendship even after NJ went to live across the border after partition. P.S.: Apart from learning music briefly, I also did a short stint in Urdu as a young kid. Which reminds me: *Mallika-e-tarrannum = Queen of Melody.

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