We live in an era of paradoxes — of sometimes pleasing, usually passable, and most often ear-splitting music, aside from the typecast ‘stamp,’ or raucous remix[ed] digressions, thanks to hi-tech glitz. This isn’t all. There seems to be a growing penchant for Punjabi-accentuated songs in Hindi films today — rather than perceptible Hindi numbers. This is for scores of music buffs enjoyment exemplified.
However, as for the good old, or young, wholly discerning, quality music-centric types, there’s nothing better than ‘tapping’ one’s mind, or ear, to the Golden Age of Hindi film music — a wholesome treat that finds enormous favour by way of calming, soothing, uplifting and, above all, transcendental, also timeless, music.
Call it a rainbow synthesis, or what you may, the Golden Age was, and is, without equal.
It was, indeed, the era of Shankar-Jaikishan [S-J] — the music genii like no other on this side of the Suez.
Melody was S-J’s complete existence, a vast reservoir of delight. It was remarkable, too and far ahead of its time. Just listen to the prelude of Lata Mangeshkar-Hemant Kumar’s lilting number, Aa Neel Gagan Tale Pyar Hum Kare from Badshah , and you’ll sure think you are listening to one of A R Rahman’s AirTel ‘jigs.’ Or, recall how the virtually sizzling Mohammed Rafi number, Jaan Pehchaan Ho from Gumnaam , was used for the opening credits in the Hollywood movie, Ghost World , not to speak of Heineken’s commercial, The Date . Or, listen to Nadeem-Shravan’s hit number, Tum Dil Ki Dhadkan Mein Rehte Ho from Dhadkan , which is, quite simply, a ‘facsimile’ of S-J-Lata’s melodious number, Mujhe Tum Milgaye Humdum, from Love in Tokyo .
As the legendary sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan analysed in The Hindu, “Did not Rahman compose the hit number Aye Ajnabi for Dil Se ? It’s a straight lift of S-J’s immortal number, Manzil Wohi Hain Pyar Ki from Kathputli .” Khan compared Chal Chaiyyan Chaiyyan, yet again, from Dil Se. He asked, “Is it not similar to S-J’s Oh Maiya Bata Maiya from Shree 420 ? Rahman just fastened the beats.” Now, let’s move further and pay attention to Talat Mahmood’s Tum Ko Dil Ke Taar Ched Kar from Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja . You’ll, unwittingly, find a ‘connect’ in Rap star Eminem’s classy hit, We Made You . Or, go rewind and listen to Rafi’s Oh Meri Baby Doll and Iqbal Singh’s Beautiful Baby of Broadway, from Ek Phool Chaar Kaante , two, good-old, typical S-J Occidental numbers, at a time when Elvis Presley was riding the rock and roll wave in the US, and elsewhere, what with the Beatles waiting in the wings to make their debut album.
The list is incomplete — whether or not you include the Welsh singer JEM’s sampled prelude and interlude of Baharon Phool Barsao with Come on Closer , a lilting English number. Or, Mike Ladd’s song, Wild Out Day , that sampled an old classic of the music duo — aside from Tera Jaana [Anari;1959] — among others. There’s more. Just tune into S-J’s non-film, hugely original Raga Jazz-Style compositions , anytime, and you’ll also know why they were outstandingly progressive and peerless.
Jaikishan [November 4, 1929-September 12, 1971] was just 42, when he passed into sunset, 48 years ago. Yet, his genius and verve were tantamount to someone who’d have lived a hundred years — to leave one’s mark on the sounds of time. This simile applies just as much to Shankar, Jaikishan’s senior partner, when the duo was at its peak — despite the fact that Shankar’s spell ‘waned,’ what with the other wheel of his chariot ‘lost,’ more so when some critics used it as a tool, as a handful of films, despite some vintage S-J quality numbers, flopped, in the 1970s. That Shankar continued to use the hyphenated name was passé, all right. The sad fact, indeed, was Shankar , who died 32 years ago [October 15, 1922-April 26,1987], almost unsung — notwithstanding all the glories the duo had attained — especially, after having dominated the Indian musical landscape for 22 melodious years with Jaikishan.
S-J were exceptional. The power of their melodies evokes a distinctive feeling, replete with that perpetual velvety touch — of fragrance as everlasting as musk. This isn’t all. Their sophisticated luminosity, juxtaposed by swanky changes, in tune with the tides of time, or what people wanted, never ever lost its distinguished feel — you’d know, or grasp, S-J’s melodious benchmark and eternal appeal at the ‘drop’ of a song. Most importantly, there’s that innate sense of transcendent particle running through their compositions — like the eternal beating of the waves of the ocean, or the insidious blooming of a flower. As the one and the only Lata Mangeshkar articulated in Nasreen Munni Kabir’s quintessential book, Lata Mangeshkar in Her Own Voice, “I believe no one can equal the music composed by Shankar-Jaikishan. They composed classical songs, cabarets, dance numbers, love songs, sad and happy songs. Few composers have been able to match their range. Their music has extended the life of many films — films that would have otherwise been forgotten.”
S-J proved that music was, indeed, their raison d’être, not just of the heart, but also the soul of every number. If Jaikishan, who made his Hindi film music debut when he’s just 18, was the heart of the S-J school of music, Shankar epitomised its nucleus. They were the two sides of the same denomination. What took one’s breath away was their intense lilt and subtle burst through classy orchestration — matchless, inimitable and elevating. Their melodious leitmotiv was just as sophisticated and profound. They were constantly trying to do better and better, injecting into their music a unique, flavoursome elegance that none could replicate.
S-J were also pioneers in ‘reverse music’ — with the orchestration in songs running, or colluding, against each other, at the same time. This wasn’t all. S-J gave all their compositions strong, potent orchestration. Jaikishan —‘Prince,’ as Shankar called him, perhaps, for his refined tastes and also good looks — whose statue adorns his home-town, Vansada, in Gujarat — insisted on a bare minimum of a 65-piece ensemble. Following his death, most film-makers cut down on the number, as also expense. This evidently led to Shankar’s purported downfall — because, he could not quite reproduce the old magic with the same panache sans full orchestral support. This was something akin to asking Roger Federer to play tennis with a badminton racquet.
Critics argue that S-J’s ‘protégé’ Sharda was no less a supplementary ‘fault.’ Shankar’s liking for an upcoming, fresh-voiced singer — a Raj Kapoor ‘find’ — did not go well with Lata. It also provided enough dissenting grist to S-J critics’ mill. Picture this: Shankar had to cope without Lata, for more than a few years — it was a costly gaffe. This also, perforce, led to ‘make-do’ a handful of average songs — including some English/Western ‘replicas’ — from their stable. Blame it on the law of averages, perhaps. However, let’s give them the benefit of doubt — a reprieve we often grant to the greats in other arenas. You can’t just win all the time. It’s humanly not possible. Even the legendary Sir Don Bradman recorded seven ‘ducks’ in 52 Tests.
Picture this — that a multitude of S-J’s works, or songs, continues to be spanking new as the first light, till this day, is evidence of their class. To cull a functional inventory of their epic songs would, therefore, be next to impossible. Their melodies are not just breath-taking, but also timeless: from Raj Kapoor’s Barsaat , with which they made their debut, seventy years ago, and transformed the face of Hindi film music, Awaara , Kali Ghata , Daag , Shikast , Boot Polish , Mayurpankh , Shree 420 , Seema , Basant Bahar , Halaku , Chori Chori , Yahudi , Anari , Kanhaiya , Love Marriage , Main Nashe Mein Hoon , Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai , Junglee , Jab Pyaar Kisise Hota Hai , Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai , Sasural , Dil Tera Diwana , Professor , Asli Naqli , Dil Ek Mandir , Sangam , Ayee Milan Ki Bela , Janwar , Love in Tokyo , Amrapali ,Teesri Kasam , An Evening in Paris , Diwana , Brahmachari , Jhuk Gaya Aasman , Prince , Yakeen , Pagla Kahin Ka , Mera Naam Joker , and Jawan Mohabbat , to Kal Aaj Aur Kal , Lal Patthar , Naina , Sanyasi  etc., You’d select your favourites — all utterly pristine, up-to-date melodies. It’s this novel attribute, or original stamp, that empowers the sempiternal S-J school of music to hold its wave — with every generation.
COMPOSERS LIKE NO OTHER
S-J were unstoppable at their best. As a critic extolled, “S-J could have been knocked out by the duo itself — not someone from outside.” This was their terrific ability. What’s more, their classy refinement was not just constrained to conventional norms. They imbibed the best of every musical shade, or hue — East or West, and yet the end result was characteristically, even distinctively, S-J. Call it also the coming together of two divergent streams, or modes, akin to David Warner’s lofty Occidental pulls and Virat Kohli’s impeccable Oriental drives, square of the wicket.
Nothing, however, is ever perfect. As Shankar, a dazzling percussionist, gifted pianist and composer, and Jaikishan, a magnetic composer in a league of his own, grew in their standing, each began to realise that they were full-fledged composers in their own right. They slowly began to waft into a confederacy of their own, though they had a pact that they would not disclose who composed which song. For the last few years, before Jai passed away into sunset, their joint venture was ‘just a ruse’ as critics [over]exemplified, albeit their ‘magnified rift’ was used as a knob to bring them down. Result: the hyphen, S-J, never lost its mesmeric appeal. S-J continued to create songs — each choosing their pieces individually to suit their own classy ‘gamut’ of songs. It’s evidenced that they began to work together, yet again, as they did before, in films such as Jane Anjaane , Andaz  and Ankhon Ankhon Mein  — to regain their pristine, soon-to-be-‘lost’ ground in the wake of R D Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal et al onslaught. This was not all. Their background score was, as a norm, insuperable, all through — with Sangam and Mere Naam Joker rated to being, by far, the best-ever in Hindi film music history.
S-J were not alone in their great musical act. They had great contemporaries: Anil Biswas, Naushad Ali, C Ramachandra, S D Burman, Salil Chowdhury, Roshan, O P Nayyar, Madan Mohan, Hemant Kumar, Vasant Desai, Ravi, Jaidev, Khayyam, R D Burman, Chitragupta, Kalyanji-Anandji, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, et al — each man a stalwart, or institution, so to speak. What made them truly special was how their ‘rivals’ rated them. The legendary Naushad, who often referred to S-J as “magicians, not just musicians,” once eulogised: “Jaikishan had the rare gift of instant mental notation. He had to only see a reel unfold on the screen, and the whole thing was stamped in his mind to the last detail.” Said Nayyar, the rebel composer, “Shankar was one real composer — in a league of his own.”
India’s greatest showman, Raj Kapoor, played a major role in the duo’s career, in S-J’s early years. This is one reason why certain music critics credit S-J’s unparalleled success to Kapoor. The idea is, however, grossly iniquitous. The point is: critics have often overlooked the reality, that, while Kapoor may have, perforce, contributed much, with his smart ear and understanding of music, he could by no means repeat the same S-J-centric, outright musical success with the likes of Laxmikant-Pyarelal, R D Burman, or Ravindra Jain — all top-class, worthy composers. There never was, quite simply, another Awaara, Shree 420, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, Sangam, or Mera Naam Joker. It was ditto for Shammi Kapoor. His two directorial ventures, Manoranjan , and Bundal Baaz , with music scored by R D Burman, were no match for Junglee, Professor, Janwar etc., and other S-J’s ageless numbers.
To ‘paraphrase’ Raju Bharatan, the noted Bollywood music critic and author: “When Aah  failed to woo the box-office, Raj Kapoor had to, again, bring in S-J, and within a matter of weeks they came up with that memorable score for Boot Polish. And, just take a close look at the background score for Shree 420. You’ll find at least three tunes which were used for Anari.” This was music in creation, conceptualised in advance, and a norm too — of melodic sweetness and resonance on ‘cloud nine’ of their existence. Kapoor naturally insisted they be used in his later films too — when the ‘arty’ showman ‘cold-shouldered’ his long-time melodic connection, S-J.
Or, to echo the legendary sitar maestro Ravi Shankar’s words, “When Shankar-Jaikishan [or, Salil Chowdhury] composed, they knew how to touch unknown chords of every listener’s heart, making music dear to everyone. Composing for films and modern songs requires more of the heart than the mind. To us, the feeling of our own performances always remains a hangover.”
No composer exploited the one and only Mohammed Rafi’s silky voice so amazingly and as skilfully as S-J. Or, transformed the belligerent romanticism of Shammi ‘Yahoo’ Kapoor with it. Not Rafi alone, the Sultan of Melody, the refined Manna Dey, the cheery Kishore Kumar, the wobbling Talat Mahmood, and the resonant Hemant Kumar, all awesome talents, found a medium of graceful perfection under the S-J baton. Not only that. While the wistful Mukesh was masterly in every tune, Lata Mangeshkar, the Queen of Song, was magnificent — as only she can be. Asha Bhosle was just as effulgent. And, so were the adept Suman Kalyanpur, and others. And, the backstage? It was just as talented: Dattaram and Sebastian, classy music assistants, and Shailendra, Hasrat Jaipuri, et al, lyricists beyond compare.
S-J were gifted with a cogent, nonpareil grasp of traditional music — they were at home with Hindustani and Carnatic schools of music, just as much as English and Western folk and waltz music. There’s also a riveting element of the Mozartian ‘component,’ and other motifs, in some of their greatest compositions — a blend of the subtle with the refined, the overall result, of course, being inimitably S-J. Well, when Shankar was once asked about the ‘connect,’ pat came the response: “That people have ‘spotted’ the Mozart aspect in our compositions is music to our ears. We are honoured.”
It goes without saying that S-J were the first composers to be paid huge professional fees — on par with some of the ‘superstars’ of their time. Their popularity was so enormous that films, with their musical imprint, became runaway hits with just their name — and, would you know that they made the first-ever National Savings Certificate Scheme a household name with their ‘logo’ attached to it? They also appeared on a postal stamp, released by India Posts; they have a square, in their honour, in Churchgate, Mumbai, too. Yes, with a host of national and international awards, including nine Filmfare trophies, under their belt, S-J were also the first composers from Bollywood to have a legion of fans worldwide. While George Harrison, the legendary Beatle, visited them in their studio, and exchanged notes, Narghita from Romania — a roving statistician of their musical creations — was not just an ardent admirer, but also a crooner of their delectable songs in her own right.
“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent,” wrote Victor Hugo. This sums up the timeless ornamentation of S-J’s music: one that will mesmerise, resound, glow, and endure through posterity — just as much as the duo’s perpetual melodies continue to leap out from sepia-tinted frames to enthuse a whole new generation of music lovers and musicians, wherever they are, or whenever you turn your music system, or gadget, on.
— First published at MADRAS COURIER
THEY [RE]DEFINED THE RAINBOW SYNTHESIS
What made S-J’s music such a melodious, ever-refreshing experience was their refined synthesis of substance and form. Their film numbers, with classical, folk, modern, and other variations, highlighted their transcendent virtuosity, just as their uplifting explorations into jazz music celebrated a matchless harmonic form, never before incarnate.
Just think of it: raga is based on a melodic concept, and jazz from harmonics. Melody is, indeed, the soul of music. This ought to be replete, no less, with deft refinements of tone and delicate changes of rhythm. Harmony is fundamental, innate and intentional to jazz. It is elemental and intrinsic, not regimentally deliberate, to Indian music. S-J, with their one-of-a-kind Raga Jazz-Style album , brought together a melodiously harmonic synthesis — a delectable mix of the conventional and the modern, without compromising on the tenets of either stream. If this isn’t genius, what is?
Feeling great, happy, sad, or depressed? There are S-J melodies for your every mood — you will feel better with them too. They also have it in them to lighten, soothe, and nurse you back to good health and well-being — or, elevate you to savour the spiritual dimension of good music in a manner born.
S-J could have won a brace of Oscar Awards — nothing less — if their creations were submitted, or nominated. This is also reason enough why there cannot be one all-inclusive ‘Best List’ of S-J, who scored music in over 175 films, aside from other embellishments, including documentaries, such as Everest [Films Division; 1968], for which they did not charge a fee, because the documakers were short of funds — a fitting allegory for their Everest-like status in music, and also good values, for today and tomorrow.