How to Evaluate Film Music? Madan Mohan and Naushad

On the occasion of Silver Jubilee Celebrations of her years as a Singer, Lata Mangeshkar chose her ten best songs till then for a special commemorative Album brought out by HMV. None of the songs of composers Naushad, Anil Biswas or even S.D Burman figured in the list. Salil Chowdhury, Roshan and Vasant Desai were there. But the only Composer who had two songs on the list was Madan Mohan.

Imagine, how many among the general music listeners count Madan Mohan as one of the greats among the Hindi film music composers? He is rarely mentioned in any list of popular choice. Roshan is an even rarer name. It is possible that faint signs of recognition might just stir, if he is introduced as the grand father of today’s popular Hero, Hrithik Roshan. On the other hand the fame that was bestowed on composers like Naushad was enormous. When he passed away recently, one could see his overly magnified image in the hundreds of flattering obituaries written up in the popular magazines.

Though film music is a very fine art it is a very popular art which is fast changing. Therefore, a clear evaluation of talent or an exact assessment is not made here often. Here success and fame arises from many reasons which are relevant to a popular industry. As a consequence popular media write ups many syrupy articles on the subject are lapped up by the masses. These uncritical articles become part of popular lore without any kind of re evaluation. They create in their wake, flattering and larger than life images. Therefore, what goes on to live with us is a myth rather than a honest evaluation.

Generally, world over there is a belief that it is only the classical arts and high literature that are to be subjected to intellectual and critical analysis. Popular arts like Cinema and commercial writing were left by a condescending intellectual class for evaluation by the under class or flattering self-servers, masquerading as press columnists. They did not have any artistic measuring scales or touchstone to go by. They merely reflect the popular tastes of the time. It took Marxian critic Antonio Gramsci’s ‘Jail Notes’, published in English in the 1960s, to shake the western world from slumber to realise the importance of critical appraisal of the works of popular arts. Today, critical evaluation of popular arts in media is itself an art that is practiced by experts in the field.

But the scene in India is quite depressing still. What happens is that the uncritical reviews of shallow press columnists become the source material here and the rephrasing of the same sentiments passes as critical evaluation. ‘Everything’ is presented as a nostalgic evaluation of a ‘golden past’. Critical evaluation requires clear measuring scales and an unemotional appraisal. But this is clearly lacking in our reviews of popular arts. The sad consequence is the glorification of mediocrity and its totally undeserved success. Sadder is the fact that geniuses have been totally ignored and forgotten!

Madan Mohan did not get the recognition that he deserved in his life time. Today musicians and musicologists regard him as a phenomenon, yet he is not widely known across India. The same is the fate of composers like Salil Chowdhury and Roshan.

In contrast let us take the case of Naushad. He first became a composer in the film Prem Nagar made in 1939. He scored music for about a dozen films in the next four years. He introduced Actress Suraiya as a singer in the film Nayee Duniya in 1942. Those were the days when every film had songs by the dozens. Even Naushad’s die-hard fans will be hard put to cite one memorable song from his films of those days. One had to wait till 1944 for Akhiya Mila Ke, Jiya Farma Ke, his first song of any note which happened in a very successful film Ratan. In a musical journey spanning fifty years, countless are the opportunities afforded to Naushad and yet even his most passionate fan cannot count too many songs as his great creations.

So, what was the secret of the staggering success of a composer like Naushad? How did his mediocre creations get such wide acceptance? Basically his tunes were undemanding and totally raaga based. No great creativity there. Every listener will be reminded of some songs he has already heard. Just anyone can hum his numbers. And above all after 1944 Naushad took great care to associate himself with big producers and big artistes. This ensured maximum publicity, distribution and exposure for his songs. His songs were picturised on top artistes with the entire scope of their emotive abilities. Hence the songs managed instant popularity.

Naushad’s portfolio of films has 26 silver jubilee, 9 golden jubilee and 3 diamond jubilee hits. Sporting the close friendship of Dilip Kumar, the great thespian of his era, he scored the music for most of his films. Naushad mentioned Mughal-e-Azam as his best film. This was recently released again in the digitally coloured format. To be a part of Magnus opuses like Mughal-e-Azam and Mother India and the opportunity of scoring their music is a great piece of good fortune. Now close your eyes and listen to Pyaar Kiya to Darna Kya or Mohabbat Ki Jhooti Kahani Pe Roye without the benefit of visuals with great production values emoted by great actors. Ordinary tunes and very ordinary orchestration! If they were part of a small film from a small time production company, one doubts how many would have relished these songs! But look at the hype that continues to this day!

Ghulam Mohammed was another much under estimated music director. His score for Pakeeza, in my opinion was any day leagues ahead of Naushad’s best ever. But when Pakeeza, 12 years in the making was released Ghulam Mohammed was already dead. Ghulam Mohammed a much better composer than Naushad had to eke out his living as Naushad’s assistant. Such are the bizarre happenings in the world of film music!

One point made by articles singing praise to Naushad is that he brought out the best in Mohammed Rafi. This is a good example of the fiction made believe! That Madan Mohan, Laxmikant Pyarelal, Shanker Jaikishan, S.D. Burman, Ravi and even O P Nayyar were way ahead of Naushad in exploring the diversity of Mohammed Rafi’s singing is substantiated by many great numbers that Rafi sang for them.

In fact, Madan Mohan brought out the greatness of not only Lata Mangeshkar but also of Mohammed Rafi in many of his great numbers. Rang Aur Noor Ki Barat (film Ghazal in 1964) Kabhi Na Kabhi and Sawan Ki Mahine Mein (Sharabi in 1965) Aap Ke Pehaloo Me Aakar (Mere Saya in 1966) Tumhari Zulf Ke Saaye Mein (Naunihal in 1967) and Yeh Duniya Yeh Mehfil (Heer Ranjha in 1971) are some of Rafi’s all-time greats that spring immediately to mind sung under the baton of Madan Mohan.

It is said that time is a better critic than all. Today, long past his life time, I see Madan Mohan rising above his more successful contemporaries. Any serious evaluation of Hindi film music on Television or other media, Madan Mohan is omnipresent. Take any music competition, the budding singers seek to impress and score with the judges by rendering Madan Mohan numbers. Today, people take Madan Mohan’s name to demonstrate their critical understanding of film music.

How is it that a genius is ignored in his time? One needs a sharp ear to appreciate good music. Appreciating good music is a many parts talent. Regrettably, such listeners are too few in number. Masses generally go with listening to talked about and easy numbers. Another alienating factor about a genius anywhere is his striking individuality. Let us look at it through the career of Madan Mohan.

A feature of Madan Mohan that stood out was that he was too exacting a composer. He could not give his music the populist touch that Naushad gave while pretending to be a classical purist. He gave some great number that had ghazal patterns but they were not exact ghazals. He followed the film music’s emotional grammar to convert the ghazal like numbers to love songs or songs of pathos as the situation required. This functional transformation of ghazal is Madan Mohan’s unique contribution. One can point out Zameen se Humein Aasman Par in Adaalat and Aap Ko Pyaar Chupane Ki Buri Aadat Hai in Neele Aakash as examples.

Citing Madan Mohan numbers Aap Ki Nazaron Ne Samjha Pyaar Ki Kaabil Mujhe and Hain Isi Mein Pyaar Ki Aabroo in Anpadh, Naushad had admitted many times that these two numbers were equivalent to his (Naushad’s) entire career achievement in Music. Aap Ki Nazaron Ne Samjha was a tune that was thought out creatively in a few minutes while going up in a lift to the 5th floor. S D Burman said, “I have not composed even a single song half as fine as Madan Mohan’s numbers in Heer Ranjha.” O P Nayyar had opined that the Lata Mangeshker – Madan Mohan combination was an incomparable one. But, it is a fact that all took Madan Mohan’s name with great reverence, only after his death!

In his lifetime film music world operated as different camps. Music directors were part of a camp that included leading artistes, producers and directors. Dev Anand’s Navketan had SD Burman and RD Burman as their composers. Raj Kapoor had Shankar Jaikishan. Naushad was the composer in Dilip Kumar’s court. All these artistes know about the greatness of Madan Mohan and Salil Chowdhury. But they hesitated to break camp. Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand gave Madan Mohan no chance, in spite of being friends. It was rumored that Raj Kapoor wanted Madan Mohan to score for Satyam Sivam Sundaram but somehow it never came to pass. Like what had happened to Salil Chowdhury, most of Madan Mohan’s scores graced pointless films that were incompetently picturised. Barring Chetan Anand and Raj Khosla, no big producer approached Madan Mohan.

Madan Mohan was a continuous witness to the success of his musical scores and the failure of the films for which he scored them. This had greatly sapped his mental strength. His many great numbers were absurdly picturised by incompetent directors on insignificant actors. A good example is Woh Bhooli Daastaan, acknowledged today as a great song, picturised on Anita Guha in Sanjog. Madan Mohan’s films never figured in top ten of most successful Hindi films. His first silver jubilee film was Raj Khosla’s Woh Kaun Thi. It had many great numbers like Naina Barse. His next silver jubilee Film, Mere Saya, was also made by Raj Khosla. But Raj Khosla sought out Laxmikant Pyarelal for his later film. An ego clash with Madan Mohan was the reason widely cited.

It is said that, like many geniuses, Madan Mohan was extremely egoistic. He would not compromise on his art and he would not bow to any one. Yet, there are many examples to prove that he was a great respecter of persons and extremely kind as well. When Chetan Anand offered Haqeeqat and Aakhri Khat, produced simultaneously, to Madan Mohan, Madan Mohan recommended Khayyam for Aakhri Khat as Khayyam was in great difficulty at that time. That film helped Khayyam to build up his career. When AVM remade its successful Tamil film Kumudam in Hindi as Pooja Ki Phool, they requested Madan Mohan to repeat the tune of Tamil song Miyav Miyav Poonai Kutti in Hindi also. Madan Mohan accepted the suggestion without any sense of superiority. It was sung in Hindi by Lata Mangeshkar as Miyo Miyo Meri Sakhi.

Madan Mohan’s personal life had all the ups and downs of the lives of genius. His father, Rai Bahadur Chunni Lal, was an important film producer in 1930s. He was a partner in organizations like Bombay Talkies and Filmistan. Madan Mohan was sent to Dehra Doon’s Military Academy by his father. After training, he was posted to Delhi. But he resigned his commission, as a measure of protest against his father and joined All India Radio, Lucknow, instead. In those days, Lucknow’s All India Radio was a ‘center of music’ where greats like Ustad Fayyaz Khan, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Roshan Ara Begum, Begum Akthar, Sidheswari Devi frequented. To the end, the impact of these great men of music showed in Madan Mohan’s music.

Arriving in Bombay towards late 1940s, Madan Mohan worked as Assistant to the likes of S.D Burman and Shyam Sundar. Aankhen released in 1950 was his first film as Music Director. This film heralded the arrival of a genius. The successful duo of Lata Mangeshkar – Madan Mohan started with his next film Adaa. Lata sang in most of the films of Madan Mohan. The heights achieved by Madan Mohan thru’ Lata’s mellifluous voice was a rare height in world film music. Hum Pyaar Mein Jalne Walon Ko from Jailor (1958)…., Zara Si Aahat Hoti Hai from Haqeeqat (1964)…..So many precious songs!

Apart from Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi, Madan Mohan has brought the best out of other well known singers too. Aye Dil Mujhe Bata De - from Bhai Bhai , Kaun Aaya Mere Man Ki Dware by Manna De in Dekh Kabira Roya, Meri Yaad Mein Tum Na Aansoo Bahaana by Talat Mehmood in Madhosh, Zaroorat Hai Zaroorat Hai in Man Mauji by Kishore Kumar, Jhumka Gira Re sung by Asha Bhonsle in Mere Saya and Le Le Dard Paraaya by Hemant Kumar in Chote Babu were all among the highlights in the careers of these singers.

Whatever Madan Mohan had taken from classical music, he had totally transformed them in his tunes. Most musicians have some favourite melodies and Raagas that they use more often. Madan Mohan was not in that mould. His classical bent of musical mind was a natural expression. His commitment to music was emotional and total. Repeated wrong note by a member of the orchestra while recording the song Nainon Mein badra Chaye so infuriated Madan Mohan, it is said that he broke the partition mirror of the recording theatre.

In the stage of popular art while a genius fails, many with ordinary talents win. The reason is that popular art requires traits beyond genius. An ability to assess the commercial needs of cinema, get along with everyone and compromise with the popular demands is called for. These are traits alien to the geniuses. Therefore, we should not evaluate artistes on the touchstone of popularity and commercial success alone.

What is the measure of a musician? How original is his music when he uses the classical raagas for his score? Whether he is able to innovate? Whether all his creations show his touch of genius and individuality? These are all some of the touchstones or measures of a great musician. It is important to assess whether his creations stand the test of time. We can identify and honour a true artiste only if we use such measures to evaluate the merits of his creations.

In popular arts success and fame can hide a lot and distract us from true evaluation. Our nostalgia for the past can also be diverting. Therefore, while evaluating popular arts, we have to be twice as careful as in evaluating classical art.

In his 25 years as Music Director, Madan Mohan scored music for 104 films. He had not received many awards in his lifetime. Commercially speaking, he was not the front runner of his time. It is note worthy that he was never given a Filmfare award. He got the National Award in 1971 for Dastak. But he was embittered by the fact that he could not get the commercially important Filmfare Award which was an index of popularity. He was also disturbed by the continuous failure of his films, his great compositions notwithstanding. In his final years, he resorted to excessive drinking to drown his frustrations. He passed away on 14th July 1975, due to liver complications at the age of 51 years.

Mausam and Laila Majnu, his last two films, were released after his death and were great commercial successes. Yash Chopra’s Veer Zara which was released in 2004 had incorporated some of Madan Mohan’s unused songs and musical scores under the supervision of his son Sanjeev to great effect and success.

Madan Mohan’s own favourite composition was Sawan Ke Mahine Main, from Sharabi. He would sing the song for his friends at private gatherings. It says, even in this weather of non stop rains my heart is burning in flames.. So let me drink well to chill down the flames and let me live my life within these few moments…