Today is the World Music Day and it seems fitting to share some rare trivia and stories about Bollywood film music, starting right from the time films started talking in India. So read on!
1. Most of us know that Ardeshir Irani’s 1931 film Alam Ara (The Ornament of the World) was the first Indian talking film, but do you know which is the first song that was ever heard on an Indian film screen? It was ‘de de khuda ke naam par’ (Be generous in the name of God ) from Alam Ara and it was performed by Wazir Mohammed Khan, an actor-singer. You can listen to the song here and see some stills from the film that’s otherwise completely lost here on Shruti Narayanswami’s wonderful archive.
Wazir Mohammed Khan as a fakir/seer in Alam Ara
2. Playback singing, or actors lip syncing to pre-recorded songs performed by other singers, did not become commonplace in Bollywood (or Hindustani-language based film industry set in Bombay) until 1950s. Just like Wazir Mohammed Khan who sang the first Indian film song ever, most actors were also singers and used to record the song live on the set with instruments. Later, they would record it again in a music studio for a better quality output which was used for replacing the reference audio recorded on the sets.
3.The first instance of playback singing however, was tried out in in the state of Bengal, within a few years of Alam Ara’s release. Well known Bengal based film director Nitin Bose came up with the idea for his 1935 film, Bhagya Chakra (Circle of Fate). His brother Mukul Bose, a sound recordist assisted him and music director Raichand Boral to execute the plan of using the voices of K C Dey, Parul Ghosh and Suprabha Sarkar in playback for his film. The film was remade as Dhoop Chaon (Sun and Shade) in Hindi and became the first Hindi film to have playback singing.
4. In the early days of cinema in India, it was not considered a very respectable profession. Music composer Naushad, (who was behind prolific hit music from 1940-70s including Mughal-e Azam, Mother India, Ganga Jamuna, Mere Mehboob, Pakeezah etc.) pretended to be a tailor while meeting the family of his fiancé. As the legend goes, the music from his film Rattan (1944) was playing as he was welcomed in the wedding ceremony by the bride’s parents.
5. Bollywood always took its songs very seriously. Pyar Kiya To Darna Kiya (why fear if you have loved), a classic Bollywood song from Mughal-e-Azam (The Emperor of the Mughals) was shot on a set that was constructed for two years to look like an exact replica of Sheesh Mahal in Lahore Palace, using imported Belgian glass. The song was filmed in Technicolor (unlike the remaining film that was black and white) and the film cost its producers almost Rs. 10 million to shoot. One must remember that in 1960, a high-budget film used to cost less than Rs one million. The result is quite stunning though, check out here. This song is all about challenging the enemies of love openly, pretty much on the similar lines as ‘aye mohabbat zinadadad’ (victory for love), from the same film which I translated as a dedication to the victims of Orlando shootout recently on the blog.
6. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (The Big-Hearted Will Take Away the Bride) a super hit Bollywood film starring Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol featured many popular songs. The first song to be recorded was ‘mere khwabo mein jo aaye’ (the one who knocks at my dreams) sung by Lata Mangeshkar. Lyricist Anand Bakshi wrote 24 drafts of that song until director Aditya Chopra agreed on the final one, which you can hear here.
7. Have you seen Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti (Colour it Saffron)? If yes, then great, but if you have not, watch this thought-provoking film here for a nominal rental. When you see it, notice how none of the songs (which were all huge chart-busters) are lip synced by the actors on the screen. They all appear as situational themes in the background. Click here for small article and my take on Luka Chhupi (hide and seek), a song from the same film performed by A R Rahman along with Lata Mangeshkar.
8. Academy Award winning music composer A R Rahman worked on the music of Rang De Basanti for three years (not that it wasn’t worth the wait!). The soundtrack for Slumdog Millionaire however took Rahman only two months to design and just two weeks to record and mix. He is not called a maestro for nothing! Want to know the meaning of lovely, metaphor-studded Jai Ho? Just click here to read my translation.
9. Actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who has charmed the Indian audience with his performances in films like Gangs of Wasseypur, Kahaani (A Story), The Lunchbox etc. struggled for almost two decades to gather a foothold in the Mumbai film industry, doing many small to minuscule roles. In one of such instances, he appeared in wildly popular Emotional Atyachar (emotional torture) song from Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D as one of the Elvis Presley lookalikes. Watch the full song in all its kitschy glory here. Want it translated? Send a request through the comments or Facebook or Twitter pages of bollywoodtarjuma.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui (on left) in a cameo in Dev D
10. The record for longest song ever recorded for an Indian film is held by the title song of Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Saathiyon (The Country is Now in your Hands, My Friends) The song is 20 minutes long and appears in the film in three parts. You can hear all the parts here. Go on, I dare you!
You have some interesting nugget about Bollywood music history to add here? Let me know in comments please, or just hop on to Facebook or Twitter pages of bollywoodtarjuma. If you want any of the songs mentioned above translated (except the 20-minute long Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Saathiyon!) , do send a request through the same route. Please give feedback for the posts, it is very important for my work!