An enjoyable but limited beginner’s guide to Bollywood music.
Jaspreet Pandohar 2010
Classical forms of music may have been around longer, but in India it’s contemporary Hindi film music that reigns supreme. The soundtracks accompanying commercial Hindi language, aka Bollywood, films have been entertaining Indian cinema-lovers for almost a century, and their appeal continues to spread around the globe thanks to the Diaspora.
For the millions of ardent Bollywood fans it would be tricky to select only a handful of songs to represent the unique blend of romantic, playful and dramatic music that plays an integral part of their cinematic experience. With hundreds of musical features produced each year, there’s a plethora to choose from. So where would a novice start?
One place might be The Rough Guide to Bollywood, a simple beginner’s guide to Hindi film music – this is its second edition. It’s compiled by British music critic and author Ken Hunt, who takes on the daunting task of handpicking 13 tracks that provide a flavour of filmi sangeet through the ages.
Playback greats Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar, Manna Dey and Geeta Dutt feature next to younger names like Sonu Nigam, Kumar Sanu and Kavita Krishnamurthy. But its revered composer RD Burman who takes centre stage with nine of the 13 tracks bearing his musical stamp. Skewed toward his 1970s output, featured are Dum Maro Dum (Hare Rama Hare Krishna), Dilbar Dil Se Pyare (Caravan) and Raina Beeti Jaye (Amar Prem); also included are cuts from 1942: A Love Story, a film released after he died in 1994.
His seniors and contemporaries, such as Naushad, O.P. Nayyar and Kalyanji Anandji, barely get a look in though. In the CD booklet Hunt writes that he makes no apology for not being up to the moment; his focus is on "...the antique gold that has retained its value – songs when songs were heard, not seen".
Be as that may, Hunt’s favouritism toward Burman represents a loss for listeners. Omitting master partnerships like Rahman-Gulzar and Laxmikant-Pyarelal is a folly, and to say they haven’t produced anything of lasting significance is a mistake. So while it’s an enjoyable introduction to Bollywood music, this set is limited; it feels restricted, dated and ultimately incomplete.