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Interview Hindi

Roshan birth centenary: Son Rajesh remembers his music and legacy

The legendary composer, who won the Filmfare award for Best Music for Taj Mahal (1963), was born in Gujranwala (now in Pakistan) on 14 July 1917. Younger son Rajesh, also a composer, speaks about his father’s style and melodies.

Sonal Pandya

Roshanlal Nagrath was interested in music from a young age. He studied music at the reputed Marris College of Music in Lucknow (now the VN Bhatkhande Music Institute University), set up by renowned classical singer and musicologist Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkande, who wrote the first modern treatise on Hindustani classical music and is credited, along with Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, for its revival in the early years of the 20th century.

Rajesh Roshan

Among other alumni from the college were ghazal king Talat Mahmood and Saraswati Devi, one of the earliest women composers in Hindi cinema who scored the music for such Bombay Talkies hits as Jeevan Naiya (1936) and Achhut Kanya (1936).

Roshan assisted Khurshid Anwar, a former music programme producer at All India Radio's Delhi station and later music composer on filmmaker JK Nanda’s Singaar (1949). The year before, in 1948, Roshan had come down to Bombay.

Roshan was given the chance to compose independently with Neki Aur Badi (1949) which didn’t do well, but he was recognized with Kidar Sharma's Bawre Nain (1950), a hit starring Raj Kapoor and Geeta Bali. From the 1950s until his death on 16 November 1967, at age 50, he produced wonderful music in films like Barsat Ki Rat (1960), Taj Mahal (1963) and Devar (1966).

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Cinestaan.com spoke to his son, Rajesh Roshan, who, like his father, is a Filmfare award-winning music composer. Elder son Rakesh started out as an actor and is today a celebrated filmmaker. Rajesh reminisced about the memorable music of his father’s time and talked about how hard it is to get the next generation acquainted with his work.

Rajesh said, “There should be an avenue for youngsters to get in touch with [Roshan’s] music. Most of the time what we are [listening to now] is from the 1980s. Further than that, it is very hard to hear all the songs. Even I would like to hear his songs, SD Burman saheb’s, Madan Mohanji's songs, because these are the real immortal songs.”

Rajesh Roshan lamented the difficulty of getting to hear songs of composers like Burman and Madan Mohan. “On TV or on radio, they are seldom heard. These days, melody is suffering a lot. All songs sound alike. [The] romantic songs are missing now. And these are the people whose music if you listen to, you can tune yourself to better music, better hearing, and better melody. Everything was far superior to what we have now,” he explained.

Asked what set his father apart from the other master composers of his day, Rajesh thoughtfully replied that each of them had their own style, including Roshan. He said his father never went after the 'commercial' stuff. "Roshanji managed to be solely dependent on his own style," he said. "Whenever you hear his songs, you’ll get peace of mind. If you hear songs from Barsat Ki Rat (1960), Taj Mahal (1963) or Chitralekha (1964), they give you solace. There’s sober melody, nobody is shouting or saying a word to attract people. There is just a soulful number.”

Rajesh himself prefers to listen to the songs of Taj Mahal (1963) like ‘Paaon Chhoo Lene Do’ and ‘Jo Wada Kiya’, both duets sung by Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar. “Somehow those songs are very close to me and even the picturization and how they were shot. I off and on listen to those songs,” he said.

As a youngster, Rajesh remembers his father having his music sessions at home in the morning. The master would sometimes call upon his son to give his opinion on the tune he had just composed. "In front of all his producers and all the writers, he used to ask me, ‘How do you feel the song is? Give me a frank opinion.’ So that way he encouraged me, though not directly,” he said, adding that as a young lad he was quite blunt in his responses.

Rajesh said that while he never tried to imitate his father's style, he certainly imbibed a few lessons from him. “His melodious style crept into me," he said. "But my style is completely Westernized, his was based on [classical] ragas. If you see Julie (1975) and all, from where I started, it is more towards Western music, where I feel more comfortable. If you ask me to make a song on a raga, then I find it a little difficult. It’s not my cup of tea,” he admitted.