Interview Hindi

Viju Shah on Kalyanji: Dad could figure out talent in an artist

On the famed composer’s 89th birth anniversary, son Viju Shah spoke about his father’s advice to him and how he encouraged youngsters in the music industry.

Viju and Kalyanji Virji Shah

Sonal Pandya

When anyone hears the name of Kalyanji Virji Shah today, it is generally assumed that it is being taken in conjunction, as a composer duo, with his younger brother Anandji. But Kalyanji was also an acclaimed musician who worked with the legendary singer-composer Hemant Kumar on Nagin (1954) and later ventured out to become an independent music composer in Subhash Desai’s Samrat Chandragupt (1958).

In a conversation with, Kalyanji's son Viju Shah, who is also a music composer, spoke about his father’s early days as a musician and what he learnt while assisting him.

Kalyanji Shah hailed from a grain merchant’s family and for him to take up music as a profession was a hard decision as no one wanted him to become a musician. “The whole family was against him, especially my granddad," recounted Viju. "So he used to slip away and practise in the attic, without anyone’s knowledge. No one was for it. That’s what I’ve known from my family.”

Viju recalls that even after his father became a successful music composer, he used to keep up with his own musical practice. “I remember at [our house on] Peddar Road, he used to have all these ustads coming home. That’s what he also imbibed in me, that you have to keep learning from everyone who comes in,” he said.

Viju’s musical learning began on the harmonium and he tried to take in as much as he could from the various musical settings arranged by Kalyanji. Later, in the 1980s, the Shahs began supporting and grooming the next generation of singers in the music industry. They created a musical group of young talent and launched the ‘Little Wonders’.

“He had his vision [and] he used to tell me, ‘Please form a group for me, I know you know youngsters’. I used to tell him it is difficult for me to groom musicians, but you can have solo performers. [Having] a group of youngsters was difficult. We launched a show, Little Wonders. There we had professional musicians and all young performers [like] Aditya Narayan, Sunidhi [Chauhan], Sneha Pant [and] Hina Joshi.”

The Little Wonders toured all around the country and the world armed with training and backing from Kalyanji and Anandji that they carried forth to the rest of their careers. Viju said his father knew exactly what each artist was cut out for. “[Dad] could figure out talent in an artist," he said. "His main thing was to groom youngsters [and] talent. He told me a lot of times, whenever you see a spark [of] talent in a young, budding artist, you should go all out to try and promote them, if you have the confidence that nahin, iss mein kuch baat hain [there is something in them].”

Viju Shah remembers Kalyanji-Anandji's evergreen musical partnership

Viju also shared that his father and uncle were among the first to start touring in live shows back when they were already busy as Hindi film music directors. “There was a gap and then again the shows took off in the 1970s, whereby they had these Kalyanji-Anandji 'nites'," he said. "Dad and [Anandji] Uncle did a lot of shows with [actor-producer-director Sunil] Dutt saheb for his cancer patients. Dutt saheb and Daddy were very close.

”After [Dutt's actress wife] Nargisji’s death, [Kalyanji] wanted that every Sunday, we go and entertain these cancer patients in various hospitals. I have also gone for a couple of them. We used to have a one-hour entertainment show for the patients. Then they have done a lot of shows for the jawans and the army.”

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With Vishwatma (1992), Viju himself embarked on a career as a music director, just like his father. Of Kalyanji’s five sons, he was the only one who followed his father and uncle into the profession. Viju still remembers his father’s advice for him.

“He always told me one thing, that even if you become a musician the top bracket in this music line is the music director," Viju said. "But I remember I was so engrossed in this electronics stuff, I was not too bothered about [it], because composers come with a lot of responsibility. You have sittings, the director says something. Here you sit with electronics, you are your [own] boss. You don’t want to go for recordings, you just say I don’t want to come. I was in that mood, you know. But once I teamed up with [filmmaker] Rajiv [Rai], he told me during Tridev (1989), ‘Viju, let’s pair something and then we will play it for Dad.’ So that’s how I started preparing songs and playing them for Dad and Uncle.”

Viju was the music arranger for the soundtrack of Tridev (1989) and formed a lasting partnership with filmmaker Rajiv Rai over seven films until Pyaar Ishq Aur Mohabbat (2001). He won the Filmfare Award in 1998 for his background score for Rajiv Rai’s Gupt (1997), starring Bobby Deol, Kajol and Manisha Koirala.