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The immortal triumvirate of Lata Mangeshkar and Laxmikant-Pyarelal – Anniversary special

On Laxmikant Shantaram Kudalkar's 23rd death anniversary, a look at 10 gems from the composers' treasured repertoire.

Ajay Poundarik

Iconic composer duo Laxmikant-Pyarelal dominated the Hindi film music scene for over 35 years with their enchanting melodies. The musicians' journey resembles that of several other artistes who came from humble beginnings and sought fame and fortune in the city of dreams. What set them apart, though, was their prodigious gifts, impeccable taste and boundless creativity.

Laxmikant-Pyarelal are remembered, among other things, for composing the lion's share of legendary playback singer Lata Mangeshkar's colossal oeuvre, and it was none other than the celebrated chanteuse who gave Laxmikant Shantaram Kudalkar — then a 12-year-old — his first big break circa 1949.

Kudalkar was playing the mandolin at a musical soiree in Colaba, Bombay, when he caught the eye of Mangeshkar, who was the chief guest. So blown away was she by the prodigy's virtuosity that she immediately brought him to the attention of renowned music directors C Ramchandra, Naushad and Shankar-Jaikishan.

At the time, the singer and her family members ran a music academy called the Sureela Bal Kala Kendra. The institution was essentially run by resident prodigies such as Hridaynath Mangeshkar, Usha Mangeshkar, Meena Mangeshkar and Kudalkar's future partner, Pyarelal Ramprasad Sharma and his younger brothers Ganesh, Gorakh, Anand and Naresh. They were later joined by Kudalkar and his elder brother Shashikant. The children hung out together at Mangeshkar's home, immersing themselves in the world of music and honing their skills.

The writer with Pyarelal Ramprasad Sharma

Laxmikant and Pyarelal bonded at the Sureela Bal Kala Kendra and went on to forge one of the more enduring and rewarding musical partnerships with Mangeshkar, with whom they collaborated on a mind-boggling 712 songs from 1963.

The prolific trio's collective output — which ranges from accessible chart-toppers to intricate and technically complex compositions — accounts for one in every 10 Hindi film songs recorded by the melody queen, and one in every four songs composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal. The sheer diversity of the music and sustained excellence that typifies their endeavours raised the bar for generations of musicians to come.

Laxmikant, the senior half of the duo, died on 25 May 1998. On his 23rd death anniversary, a look at 10 gems from the composers' treasured repertoire.

'Jeevan Dor Tumhi Sang Bandhi' — Sati Savitri (1964)

When talking about films featuring classically flavoured music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Sati Savitri stands out. Mangeshkar lent her voice to six tunes based on ragas for the period film, such as 'Kabhi To Miloge Jeevan Sathi', 'Sakhi Ri Pee Ka Naam', 'Tum Gagan Ke Chandrama Ho' (with Manna Dey) and 'Itni Jaldi Kya Hai Gori Sajan Ke Ghar' (with Usha Mangeshkar and Kamal Barot).

These immortal songs were written by noted lyricist Bharat Vyas (1918–1982).

Based on the raga Yaman Kalyan, 'Jeevan Dor Tumhi Sang Bandhi' is a delicate expression of love. One of the singer's personal favourites, the hypnotic song prominently features violins and whisks the listener away to another dimension. The symphonic interludes are dazzling.

'Bahut Din Beete' — Sant Gyaneshwar (1964)

This biopic saw Mangeshkar vocalize the musings and desires of numerous characters — an old woman ('Mere Laadlo Tum Phoolo Phalo'), a young child ('Ek Do Teen Char Bhaiya Bano Hoshiyar') and the saint as a youth ('Jyot Se Jyot Jagaate Chalo'). She also sang the rousing lavni number 'Main To Chhail Chhabeeli Naar'. But it is 'Bahut Din Beete', which was lip-synched by the lead actress Surekha, that tugs at the heartstrings.

Also featuring lyrics by Bharat Vyas, the deeply melodious composition is based on the raga Shivaranjani.

The rhythm of the tabla; the first interlude which features the sarod, violins and the flute; and the second one which sees the use of the xylophone move the listener. A masterpiece.

'Sanam Rah Bhoole Yahan' — Lootera (1965)

Mangeshkar sang six diverse songs for Lootera. The compositions were influenced by ghazals, Western classical, cabaret and Arabian folk music.

'Sanam Rah Bhoole Yahan', a beautiful and melodious ghazal-style composition, creatively featured Western instruments, especially the acoustic guitar, mandolin and violins. Mangeshkar's genius is on full display in this number which showcases her velvet tone, graceful phrasing and easy delivery.

'Dhadka Hai Dil Mein Pyar' — Jaal (1967)

Jaal marked Laxmikant-Pyarelal's maiden collaboration with famed lyricist Raja Mehdi Ali Khan. Mangeshkar contributed four melodious songs to the sensational soundtrack of the Mala Sinha-starrer, including the stirring ghazal 'Meri Zindagi Ke Chirag Ko' and the romantic ballad 'Rokna Hai Agar'.

An outstanding upbeat composition in the Western style, 'Dhadka Hai Dil Mein Pyar' starts with a 46-second section featuring Mangeshkar's inimitable alaps as well as humming, which is brilliantly synchronized with the swell of violins. The singer's phrasing of the words ‘abhi abhi’, which is followed by a piercing bass riff, is heavenly. The rhythm section comprises the acoustic and bass guitar and bongos. The use of the saxophone, violins, violas and accordions in all interludes is magnificent. The second one in particular, where the saxophone features prominently, is hypnotizing. A mesmerizing orchestral arrangement.

'Mera Naam Hai Jameela' — Night In London (1967)

Mangeshkar's unaccompanied vocals steal the show in this racy cabaret number written by Anand Bakshi. The songstress ensured that the listener's ear was piqued by vocalizing the word Jameela in nine different ways at the behest of Laxmikant-Pyarelal.

The richly orchestrated arrangement, the visuals of which see Helen prance around a den of iniquity, is kicked off by the sound of a gong.

From the 50-second opening section to the three interludes, the use of brass instruments makes the song. The tempo is set by the frenzied rhythm of bongos while the sound of electric guitar licks is audible amid the traditional instruments.

Another nice flourish is the male chorus that pipes up in all the antaras.

Mangeshkar sang many cabaret songs composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal, but this was, arguably, the first one.

'Allah Yeh Ada Kaisi' — Mere Hamdam Mere Dost (1968)

This blockbuster film starring Dharmendra and Sharmila Tagore boasts an enviable soundtrack, which includes four solo songs by Mangeshkar.

Written by the legendary Majrooh Sultanpuri, who is known to the current generation of music fans for his classic collaborations with composers Anand-Milind and Jatin-Lalit, 'Allah Yeh Ada Kaisi' is an uplifting qawwali.

The entrancing rhythm is accentuated by the pulse of the dholak, tabla and handclaps. The song sees a change of tempo and the gorgeous Mumtaz does great justice to the wonderful composition by matching her steps with the overpowering beat.

'O Ghata Sanwari' — Abhinetri (1970)

Abhinetri, a hit musical, featured six songs by Mangeshkar and remains one of her best works.

Written by Majrooh Sultanpuri, 'O Ghata Sanwari' begins with a mesmerizing 57-second symphonic section replete with the sound of violins, flutes, the santoor and glockenspiel.

Laxmikant-Pyarelal delicately and tunefully juxtaposed Mangeshkar's voice with jazz flute melodies. The monsoon imagery and vibe also set the mood of the song, the visuals of which see actress Hema Malini gracefully practise yoga positions. The inclusion of the sound of splashing water in the latter half of the song is a delightful detail. The jazz flute and the Western-influenced rhythm make this song special.

'Kajra Laga Ke' — Jal Bin Machhli Nritya Bin Bijli (1971)

In the Hindi film industry, few tasks were as Herculean as making your way into the camp of legendary filmmaker V Shantaram. The director opted to work with his own pick of music directors throughout his decades-long career, which was limited to two or three doyens. In 1970, Laxmikant-Pyarelal succeeded where most of their peers had failed, composing tunes for the romance drama Jal Bin Machhli Nritya Bin Bijli.

V Shantaram, pioneer of woman-orientated cinema – Anniversary special

Mangeshkar sang four solo songs for the project as well as two duets with Mukesh. Each of these is distinct in terms of mood and composition.

According to Pyarelal, 'Kajra Laga Ke' had its genesis in a request by the actress Sandhya, who was also Shantaram's wife, that the composers and Majrooh Sultanpuri come up with the melody, rhythm and words of the song based on her dance steps — a major departure from the norm.

However, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Mangeshkar and Majrooh rose to the occasion, crafting a timeless melody where the flute features prominently, based on the Mayur folk dance.

'Suraj Utra Bindiya Mein' — Sauda (1974)

Written by Inderjeet Singh Tulsi, 'Suraj Utra Bindiya Mein' is yet another sterling East-West fusion piece that enthrals the listener. The song's 12-second opening section begins with a sitar melody that is accompanied by the rhythm guitar. Mangeshkar's vocals and the wistful strains of violins then break the spell. Her interesting phrasing of the word 'suraj' with her stress on the first syllable, the use of the flute, the pulsating dholak and the manner in which the violins mellifluously blend with the diva's voice are some of the highlights of the beautiful song.

'Neelam Pe Nabh Chhayi' — Utsav (1984)

Though 1984 marked Laxmikant-Pyarelal's 21st year together, the music of Utsav — an adaptation of the ancient Sanskrit play Mrchchhakatika — starring Rekha is testament to the timeless nature of their craft.

Pleasantly putting paid to the notion that they needed massive orchestral backing to bring to life their melodious hits, Laxmikant and Pyarelal turned to traditional instruments, minimal orchestration and handclaps to set the rhythm.

Featuring lyrics by Vasant Dev and based on the raga Bibhas, the melodious 'Neelam Pe Nabh Chhayi' features the use of the bansuri (traditional bamboo flute) in the mukhada section. The tune's spellbinding interludes are dominated by the mridangam, veena and ghungroo bells. Once again, the composers sparingly used the chorus to great effect.

Ajay Poundarik has been a Laxmikant-Pyarelal fan since 1963 and blogs about the duo and Hindi film music at https://laxmikantpyarelal.com/ and https://laxmikant-pyarelal.blogspot.com.