Haunting melody...

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Audiences rejoice in nostalgia as Manohar Iyer, through his Keep Alive shows, takes them back to the golden era of Hindi film music.

V. Gangadhar

Recently, as I was having breakfast, the telephone rang. A familiar voice announced, "Konjam Kelungo,"(Listen a bit) and what followed was one of Lata Mangeshkar's melodies from the 1950s' film Shagufa Apna pata batadey, Ya mere pas aaja, Dil hei udaas aaja... The caller was Manohar Iyer and he relayed through the telephone, one of my favourite songs from the `Aap Ki Farmaish' programme on Radio Ceylon, a must for lovers of Hindi film songs in days gone by.. Iyer does this often and thanks to him, one gets to hear very rare songs like the Talat Mehmood ghazal from Ashiana, another film of the 1950s, Mein pagal, Mera manuva pagal, Pagal mere preet re... Iyer is the founder of `Keep Alive', dedicated to preserve and promote Hindi film music of the golden era from the 1940s to 1960s.

Founded in 1997 in Mumbai, Keep Alive has brought together lovers of old Hindi film songs and has also honoured music directors, singers, lyricists and filmmakers. In one such show, the sons of Ghulam Mohammad, a famous music director of the 1950s, were thrilled at the honour bestowed on their father. "Thanks to Keep Alive, Mumbai once again remembered Ghulam Mohammad. This was a memorable occasion for us," they said.

Every function is organised with care. About 40-45 songs of the composer are chosen by Iyer, rehearsed thoroughly and rendered effortlessly. The packed audiences rejoice in nostalgia. "Where else can we hear these golden melodies rendered so well?" says Gujarati trader Vipin Shah. "These melodies bring our youth back!"

Iyer and Keep Alive have, so far, honoured music directors Roshan, Vasant Desai, Ghulam Mohammad, Husanlal Bhagatram, Khemchand Prakash, C. Ramchandra, Shankar Jaikishan, Madan Mohan and Anil Biswas; lyricists Kavi Pradeep, Shakeel Badayuni and Majrooh Sultanpuri; singers Manna Dey, Geeta Dutt and actors Dilip Kumar, Madhubala, Raj Kapoor and Nargis.

Few people remember the contributions of Husanlal Bhagatram or Khemchand Prakash to Hindi film music. But after attending shows that honoured them, memories came flooding in as we hummed tunes like Aayega, aayega, aayega aanewale or Zindagi denewale.

During the show, Iyer also narrates in Urdu interesting anecdotes and little known tidbits about the giants of the film industry. Did you know that after the failure of his first film, music director Roshan was so depressed that he contemplated suicide?

Here's another interesting anecdote. When S.M.S. Naidu, a popular filmmaker from the South, decided to make Kohinoor, a Hindi version of his Tamil box office hit, Malai Kallan, in a short span of time, he came to Mumbai to hire top-ranking music director Naushad and informed him that he needed to compose nine songs in just one month.

Naushad, who on an average composed one tune a month, sent him to C. Ramachandra who, along with writer Rajinder Krishan, accepted the job. They flew to Chennai, and spent several days roaming in the city without sitting down to work. The frantic Naidu did not know what to do. With just one day left for the deadline, the composer and lyricist sat down together and completed the memorable music score which included fabulous hits like Itna haseen hain mausam and Appalam Chappalam. Song writing came easily to Rajinder Krishan who believed he could write a song on any topic. While having a typical South Indian meal, he came across the popular dish appalam (Tamil for papad) and when challenged to write a song on that, did it effortlessly. The result was the foot-tapping Appalam Chappalam song.

Know how the immortal Lata solo, Tum kya jaano, tumhari yaad mein hum kitna royen from the film Shin Shinaki Boobla Boo was born? Lyricist P.L. Santoshi, who was desperately, but unsuccessfully, in love with the film's heroine Rehana, spent the entire night outside her closed door and the next morning gave vent to his feelings through the lyrics!

Passion for Hindi songs

Iyer was addicted to Hindi film music from an early age and tuned in to Radio Ceylon for old film songs. His passion continued to grow during his 15-year stint with IDBI as a finance manager. Disillusioned by the growing coarseness and loudness of film music, he decided to do his bit to keep the golden age of music alive and together with a small group of friends, launched Keep Alive.

"Friends like Krishnan Iyer, Manoj Subramanian and Rajesh Subramanian stood by me and I found growing interest among the people for this kind of music," he says. Initially, he organised shows at his own expense, and later quit his job to concentrate full-time on Keep Alive. Today, membership has touched 3,600 and is still growing. Sometimes, shows are conducted at two to three venues, in order to accommodate members. Teamwork is the hallmark of the group's success. Musicians and singers consider it a privilege to perform for Keep Alive and pay homage to legendary musicians.

Today, there are many groups that have followed suit. "That is okay," says Iyer. "Anyone is welcome to promote the golden era of Hindi film music, but Keep Alive is something special."

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated January 7, 2005)
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