Long playing nostalgia

Shashi Baliga | Updated on February 17, 2011 Published on February 17, 2011

Old but as attractive as gold are these Gramaphones. S. RameshKurup   -  THE HINDU

Veteran bollywood actor Dev Anand during the music release of his old classic Hum Dono in Mumbai. PTI   -  PTI

Hum dono

Shashi Baliga

Those who love the golden oldies of Hindi film music will not hear of any comparison with today's melodious creations. How fair is that?

If I had a rupee (okay, make that 100 rupees) for every time someone sighed to me, “Nothing like old Hindi film music… today's music doesn't come close,” I'd be halfway to building an Antilla of my own (minus the criminally high electricity bill). Of course, that blanket dismissal of contemporary film music is usually uttered by the over-40s, a category to which I have to confess I belong — in chronological terms but squarely not when it comes to Hindi film music. My instinctive reaction is to collar these nostalgia-mongers and ask, “Since when have you been wearing ear-muffs?”

Unfortunately, what I usually do is cop out with a weak smile and quickly move on to another conversation or subject. For I've had this argument way too often and I know it will go nowhere, as my views are considered downright blasphemous and the other side will be deaf to my explanations. But here, with the admittedly unfair advantage of being able to hold forth uninterrupted, let me make my point.

First I have to concede that I am no expert on Hindi film music, old or new. I enjoy it pretty much as the rest of India does — singing or humming along, sometimes with a smile on my face. My credentials, then, for airing my views? One, I'm part of that amorphous entity called the audience. Two, I have followed Hindi films for decades now. And three, I am old enough to recognise myopic nostalgia when I see it.

The immediate trigger for this piece was the release of Hum Dono Rangeen, the colourised version of the black-and-white Dev Anand classic Hum Dono. Riding on the joy of seeing the infinitely charming Devsaab on the big screen, with Jaidev's Abhi na jao chhod kar ke dil abhi bhara nahin wafting over them, friends and music lovers insisted on voicing that inevitable complaint all over again.

It is difficult to argue with the languorous Abhi na jao and hundreds of other timeless melodies stacked on the other side. But the point is that nobody here is denying the effortless beauty of those unforgettable compositions.

I don't need to add more to the volumes written about what is called the Golden Age of Hindi music, filled with a joyous embarrassment of riches, whether it was composers, lyricists or singers.

Granted, we simply don't have those many greats in our midst today. But we do have some, don't we? Surely, an A.R. Rahman or a Vishal Bhardwaj has a body of work that is both large and consistent enough for comparison? Let's not negate their genius. Or the excellence of younger composers such as, say, a Santanu Moitra or an Amit Trivedi, who are laying the foundation for what will hopefully be their place in cinematic history.

Problem is, so much of our attachment to our favourite songs has to do with non-musical reasons.

They are often linked to many emotional moments of your youth — the melody your mother always sang or your father hummed, the song that gave you the courage to first hold your girlfriend's hand, the number that was always a hit in the college canteen. Part of their appeal is also that they came from a simpler time in the movies and our lives.

But, hand on nostalgic heart, can you say A.R. Rahman's T u meri adhuri pyaas pyaas is any less filled with yearning than Abhi na jao? (A suggestion: blank out the fact that the former featured in that slugfest called Ghajini and your judgment will be less clouded.) Could you honestly say that Shiv-Hari's Jadoo teri nazar from Darr is any less melodious or less delicate in its lyrics than numbers from the Golden Age? Can you deny that Vishal Bhardwaj's Sapne mein milti hai from Satya will prove to be a perennial delight? Or that Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy's Kal ho na ho from the eponymous movie will prove to be a timeless song, if you'll forgive the bad pun? (I have deliberately left R.D. Burman out of the list because, surely, there's no argument there, and all the compositions I have picked came after the peak of his career, with the exquisite exception of 1942 A Love Story.)

I could go on forever with this, but I know this is not an argument I can ever win, not with legends like Lata Mangeshkar and an array of music aficionados and scholars on the other side. Mine is just the voice of the audience, of the Hindi film-buff who finds equal pleasure in a Rukhmini, Rukhmini as in a Raina beet jaaye. The generation that grew up singing Mere desh ki dharti on Independence Day has given way to one which declares, Maa, tujhe salaam. And, no doubt, today's music buffs will, some 30 or 40 years later, say dismissively to their children, “Can any of today's composers hold a torch to Rahman?”

The rosy tint of nostalgia is a dangerous and inevitable addiction, whether it relates to the growing-up years, music or the movies. Oh yes, the movies — dare I go in there now? No, let me save that for another day. There's been enough blasphemy for one day.

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Published on February 17, 2011
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