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WHEN MELODY WAS KING
It was the age of tuneful chemistry, also sublime artistry. It was the ‘era’ of Shankar-Jaikishan (S-J) — two names that stand out as one among the genii. Music was S-J’s life, a great source of joy. It was astounding too. Jaikishan (September 12 marked his 50th death anniversary) was just forty-one when he passed into the sunset.
Yet, his virtuosity and vitality were exemplary to leave their imprint on the sands of time, just as much as Shankar, Jaikishan’s senior partner, who continued to use the hyphenated name, until he bid adieu in 1987.
What made the duo so extraordinarily special was the power of their melodies — melodies that had in them a distinct sensibility, replete with the eternal softness of petals and the enduring aroma of musk.
What’s more, their gentle radiance, what with the unmistakable changes that came later, in tune with the tides of time, never ever lost that characteristic form — an S-J benchmark of sophisticated allure and timeless appeal.
Art knows no age. And, the creative melodious alchemy of S-J with their lyricists par excellence, Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri proved to be the central theme, heart and soul of such a credo.
Jaikishan was the soul of the S-J school of music. So was Shankar — two sides of the same coin. What takes one’s breath away was their sublime pulsation and delicate, also dexterous, orchestration — one that could not be imitated, nay emulated. S-J’s theme-song was simple and profound: they were endlessly trying to do better and better, bringing to their music a dainty novelty that none could replicate.
Nothing could stop S-J in their prime. As one critic put it, “S-J could have been knocked out by the duo itself — not someone from outside.” Their artful finesse was not limited to conventional norms.
They absorbed the best from Oriental and Occidental musical spheres, yet the end result was typically, also uniquely, S-J. S-J did not have ‘midgets’ for contemporaries: Anil Biswas, Naushad Ali, C Ramachandra, Madan Mohan, S D Burman, Salil Chowdhury, and O P Nayyar, among others, each man an institution by himself.
But, the big question was: how were they rated by their own ‘rivals’? As the legendary Naushad put it, “Jaikishan had the rare gift of instant mental notation. He had to only see a reel unfold on the screen, and the whole thing was stamped in his mind to the last detail.”
Raj Kapoor shaped the duo’s career graph, all right. This was one reason why it’s popularly believed that the credit for S-J’s phenomenal success ought to go to the greatest ‘Showman’ of Indian Cinema. The idea is grossly unfair.
Because, most people forget the fact that while Kapoor may have contributed much with his fine ear and ken for music, he could never repeat the same success with the likes of Laxmikant-Pyarelal, R D Burman, or Ravindra Jain — all top-class, gifted composers.
There never was, quite simply, another Barsaat, Awara, Shree 420, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, Sangam, or Mera Naam Joker. As music critic Raju Bharatan once observed, “When Aah failed to woo the box-office, Raj Kapoor, perforce, had to bring in S-J, and within a matter of weeks, they came up with that memorable score for Boot Polish.
And, just take a close look at the background score for Shree 420. You’ll find at least three tunes which were used for Anari.” This was music in creation, conceptualised in advance: of dulcet resonance and harmony in the seventh heaven of their existence.
“We, S-J, and I,” as Raj Kapoor articulated “picked out this bountiful raga, Bhairavi, right at the beginning with Barsaat because all three of us knew that it would lend itself to a number of variations.”
It’s just a case of Hobson’s choice to pick out their best. Each S-J number is a gem. Priceless. Beyond compare. To pluck another example.
No composer exploited the one and only Mohammed Rafi’s velvety voice so wonderfully and expertly or, transformed the aggressive romanticism of Shammi ‘Yahoo’ Kapoor — like S-J.
S-J, endowed with great empathy for top-quality music, were at home with Hindustani and Carnatic traditions, as much as English classical and folk music. S-J were the first composers to be paid whopping professional fees more than the top actors of their time.
“Music vibrates in the memory,” wrote Percy Bysshe Shelley. This sums up S-J music: one that will reverberate, scintillate and endure through posterity.