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Harmonium makes its comeback in Hindi Cinema



August 9, 2011 06:10:57 PM IST
Enkayaar, Glamsham Editorial
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If one were to pick out the most predominant feature from the song Sheila Ki Jawani from TEES MAAR KHAN what would the fans pick up in general? Most of them would point out to the svelte figure of Katrina Kaif, with washboard abs swaying to the music of Vishal Sekhar. However if the fans of Hindi music were to be asked this question, they would delightfully chuckle that it was the return of harmonium in a big way with the song that was the singular most redeeming feature. Indeed, the elaborate use of harmonium in the opening as also in the opening and imaginative use of harmonium in between the antaras brought to fans old memories of wonders that it could encapsulate within itself.

In the era of synthetic sounds, where the manufacture of sounds is done through keyboards, indeed it is manufacture as it provides inputs based on outputs, the need to control the nodes of harmonium to get out the desired effect was the primary reason that music directors of the yore right up to Pancham, whenever they were clicked they seldom left harmonium as accompanying feature in the same frame.

From the current generation of music directors it was Anu Malik who used to get photographed with harmonium, but once when he became a celebrity judge, he also seems to have left harmonium in the studio. If one were to recall from the annals of Hindi cinema the most predominant usage of harmonium, one would not have to dig deep but to see PADOSAN again, specifically, Ek chatur naar. In this song both Kishore Kumar and Mehmood fight their musical prowess by using harmonium, and Mehmood underlines the importance of finding the correct sur by using harmonium as accompaniment by reemphasizing-ye sur badala, par hum chodega nahi, sur ko pakad ke rakhega.

The era of Hindi film music where the music directors formed a duo was also factoring in the consideration that one of them was an astute harmonium player, be it Shankar Jaikishan, where Jaikishan was an astute harmonium player, or Laxmikant Pyarelal, where Pyarelal was accomplished harmonium player. One of the greatest music directors of Hindi cinema Naushad was a harmonium player in Ranjit Movie tone when he came to Bombay to make his career in music and that could be the reason why he was partial to it.

Harmonium based songs formed the core of Hindi songs, be it Koi jab raah nap aye from DOSTI, or Aadmi musafir hai from APNAPAN, Hindi cinema songs pulsated to the nodes of harmonium. It was one of the most basic instruments for music aficionados along with Dholak and still forms an integral feature of all family functions in the country, be it religious or social. Who could forget ai meri zohra zabee from WAQT where a Balraj Sahni serenades Achala Sachdev and the harmonium plays in the background. Or for that matter the street songs that formed an integral part of Hindi cinema right from TAXI DRIVER till ZANZEER, where a harmonium player was the necessary accompaniment. One may not be an astute player of Harmonium, but he ought to be conversant with the nodes, and it was easy to play the harmonium. The basis of classical singing in India starts with harmonium for that matter.

When one is talking of importance of harmonium in defining the fault line in Hindi cinema who could forget the importance it played in various characters etched out by Bharat Bhushan.Be it the singer Baiju in BAIJU BAWRA or as the singer in BARSAAT KI RAAT, taking on the harmonium in the qawali Bahut kathin hai dagar panghat ki, and turning the competition on its head, harmonium was his alter ego.

Even in the career growth of Big B harmonium has played an important part, be it Rim Jhim Gire Sawan from MANZIL, Rang barse bheege chunariya from SILSILA or Saare gaama from CHUPKE CHUPKE. The popularity of harmonium and a sense of identity with its nodes was primarily owing to the fact that rare was it to find a house where one or the other inhabitant did not play harmonium. It was kind of a social identity and that is the reason why it had such a long innings in Hindi cinema, before it was given a new lease of life through Sheila ki Jawani in TEES MAAR KHAN. The glorious tradition of qawali, the way it evolved could not have reached there, were it not for the humble harmonium.

As a matter of fact the music directors in the earlier times, in popular lexicon were known as bajawalas, or petiwalas, i.e. those who are adept at playing the peti or the harmonium as it is referred to in and around Mumbai. In fact, the umbilical link with the nodes of harmonium get established when one travels in train through Maharashtra during the day time. As train passes from one station to another one finds urchins with a miniature version of harmonium trying to sing old songs by playing nodes on harmonium, and the money that is paid to these player by the travelers, one feels is primarily owing to association of nostalgia with this instrument.

For the aficionados it would indeed be surprising to note that harmonium never was an Indian instrument, it originated in Paris, but found its moorings in India in such a manner that it is considered as an Indian musical instrument. The first song of Hindi film in ALAM ARA was a song based on harmonium and Tabla underlining the symbiotic link these instruments have had in Hindi film music since 1940s. Though music has evolved, harmonium still is at the core of Hindi music, and one only hopes that it continues to remain so.




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