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If music be the food of Bollywood, act on

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS

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"Morning Raga", playwright Mahesh Dattani's film about the life of a Carnatic singer, puts the spotlight on films where protagonists, mostly women, have played singers.

Shabani Azmi does the honours in Dattani's film. This is the third movie that has her playing a singer, having starred in Sai Paranjpye's "Saaz" and more recently in Khalid Mohamed's "Tehzeeb".

She even studied professional singers for the roles.

Since music and cinema are closely intertwined, it's interesting to see the way musicians are treated in Hindi films.

In Hrishikesh Mukherjee's "Abhimaan", Amitabh Bachchan sings in three different voices - those of Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi and Manhar Udhas.

His wife Jaya Bachchan sings throughout the film in Lata Mangeshkar's voice. In fact, Jaya studied Lata very minutely and imitated her mannerisms while playing the singer.

In "Morning Raga", Dattani has used the well-known singer from southern India, Bombay Jayshree, to do Shabana's singing.

Says Dattani, "Shabana had a teacher to guide her into the nuances of singing. She became so skilled at the Carnatic style that she could've easily sung her own songs. But her accent gave her away."

When K. Vishwanath remade his grand Telugu musical "Sankarabharanam" as "Sur Sangam" in Hindi on the great Indian traditional heritage, he made sure he cast a skilled actor with a deep knowledge of music -- Girish Karnad.

The diligence with which actors got into the thick of the roles of musicians proves how seriously they took the whole exercise of creating a musical ambience for cinema on music.

When Tanuja Chandra made "Sur" she signed real-life singer Lucky Ali to play a real-life guru who almost destroys his favourite pupil's career.

The guru-shishya, or student-teacher, tradition which occupies an important part of the musical heritage in this country has been touched upon in all cinema pertaining to music and musicians.

In Mahesh Dattani's "Morning Raga", the theme reaches a point of acute sensitivity. In depicting the angst-filled relationship between the singer and her song, "Morning Raga" recalls the best films made in this country on similar themes.


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