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Indian music through the decades- 1980-89



The latter half of the 1970s had witnessed a steep decline in the quality of Hindi film music. When the 1980s arrived, people were looking for a fresh alternative. They either wanted a new sound within the celluloid world or a different non-film genre altogether.

They got both. With Biddu’s ‘Aap Kaisa Koi’ in Qurbani and Bappi Lahiri’s Disco Dancer, disco emerged as a style people related to. Dance parties were in vogue, and English chartbusters were played too. Outside the movies, the Pakistani sibling duo of Nazia and Zoheb Hassan had a successful album in Disco Deawane. The ghazal movement was picking up too, details of which are given later in this column. These trends lasted a few years, while the majority of Hindi film songs remained sub-standard.


Development of music companies


The rest of the decade had other important developments. Cassettes became the most popular form of music consumption, and many people bought tape decks, two-in-one stereo players or Sony Walkman’s. New music companies were floated. Super Cassettes, under the T-Series brand, started by selling tapes of film songs and cover versions. CBS, Tips, Venus, Inreco, Pan Music and Magnasound were set up.

Some companies and record stores sold duplicate copies or cover versions at cheaper prices, and piracy became a huge issue. Many such tapes were played at religious processions and were even available with street vendors. People asked relatives traveling abroad to get the latest and genuine pre-recorded cassettes of international music. While serious listeners and rich folks still preferred vinyl records, the masses opted for cassettes, despite their shorter shelf life.

All India Radio continued to be strong, both in film and classical music. English music buffs heard their favourites on shows like Saturday Date in Mumbai and A Date With You in Delhi. Doordarshan began playing an increasing role in promoting artistes, especially in the ghazal segment.


The popularity of Ghazal in the ’80s


Indeed, ghazals were the dominant genre during the period. While Jagjit-Chitra Singh and Rajendra-Nina Mehta set the trend in the late 1970s, Pankaj Udhas and Talat Aziz became popular in the early 1980s. Soon, Penaz Masani, Chandan Dass, Dilraj Kaur, and Rajkumar Rizvi earned recognition. Anup Jalota alternated between ghazals and bhajans, and by 1985, playback singer Bhupinder and his wife Mitali began giving concerts. Madhurani and Vithal Rao mentored many singers.

Most ghazal albums were recorded by Saregama HMV and Music India, as Universal Music was then known. They looked for simple ghazals which listeners could relax to, and artistes were promoted on TV and in live concerts. Pakistani singers Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali, and Iqbal Bano did shows in India, and Bangladeshi artiste Runa Laila’s version of ‘Damadam Mast Qalandar’ and ‘Mera Babu Chail Chhabila’ were Doordarshan favourites.



Even films with serious or romantic storylines began using ghazals and light music. Jagjit Singh sang in Prem Rog, Arth and Saath Saath. Udhas had an evergreen hit in the Naam song ‘Chitthi Aayee Hai’. Music director Khayyam used the genre immaculately in Umrao Jaan, where Asha Bhosle sang some beauties, and Bazaar, which had Lata Mangeshkar’s ‘Dikhayee Diye Yoon’. Both films had contributions by Talat Aziz and Khayyam’s wife Jagjit Kaur.



ghazal singer

Melody in film music


Basically, people were looking for melody. R.D. Burman, Asha Bhosle, and lyricist Gulzar teamed up in the film Ijaazat and the album Dil Padosi Hai. In 1988, newcomers Anand and Milind, sons of music director Chitragupt, did Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. Other popular soundtracks of the 1980s included Shiv-Hari’s Silsila (where Javed Akhtar wrote lyrics for most songs), Burman’s Masoom and Parinda, Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s Ek Duuje Ke Liye, Mr India, and Tezaab, Kalyanji-Anandji’s Qurbani and Ram Laxman’s Maine Pyar Kiya. Among new singers, Udit Narayan, Alka Yagnik, and Anuradha Paudwal had hits. The decade also saw the demise of the legendary Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar.

By and large, the Hindi film music scenario was pretty bad. The south, in contrast, had some amazing success stories. The period gave enormous hits to music director Ilaayaraaja and singer S.P. Balasubramaniam, who actually arrived on the scene during the previous decade.



With his unique blend of Indian folk, Carnatic elements, and western techniques, Ilaiyaraaja became recognised as one of India’s greatest composers. Besides numerous films, including Mani Rathnam’s Tamil landmark Nayakan, he became the first Asian to compose a symphony for London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. For his part, Balasubramaniam attained nationwide acclaim in the 1981 film Ek Duuje Ke Liye.


Regional & International music consumption in the’80s

Other areas witnessed the rise of artistes. Up north, Gurdas Maan shot to fame with his song ‘Dil Da Maamla’, paving the way for popular Punjabi music. In Hindustani classical music, young vocalists Ashwini Bhide and Arati Ankalikar became prolific. Carnatic music saw the emergence of mandolin child prodigy U. Srinivas, who played at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1982 at age 13.



Indian musicians travelled abroad more frequently, and even collaborated with western artistes. While sitar maestro Ravi Shankar did many international tie-ups, violinist L. Subramaniam played with the legendary Stephane Grappeli and Yehudi Menuhin.

Back home, Indo-jazz fusion band, Shakti had some great concerts, and its guitarist John McLaughlin helped attract many to serious jazz. The Jazz Yatra grew in stature, whereas the National Centre for the Performing Arts and Mehli Mehta Foundation brought in reputed western classical orchestras, with Zubin Mehta conducting.

Western music fans were delighted to see their favourite bands, as the Police, Osibisa, Wishbone Ash, Uriah Heep, Europe, and Boney M toured India, and Bruce Springsteen and Sting charmed at the 1988 Human Rights Now show in New Delhi.

If the previous decade had opened up many avenues, the 1980s took things even further. The only inconsistency came with Hindi film music, but both musicians and record executives were hoping things would improve in the 1990s. Maybe a new era was in the offing.


Narendra Kusnur

Author: Narendra Kusnur

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