“I am very happy you came today,” said Pyarelal ji as he sat on the sofa next to me.
Framed against the window behind him, the afternoon sun’s rays reflected well against his pristine white kurta and the aura of his flawless silver hair. Adorned by the backdrop of the sea visible from the window, the picturesque moment looked animated.
“What is it that you want to know?” he asked.
“I hope you have interesting questions,” added his son.
Not knowing which direction to look, I fumbled,
“The reason why I am here is that I want to know the details of your life, your compositions, your musical arrangements, your process….”
“You see there are certain things we only disclose at required occasions like workshops,” said Pyarelal ji.
A response like that would only mean difficulty that I would have to go through to get the desired answers. Here I was sitting beside a man whose songs I grew up listening to, who was a legendary music composer, it was awe-inspiring, to say the least.
I kept on remembering how Laxmikant- Pyarelal had composed more than 3000 songs across more than 500 movies. One wrong question and the entire conversation would get awkward.
“I was wondering if you could talk to me about how you arranged a song and ideated the entire concept,” I asserted.
“How did you reach here? You must have thought of a route before leaving home right? It is no different,” he replied.
“I mean the choice of instruments used in a song, the arrangement of it all, for example, Bada Dukh Dina from Ram Lakhan,” I stammered.
“I could have asked about a hundred other songs, why this one?” I thought to myself.
“We spoke to Raees Khan Sahab and told him that we would require 16 Sitars for Bada Dukh Dina,” he began.
“Great! We are making progress,” again talking to myself.
“When you listen to it, you would notice the tone and depth of each sitar throughout the song. Also, the scene’s requirement was such,”
“There’s a lovelorn girl singing to Ram complaining about Lakhan. And how does she do that? She sings, “ओ राम जी बड़ा दुःख दीना, तेरे लखन ने बड़ा दुःख दीना”| It was only a matter of choice and need,” he explained.
Just then Mrs. Pyarelal, a jolly and lively person, entered with a tray full of sweets and snacks.
Delving into the Atmosphere
The room where we were seated was covered with pictures of great composers and singers like Shankar-Jaikishen, Kalyanji-Anandji, R.D. Burman, Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed. Rafi. Awards and recognitions were arrayed on the mantel, and his piano stood against the wall. It was like a beautiful embroidery that captured the golden era of Hindi film music in India.
Pointing to a photograph, he said,
“This was shot right after we recorded Woh Jab Yaad Aye. ”
I rushed to the frame to catch the details. L-P standing next to each other with Lata ji and Rafi Sahab. Lata ji, clad in a saree with her hair pleated, as always. Her animal printed clutch was attention-grabbing.
“How did you and Laxmi ji meet?” I asked.
“We were kids,”
With expectant eyes, I waited for him to add more.
“Do you know where Kirti College is?”
I nodded excitedly.
“There used to be a building called Ahmed Mansion there. During those times the entire land was empty, we were surrounded by many popular studios of the time. I met Laxmi on one of those days while playing cricket on the empty field. Both of us were kids and worked in those studios and had only the weekends to ourselves. Over broken bats and the joy of playing cricket, Laxmi and I bonded.”
“And how did you both start working together?”
“My father taught me music from the time I was 8 years old. Luckily, I found work at Ranjit Studio and started working under Bulo C. Rani. Lata Mangeshkar had seen Laxmi and I play music in the studios before. So she kindly asked Husanlal Bhatagram ji to take us under his wing to play mandolin and violin,
“By 14, both of us had begun working as arrangers with Khayyam Sahab for a movie called Phir Subhah Hogi. After that, we were arranging for Kalyanji-Anandji. That continued till we got our first movie in 1963 as composers for Parasmani.”
“It must have been hard to go through all this work and not even realise having a childhood..”
“It was such a time. I don’t feel sorry. Lata ji helped us a lot. By the age of 17, I wanted to leave and go to Vienna. I was supposed to leave in 1957. Due to this I even had a fight with Laxmi. I used to look up to Yehudi Menuhin and dreamed of seeing him someday,”
“It would have been our loss if you’d left,” I said.
The Making of a Legend
Born to a musician father, Pandit Ramprasad Sharma, who played the trumpet in a brass band at a hotel in Kolkata, one day decided to move to Pune and subsequently came to Mumbai (then Bombay). It was in Bombay that he gave up his career as a musician and taught music to his son instead.
“I’ve heard that Anthony Gonsalves taught you Violin, is it true?” I asked.
“He taught me technique. He was a musician and arranger who orchestrated and conducted an orchestra. He had written a symphony in Raag Multani in B minor and wanted someone to play it. My friend Oscar (Periera) did not have the time to learn and play the Raag. So I stepped in. After rigorous practice, I was soon able to play that symphony. Since then, Anthony Gonsalves has been my mentor, my Guru,” he said.
“Were the lyrics of a song changed for him?”
“Manmohan Desai was making a film where we were composing. So I asked him if he could change Anthony Fernandes to Anthony Gonsalves. He agreed. That is how the song My Name is Anthony Gonsalves came to being.
It was a tribute, and while he (Anthony Gonsalves) was present during the recording, he did not sit and enjoy a song dedicated to him. Instead, he said, “I am a musician, so I will play”, and he did.”
The Struggle and Success
His childhood was filled with hardships and he began working as a professional musician by the age of 12. Working with various composers of the period, over time he became one himself. Both Laxmikant and Pyarelal grew out of backgrounds that were similar, and childhoods steeped in poverty.
“How was life after you started as composers? Did things start looking up?”
“In 1964 a movie called Sangam was released. Every song was a gem.”
“Do you remember any song?” he asked me.
But before I could even answer, he shared an anecdote.
“Raj Kapoor used to call Vyjayanthimala almost every day telling her about Sangam. But at the same time, she was the lead heroine of a Dilip Kumar production called Ganga Januma. So, whenever Raj Sahab called Vyjayanthi, he would call her by the name of his movie’s character, Radha,
“He would ask, “Bol Radha bol Sangam hoga ki nahi?” Meaning, he would ask her if she would do Sangam, the movie? Eventually, the movie happened and so did the song,
“मेरे मन की गंगा
और तेरे मन की जमुना का
बोल राधा बोल संगम होगा की नही”
“This is how songs were happening back then. And between all this magnificence, we were doing our second film, Dosti (1964).”
“Could you share the story of how you won your first Filmfare Award?”
“We were up against big composers who we have been fans of. So we also knew as a new entrant, we would never get an award against them. A song like Ye Mera Prem Patra Padhke, “how does a composer think? Such geniuses”, we would think. However, against all odds, we collected 2 lac rupees somehow to nominate ourselves for the Filmfare Awards. Days went by and life returned to normalcy,”
“We weren’t getting many works either. With nothing to do, we would often wake up late in the morning. On one of those days, Sriram Chandra ji came, calling to us loudly from outside with a newspaper in his hand. He announced that we had won the Filmfare Award for Dosti. It was such a blessing to receive that Award and be conveyed the news from such a big composer,” he added.
Back then a coupon came between the Filmfare magazine which could be used by artistes to nominate themselves for the Awards. They also needed to pay the registration fee which Pyarelal ji mentions as INR 2 lac.
“You said you weren’t getting many works. Why?
“People would often criticize us. Mock us for having become composers. They were worried if we had stolen their work or copied their tunes. So, most of them would avoid us. So we would be by ourselves wondering what to do next, where to find another project and how. We started getting lesser work even as musicians.”
“Lata ji sang more than 700 songs with you, 494 songs were sung by Asha Bhosle, 402 by Kishore Kumar, and 379 by Mohammed Rafi, which is a gigantic number!” I exclaimed.
“Did you always choose your singers?” I asked.
“Yes, we did. For example, for “यह रेशमी जुल्फे, यह शरबती आँखे” Rajesh ji (Khanna) had asked for a different singer. But we convinced him that it would be better if Mohammed Rafi sang it. After the song came out, Rajesh ji admitted that Rafi Sahab was a better choice. Also, Lata ji would give us maximum dates. If others got four appointments, we got nine.”
“And what about musicians?”
“Our producers, directors, writers were always helpful in that aspect too. The final call was, however, ours. Our choice of musicians and the number required for a song was never random. For instance, My Name is Lakhan has no major instruments. It is just rhythm and vocals,
“There were 70 musicians playing various kinds of percussion instruments. Similarly, for Chanchal Sheetal (Satyam Shivam Sundaram), we used 73 Violins. We knew what we were doing and that came with a long-running experience and career as musicians ourselves,” he replied.
“Could you elaborate on the details you kept in mind while composing?”
“It’s simple. For any movie, understanding the characters is most important. We had discussions with the directors on the story of the film. We tried to understand their need. The language of the characters is integral. Take Amar Akbar Anthony for example, in the song Humko Tumse, Amitabh ji starts the song singing, “देख के तुमको दिल डोला है, God promise, हम सच बोला है”
“Anthony’s language is such. Similarly, Vinod ji’s character speaks Hindi and is a simple man so the music and singing for him is different. The same with Rishi ji, he sings, “दिल में दिलबर तू रहता हैं, खुदा गवाह हम सच कहता हैं,”
“Not only were the lyrics adapted to the characters, but the singers too were different for the three characters. There is so much variation and carefulness that was needed just in one song to meet precise requirements,” he explained.
“What is the maximum number of musicians you’ve used for a song?”
“The least we’ve needed is two musicians. Our largest orchestra had 387 musicians. Dhoom Tana from Om Shanti Om (2007) was one with 230 musicians,
“You see, Indian Classical Music is so vast that none of the other kinds can meet its match. But when it comes to perfect writing and composing, the Western takes the prize.”
“Did you ever feel the need for an arranger?”
“In L-P, both of us did everything we could. From composing to arranging, to a point that when a singer is singing, we even took notice of the ‘harkat’ that would be better suited in a song.”
L-P’s style of music was mostly Indian classical music with a blend of Western. Also, their use of folk tunes with semi-classical music was very pronounced. An example would be of Om Shanti Om (Karz, 1980), sung by Kishore Kumar. The song is 8:50 mins long with close to an Allegro moderato tempo with almost 117.638 BPM. That kind of Hindi music in the ‘80s would be close to the Rock songs of the West. A close example would be of Eye of the Tiger by Survivor. When Rock had evolved in the West, our Indian music was evolving in its own speed and space.
What a visionary, L-P!
“How much did real-life experience add to song making?”
“Once Laxmi thought that there should be a song like we are talking, conversing rather. After an entire day of thinking, nothing came out. It was late and the producers started to leave. Just when they got up and started saying byes, Laxmi asked them to sit,”
“अच्छा तो हम चलते हैं, फिर कब मिलोगे,” he sang.
I added a few lines and we both laughed.
“That is how this song was made,” he added.
Life of Glory
Struggle, success, grandeur, and glory, Pyarelal ji’s life has seen a good measure of it all. But his unforgettable music has lived on defying time. Today though semi-retired he often graces Television with guest appearances on reality shows, leaving his indelible mark on the musicians and audiences with charm and insight.
I embraced every second of the two hours I spent at his residence. As he walked me through his life with the help of photographs, books, or notations he wrote down throughout his musical journey, I couldn’t help thinking it was the best return birthday gift I could have received. Just before we parted, he said,
“Remember the song, चुप-चुप खड़े हो ज़रूर कोई बात है, पहली मुलाक़ात है ये पहली मुलाक़ात है? This was our first meeting, and I am very pleased you came to meet me today.”