The phenomenon called Shankar Jaikishen
The other day, I bought some new CDs featuring my favourite music composers—Shankar Jaikishen to listen to their immortal melodies, which continue to dominate most Radio programmes featuring vintage Hindi film songs. Jaikishen died on September 12, 1971 and Shankar passed away on April 26, 1987. I have been a SJ fan since my childhood and I feel that they were to hindi film music what the Beatles were to Western music. I have no hesitation in saying that SJ were the best in the era when music was the king and melody was the queen.
For 22 years from 1949 to 1971 when Jaikishen succumbed to Cirrhosis of liver, the duo dominated the music world despite stiff competition from other gifted composers who included Naushad, O.P.Nayyar, S.D.Burman, Roshan, Ravi, C.Ramachandran, Vasant Desai, Salil Chaudhury, Hemant Kumar, Sajjad, Madan Mohan, Sardar Malik, Khayyam, Laxmikant Pyarelal, Kalyanji Anandji, Hansraj Behl, SN Tripathi and N.Dutta. Even after that Shankar continued to give good music but suffered a major setback when Raj Kapoor under whose banner, the duo excelled, abandoned him for LP, RD Burman and Ravindra Jain for his subsequent films.
The legend of SJ continues to live on though in most recall programmes featuring legendary music maestros, they do not find adequate coverage. Their unparalleled status, is however, evident to any listener of good old vintage film music in Radio programmes where they continue to be ahead of everyone else. Whether it was winning Filmfare awards or the Binaca Geetmala, the two yardsticks of outstanding popular music, SJ always figured most prominently.
I am also of the view that if there had been no SJ, there may have been no Raj Kapoor. When I say this, it is because Raj Kapoor’s tramp like image was backed and enhanced by an outstanding score from the two music giants who worked for the RK films and gave their best for him. It may sound strange but the only RK film for which the duo got the best music award was Mera Naam Joker though they came out as winners under many other banners. Chori Chori was their first major Filmfare award success followed by Anari and Dil Apna Aur Preet Prayi. Subsequent awards included their score for Suraj, Brahmchari, Beimaan etc.
It is said that RK had created a music bank where some of the best SJ tunes were kept and he continued to use them even after his association with the SJ banner ended just before Bobby was to be launched. The unkindest cut for Shankar was when Mukesh who owed a lot to him decided to introduce Laxmikant Pyarelal to RK. The consolation for Shankar was that some of the songs created by him were used in the film though under LP’s banner. For instance, “Na Maangu Sona Chandi” ( from Bobby) was in the background score of Awaara released in the early fifties.
SJ had brought so much of freshness to RK’s second film, Barasaat that its music became an instant hit and Lata Mangeshkar (she was also helped and shaped by others including Naushad, Anil Biswas, C.Ramachandran in other movies) was finally able to break from the Noor Jahan mould.
SJ were the most saleable commodity in the film world and along with two gifted poets—Shalendra and Hasrat Jaipuri, the duo created magical music with unmatched orchestration and terrific rhythm. Their team included two of the most talented arrangers in Dattaram and Sebastian whose names featured as their chief assistants. When Yuri Gagrin, the first man in space came to India, he greeted Raj Kapoor with “Awara hoon”, a tribute to the immortal song which became a big hit like all SJ songs in the erstwhile Soviet Union. When I visited Tashkent in 1985, the commissar at the hotel literally sang Mera Joota hai Japani to please the Indian delegation.
SJ also contributed hugely in creating the new image for Shammi Kapoor who had been a flop star till OP Nayyar in Tumsa Nahin Dekha transformed his entire singing style. SJ’s Junglee with Yahoo, Chahe koi mujhe jangli kahe announced Shammi’s arrival in the big league. There was no stopping and old timers in Bombay say that distributors would pick up a Shammi Kapoor movie regardless of who the heroine was if SJ were providing the music and Mohammad Rafi was singing for the actor. There was a time when SJ commanded a bigger price than the leading pair of a movie. Similarly, Rajendra Kumar owed his success to a great degree to this duo who never felt shy in experimenting with new style of music. They were the first to introduce raaga rock, an album of fusion music.
When Greek musician Yaani came to India in the nineties to perform at the Taj Mahal, I noticed that there was some similarity in some of his compositions so far as orchestration was concerned. While interviewing him for HT, I told him so and he was keen to hear SJ’s music. I do not know whether that ever happened.
Shankar who was some years older to Jaikishen outlived his partner. During a meeting with him at the Cricket Club of India, he told me that he had been severely affected after Shailendra’s death in 1967. There was a very strong bond between the two and his creativity had also got affected for a while. Jaikishen to him was younger brother and though they had their differences towards the end, they were a perfect foil to each other so far as composing music was concerned. He was very disappointed with Mukesh and also with Raj Kapoor for abandoning him. He also took pride in the fact that he had tried to introduce a new voice, Sharda to the music world even though this had offended the Mangeskar sisters. But at the same time, he spoke very highly about Raj Kapoor who he said had helped him and his partner to enter the big league. According to Lata Mangeshkar’s video released by HMV many years ago, “there was no one like SJ”. Manna Dey and Mohammad Rafi rated them extremely high and as per OP Nayyar, another great composer of his time, Shankar was the most complete music maestro in the film industry.
I sometimes wonder if some big producer or one of the Kapoors uses some of the unreleased music of SJ to recreate their magic in a forthcoming hindi film. Like Madan Mohan’s music became a hit in Veer Zaara, I am sure, SJ will also catch the imagination of the present generation.
I also want to make it clear that my intention is not to belittle other great composers or their fans. But for me, SJ were the best followed by OP Nayyar. But I also enjoy listening to nice songs by other composers, past and present.