03/01/2020 10:30 AM IST | Updated 03/01/2020 7:32 PM IST

How Music Composers Shiv-Hari Got Amitabh Bachchan To Sing In 'Silsila'

In 'Breath of Gold', Sathya Saran writes on Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia's life and music.

STR via Getty Images
Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia performs during the Art and Artistes 'Panchtatva' musical extravaganza in Mumbai on December 20, 2014. 

Shivkumar Sharma goes back to the time when Silsila was being announced, and they had just been signed on as music directors for the film. ‘There was a lot of criticism at the time, with people asking why classical musicians were being asked to score music; were we diluting our art for commercial reasons? We realized we had to rise to the occasion. We spent many sessions with Yash-ji, discussing situations, locations, story. He gave us the screenplay which we read carefully. We asked for two weeks, and sat together at home and composed the songs. Sahir was contacted to write the songs, but he was not able to fit himself into the schedule. So, after a lot of consideration, Javed Akhtar was taken on. It was his first assignment as a film writer.’

Most directors may have hesitated before or worried after signing three new talents to work on the music, but Yash Chopra has decided to take the gamble. He agrees to the large assortment of instruments that the music directors want. While the flute and the santoor have their pride of place in the compositions, the role of other instruments in creating the mood and melody is not ignored either.

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Shiv–Hari now bring in their own innovations. Hariprasad suggests Amitabh should sing. ‘Allahabad ka hai, use gava diya, jaise gale me haat dal ke,’ he recollects. The song they wanted him to sing was a Hori. ‘Then Yash-ji suggested, “Ask his father to write the song, a UP-style Hori.” We asked Amitabh, he was happy. Harivanshrai-ji was in Bombay at that time, so he was requested. Within an hour, the song was written, adapted from a song sung in rural UP. He wasted no time at all, especially since his son was to sing it,’ Hariprasad says, laughing.

He remembers the hard work that Amitabh put in before the recording. ‘He practised it well; the singing, movements, everything. And he got the inflections perfectly.’ ‘Rang barse’, which is heard on every loudspeaker across India on Holi, has long outlived the film. It is a dramatic moment in the film, where a slightly tipsy-with-bhang Amitabh throws caution to the winds and lets everyone within earshot know that he and Rekha are lovers. The dramatic twist comes from the fact that both Jaya and Sanjeev are also listening to the Hori-ditty-turned-confession, and squirming with embarrassment.

‘Whether it is an ad film of thirty seconds or a full-fledged song number, he would work hard on all of it,’ Hariprasad says of Amitabh Bachchan. ‘He has earned his status because of this combination of talent and hard work.’ Coming from a man who spent nights learning music after a full day’s work, and who practises on his flute for hours on end, this is praise indeed.

The other Amitabh song, ‘Neela aasman so gaya’, is tougher. ‘We had planned two versions, one by Lata, the other by Amitabh. We gave him a low base so it would be easier, and would also bring out the pathos in his voice. It worked.’ Incidentally, the song developed from a tune Amitabh was humming. Snatches from a song reportedly shared by Shammi Kapoor. In the master flautist’s words, ‘I liked the sound of the tune, told him to sing it to us, and developed it into a full-fledged song.’

Shivkumar Sharma has a story to tell on the duet, ‘Yeh kahan aa gaye hum’. ‘It was not a song situation at all; Yash-ji wanted words, poetry, set to music. We suggested a song, and that poetic verses come in between the song, instead of interlude music. First the sthayi, then the recitation, then the antara, then words again.’

The suggestion worked. Yash Chopra shot a hauntingly beautiful sequence with the santoor throbbing in the background before the other instruments join in; the music and lyrics adding layers of emotion as the poetic words speak of the hero’s sense of hopelessness and despairing love. The words, spoken by Amitabh in his deep baritone drenched with emotion, made theatregoers wonder if he was speaking of his own life. The verses he was reciting of course were also by Javed Akhtar, excerpted from Banjara, his collection of poems.

When the director needed to give Jaya a song, he decided on a Meera bhajan, ‘Jo tum todo piya’.

‘He wanted Lata-ji to sing it of course; she sang in all his films. I told Yash-ji, “Lata may not sing this song, she has decided not to sing Meera bhajans except for her brother Hridaynath’s compositions.”’ Yash-ji said, “Let’s see.” So we went ahead and composed the tune. We kept it classical, in Bhairavi.’

An Interlude

Shiv–Hari are recording ‘Dekha ek khwab’ for Silsila. They are aware that the song is picturized on Amitabh and Rekha, who are cavorting among the breathtaking tulip gardens of Keukenhof in the Netherlands, alternating with the misty landscape of Pahalgam, Kashmir. The tune is light, romantic, the seventy-
piece orchestra is in perfect sync, and Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar are giving it just the right lift with their voices.

Song over, the directors sit back to listen, to see if everything sounds the way they want it to. They know it will, but as first-time music directors and for a big banner at that, there is no harm of course in being doubly sure.

It is Lata’s habit to leave immediately after her recording. Her days are so busy, she cannot but do so. And anyway, over the years, she has sung and recorded enough songs to know that it has gone just right.

But today, she is still in the studio. She seems relaxed as she listens to the playback. All through. If Hariprasad or Shivkumar are surprised, they do not show it. Instead, they realize they have been presented with an opportunity.

‘Was it good?’ they ask Lata, though they are sure of her response. The singer says she likes the song. That is when Shivkumar takes his chance. ‘There is another song we would like you to sing. It is filmed on Jaya-ji, and is a dramatic moment in the film. But,’ he adds, ‘it is a Meera bhajan. We have composed the
tune in Bhairavi.’

To their surprise and delight, Lata agrees to sing it. It is perhaps the only time she made a concession and broke her self-imposed diktat about Meera bhajans.

Excerpted with permission from Breath of Gold: Hariprasad Chaurasia by Sathya Saran, Ebury Press.