Ashwin Panemangalore writes about the lively 'arrangers' who made the Hindi film music of the '50s and '60s so infectious.
C Ramachandra, the prolific film music director (a misnomer for composer) was entrusted with the score for the film Asha in 1956. One of the songs called for a fun and spice melody designed to tease the senses. Immersed in creative thought in his music room, he was distracted by his kids playing outside. Distraction turned to interest as he heard his kids chant Eenie-Meenie-Miny-Moe.
He shared the tune with his assistant John Gomes. Together, they created "Eena Meena Deeka, De Dai Damanika." John, being Goan, added the 'Maka naka' ('I don't want' in Konkani) as the nonsense rhymes developed, a longer phrase each time, gathering tempo till they ended with "Rum pum po!" John is ecstatic.
He whistled an elegant four-bar phrase and notated it immediately. Later, he employed a two-man saxophone
section for the part, and added voices. The infectious Eena Meena Deeka was born. With the release of Asha, the song was on everyone's lips and—with apologies to Irving Berlin—the melody lingers on.
Fifty years later, in 2006, a 16-piece German band was playing a string of Broadway hits at the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre. The moment it struck the notes of Eena Meena Deeka, specially arranged for them by Mumbai maestro Louis Banks, a roar of recognition went up. The delighted audience clapped and tapped its feet through the song. Banks had painstakingly created individual scores, written for brass and reed sections as counterpoint, added body and a new feel to the song which, as conceived by CR, was thin on instrumentation. The original was transformed into an orchestrated piece. It had the same lilt as the composer's, but Banks' arrangement gave the piece his own identity.
What makes this song and so many others of the '50s and '60s special, cherished two generations later, when much of contemporary Hindi film music is quickly forgotten? These were like musical monuments built by a legion of architects, engineers and craftsmen. Enshrined in the media and public memory are the architects—music directors such as C Ramachandra, Shankar-Jaikishen, Madan Mohan, N Dutta, Usha Khanna, S D Burman, Jaidev, OP Nayyar and later RD Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Kalyanji-Anandji. They were supported by their famous lyricist partners like Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri and enhanced by the lilting voices of the legends Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Geeta Dutt, Kishore Kumar, Manna Dey, Talat Mehmood, Mukesh, Hemant Kumar, Mohamed Rafi and others.
But it was the arrangers—or assistant music directors—who gave each instrument its own distinctive role and created harmony between the craftsmen. They included John Gomes, Joe Gomes, Sebastian D'Souza, Manohari Singh, Kersi Lord, Chic Chocolate, Y S Mulky and several others.
(Part I of a two-part article. Part II, next Saturday.)