If you think that composers, singers and lyricists are the real stars of Hindi film music then you are right but only halfway! The music lovers who adore these fellows and their songs form the other half of the equation - perhaps the better half! Among these, the 'serious' film music lovers form an elite group - or at least that's what they like to believe. This is an unadulterated, 'bare it all' account of the wheelings and dealings of these fellows.
If you had any noble notions like music promoting peace and amity among friends, Romans and countrymen then you are way off target. This is because you haven't come across a villainous species proudly calling itself 'Hindi film music collectors'! (Today I have myself become one of them - but then obviously this is not about me!)
I came into their contact in my medical college days in Bombay. They come in all shapes and sizes and the only thing they do is to collect old songs from scratchy records and jumpy videos. For this they go to any lengths - sometimes rummaging the footpaths of Chor bazaar to find old 78 rpm records and sometimes staying awake whole night just to record songs from an unwatchable puraana film.
There are some golden rules to become a noted 'Collector' in the world of Hindi film music lovers. Firstly you should gather a whole lot of rare songs which no person from present and past two generations listens; secondly you should make as much noise about these songs as your loud mouth permits and lastly and most importantly you should make every possible effort to make all those songs inaccessible to prospective listeners!
The first 'collector' I met was incidentally my college-mate's father. Seeing a novice just beginning his foray into the dark alleys of old Hindi film song archives -(That is me!)- he immediately went into over-drive wasting no opportunity to show off his collection of songs and his 'knowledge', constantly reminding and reprimanding me for my 'ignorance' and 'poor musical tastes'! It was a real 'refresher' course, a red carpet welcome to the world of 'serious' film music lovers!
The next species I came across was of the song collectors who would record the rare songs at their price- (sure to burn a sizable hole in your pocket!). Theirs was yet another world. The prototypes of this species would start by showing off their exhaustive lists of songs available nowhere else and by claiming all their collection to be in mint condition. Once they got the order from you to record then the cat and mouse play began. You would have to be extremely lucky to get back your cassettes many weeks if not months after the promised date. The songs would be of questionable audio quality and many a times not belonging to your list! These fellows even have the cheek to defend their recording of unwanted numbers by saying that they only wanted you to listen to some unheard numbers to improve your musical sense!
Then comes, the most advanced and most fearsome group - the guys and gals writing in various Internet discussion groups discussing Hindi film music! Forget Kosovo and Kashmir - the burning issues for these fellows are far more serious. There are Rafians rooting for Rafi, KKKlanners clamouring for Kishore Kumar and Mukeshites mourning for Mukesh. Then there are Lata-ites and Asha-ites swearing their allegiances to their favourite Mangeshkar and Geeta-ites singing praises of a certain Roy-Dutt. There are SJ-ites crowning Shankar-Jaikishan, Panchamites idolizing R.D. Burman, Salil-ites knighting Salil Choudhury and LP-ites loving Laxmikant-Pyarelal. For each group just the glorification of their idol is not enough, much more important is to vilify and nullify the 'adversary artiste'.
For that there are hypothetical discussions about how their idol would have sung or composed the song better than the ‘rival’. There are hearsay stories of back-stabbing and song-snatching, which are offered as proofs of one's villainy and other's victimization. 'Better' and the 'Best', 'Greater' and the 'Greatest'- are the words around which the battle lines are drawn and wounds are inflicted with such sadistic savagery that it would put a hardened war criminal to shame!
Here often you would find the so-called veterans openly misusing their seniority in the group to gang up and pass snide remarks on newcomer music-lovers sincerely trying to their bit about preserving legacy of the musical golden era.
Then why do I still choose to remain in this mad murky world of 'music lovers'? The answer is simple. The inner peace and pleasure offered by my musical journey as a serious listener far outweigh these tinny troubles. And yes, there are many exceptions - the exceptional friends from the same fraternity, coming from all parts of the world and from all walks of life, who despite their passionate musical tastes have retained their good sense and decency intact! The friends whose enthusiasm of sharing the discovery of rare, magical songs with peers is far more precious to me than the zeal of meaningless acquisition of songs in the name of 'collection'! The joy of reading their mails discussing the nuances of some beautiful song, the thrill of opening their parcels containing cassettes studded with musical gems and above all, feeling the warmth of their persona - aren't these things worth spending a lifetime for?
*(PS: This article was written in 1999. More than a decade later and after the real advent of social networking sites, the situation hasn't changed much. Has it?)