K.A., R.D. and L.P. These three sets of initials defined film music for my generation which grew in seventies and eighties. For us, Kalyanji-Anandji, R.D.Burman and Laxmikant-Pyarelal were the only familiar music directors. Any time of the day some radio somewhere would be blaring their songs. R.D. was the classiest of them but L.P. were the most versatile and without a doubt, the most successful. Living up to their initials, L.P. set up a ‘Long Play’ record – not of the vinyl kind but for the record-books, by carrying on a fruitful musical partnership for three and a half decades. Here’s a trail of their musical exploits.
Laxmikant Kudalkar was born in 1939 on a festive Laxmi-pooja day and later on 3rd September 1940, Pyarelal Sharma made his entry into this world. Laxmikant’s was a lower middle class Maharashtrian household. His father was a mill-worker and mother was a nurse. Pyearlal’s father Pt. Ramprasad Sharma was a noted musician but wasn’t in too good a financial situation.
Both, Laxmikant and Pyarelal were forced to be musicians at a very young age – not only by liking or choice but rather by a financial necessity to keep the home fires burning. In Ranjit Studio, they met first on a cricket ground. Soon they formed a team themselves and were busy assisting music directors like Shankar-Jaikishan, C.Ramchandra and Kalyanji-Anandji.
In 1960, Pyarelal was thinking seriously of moving to Vienna and make a musical career on the lines of Zubin Mehta. That was the time when Laxmikant persuaded him to be his partner in music direction. The road ahead was not easy. The competition was stiff, so much so that once when they approached Shashidhar Mukherjee- a famous film-maker for work, he replied pompously, “Before you there are twenty five composers on my waiting list. Shankar-Jaikishan are the first and you are the last!”
Far from being discouraged by such disparaging remarks, L.P. took up the challenge. It didn’t deter them even when first three films that they got were shelved. ‘Parasmani’(1963)- a B-grade fantasy film was their launching vehicle and that took them places. With sparkling songs like ‘Ui maa, ui maa’, ‘Chori chori jo tum se mili’ and ‘Woh jab yaad aaye’, immediately they made their presence felt. The Lata-Kamal Barot duet ‘Hansata hua noorani chehra’ from the same soundtrack even bagged the then prestigious top spot on ‘Binaca geet-mala’. L.P. had arrived and had arrived in style!
‘Dosti’(1964) represented their next big step forward. Studded with Rafi hits like ‘Chahoonga main tujhe’, ‘Jaanewalo zara’ and ‘Mera to jo bhi kadam hai’, ‘Dosti’ brushed aside Shankar-Jaikishan’s ‘Sangam’ and grabbed the prestigious ‘Filmfare’ award for ‘Best music’.
This success was extra-sweet as it was sort of a victory over their idols – Shankar-Jaikishan. L.P. never denied the fact that they had based their career on the ideals set up by the legendary S.J. team. Big banners, big orchestration and big number of films – these were those ‘ideals’. To achieve these, L.P. even undercut the price and unashamedly said, “If someone is charging ten rupees for a thing and we can offer the same or better at two rupees, what is wrong?”
Critics have often criticized them as ‘musical mercenaries’ and not without some truth. By accepting too many assignments in late seventies and eighties and not paying much attention to the quality, L.P. definitely contributed to the downhill course of Hindi film music. Even their hit soundtracks from this period like ‘Bobby’, ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’, ‘Sargam’, ‘Karz’, ‘Premrog’, ‘Ek duje ke liye’ and ‘Tezaab’ lacked real musical depth and smacked of gross populism. Cheap lyrics ‘Choli ke peechhe kya hai’ and cacophony often plagued their music of this latter era.
But still if L.P. deserve a place as all time greats, it is because of two things. Firstly because of their melodious innings in the sixties and early seventies and secondly for composing the maximum songs for two foremost singers – Rafi and Lata.
L.P.’s musical scores in the sixties for B-grade mythological films and costume dramas (mainly the Dara Singh-starrers) like ‘Sant Gyaneshwar’, ‘Sati Savitri’, ‘Harishchandra-Taramati’, ‘Lutera’ and ‘Aaya toofan’ outscore their latter-day more popular soundtracks any day- at least in my books. That was their struggle period and both gave it their all, combining their talents to compose some beautiful songs. Even some of their work in earlier A-grade films like ‘Aaye din bahar ke’, ‘Mere humdam, mere dost’, ‘Aasra’ and ‘Taqdeer’ was remarkably sweet and soft.
Rafi’s ‘Nazar na lag jaaye’, Kishore’s ‘Ruk jaana nahi’, Manna Dey’s ‘Jaago re prabhat aaya’, Suresh Wadkar’s ‘Saanjh dhale gagan tale’ and S.P.Balasubramaniam’s ‘Tere mere beech mein’ showed their knack of succeeding with any singer. In fact L.P.’s ‘Milan’ brought back Mukesh into reckoning when he sang that endearing duet ‘Saawan ka mahina’ with Lata. The punch-line “Shor nahi, sor” has become immortal.
Asha’s ‘Hungama ho gaya’, Kavita Krishnamurthy’s ‘Hawa hawai’ and Alka Yagnik’s ‘Paalki pe hoke sawar chali re’ might have been popular but their real talent was on display when Lata sang for them. Semi-classical numbers like ‘Bahut din beete’, romantic songs like Chalo sajna’, sentimental songs like ‘Jaane kyon log’, cabaret numbers like ‘Aa jaane jaan’, children’s songs like ‘Maa mujhe apne aanchal mein chhupa le’, maternal songs like ‘Gudiya humse roothi rahogi’, naughty numbers like ‘Rootha hai to mana lenge’--- the sheer variety was amazing!
How this talented duo lost their way over the years in a maze of mediocrity is a matter to ponder over. Lata's observation is interesting in this regard. According to her, "Initially both Laxmikant and Pyarelal were involved in composing the tunes. Every song was a collective effort. Later on only Laxmi took over the tunes and Pyare started only looking after the orchestration. This factor added to the excessive number of films they were handling. After all how long can one go on giving variety? Repetition is bound to creep in!"
This is what happened after the seventies and repetitive, predictable tunes were churned out year after year. Occasional flashes of brilliance like ‘Ghoonghata gira hai zara’, ‘Man kyon baheka ri baheka’ and ‘Dhadkan zara ruk gayee hai’ still held out a flickering promise for some creativity.
Then even that flicker died down. Laxmikant breathed his last on 25th May 1998. L.P’s career is a classic example of class and caliber giving way to crass commercialism!