Sunday, 31 August 2008

Kerala and Hindi Film Music: 1

When I wrote about Mohammed Rafi few weeks ago, a friend from Mumbai called me and wanted to know the connection between Kerala and Hindi film music. Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, he knew, shared a common border with Maharashtra and both states had sizable Hindi-speaking population. Tamil Nadu was rabidly anti-Hindi, especially during ‘60s and ‘70s when Hindi film music was at its peak and thus hardly could be expected to nurture a culture that bred aficionados of Hindi film music. But in Kerala, the southern state farthest from Mumbai, Hindi film music thrived and flourished to such an extent that you had fan clubs of Mohammed Rafi and Talat Mahmood in places like Kozhikode and Cochin. How did this come about?

It is an intriguing question and I certainly am no social scientist who has all the answers but the history of Indian cinema throws up some interesting facts.

The first Indian talkie was in Hindi. Alam Ara of Ardeshir Irani was released in Mumbai in 1931. From 1935 onwards, great singers like K. L. Saigal and Pankaj Mullick were singing playback for Hindi movies and very soon built up a pan-Indian fan following including in Kerala. Around the same time, the first Tamil talkies were seeing the light of day and Tamil singers such as M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar also became extremely popular in Kerala.

But Malayalam cinema itself was a late bloomer. True, the first Malayalam talkie came out in 1938, but the movies were being made in what was then Madras and in very small numbers. The numbers acquired a modicum of dignity only after 1947, when Udaya Studios opened its doors in Alappuzha and movies started getting made in Kerala. But the industry still moved in fits and starts and had to wait another four years for its major box-office hit, which was Jeevithanaouka, released in 1951.

So it could well be that Hindi cinema, and through it Hindi film music, insinuated itself into the Malayali psyche during that crucial period from 1935 to 1951 when there was tremendous interest in this new entertainment medium, but not many locally-produced movies to cater to this passion. Thus Bharat Bhushan and Ashok Kumar and, later on, the triumvirate of Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand became household names in Kerala, at least among the urban, educated youth.

A happy conspiracy of circumstances helped carry this momentum forward to the 1960s. One was, of course, the fact that Hindi film music was moving towards the pinnacle of its glory at this time thanks to the confluence of such great music directors like C. Ramchandra and S.D. Burman, wonderful lyricists of the calibre of Sahir Ludhianvi and Hasrat Jaipuri and singers of such immense talent and range such as the Mangeshkar sisters, Mohammed Rafi, Talat Mahmood, Mukesh, Hemant Kumar, Kishore Kumar and Manna Dey.

The other was a phenomenon called Vividh Bharati.

3 comments:

Ravi said...

For me it was the reverse. Living in Bombay, I recall the Saturday mornings when my mum and dad would try to make it to the movies as Saturdays was when Malayalam movies were shown in the neighborhood cinemas.

I faintly recall having seen some myself now. What comes to mind are movies such as Thulabaram etc.

The fact remains that South Indians have overall been more tolerant than North Indians and others of cultural influences. To this day. even in the US what irks me is the way North Indians label all South Indians as "Madrasis".

The South has progressed and the North has remained stagnant in my book.

IGNORANCE IS BLISS as they say.

Priya Raju said...

Interesting analysis, Rada. People need entertainment & music. And if they can't get a steady supply in their mother tongue, they'll embrace other languages.

Tamil Nadu still doesn't care much for Hindi. I'm not complaining. A half-Mallu raised in Tamil Nadu, I'd rather not learn anything stuffed down my throat.

Rada said...

@Ravi: Thank you for your comment, although I do not share your views on the so-called north/south divide! :-)

@Priya: Thank you for visiting. Unfortunately by alienating Tamil sentiments by trying to "stuff Hindi down their throats", not only the Hindi fanatics lost; even the Tamils lost, by having to cut themselves away from the alluring charms of Hindi Film Music!

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Stepping Sideways... by K. Radhakrishnan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.