“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything,” said Plato.
Music moves the deepest emotions, stirs buried memories, makes one forget yet creates new feelings and sometimes cures illness too. Music is nostalgia. We often connect to a song, to its lyrics, its tunes so much that it feels like we have known those songs all along. Whether it’s Ella Fitzgerald’s Manhattan, brewing images of classic 1950’s New York streets with horse buggies and hats or Basu Chatterjee and Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s movie songs, which make us time travel to the golden eras, music has that power.
With several apps and other means to listen to music today, it’s an accessible pass time for most people. Music, that has mostly earned a ‘film music’ status in our country, leaves genres like jazz, folk and classical to the nichè. But, something common ties all the genres of music, the skeleton of the sounds — the instruments. Instrumentalist in our country are not given their due, at least not as much as they deserve. Whether it’s the Tanpura makers of Pandharpur or instrumentalist playing in the orchestra of your favourite songs, these unsung heroes mostly live a thankless, unnoticed life. One such Parsi family of wizards, The Lords, contributed to the Hindi film music from the 1930’s through 1990’s (and beyond) spanning two generations of percussionists, drummers and music arrangers, having produced over 6000 songs!
As we celebrate World Music Day on the 21st June, this musical week my recommendation is the 76-minute documentary film by Rudradeep Bhattacharjee on Netflix, The Human Factor. This interview based documentary traces the lives of Cawas Lord and his sons Kersi Lord and Burjon (Buji) Lord and their journeys in the music industry of Bombay film industry as the puppeteers of sound.
Cawas came to Mumbai in 1911 from Pune to learn music and later joined Chic Chocolate band at the Taj Hotel as a drummer. His fate soon introduced him to film song recordings, where he played more out of professional commitment and money and less for the passion of music itself, he admits in the documentary. Cawas is speculated to have played for the first Hindi talkie Alam Ara, which he denies in his interview in the documentary, insisting that he played for the second talkie film. Cawas soon became ‘Lord saab’ for celebrated composers like Naushaad, SD Burman and many other music gods of the time. Cawas introduced the sounds of Latin instruments such as Congo, Bongos and many other Latin Ameriacan instruments and sounds to film songs and background scores.
Kersi Lord, accompanied his father, Cawas, to the studios for recording from the age of 13 and later became a regular at the studio, arranging for the acclaimed music directors of 1950’s. Kersi’s claim to fame have been many hit Hindi film songs, including Chura liya hai tumne, with R D Burman and his famous accordion piece in Roop tera mastana.
Burjon or fondly known Buji was also a drummer and enjoyed a great reputation among the music directors.
Sadly, this family, the Lords, who over many decades brought in new technologies, sounds and instruments and contributed in the movie music industry, never got their due as the songs were always popularised for the composers, singers and even the lip syncing actors. Although they were loved and respected, the bands or the instrumentalists, as claimed in the documentary, never got their names in the credit lists of the films they worked on, because they were told that they were being paid. The emergence of synthesisers in the 1970’s, which Kersi Lord introduced to Rahul Dev Burman can be seen as the downfall for the orchestra culture in film music recording, costing many instrumentalist their bread and butter. Kersi confesses that he never intended to do that, but the fact was that they all saw newer technologies emerge and engulf the studios. Machines soon replaced orchestras and instruments were either recorded separately or created to make the product more cost efficient, sacrificing the human factor of live orchestra.
The documentary premiered at the New York film festival and later was screened at the Tribeca film festival as well. It is shot in natural light and mostly inside homes and studios. The footage is well edited and appropriately placed, leaving no dull moments. The music is also very well used in parts of the film. The fact that the documentary shows the Lord family with several famous personalities in family photographs, doesn’t actually have any personalities being interviewed, makes the documentary shine. Whether intentionally or not, the focus from Lord family never shifts, allowing them to enjoy the spotlight, without any famous personalities singing praises for them.
So next time you watch Waheeda Rehman dance with her ghungroos in the movie Guide, or hear songs and background scores with kokirokos. Remember, the Lords of sounds created them.
P.S. Shankar Mahadevan’s Unheard on gaana.com and Sa Re Ga Ma app for classical music is highly recommended too. Happy World Music Day!
Please give your feedback for the film and my column at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Shweta Basu Prasad is a National Award winning actress, famed for Makdee, Iqbal and her TV show Chandra Nandini. Shweta is a graduate in mass media and journalism.)