In the post-colonial India, a farmer’s pain was prised open in Mehboob Khan’s Mother India, in the year 1957. The film had some of the most iconic songs by legendary composer Naushad. One of these compositions, Dukh bhare din, remains one of the finest examples of the joyous raag Megh. The song has visuals of farmers working in the fields, content after a good monsoon and a great harvest. A rain raga and one of the prime ragas in the classical music structure, Megh’s inclusion here is significant.
“But a few years ago, we had the item song Munni, which is the purest form of raag Megh followed by raag Madhmad Sarang. I don’t think even the composer knew while composing it,” says musicologist and bureaucrat KL Pande, who is all set to launch seven volumes of Raagopedia (Vaani Prakashan), a compendium of 14,000 film songs from 1931 to 2014, studied through ragas. “From India’s first talkie Alam Ara to Salman Khan’s Kick, I have factored in most songs,” says Pande, who could not research songs that were not recorded or available.
The songs have been grouped into 169 raga tables and provide details about names of the films, year of release, singers, lyricists, composers, names of rhythms used, root note (scale) of the song and names of ragas appearing in the sequence. “The idea is to bridge the gap between Indian classical music and film songs, and highlight that classical music is not so overwhelming and film music isn’t so frivolous,” says Pande, 59, who began working on the project in 2005.
The use of ragas in Indian cinema kept changing with films and composers. “In the ’30s and ’40s, there was extensive use of raag Kafi and Khamaj as these correspond to serious moods of mythological films. You won’t see a lot of sweet-sounding ragas such as Bhairavi and Pahadi. They appeared in the ’50s and ’60s with the advent of composers like Shankar-Jaikishan and Lakshmikant-Pyarelal,” says Pande, who met many composers, including Khyyam, Kalyanji-Anandji and Ravi Sharma during his research. He also had sessions with instrumentalists to figure ragas by putting notations in place and then analysing them.
Though he learnt Hindustani classical music from Thakur Sukhdev Bahadur as a boy, it was the songs reeling out of the radio at home that had Pande hooked to cine sangeet. He began collecting 78rpms, followed by tapes in ’80s and ’90s. Pande’s postings to Bareilly, Vadodara and Kolkata as a railway official helped.
Pande’s bilingual books document that canorous Pahadi is the most popular raaga used in Hindi film songs, though it is contested by puritans for not being a raga and just a structure of notes. The raag appears in 3,176 songs, followed by Khamaj (2,570), Nat Bhairavi (1,939), Kaafi (1,752), Bhairavi (1,504) and Peelu (889).
“The research threw up so many surprises. I never thought a popular and the most basic raag like Yaman will throw up only 174 songs,” says Pande.