'No book can
talks about his long musical journey through Hindi, Kannada and
Tamil films. He has just won the Rajkumar Award, Karnataka government's
lifetime achievement in cinema
You came down from Bombay in 1953 for your
first film Sri Rama Puja.
How did that happen? Did you come to Bangalore or
I came to Bangalore and then went to
Mysore for the recording. There was an orchestra called Jai Maruti
in Bangalore. I rehearsed them and took them along for the
recording. I wrote down the score using Western notations. I
had selected some Western vioinists; they looked at the score and
played it after a couple of rehearsals. The Indian classical
violinists were amazed at their grasping power. That is the advantage of being able to read the Western
You had both Indian and Western
Yes, and we also had something called the
dulcitone. We recorded it at a makeshift studio, which didn't even
have proper seating. The famous singer Kalinga Rao and I used to
meet in Mysore. He said he would play the dulcitone for my
Did he read notations?
No, he played by the ear.
You were very busy
in Bombay, assisting music directors like Naushad and Madan Mohan.
What prompted you to come down to Bangalore? I should think you were
not well known in Karnataka then.
The papers used
to write about me
once in a while... In Bombay I was sitting in a restaurant in Matunga
and chatting with a friend when I accidentally met B R Krishnamurthy. We were speaking in Kannada and he overheard us and came and spoke to us. He used to work as an assistant to R Nagendra Rao and had worked on several pictures with him. I told him I was a musician. He asked me whether I would make music for a Kannada picture they were making. I said yes.
What exactly were you doing
in Bombay? You were in the company of some very big names.
Yes, I worked with Naushad till Baiju Bawra. I was a freelancer. I used to go wherever I was called, and because of
that I could gauge the work of various composers.
Whose music did you like the most?
Madan Mohan, and then Naushad of course.
Shankar Jaikishen had their own way of composing, and changed the
trend. I was in contact with most composers.
What was the job like?
I used to
And also play the piano.
You also used to play the sitar?
No, there used to be others to do
that. I played the sitar only if no other sitarist was around. I would write notations in Hindi and give them to the sitarists. I mostly played the piano.
Then you should be the pianinst we hear in
many old Hindi songs?
You then gave up
Bombay and came away?
I wanted to do things
on my own.
Because Kannada films used to copy Hindi tunes, people there used to say, "Kya bhai, aap log copy karte hain". I wanted to make original music if I got a chance. So whatever privileges I had in Bombay, I came away.
The songs of your first film Sri
Rama Puja became very popular?
Yes, but the
film wasn't such a big success.
Was there any big music composer in
before you? Any names you can think of?
mostly used to lift tunes. Almost 80 per cent of their tunes were lifted. In fact, I was inspired by New Theatres productions rather than Bombay ones. They used to have things like counterpoint.
Yes. They used to have beautiful tunes.
to think, "What is it that is heard behind the main melody?"
That's how I became very curious about counterparts. I used to see more
or less every picture released in those days. I went to my piano teacher Mr Hunt and asked him about the sound in recorded songs. He said I should study theory to understand all that.
may years did you learn the piano?
Five years. We lived in Malleswaram
in Bangalore. There were many English people in Bombay,
Bangalore, Calcutta, Ooty. They used to have their piano exams. Mind you,
I'm talking of pre-Independence days, when the Cantonment was
separate from from the rest of Bangalore. There used to be a
British resident in charge. Englishmen, Parsis, and soldiers lived
there. Ulsoor also came under them. But you could go and
come, there were no restrictions. By crossing Cubbon park, the Queen
Victoria statue, you entered the Cantonment. There wasn't much
of a crowd then, as you see now. It was very calm ... four or five peole walking on a street.
But it looks like
people who knew only Western music didn't make a big mark in Indian film music.
Just Western music is not enough. From my childhood, I was interested in Indian music and I had also learnt some Karnatak and Hindustani music. Western music teaches you chord formation, and if you know melody formation you can do good work.
Which means people like you were
instinctively making a kind of fusion music, without consciously
giving it a name?
take my song from Shubhamangala, Snehada Kadalalli. It
begins in C sharp but then I come to C. It is like a shruti bedha.
From a minor chord in the pallavi I move to a major chord in the charana. I again join them together somewhere. You see novelty and surprise. That's why I also use accidentals. Even when I use a raga, I've used accidentals. Sometimes they ask me why I used it -- you can't do it in pure classical music, but I say you can do it in film music.
like the thumri allow it.
the thing is that the raga shouldn't sound wrong to the ear.
Even with chord progression, it is no use if you
are bookish. You should learn it and then break it. People routinely
use three-note chords, but many times I use four-note chords are
more. There is no book or theory for film music. I watched foreign
films for their rerecording, instrumentation, and to understand
points where they take up music. That is a lesson.
After Sri Rama Puja which
was your first big hit?
the unfamiliar sounds that my orchestra created, people
started saying that I was good only to make Western scores. To add
to it, I used to go around in a suit. Until I made the music for Santa Tukaram and
Naandi, people continued with my Western label. In
those days there used to be only four or five Kannada films in a
year. Naandi and Santa Tukaram
came together, around the same time.
Naandi had songs
like Chandramukhi pranasakhi and Haadonda
haaduve, and Santa Tukaram had Jayatu jaya
vittala, and there was nothing 'Western' about them...
Yes, and in films like Santa Tukaram you can't do anything but
traditional raga-based music. I composed tunes for Tukaram abhangas.
And you got P B
Srinivas to sing them. He was your favourite singer for many years.
Before him there was A M Raja, who sang in Bhagya Chakra , Jikki, Balasaraswati and also Ghantasala. In 1960-61 I was composing for pictures that were dubbed into two or three languages, with Padmini Pictures and B R Pantulu. There was no multitrack recording then so we had to take the music afresh for each language. If the words didn't sound all right I changed them, and the producers were with me. I used to take the voice on a track, on a negative, and then print it on a positive. Otherwise I'd have had to do everything afresh.
You mean you did two tracks?
One only for the
instruments. And one for the voice. Sometime later Film Centre got a Grundig spool player with four tracks. And then Golden Studios...
Would you say P B Srinivas's strength was his
heavy timbre and his sensitive expression?
it heavy. His is a medium-range voice with its limitations. If you composed within his range he sang well. First class.
What was his key?
was C and he could go up till ga in the next octave. Even ma was
difficult after that. We had to compose within that
Mukesh is a great favourite even today among people who
love slow-paced, melancholic songs. And the songs you composed with P
B Srinivas compare with his best, and the best anywhere.
was exquisite in his expression of sadness.
And Srinivas had that sort of interest also. He
used to come one day before the recording and
sit and learn the tune. Once we go to the studio I don't change a tune. And without expression music is dead.
And there were others in Kannada films
who were doing good work too.
Three or four of us -- T G Lingappa, G K
Venkatesh, and Rajan Nagendra.
Moda, you started working regularly with Puttanna Kanagal. That
was also his first film.
first Kannada film. He had done some Sri Lankan films before that. In fact, many directors did their first films with me.
You became Kanagal's favourite
composer and whatever songs you composed for him became very
popular. Moodana maneya, the Bendre song in Belli
Moda, became a classic. You just use a sparse, slow beat in
It's a poem about dawn, and I had to express the
early morning calm. It couldn't have any gajibiji! We
created all the birdsounds, with
the help of the flute players.
Your choice was P
most of your songs?
Yes, Susheela, and I also
gave songs to Janaki. She could start on the second harmonium
key and touch ma and pa in the next octave. I used to
call singers depending on the song, and there was no
orchestra style you used in Moodana maneya came back
decades later in Lankesh's Ellindalo Bandavaru.
were like that.
After Belli Moda, there
was Gejje Pooje
, and later
Nagarahavu, which must have been your
biggest commercial hit with Kanagal.
Yes, when there is newness in a film, I
take a lot of interest. In Nagarahavu, if you have heard
Havina dwesha hanneradu varusha, you will notice
many changes in key. I come back again to where I started. You can't
make a melody for something like this. I also saw Gitapriya's
Yaava Janmada Maitri on TV the other day... the first time
I saw the film. This character has become mentally disturbed,
and I have composed a slow-paced background. I was happy to
know I'd done it like that. Harmonic divisions, clusters of notes,
unrelated chords -- when you hear it you understand the discordance
in the character's mind.
Sharapanjara you'd done a background like
Yes, if you ask me, between
1963-64 and 1980, Kannada songs were great. Each of us had our own style and there was variety. And
even the songwriters used to write well. About
98 per cent of all my tunes I've composed only after looking at the lyrics. I haven't made the tunes
first. Very rare. The words inspire me. If the words are good, I get inspired.
You worked with Kanagal
continuously till the '90s and then there was a break when M Ranga
Rao took over for films like Ranganayaki. You came back for
We were on good terms
You worked in Tamil, and
you were a Sridhar regular. How did that happen?
Krishnamurthy called me after seeing Nagarahavu. Before
that I'd done Nagendra Rao's Premada Putri which was called
Anbe Deivam in Tamil. After Krishnamurthy's film
became a hit, I got 7-8 films in just one year. I have
composed music for 56 Tamil films.
More than 300. Telugu and Malayalam also. In Malayalam, the famous
writer P Bhaskaran and I were a combination. Konkani, Tulu and
Marathi I can follow very easily. In Hindi I did G V Iyer's
Vivekananda. All along I have written my own scores, and till
did my own conducting. But all big music
directors have arrangers. C Ramachandra had a Goan. Shankar Jaikishen
had an arranger called Sebastian.
All Kannada composers were in
Madras. Did you bump into each other and see each other's
Yes, if we liked a song we'd
tell the other. I was very close with G K Venkatesh. I used to tease him about many things.
How did Vani Jairam become your
favourite singer later?
I gave her a song in
Kesarina Kamala, Nagu nee nagu. I had heard her at
a concert. I invited her. And after that she went to Bombay and
became very busy. Whatever I say
she can grasp quickly. I like her way of singing and range.
In Gangavva Gangamayi, which
Vasant Mokashi made from his father Shankar Mokashi Punekar's novel, you recorded a thumri with her, but it never got released.
concentratres and does
good work, but the films never come out. I used only three instruments for the songs in that film.
Neela is a contrast; it's rich in
The subject is such. When you see so many people on screen, your ears also expect a kind of richness.
Vasundhara Das, you've worked with at least three generations of singers.
Music can't be static.
Why do you
think that after the '80s, the quality of Kannada songs came
The words... people listen and forget. And
they've forgotten the melody part. Traditional instruments are very
you rate Hamsalekha and Manohar? Take
Hamsalekha, for the first time in Kannada film history, a music director started writing his own words.
also writes. But when one man is doing both
jobs, there may be a lot of
compromise. It becomes a one man show.
also went to London and did an English film.
the Indian composer. I recorded the score, and took the
notations with me. There was another British composer. There they
don't rerecord for a full reel at one go, like we do.
They give a click. One piece in one tala and the next in
another ... even a simple 2/4 can have many differences. I said I'll
do a reel. He saw me rehearsing the orchestra and said go for a
take. The film was called Robert Clive, and it was released in India also. It was shot mostly in
India, and I did a major part of the score. He added a few things to
it... his name came first and I was the second
You were associated with Kannada new
wave films like Grahana. But how did you start
working with Malayalam directors
like Adoor Gopalakrishnan?
differently for those films. I also did Nagabharana's
Smita Patil. The picture ran well. I have made music for three Adoor
films -- Kathapurushan, Vidheyan and Mathilugal.
He is one of the best people I have
worked with. Never interferes unnecessarily, and gets what he wants. He only
said don't use the keyboard. I said I will use it but
very subtly. No preconceived ideas. He is very open. A fine director and a fine human being. We used to go regularly for film festivals and meet casually. He had gauged my taste.
What are you working on
Chandrashekhar, who was the hero in Puttanna Kanagal
films like Edakallu Guddada Mele, is making a movie. We had to start work now.
It's based on an M K Indira novel. It has run into some
Posted on 3 July
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