Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Top 5 Music Directors of Hindi Film Music

Even before I publish this article, I know pretty clearly that this is going to be my most criticized article, hugely because there is “comparison” in this which my earlier articles did not have. So, at the very outset, let me clarify that “this is not a judgemental article” as I am not at all qualified enough to judge the Greats but merely a “personal favouritism” which is highly dominated by subjectivity. So, in stead of putting criteria and judging people, I would rather try to put down the artistic shades of the 5 people for which I “like them more than the others”.  Also, they were all great MDs and given us great melodies, so, quality of songs is never a criteria as each of them has enough of them.
5. Shankar Jaikishen:

If I need to describe in one word what SJ were, then it would “versatile”. They ruled the industry for 2 long decades which is nothing less than a Herculean achievement. They could compose all sorts of music, and had shades of brilliance in each of the segment. They never confined themselves to any genre or gambit, and created music for the mass as well as class. Their music was equally popular in Pan Shops as well as Musical concerts.
Also, I like the kind of adjustments they maintained in their selection of movies. For Raj Kapoor movies, they had a set of theory which was entirely different to what they applied for Shammi Kapoor movies. Even for Dev Anand, they gave music to around 8 movies! And all were with success.
Their consistency is another feature I like a lot. To give hits after hits for 2 continuous decades is not a matter of joke! That too, considering that they were a mainstream composers and not like Naushad or Roshan, who were highly selective in their assignments. Definitely, working in more movies and maintaining consistency is more creditable for me than working in limited movies and giving regular good music; as the earlier stuff needs much more creative stretch.
The musical arrangement for SJ has been for me, both their positive as well as negative point. Positive point is, they were so fresh in their orchestration and arrangement when they arrived. They made accordion and harmonica popular in Hindi movies. They iconized violins and guitars and I have never found a better utilization of Hawaiian Guitar than in “Ajeeb daastan hai yeh”. However, down the line, from mid-60s, their orchestration became a bit too predictable for me. Violins were going higher and higher, sometime disturbing your audiometric tolerance also.
Also, a shade of low marking goes to SJ due to their choice of singers. No, not Sharda Rajan choice only, a topic which has been beaten to death! J But, because barring a few numbers, I think, they did not explore the beauty of Talat Mehmood, Hemant Kumar, Geeta Dutt , Shamshad Begum and even to some extent Asha Bhosle also- all of them were contemporaries. However, they did explore talents in Sharda, Subir Sen and Suman Kalyanpur- which is audible job! So, some plus and some minus marks on this aspect.
Overall, SJ for me, were Giant music directors and one of the top 5 to have ever graced the industry.
  • Longevity. – 8/10.
    (Would deduct some points for post-Jaikishen death period).
  • Consistency. – 8/10. (Post-1965, would deduct some points, but not much looking at their volume of work).
  • Versatility. -10/10.(No doubt.)
  • Experimentation and Arrangement.- 7/10. (Although they have popularized many concepts, in terms of experimentation- which we would elaborate with 2-3 MDs later, SJ lags behind a bit. It is more like innovating concepts or trying out different things).
  • Genius component/Out of the Box stuff- 6/10. ( We would discuss later why some MDs have scored over a bit here).
  • Use of singers- 8/10.
  • Originality- 8/10.(Except some here and there scores, SJ have been out and out original composers).
  • The “X” Factor- 7/10.- A subjective quotient which describes or specifies a MD. This can be in terms of his universal appeal, popularity, contemporariness and overall charm of his music. SJ is quite high on these criteria as well, as many of their tunes are still evergreen, they still enjoy a great popularity from the current generation and some of their tunes have retained great freshness as well.
Total= 62/80.

4. Madan Mohan:

It might surprise a bit to some, as I had put so much of importance on versatility while discussing SJ, and now I have put MM a notch above them in my personal favouritism. Well, yes, I do deduct marks from Madanji for not being too versatile, but, leaving apart this one point, he has scored superbly well in many other criteria.
First is his consistency. If you remember, while discussing SJ, I did not discuss what happened ater the demise of Jaikishen when Shankar alone was the composer. Also, they were a group of 2 people, so, the talents of both could be shared over the years resulting better consistency. Madan and the other MDs discussed later were alone.  And then, Madan did not have the blessings of working under Big Banners and Big Stars. He majorly worked with average filmmakers with average budgets, except, Raj Khosla and Chetan Anand. So, with lots of resource limitation, Madan gave superb numbers in his career of 25 years.
Madan Mohan never sounded repetitive.  People say he was not comfortable with Western tunes, but listening to “ Ae haseeno nazneeno” or “Tum jo mil gaye ho” or the unreleased “Aaj mujhe jal jaane bhi do”, you know pretty well that this gentleman was really erudite in Western sound and arrangement.
And of course, Lata-Madan combo! What if MM failed to explore too much out of Lata gambit, this one association has taken film music to an altogether different level. Of course, as an impartial assessor, we must deduct some marks for him being too partial with Lata, but should give some extra marks also for exploiting the “Voice of India” so brilliantly. And for male voices, he judiciously extracted good out of many- Rafi, Talat, Manna, Kishore , Mukesh and Bhupinder have all got their fair share of gems from MM.  
  • Longevity. – 9/10.
    (Although never been on top, MM was very much there at the helm throughout his career).
  • Consistency. – 10/10. (Absolutely no doubt).
  • Versatility. -7/10.(Shades of brilliance could be seen in bits and parts everywhere, but thorough delving lacked )
  • Experimentation and Arrangement.- 7/10. (It would be wise to say MM’s true beauty lied in him being a puritan and traditional. He was mainly a “solo” composer as 80% of his classics are solo songs).
  • Genius component/Out of the Box stuff- 6/10. (Cant call him a genius but he was a maestro in all possible ways. We will explore this genius component later and try to justify why SJ and MM scored a notch low here).
  • Use of singers- 7/10. (Recovered some marks for extremely brilliant use of Lata Mangeshkar)
  • Originality- 9/10.(Truly original composer, very  few inspirations in his career).
  • The “X” Factor- 8/10- MM’s charm remains very much in present generation and so his legacy. His compositions, especially those for Lata, are evergreen. Even a Veer-Zara, a twenty first century film with MM’s music, turned out to be a chartbuster. It tells a lot about his rich legacy.
Total= 63/80.
3. Salil Chowdhury:

Here is an ideal musician on whom I can explain the Genius Component the best. He was one of his kind and one of his kinds. He innovated some concepts which were unparalleled, he brought in things which were unique and he showed some experimentations which were utterly his own. Truly speaking, he was an unconventional music director who could bring beauty in unorthodox music as well.
He was a great perfectionist. Being a Bengali, he brought Bhangra into Hindi films for the first time with “Jaagte Raho”. He introduced the fusion music for the first time when he coupled Raga Bhairavi with Mozart’s 40th symphony in “Itna na mujhse tu pyar bada”. Saxophone was introduced with Salil Chowdhury in Indian film music. Latin American folk music got its entry with Salil Chowdhury in Indian films. The concept of introducing “Sanchari” in a song( O sajna barkha bahar aayi) was first introduced by Salil and replicated by none thereafter. He was the master of experimentation, innovation and fusion.
He use of singers was very judicious. Except Lata, no other singer could record more than 100 songs with Salil. Yet, talk of Mukesh, Manna, Kishore, Rafi, Yesudas , Talat or Hemant- all have got beautiful songs from Salil.
His sense of rhythm was unputdownable. Although Salil never enjoyed the mass popularity like say, SJ, he was quite versatile with expertise in folk, classical and western. He was mainly a Urban composer, and hardly ventured into any devotional or historical movies. So you never really know how Salil would have responded to a project like Amrapali or Jahan Ara. This was a bit low scoring for him in versatility.
  • Longevity. – 7/10.
    (He had a good longevity starting from mid 50s to mid 80s. Thereafter, there was a decline. Both in terms of popularity and creativity. Started recycling his old tunes too much later. Also, even in his prime, Salil was never amongst the top demanded MDs., although being very much in the contention).
  • Consistency. – 8/10. (Very consistent, but since his assignments were low, it was a bit easier task for him..:) .
  • Versatility. -7/10.(Shades of brilliance could be seen in bits and parts everywhere, but thorough specialization in genres like Ghazal and Qawalli snatched away some marks)
  • Experimentation and Arrangement.- 9/10. (Salil was a pioneer in many techniques, sounds and melodies in India.).
  • Genius component/Out of the Box stuff- 9/10. (The difference between a maestro and a Genius is a Maestro has handhold on all that is traditional and a Genius creates and masters something which is never defined as traditional. Fusion, Arrangement, Rhythm and Sound- Salil Chowdhury has given a clear cut impression of his genius).
  • Use of singers- 8/10. (Considering his limited assignments, I can safely conclude that his rotation of singers was better than Madan. He never overdid with any singer. However, sometimes I felt that he had given some songs to wrong singers)
  • Originality- 8/10.(Would give him a notch lower than Madan Mohan here, there have been some inspiration and ahem, copy as well).
  • The “X” Factor- 8/10- Salil’s tunes are fresh, modern and never sound out of date. His tunes have got a sort of addictive qualities. He had a contemporary sound and arrangement.
Total= 64/80.

2. Rahul Dev Burman:

A music director who scores amazingly above all in the “X” factor. The RD magic just denies to die even with this generation. A revolutionary composer and a genius, R D Burman, to many of the youth in India, iconizes the Golden Era of Indian music and sometimes, synonymous also. Of course, this is not true, as RD was definitely not the only Great that time, but at least this perception talks volumes of his school of music.
Equally comfortable in all sorts of music- folk, Western, ghazals, qawallis, comic, romantic, philosophical- R D Burman was a phenomenon and his popularity can only be compared to that of Shankar Jaikishen in their prime.
But with all these, I have deducted quite a few marks from RD for being too much inspired sometimes. Although, his inspirations more than often bettered the originals, but still, you must give more marks to those who have invented something entirely original.
But RD definitely gets very good marks for creating some amazingly original tunes with melody maximum. His choice of singers has been most of the times, judicious. He used Asha, Kishore and Lata in huge quantity, but considering his total amount of work- around 350 movies- this can be considered as matter of fact. Also, Rafi, Amit Kumar, Manna De and Bhupinder have got their fair share of gems from RD. But, of course, in female category, Pancham failed to see anything  beyond Lata and Asha, except a few occasions mostly towards the end of his career.

  • Longevity. – 8/10.
    He rose to fame in 1966 with Teesri Manzil and his last film, released after his death, again enlivened his true brilliance. I would have deducted some more marks on longevity for Pancham, as his last years were not professionally very amazing, but 1942 ALS makes it look a bit different.
  • Consistency. – 7/10. (He had a loss of touch between 1986-1992, I have deducted some marks, but not much, considering his volume of work) .
  • Versatility. -9/10.(There is hardly any genre where RD has not ventured, apart from music in mythological movies J)
  • Experimentation and Arrangement.- 10/10. (Absolutely path breaking. Concepts like twin track recording, fast breathing between lines, fast forwarding record to make it sound like a child voice, usage of bottles, glasses, water etc to create different sounds of music, fusion with Guitar rhythm in Indian classicals- RD is all about experimentation and arrangement ).
  • Genius component/Out of the Box stuff- 9/10. (RD was a genius. He could experiment and get away with it with flying colours. In spite of being a lover of Western music, he has given some sensational classical songs as well).
  • Use of singers- 7/10. (Volume of work being huge, RD’s usage has been quite good. Although amongst female singers, he did not explore Suman Kalyanpur, Vani Jairam, Sudha Malhotra,Hemlata etc too much apart from some here and there songs. )
  • Originality- 6/10.(You would give him some and take out more. RD has been more than occasionally taken help from Western tunes. Not that SJ or SC have not done that, but Rd’s proportion has been unnecessarily high ).
  • The “X” Factor- 10/10- I don’t think this requires a lot of explanation. RD is without fail the most talked about MD of the bygone era and gets full marks for keeping his legacy intact even in the Twentyfirst century.
Total= 66/80.

  1. Sachin Dev Burman:
He is the Numero Uno for me, scoring thinly above his illustrious son for the most favourite position. Amazing melody maker, a talent which his son inherited from him.
SD was one music director, who died at his helm. He and Madan Mohan were very much in demand when they expired, but SD was undoubtedly more sought after. From 1946 to 1975, SD had only one challenge to the top spot- his own health. Apart from that, nobody could stop this old man, who in spite of being generations older than the other MDs we have talked of here, gave cut throat competition to them.
Sachin Da’s major talent which some of the MDs lacked was to adjust with the change in generation. He changed his music with time. His music kept on changing, retaining their melody and simple structure but changing the presentation. One big reason why SD was never outdated, not even for a day!
Amazing consistency. I can hardly recall any bad album of SD. Forget bad, even a mediocre album is hard to find. And it is not that he had limited work like Naushad, Khayyam, Jaidev or Roshan that he could maintain quality, he had more than 100 movies released in his career, with non film albums and Bengali movies also having their shares. So, a full marks to this man to maintain such great quality in his career.
The best MD, if you consider the selection of singers. No lifetime compilation of Kishore, Rafi, Lata, Asha, Talat, Hemant, Manna or Geeta can be complete without having at least two songs of S D Burman.  Speaks volumes of his contribution in the biodata of Great singers.
Equally good in different genres, Dada however lost a few marks in versatility as I cannot readily recall any of his Qawalli or his music in any mythological or historical album(What was “Chittor Vijay”?)
  • Longevity. – 10/10.
    (No doubt. Always amongst the Top right from 50s to 70s- right until his death)
  • Consistency. – 10/10. (Very consistent) .
  • Versatility. -7/10.(Shades of brilliance could be seen in bits and parts everywhere, but some genres he absolutely avoided J)
  • Experimentation and Arrangement.- 7/10. (Not a great unorthodox school like Salil or Pancham. But his arrangement was quite fresh and served the evergreen purpose).
  • Genius component/Out of the Box stuff- 7/10. (Cant call him a genius, as I can hardly remember any concept in music/rhythm/sound which Dada had introduced or innovated. But he was a perfectionist and brought in some new techniques like conversational duets and popularized folk music in Hindi movies).
  • Use of singers- 10/10. (Again, a point where he would get best marks. Never overused any singer and composed songs keeping the singer in mind.)
  • Originality- 7/10.(Again, like his son he loses some marks. ).
  • The “X” Factor- 9/10-SD music is evergreen. The songs he composed are very popular. Clear examples are the songs of Aradhana, Guide, Abhimaan, Jewel Thief, Pyasa etc.  
Total= 67/80.
My Final Favouritism:
1.       S D Burman- 67/80.
2.       R D Burman- 66/80.
3.       Salil Chowdhury-64/80.
4.       Madan Mohan-63/80.
5.       Shankar Jaikishen- 62/80.

Genius Component
Use of Singers
The X Factor
S D Burman
R D Burman
Salil Chowdhury
Madan Mohan
Shankar Jaikishen

Some highly deserving people not included:
         Khayyam, Jaidev, Vasant Desai, Hemant Kumar and Roshan- Not too many films.

Again, to conclude, this was only my favouritism and justification behind it and in no way an attempt to rank these legends. I am not at all qualified enough to do that. So, this will only be my viewpoint.


  1. You like SDB and his great son personally perhaps. But you selected the factors very wisely. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Mrinal Da. Yes, it is a justification of choice sorts! :)

  2. Based on your own point system, I can argue with you on why RD at 2nd place, why Salil at 3rd, why Madan Mohan at 4th and Why S-J at 5th place? But on one thing that I won't argue with you is why Sachinda at 1st place.

    But even in Sachinda's case, I will argue with you on why he got less points on versatility, experimentation, genius, use of singer-originality and the X factor".

    And, to Sachinda's credit I will add one more column of 'Leaving behind a legacy by way of training of Kishore and RDB, which no other composer did, and that alone will give him 10/10, taking him much ahead of the rest of all his contemporaries, including those not mentioned here.

    Let us remember that everyone will come out with a different list, these are my views, but this is your selection.

    Congratulations for doing a great job.

    1. Thanks sir. But I have given full marks to Sachinda on use-of singers. And in other mentioned criteria also, I have not given him less, but it is only that I feel in certain factors some other person deserves a bit more points. And I have tried to explain them also. :)

      And of course, since at the end of the day it is an individual's choice, there would be arguements. But I hope it is not a baseless choice. What say, sir? :)

  3. Fabulous article Arghya. Nicely and painstakingly put forward .. in terms of points ... Agree with you mostly [fully in case of Salil C and Karta] - my views differ a bit when it comes to RD and MM though. But this as you mention is your own point system so it takes nothing away from the lovers of these MDs and their music. Agree that Karta had a hand in moulding KK and RD but even his own musical arrangements benefited to some extent from the experimental ingenuity of RD [whom you gave 10/10 in that domain]. Overall, great reading and keep coming up with such nice posts.


    1. Sincere thanks Arup for your compliments. And I totally agree with you that after RD stepped into SD courtroom as an assistant, the arrangement of SD definitely went up(it was already great, but it just went greater). Similalrly, the musical school of SD has always influenced RD to reveal his other "softer" side, especially in those Shakti Samanta, Gulzar or Hrishikesh Mukherjee films.

  4. Dear Arghya, though I am a hard core SJ fan, I liked your article which is very honestly written and analysed. I would differ on the score of Experiment and Genius since SJ did not leave any of experiment be it in orchestration, arrangement or percussion fields. Had they got the improved technologies in their times, no other music directors would have scored over them. The best example is Ye Raat Bheegi-Bheegi and Dil Ki Nazar Se Nazron ke dil se. Kishore Kumar's "Aaj Na Jaane Paagal Manwa" is the best example of youdelling whereas 'Nakhrewaali" scores many times better on other MDs. However, I would not like to disagree with your observations. In My view, SJ's way of composing music is still followed by many, even RD too followed them and after SJ, it was RD, whose style was adopted on by a large section of composers. But after all my point for you is 100/100. Carry on please.

    1. Sudarshan ji, hats off to you to be so sporty about my writing, which is a justification of personal choice. Thanks a lot sir as I really feel you have analyzed the author's point of view very well and understood my points unlike many who jump to conclusions..:)

      Only 2 points from my side just to make it a bit more sensical:

      1. Please dont take those ratings as absolute. They are "relative" numbers. All those MDs were great and genius and experimental, that is why they are in my top 5. It is only someone scoring some points more than others on a particular parameter. Since, I thought SC and RD had experimented a bit more(not that SJ were little, by any means), I had to relatively give them a bit more marks. Thats it! :)

      2. Those 1972 to 1986 period snatched away 2 marks from longevity criteria, not that Shankar was not good, but only that there were factors which reduced his shelf life. Ignoring that period(sadly, which I could not as an objective judge here), SJ is much more than what it reflects here.

      Thanks sir and keep visiting! :)

  5. MY list (if we consider MD by Arghya)will be like this,
    1. Sachin Dev Burman
    2. Shankar Jaikishan
    3. Salil da
    4 Madan Mohan
    5. R D Burman

    Still in this who to give no. 3 among Salilda and Madan Mohan, i m not strong.

    But SJ will always in my list stay within no.1 or 2, surely. The duo who changed ears of listeners. Salute to SJ.

    Sachinda is being our love and respect in our family since 40 years, as my father has great respect for him . And me and my brother were inherited it, but also enjoyed his melodious tunes. Grand to Sachinda.

  6. Wonderful analysis. I personally have difference in opinion with a few points (like SJ getting 7/10 for use of singers..IMHO they deserve 5 at best, due to their loyalty to the famous five) . No wonder Burmanda is at the top (even in my list) even though he has a large number of "inspired" (some even blatantly copied) songs to his credit. Great work.

    1. Thanks, Parag for your justified comments!! I have tried to be unbiased even with my personal choices here..:) deducting good marks from the Burmans for their too many inspirations and copies.

      SJ confined them to R-M-M-L-A gambit, but there have been flashes of brilliance with Talat(Daag), Hemant(Badshah, Patita), Suman Kalyanpur, Subir Sen and later in the 70s with Kishore also. So, they recovered some marks there.

      And, sincere thanks dear for your comments. Keep visiting!

  7. Music Maestro: visit kalyanjianandji. com. Bollywood Music Director & Composer for 50 years in industry. Scored music for 300 Hindi movies.

  8. It is totally biased analysis. SJ will be No. on any day and in any era.Use of singers and versatility,arrangements, archetra no other MD can match them. They proved themselves in every shade of music.According me the ranking should be as under:
    1. SJ
    2. SDB
    3. Madan Mohan
    4. LP or KA
    5. RDB

  9. Strictly in my personal opinion, being die heart fan of hindi film music the list should go as
    1- Naushad
    3-Madan Mohan

  10. By the way how RDB or Salil can be better than Naushad. Mindboggling.