“The act of writing on vintage Hindi Music is akin to documenting the Ganga without having any idea of Gangotri”, writes Urvish Kothari in the preface to a well – known writer of film history-related articles, Nalin Shah’s maiden book Melodies, Movies & Memories.
However to Nalin Shah, the obsession of the vintage Hindi films and its music is rooted in his early boyhood, when he wrote articles for various Gujarati periodicals on the subject of vintage film music. Later on, his writings for Filmfare, G (a film magazine of Vaju Kotak’s Chitralekha group), Playback & Fast Forward, The Pioneer, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, Mid-day etc. attained the stature for their authentic content, objective point-of- view and accurate analysis. ‘Writing for press enabled (Nalin Shah) to reflect on artistes as people and their place in the wider world. As a Development Officer at Life Insurance Corporation of India, in his primary professional career, Nalin Shah also had had frequent opportunities to travel to different cities all over India. These helped him to clarify his thought-process, as well as to check (and many times cross-check and re-check) and to verify “facts”. All these experiences and interactions then were distilled into lucid and engrossing stories, covering a wide panorama of subjects. He has conducted lecture-demonstrations on the history of film music and staged audio-visual shows on KL Saigal, Naushad, Khemchand Prakash, New Theatres, Mehboob Khan, Bombay Talkies. We now get to read these stories between the two covers in the present book.
In spite of relatively active publishing of film related works, the fact remains that over the years, different communication channels of the industry, like Gramophone companies, or the public communication media or the film correspondents or journalists, as a whole has not enough to preserve or document the multiple facets of the film-making, its music and its history. The advent of internet and the evolving digital platforms have been now very imaginatively been put to use by some of the very dedicated, little-known film enthusiasts to supplement the very pioneering and path-breaking works in the print media in so far as the first two decades of the Hindi Films and its world of music. Nalin Shah’s present book is not simply a documentation of history nor is it the plain narratives of stories. While maintaining very high standards of reporting, he develops story in quite an interesting style of writing. He has also been very particular in maintaining a professional arm’s length objectivity even with people, events or songs for which he has developed a deep personal like or proximity. Here is one typical illustration, picked up from the very first chapter – In Search of Gold – of the book:
“I find the music of 1940s more enchanting than anything heard before or after. The music of 1950s too was extremely melodious though more ostentatious. The decline started in 1960s….However, the relevance of term ‘Golden’ to a musical age is dependent on many factors including the time and the environment. But the academic question cannot take away the appeal of any music composed at any time if it has an inherent charm.”
The book apparently does not have very specified divisions, in terms of the subjects of the contents of the stories. But a little more analytical view reveal a few discerning patterns of presentations of the subject matters.
Subjects, like travails of the artistes through the days of glittering Sunrise adulations to abject poverty or loneliness of the Sunset days or A Matter of Inspiration behind a particular song have been dealt with in fairly insightful details.
Nalin Shah’s discerning choice of songs to illustrate or emphasize the matter of the subject, on one hand imparts high clarity to the point of view being presented, and on the other hand helps the reader to rekindle memories of some of very rare gems of that era.
The book also has very judiciously enriched the memories of the era with the help of some very rare photographs of the artistes with whom Nalin Shah has maintained personal contacts. References to these rare songs and use of these photographs elevate the book to a level of a collector’s prized trophy.
When the author takes up the subjects of reasons and aftermath of break up music duos or the First Lady of Hindi Film Music directors (Saraswati Devi), the Rhythm in Songs, or the legendary tales of Peti- masters (as the music directors were then known), he seems to have chosen a very concise narrative format to drive his point of view home.
The articles, like The End of an era – Studios and Institutions, Vintage Music – The Saviour or Radio Ceylon: Jane Kahan Gaye Who Din, not only place some of the otherwise hazy or misattributed or misinformed records straight, but also have documented some of the pioneering and path-breaking roles played by several individuals. Some of these endeavours reached the status of the institutions that left profound impact on the industry. It would not be out of place to record at this stage, that articles of this stature, and any other representation for that matter, can go a long way in building up the right type of public opinion about the different aspects of films.
The role of lyricists also has been given its due recognition in the book. The portrayal of how different lyricists tackled the themes for a particular song or the how the use of the original literary works of the poet-lyricists have been used with or without modifications or the role of a lyricist or the music director or the star who enacted in on the screen is spread over different articles – The Writer’s Dominance, The Poet’s Lament and The Song, ShAIR and the Star.
In any historical perspective analysis, the topics like how much role the destiny played in making the preeminent position of Lata Mangeshkar in the post-partition years or how would the music scene have taken shape if Noorjehan had chosen not to migrate to Pakistan have always remained quite contentious and thorny issues of the debate among film critics, historians and fans. In ‘Daughter of Destiny – Why a Lata Can Not Be Reborn’ and ‘Noorjehan, Lata and Partition’, Nalin Shah has succeeded in balancing the facts with perceptions and opinions.
We also get the taste of Nalin Shah’s considered forthright views on the subjects of film awards in ‘A Matter of Awards’, ‘Phalke, Who ?’ or ‘An Award named ‘Lata Mangeshkar’’.
The author also opines that ‘Moral Values’ in films not necessarily reflect the times but the degeneration in the minds of the films maker. Whilst on the subject, he does not miss the opportunity to record ‘the irony that delinquent film-makers welcome the controversy that can help generate some free publicity for a product which may otherwise may not be that sale-able on its own merits.
The book also finds adequate space for other contemporary subjects of Menace of Remix or The Genesis of Piracy, which underscore the fact that no one can claim to be holier than thou. The big service can be made if the original (genuine) music is ‘made available at an affordable price to the public.
‘Melodies, Movies and Memories’ must have scratched only the tip of vast treasure of treasure of documents, photographs and memories of insightful anecdotes that Nalin Shah has very assiduously built along with his “enviable storehouse of 78-RPM records”. We fondly hope that when the book is published in a digital format of e-book, addition of the soundtracks of the songs that have been referred to in the book also (as far as possible) be added on to make this book as the most memorable and immortal gift that a person who has been witness to more than half of the life span of the Hindi Film industry can bequeath the future generations.
We join the publishers in wishing that the present book “is just a precursor to many more”.