To a purist, the idea of using Tagore songs in a big budget Bollywood flick would set eyebrows arching skywards. What if Jaya and Amitabh Bachchan were to sing a Tagore song in duet? Or the glamorous Waheeda Rahman in her prime dancing to a tune composed by the bard?
But then again, Tagore has featured quite regularly on the silver screen, although almost hidden in obscurity. Only recently did noted composer Shantanu Moitra openly acknowledge that the hit song “Piya Bole”, featured in the movie “Parineeta”, was inspired by “Phoole Phoole Dhole Dhole”, a very popular Tagore song. Similarly there have been many songs over the years that remind us of the Nobel Laureate's compositions, but have not always received the recognition.
A programme, titled “Adaptation of Tagore Melodies in Bollywood Music”, was held at South Audley Street, Nehru Centre, London, not long ago. It was conceived, researched and compiled by Anuradha Roma Choudhury and organised by the cultural wing of the Indian High Commission in London.
The programme explored the adaptation of Tagore songs by musical maestros of Indian cinema over the years, with live demonstrations of both the original compositions and their corresponding Bollywood versions. While Anuradha R Choudhury presented the Tagore songs, her student, Dia Chakravarty, performed samples of the Hindi hits to a full-house.
The show highlighted many of the instances where Tagore songs featured prominently in the Hindi movies. “Mera Sundar Sapna Beet Gaya”, a song with a kirtan flavour adapted from “Rodonobhora E Boshonto”, was a smashing hit and breakthrough performance for Geeta Roy (later Dutt) in the '30s. There were other songs but it was “Mera Sundar Sapna…” that left all songs behind and far too.
“Naina Deewane”, by singer Suraiya in the film “Afsaan”, is an improvisation of the song “Shedin Dujone Dulechhinu Bon-e”. Likewise “Rahi Matwale”, a duet by Suraiya and Talat Mahmood in the film “Warish” in 1954, is an adaptation of the Tagore song “Ore Grihobashi”. The superhit number “Bachpan Ke Din Bhula Na Dena”, in the film “Deedar” directed by Naushad, is an improvisation of the song “Churi Hoye Gechhey Raj Koshey” from Tagore's dance-drama “Shyama”. It also has similarity with the tunes of “Keno Pantho E Choncholota”.
SD Burman, the illustrious music director, was also known for adapting the tunes of Tagore songs. “Abhiman” (the soundtrack of which was directed by Burman) features Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan lip-synching the phenomenal “Tere Mere Milan Ke Ye Raina”. The tune is an adaptation of Tagore's popular song “Jodi Taare Nai Chini Go”. The Talat Mahmood hit, “Jalte Hain Jiske Liye” (in 1959) was inspired by Tagore's “Ekoda Tumi Priye”.
The list could go on. Dia and her mentor Anuradha presented 17 Tagore songs.
Considering Tagore's treasure trove of songs, it's no surprise that several music composers such as Pankaj Mullick, K Mullick, Rai Chand Boral, RD Burman, Hemant Kumar (Mukhopadhyay), Bappi Lahiri and others were inspired by his compositions. The trend of adaptation, imitation or improvisation of Tagore's melodies has its roots in 1930s' Bollywood. However, in most cases it was left unacknowledged. The reason behind could be that until the Visva Bharati's copyright to all of Tagore's songs expired, it was mandatory in India for any music director/singer to obtain permission of the Music Board before releasing a record with songs composed by him. All this was possibly to avoid violation of the copyright act.
The programme was an eye opener and the Nehru Centre in London received kudos for arranging it. The audience was treated to an evening full of melodies and left the venue deep in thought: what other popular Hindi songs could be traced back to Tagore?