For a recent show, I’d researched movie songs in a variety of Indian languages with the intent to trace the classical ragas behind these songs. While some of them were based directly on a specific raga, others were a mix of several ragas while some barely resembled a coherent melody. It was fascinating to see how the same melody sounded when it moved from the stage to the screen. Here are some of the more interesting ones I encountered.
Many older Hindi movies, such as Tansen and Baiju Bawra were based on the life stories of legendary musicians. They were filled with classical music. Others such as Shankarabharanam and Thodi featured classical music as their central theme. In Shankarabharanam here’s how the main character renders the Tyagaraja composition, Dorakuna Itu Vanti Seva.
Hamsageethe was a famous Kannada movie believed to be based on the 18th century Carnatic musician Bhairavi Venkatasubbiah, a character played by actor Anant Nag. It won national film awards including one for best male playback singer for Carnatic stalwart M.Balamuralikrishna. Here’s an ashtapathi, Naadha Hare sung by Balamuralikrishna from Hamsageetha.
Morning Raga, an English and Telugu movie featured the story of an older classical musician working with a younger contemporary band and their attempt at fusion music. Here’s how Sudha Raghunathan sings the composition of Tamil composer Gopalakrishna Bharathi Thaye Yashodha in the climax scene of the movie.
Most film music composers and the playback singers have been trained in classical music to varying degrees and it shows. Several movies from Shakuntalai (Tamil), Jhanak Jhanak Payal Bhaje (Hindi) to Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam have had strong classical music background as the film score.
If you’ve wondered why the song Dil Hai Chotta Sa from the Mani Ratnam movie Roja sounded similar when you were listening to a song in a classical concert, here’s the reason why.
Not all of these movies have done well at the box office as Roja did. I wonder if their commercial success means that they make classical music more accessible to the lay public?
What do you think, dear readers? Please comment below to share your thoughts.
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Chitra Srikrishna is a Carnatic vocalist and writer living in Bengaluru & Columbus. Chitra blogs for Sruti, runs the podcast Raga Ruminations and produces RaagTime, a radio show on Indian music. Her albums include devotional poetry of Tamil Alwars & Dasa kritis, & thematic compositions on Rama and Hanuman. She's the musical half of a multimedia performance duo HumRaag. Her program BHAKTHI explores the journey of the mystics of India. Her latest Antah Prerna -A Musical Telling of an Entrepreneur's Journey debuted at Bangalore International Centre in 2018.