Jaidev was the unsung genius of the film music firmament.
Though only thirty odd films bear his coat of arms, the melody he produced is eternal.
Mohan Nadkarni pays homage to the composer whose death last week truly leaves a vacuum in cine music.
In the topsy-turvy world of Indian cinema, where the celebrities of yesterday are scoffed at as mediocrities today and forgotten as nonentities tomorrow, it is no surprise that a maestro like Jaidev was dubbed ‘a specialist at commercial flops’ even by those who recognize the value of his contribution to film and popular music. As the maestro himself candidly said: I have scored the music for more than 30 films. Despite the quality and variety of my tunes, which have gained tremendous acclaim through their disc versions, the pictures somehow failed at the box-office.”
With his death last week, the Hindi film industry lost one of its most original and creative music directors. His lilting melodies represented a radical departure from the cacophony that characterises Hindi film music today. He never corrupted his style even though that might have been more marketable. The pity is that he never got his due.
And who, indeed, does not recall the glorious line-up of his evergreen hits, like ‘Allah tero naam’, ‘Main zindagi ka saath’, ‘Teri zulfon se pyar’, and a host of other ditties. The maestro won the President’s National Award for best music for Gaman and Ankahee.
There are other cases of films for which he composed the music, being either delayed or shelved altogether.
Was Jaidev’s life and career jinxed? This is one question which keeps looming in my mind. I knew him quite closely for two decades and I always felt that there was something imponderable abou the man who not only took his travails and tribulations in his stride, but found himself in demand outside the commercial film world. Till recently, he was deeply preoccupied with composing the music for Srikanta, the magnum opus of Saras Chandra Chatterjee, which has been just serialized over TV. He had also been composing the music for other TV serials, such as Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana, Pravin Nischol’s Babu and Ajit Sheth’s Thirteen Poets of India.
The choice of Jaidev for the Lata Mangeshkar Puraskar, instituted by the government of Madhya Pradesh, for 1986-87, was most appropriate but belated. It is the highest national award of its kind in the country, and is given annually for ‘excellence, creativity, long dedication and continuing performance in the field of light music’. Jaidav was the third recipient of the Rs. 1 lakh, tax-free award, the earlier ones being Naushad and Kishore Kumar.
I had chanced to meet Jaidav recently, but much before he had been selected for the award. He then stayed in a one-room apartment near the Churchgate railway station. It was let out to him by a kindly admirer, without any obligation, years ago. It had the typical look of a bachelor’s room, with newspapers, magazines, books and cassettes kept untidily below his bed and the mini-fridge.
But there was a masterpiece of a portrait of Jaidev hanging high on the wall, overlooking the portion of the room where the maestro sat, engrossed with his harmonium, conjuring tune after tune. It was in this room that he devoted all his waking hours to his creative pursuits for more than two decades.
Couldn’t he have secured better accommodation? With a casualness and indifference so typical of him, he told me that despite all assurances from those in power he still had no house of his own. According to him, whenever his case came up for allotment, there was either a cabinet reshuffle or a change in the ministry! Laughing, he informed me that he was under threat of imminent eviction from his landlady and her relations. That was because his old landlord friend had since passed away, and his successors chose to take a different view of his sub-tenancy.
And Jaidev actually found himself on the streets on the day of the announcement of the Lata Mangeshkar Puraskar. The maestro had subsequently been given temporary shelter by some of his ardent admirers, by rotation. Later, I also learnt that the authorities had mercifully bestirred themselves and allotted him a decent flat in north Bombay, with a telephone connection. Again too late.
A journalist once spoke of Jaidev as a “total misfit in an industry where success means a plush seaside cottage, an ever-swelling circle of hangers-on (not admirers) and an overdose of Vividh Bharati”. Jaidev’s reaction to what others said of him – whether his fans or maligners – was to laugh.
Jaidev came from a well-placed family – a music loving one at that. The son of a high railway official in Africa, he was born in Nairobi on August 3, 1918. He and his three brothers and a sister were all encouraged by their parents in their musical inclinations from their childhood. It was his mother specially – fond of singing songs from the Ramayana, folk ditties and lullabies – who nurtured the musical instinct of her children. That was how one of his brothers took to tabla-playing, while Jaidev deftly handled the harmonica, to regale his friends and even elderly admirers with lilting Swahili tunes.
On returning to India with his parents in 1927, Jaidev saw a talkie film, Ali Baba, for the first time at Lahore in 1932. He continued his academic education at the Arya High School at Ludhiana where he also learnt vocal music, from Barkat Rai, a local teacher.
Then came a four-year stay in Bombay, during which Jaidev joined the famous Wadia Movietone to play roles as a boy-actor. His singing skills stood him in good stead, in that they brought hm the role of Narada, the celestial sage and singer, in the film, Vaman Avatar. The film proved a hit. He was then paid a monthly salary of Rs. 30. Firoz Dastur, today’s veteran Hindustani vocalist and teacher, played the title role in the same film. Like Dastur, he also tried to seek tutelage under Sawai Gandharva, Dastur’s eminent guru and a leading light of the Kirana gharana. But he could not and, instead, he undertook further training in Hindustani music from the accomplished Jaoker brothers, who were also exponents of the same gharana.
After acting in as many as seven films, Jaidev returned to Ludhiana to continue his professional training in vocal music under the guidance of Sohan Singh, then a veteran representative of the Agra gharana and disciple of the celebrated Faiyaz Khan. But he soon realised that the was in for harder times. He therefore sought employment as a music teacher in a local Christian school. He told me, in a lighter vein, that he got his job because he had a sound knowledge of Hindi and Urdu and a good handwriting!
But the urge to devote himself completely to music grew so compulsive that after his father’s death. Jaidev moved to Almora, in Uttar Pradesh, to learn music from Ustad Allauddin Khan, the eminent sarod maestro, who was on the staff of Uday Shankar’s India Culture Centre. Uday Shankar admitted the youngster to the institution, telling him that the centre did not have facilities to teach music but only dance.
Before the centre finally closed down in 1944, Jaidev asked for and obtained a letter of introduction from Uday Shankar and then moved to Lucknow to join Ali Akbar Khan, son of Ustad Allauddin Khan and possibly the greatest sarod maestro of our time. Ali Akbar Khan was then on the staff of th Lucknow station of AIR. He showed his kindness and generosity to the harried and struggling newcomer to Lucknow. Besides, teaching hm the sarod, he bought him a new instrument and gave him shelter. Jaidev continued to regard Ali Akbar Khan as his friend, philosopher and guide till long after.
Unfortunately, Jaidev became afflicted with asthma, which aborted his ambition to become a musician forever. It was also because of asthma that he chose to remain a bachelor. On coming back home, he worked as a clerk for a short while in the office of a mechanical transport organisation. He then moved to Rishikesh and stayed with Swami Sivananda Saraswati for four months. While there, he voraciously read the philosophical works of saints and thinkers like Swami Ram Tirtha. Swami Sivananda, who was the head of the ashram, was impressed by Jaidev’s impassioned singing. He tried to persuade him to take up sanyasa. Unwilling to do so, Jaidev left Rishikesh, moved to Delhi and then went back to Lucknow. This stay was short, but he utilised it to broadcast light music from the Lucknow radio station.
Then came his visit to Jodhpur in response to an invitation from Ali Akbar Khan. The Ustad was then under the patronage of the state’s prince. The stay lasted only three years, but it was eventful. To Jaidev, this close association with the maestro was most memorable, in that it helped him to gain a new insight into the finer aspects of creative music.
Predictably, when Ali Akbar Khan was enlisted for composing the music for Aandhiyan and Hum Safar, Jaidev joined him to work as his assistant in Bombay. The films failed disastrously at the box-office. Undaunted, Jaidev soon joined S D Burman as an assistant for Taxi Driver.
It was Chetan Anand’s Joroo Ka Bhai that brought Jaidev his first assignment as a music director. It also marked his total involvement in he field of creative music. In the years that followed, he came to score the music for several films, including Anjali and Hum Dono. This brought him opportunities to work closely with several producers, directors and lyricists.
How were Jaidev’s relations with them? I could gather from our conversations that Jaidev had been a victim of politics in the film industry, which is so hopelessly beset with chicanery, jealousy, perfidy and what have you. His troubles began after Guru Dutt’s death in the sixties. He had extremely good relations with S D Burman when he worked with him under the banner of Chetan Anand’s Nav Ketan set-up. Equally intimate was his rapport with Dev Anand. Ironically, it was Dev Anand who went back on his earlier assurance that his forthcoming productions would be assigned alternately to Dada Burman and him. Jaidev feels that the film, Guide, was withdrawn from him under pressure from Dada.
Such experience of humiliation were far too many to recount, Jaidev used to say. He contended that these were deliberate and unprovoked. So much so that his relations with Sahir Ludhianwi and Dada Burman were soured for good.
Speaking of Sahir, Jaidev said that he himself was responsible for bringing the poet to the limelight and eventually to the film world. He traced his friendship with Sahir to the days when they were at Lucknow. It was Jaidev who first introduced Sahir as a poet at a college in Lucknow by singing some of his early lyrics before an audience of young students. He also popularised his ghazals through his radio programmes.
But then, Jaidev felt, Sahir suffered from a strange complex which made him believe that song-writers were more important than composers. “It is a quirk of fate that not only my benefactors, such as Dada and Dev Anand, but also my beneficiaries, like Sahir, turned against me,” he once said. The sole exception was Sunil Dutt, who continued to have cordial relations with him. So did his confreres in music making.
One producer from whom Jaidev had a raw deal was K.A. Abbas, with whom he was associated as music director for his films, Do Boond Pani and Faisla. Abbas, in the view, was the “worst paymaster, who had no knowledge of music but who needlessly interfered in the composing work.”
Discovering new talent and grooming new voices had been both a challenge and a mission for Jaidev. Indeed, there was hardly a day in the maestro’s life when he was found alone. Even during my visits to him. I had always encountered quite a few of his young and ardent students, vying with one another to learn a tune from him. They were all young, talented and hopeful of making the grade at some point of time – Chhaya Ganguli, Penaaz Masani, A Hariharan, Shobha Joshi, Neelam Sahni, Kavita Krishnamurth and a host ofr others. He was kind and generous to all those who sought his tunes. He said, “These musical innovations are like my children. I simply can’t look after so many of them and that is why I give them freely to whoever seeks them. And I do so with a deep sense of fulfillment.”
Indeed, it was an experience to watch the maestro instruct and guide his protégés with such aplomb and self-possession. He appreciated the fact that many of them cherished the ambition to compose and sing their own tunes, and he never hesitated to give them guidance and encouragement. He was happy and proud that a newcomer like Chhaya Ganguli could win the national award for her maiden film-song in Gaman. But he insisted that basic training in vocal music and that too, from only one guru was the most important condition for all those wishing to make their singing their career. “Trying to learn from too many teachers is suicidal,” he said.
Undoubtedly, there was nothing that a composer of Jaidev’s talent and genius could not interpret. Few in fact could depict so subtly, so sensitively, the whole range of mood and feeling in a song-mould, however limited its tonal compass. His devotional masterpiece, “Allah tero naam”, always springs to mind in this context. It is based on a charming but tricky raga – Goud Sarang. How masterfully had he harnessed the raga to his purpose!
Jaidev used to say that his composing was guided by the spirit of the chosen song. He drew his inspiration from the vast and varied repertoire of ragas, as also from the immense resources of our equally rich and varied folklore. These are, to my mind, so deftly interwoven into his creations that each of his compositions acquires a refreshingly new glow. And there lies the perennial charm of his music.
How did he react to the current ghazal boom? Jaidev viewed it as a welcome change – of the kind that was long overdue. “Ghazal went to Pakistan after partition and it staged a come-back in India with the visits of Mehdi Hassan and Ghulam Ali.” Did it promise a better quality of music in films? “It is rather too early to say. Only time will tell.”
The most heartwarming event in his career was when the king of Nepal commissioned him to score the music for the first-ever Nepali feature film, Maiti Ghar, in 1966. The monarch was swayed by Jaidev’s music for Mujhe Jeene Do. The king had himself penned the songs for the film. The picture was a runaway success in the Himalayan kingdom and the maestro received unstinted recognition from the royalty. But when the king asked him for his fees, all that Jaidev asked for was a tiger skin, which was presented to him.
In describing his approach to life. Jaidev once recited these lines from Annie Besant’s immortal poem. The Glory of Failure.
What matters it, if you and I look like failures;
What matters it, if our schemes of moment are found to be useless and thrown aside;
What matters it, if our petty plans crumble into pieces in our own hands and thrown aside;
The life we have thrown into them.
The strength with which we strove to carry them out,
That enroll us as sacrificial workers with Deity;
And no glory is greater than the glory of personal failure,
Which ensures the universal success.
Illustrated Weekly of India, January 18, 1987