Pt. Shivkumar Sharma dazzled in films too, as part of Shiv-Hari duo

Pt. Shivkumar Sharma was much more than the man who popularized santoor. photo: Publicity Photo 

He popularized the santoor like no one else did. At 84, Pt. Shivkumar Sharma, one of the giants of Indian classical music, passed away on May 10. Though he had a kidney ailment for some years, he died of a heart attack. The maestro was accorded a State funeral. Besides Prime Minister Narendra Modi, lavish praises came from as varied a group of associates and musical luminaries as Amitabh Bachchan (who acted and sang in their debut film Silsila), Salil Bhatt, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia and his musician nephew Rakesh Chaurasia, lyricist Javed Akhtar, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, singers Hariharan, Alka Yagnik, Shreya Ghoshal and Sonu Nigam, Ustad Rashid Khan and others.

Born on January 13, 1938, in Jammu, the young maestro began learning vocals and the tabla from the age of 5 with his father Uma Dutt Sharma, a vocalist and a tabla player from the Benares Gharana. Introduced by his father to the santoor, a folk instrument played popularly in Kashmir whose origins were in ancient Persia, at the age of 13, he gave his first public performance in Mumbai in 1955 at the age of 17.  Among the luminaries who are said to have been in attendance was Pt. Ravi Shankar.

The santoor and Pt. Shivkumar were introduced to Hindi films with V. Shantaram’s classic, Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje in the same year.

Pt. Shivkumar collaborated with tabla player Zakir Hussain and flautist Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia on many performances as well as on his albums, and in 1967, teamed up with Pt. Hariprashad and guitarist Brij Bhushan Kabra to produce the epochal concept album, Call of the Valley (1967).

The musician played both the tabla and the santoor in innumerable background film scores and songs from then to the 1990s, for composers as varied as S.D. Burman, Khayyam and Laxmikant-Pyarelal. And though he formed a popular film composer duo with Pt. Hariprasad (who had scored some films individually in Hindi and regional languages form the 1960s), he had once said, “Classical music is not for entertainment. It is to take you on a meditative journey, it has to be experienced.”

Recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1986, the Padma Shri in 1991, and the Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian award, in 2001, he is survived by his sons Rahul and Rohit, and wife Manorama. His son, Rahul, best known to Hindi music buffs as the composer of just one film, Mujhse Dosti Karoge! (2002), remains his successor (shishya) in the instrument that he made famous.

This writer had the opportunity to meet him only once—for an interview at the time of the release of Lamhe, his 1991 film, which also coincided with the music release of Sahibaan. And during that meeting, the discussion had been naturally more about his film composing innings that lasted for over a decade.

Here, then, is a look-back at his work in cinema as Shiv-Hari, in collaboration with Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia.

Silsila (1981)

When Yash Chopra launched his romantic classic Silsila, there was cynicism as well as open criticism about two classical musicians being called in to compose music for a romantic drama with five top-line stars, Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya (Bhaduri) Bachchan, Rekha, Shashi Kapoor and Sanjeev Kumar.

As was Yash Chopra’s wont, he wanted to sign Sahir Ludhianvi, associated in all his directorials from the 1959 Dhool Ka Phool (except for the song-less Ittefaq), but Sahir, who finally passed away in late 1980, turned down the film for his own reasons. Javed Akhtar, who had written Deewaar, Trishul and Kaala Patthar for Chopra, had impressed the director with his poetry and was chosen as the (as it turned out) major songwriter. This in turn sparked more consternation, as Javed was known only as a writer, and his father, Jan Nissar Akhtar, had never made it big as a lyricist despite his talent. And this was a multi-star film to be shot partially overseas!

The first song to be recorded was the Kishore-Lata title-track, Dekha ek khwab, and everyone in the team was happy with the result, especially Lata. A decision was taken to have three unique songs, two of them solos, by Amitabh himself. The first was a folk-based song, the now-iconic Rang barse which was written by his father Dr. Harivanshrai Bachchan.. The second was an experimental duet with Lata, Yeh kahaan aa gaye hum where poetry by lyricist Javed substituted for the interludes, and Neela aasmaan so gaya, the bass male version of Lata’s song.

Veteran Rajendra Krishan, Nida Fazli and a debut-making Hasan Kamaal wrote a song each.

Uniquely, this score won the HMV Double Platinum Disc for its music, which proved the most meritorious as well as popular aspect of the movie, which however underperformed at the box-office.

Faasle (1985) & Vijay (1988)

All but one of Shiv-Hari’s films were with Yash Chopra as producer-director, but sadly, the filmmaker was in his worst and confused state of mind in that decade. Faasle launched singer Mahendra Kapoor’s son Rohan Kapoor and Farha as the lead pair, while Vijay was a trendy action drama, as per the times, with a multi-star cast. The lyrics, respectively, were by Umrao Jaan fame Shahryar and Nida Fazli.

The scores showed a clear lack of rapport between the songwriters, composers and director, and the films themselves did not do well. Hum chup hain (Kishore-Lata) from the former film and Badal pe chhalke aa (Suresh Wadkar-Lata) from the latter did receive a modicum of popular endorsement.

And then it was time for the three other consecutive aces in their packs.

Chandni (1989), Lamhe (1991) and Sahibaan (Audio-1991)

All these three scores were with Anand Bakshi, and the last-mentioned was their only score outside the Yash Chopra ambit—it was, however, directed by Ramesh Talwar, Yash’s assistant at one time. Around this time, Shiv-Hari also recorded another Bakshi-written song, rendered by Lata, for a B.R. Chopra film called Kabhi To Milenge, which never took off. Lata had returned to the B.R. fold a full 15 years after Chhoti Si Baat.

Talking of singers, there are two naturally quirky angles to the duo’s career: Mahendra Kapoor sang their title-song in Vijay, while the previous film had his son Rohan in the lead. And Nitin Mukesh sang in Chandni, their film after Vijay, in which his son, Neil Nitin Mukesh, had made his acting debut as a kid, playing Rishi Kapoor’s childhood.

Shiv-Hari also used, after Amitabh, actors like Anupam Kher (Vijay) and Sridevi (Chandni and Lamhe) as singers. And Sanjay Dutt recited a poem udner their supervision for Sahibaan.

But one thing was clear: having discovered Anand Bakshi, they never looked outside again, till the end of their film career. Most of the songs from these three scores were chartbusters or at least hits. The list included Mere haathon mein nau nau chudiyaan (Lata), Chandni o meri chandni (Jolly Mukherjee-Sridevi), Lagi aaj saawan ki (Suresh Wadkar-Anupama Deshpande) from Chandni, Morni baaga maa bole (Lata and Ila Arun) and Kabhi main kahoon (Lata-Hariharan) from Lamhe and Kaise jeeyoonga main (Jolly Mukherjee-Anuradha) and Tu kya pyar karega (Anuradha) in Sahibaan.

Parampara & Darr (1993):

Shiv-Hari must have realized that they could do well as film composers only in congenial musical scripts, because after this came their weakest score, Parampara, the multi-star actioner again directed by Yash Chopra. Other than the stunning erotic masterpiece by Lata, Tu sawan main pyaas piya, there was nothing in the album of ‘note’.

And then came the romantic thriller, Darr, their swan song in cinema. Though they experimented a bit here and tried to go situational, the only songs that have stood the test of time are the two numbers filme don anti-hero Shah Rukh Khan—Jadoo teri nazar (Udit Narayan) and Tu mere saamne (Lata-Udit).

Pt. Shivkumar Sharma has left a colossal legacy behind him, and his film scores form a small but significant part of that glory.







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