Bengali Music Influences in HFM

I am a Bengali “babumashai”, grown up in Kolkata in the 60s and 70s and loved both “Adhunik Bangla gaan” (modern Bengali songs) and Hindi Film Music (HFM). When it comes to popular music, there is no Bengali word equivalent to “Oldies” or “Easy Listening”. Even the songs recorded in 50s or 60s are called “Adhunik Bangla gaan”. You may not realize it, but all this rich Bengali music heritage had a big influence on Hindi Film Music. Let me explain how.

Even though it might be hard to imagine, unlike Hindi Movies, not all Bengali movies have songs. So, each year during Durga Puja in September, every major Bengali composer and singer used to release a few songs as Durga Puja special (“Pujor Gaan”). This is a tradition we had loved over the years in 60s & 70s and I believe it still continues.

This brings back many fond memories of listening to the new songs for the first time, over the loud speakers from the Durga Puja “Pandal” (tent) and measuring the success of a song by counting how many times it was played over the four day long festival. I remember going to the HMV stores in Kolkata with my sister (fellow music lover and cohort in crimes) to buy the vinyl EP or 78 RPM (singles), which contained our favorite songs. We would come back home with our prized purchases, as if we have won the lottery and call a few friends to enjoy the latest music. Of course, it served an additional important purpose for me personally – learn the songs as fast as possible, to impress the girls in our next get together!!!

On a side note, we didn’t have the money to buy LP’s (vinyl album). Knowing that the threat to take our business somewhere else didn’t have any punch, my sister would use all her charm to make the HMV salesman play songs from the LPs, for hours, for our temporary gratification. Those good old days of not having 90 second preview privilege on iTunes!!!    

Over the years, many of these Bengali composers and singers had crossed the boundaries between Bengal and Bollywood and had very successful careers in both Kolkata and Bollywood, creating many memorable songs both in Bengali (Puja Specials and movies) and Hindi (for Hindi films, HFM), which we had loved, religiously collected and enjoyed with our friends and family. We continue to do the same, even today.

Established Bengali composers in Bollywood, like Salil Chowdhury, Hemant Kumar (Hemanta Kumar Mukhopadhyay),  Kishore Kumar (Abhas Kumar Ganguly), and of course, the Bengali speaking father and son duo from Tripura, S.D.Burman (Sachin Dev Burman) and R.D.Burman (Rahul Dev Burman), had filled our lives with songs that had touched our hearts. The phenomenon continues with new generation of Bengali composers like Bappi Lahiri (Alokesh Lahiri), and Shantanu Moitra.  

These composers, due to their influence in Bollywood, recorded many of their Bengali Puja specials using the top Bollywood playback singers, whose mother tongue is/was not Bengali. For most parts, the singers had done a remarkable job of Bengali pronunciation and accent. Notable among them, by the number of Bengali songs they recorded, are Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle and Talat Mahmood. Other major Bollywood singers like Mukesh (Mukesh Chand Mathur), Suman Kalyanpur (from Bangladesh) had recorded relatively fewer Bengali songs. Even though Mohammad Rafi recorded some Bengali songs, sometimes mixed with Urdu, I regret that he was not a part of the mainstream Adhunik Bangla Gaan.

Similarly, we had enjoyed both Bengali and Hindi songs by the Bollywood playback singers, like Pankaj Mullick (our parents’ favorite), Hemant Kumar, Kishore Kumar,  Manna Dey (Prabodh Chandra Dey) and Geeta Dutt (Geeta Ghosh Roy Chowdhuri), whose mother tongue is/was Bengali. Some other notable Bengali singers like Shyamal Mitra, Sandhya Mukherjee and Arati Mukherjee had also recorded some Hindi songs but with lesser success. The tradition continues with the new crop of Bengali playback singers in Bollywood like Kumar Sanu (Kedarnath Bhattacharya), Shreya Ghoshal, Abhijeet (Bhattacharya), Shaan (Shantanu Mukherjee) and Babul Supriyo.

Please be sure to read the companion blog on “Crossover Musicians – Bengal and Bollywood”.

Do you agree with my thesis that HFM owes a lot to Bengali music?  If you do, do you know of any other examples that support this?  Please leave us your comments.

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