The Mesmerising Era of the 50″s

Posted on June 21, 2012 in Media

By Isha Sharma:

The music and the lyrical quality of the decade of 50’s or the music from the Golden Era as it is popularly called was soothing, pure and chaste in all senses. The greatest songs were all in this decade. It was a monumental task for me to analyse the songs and their lyrics from this decade, given the amount of masterpieces Bollywood has produced so far. Leke Pehla Pehla Pyaar, Ankhon hi Ankhon Mein.. are some of the songs that still mesmerize us. Hemant Kumar, Mohammad Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Geeta Dutt and Asha Bhonsle are some of the legends that this decade has given us Indians. Many Naushad Saab, Sir S.D. Burman and Madan Mohan, all belonged to this decade of music.

Coming to the lyrics now, the lyrics of the old songs were earlier considered to be nothing but boring. But gone are those days. With revivals, remixes and retouches, old song lyrics have come back with a vengeance. And why not? Indeed, some of the most beautiful and meaningful songs that we know come from this magic year. Now they are considered classics in an industry that sometimes seems to be running out of ideas. The lyrics were often about love but never cheesy like some of the songs in the last decade. Some lyrics had social themes mainly dealing with working class woes and urban life in India. The lyrics were usually written in an unadorned Hindi that would be understood by the largest possible audience. These songs used to make or break a film.

Some of the best known love songs of the Decade; Accha Ji Main Haari-Kala Pani (1958)- Mohd.Rafi and Asha Bhonsle, Pyaar Hua Ikraar Hua-Shri 420(1955)-Manna Dey and Lata Mangeshkar,- a tug at the heartstrings is so beautifully expressed in these songs. Some of the lyrics of other love songs of this decade used to be a little melo-dramatic and some like Ae Lo Main Haari Piya(1954)-Geeta Dutt used to be peppy and light-hearted.

Apart from the romantic melodies, the earlier part of this decade had songs with inspirational lyrics like, “ Ye duniya agar mil bhi jaaye toh kya hai” and Hemant Kumar’s, “Suraj Re Jalte Rehna” with the latter depicting the people who have devoted themselves for the good of the world. Some lyrics, however, used regional dialects to evoke a village setting, or old-fashioned, courtly, Persian-influenced Urdu in Mughal era historical films. There was a definite presence of Urdu in Hindi filmi songs: Urdu was often used in film titles, screenplays, lyrics, the language of love, war, and martyrdom. The extent of Urdu used in commercial Hindi cinema’s music and lyrics has not been stable…the decline of Urdu is mirrored in Hindi films. It is true that many Urdu words have survived and have become part of Hindi cinema’s popular vocabulary. But that is as far as it goes.

We can change the singer, We can change the music treatment, but the song lyrics…they never change! To this date, the music lyrics of Awara Hoon (Singer: Mukesh Film: Awara 1951) can make any person regardless of age, sex or race, sit back for a few seconds and just feel darn good about himself/herself and everything and everyone. Now THAT is the power of good music lyrics.

Some of the major influences that have shaped the conventions of Indian popular cinema are discussed below:

The ancient Indian epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana which have exerted a profound influence on the thought and imagination of Indian popular cinema, particularly in its narratives which in turn has shaped the mythological songs of this decade. For instance “Ae Maalik tere bande hum” (Do Aankhen Barah Haath,1957), “O Duniya ke Rakhwale” (Baiju Bawra,1952)

Ancient Sanskrit drama, with its highly stylized nature and emphasis on spectacle, where music, dance and gesture combined “to create a vibrant artistic unit with dance and mime being central to the dramatic experience”. The theory of rasa dating back to ancient Sanskrit drama is believed to be one of the most fundamental features that differentiate Indian cinema, particularly Hindi cinema, from that of the Western world.

The Parsi theatre, which “blended realism and fantasy, music and dance, narrative and spectacle, earthy dialogue and ingenuity of stage presentation, integrating them into a dramatic discourse of melodrama”. The Parsi plays contained crude humour, melodious songs and music, sensationalism and dazzling stagecraft.

Hollywood, where musicals were popular from the 1920s to the 1950s, though Indian filmmakers departed from their Hollywood counterparts in several ways. There is a strong Indian tradition of narrating mythology, history, fairy stories and so on through song and dance. Indian filmmakers made no attempt to conceal the fact that what was shown on the screen was a creation, an illusion, a fiction. However, they demonstrated how this creation intersected with people’s day to day lives in complex and interesting ways.

Bollywood films are mostly musicals, and are expected to contain catchy music in the form of song-and-dance numbers woven into the script. A film’s success often depends on the quality of such musical numbers. The film script or lines of dialogue (called “dialogues” in Indian English) and the song lyrics are often written by different people.

All the above discussed factors played a crucial role in this Golden Decade of 50’s. Cinematic language, whether in dialogues or lyrics, was often melodramatic and invoked God, family, mother, duty, and self-sacrifice liberally. Song lyrics were often about love too. Bollywood song lyrics, especially in the old movies, frequently used the poetic vocabulary of court Urdu, with many Persian loanwords. Another source for love lyrics was the long Hindu tradition of poetry about the amours of Krishna, Radha, and the gopis, as referenced in films such as “Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje”.Lastly, Music directors of that decade often preferred working with certain lyricists, to the point that the lyricist and composer were seen as a team which ultimately brought the Indian cinema many laurels and the decade of the 1950’s was thus rightly called as the “Golden Age of Music”.