Saxophones and Seduction

One of my favorite film songs of all time is “Roop Tera Mastana” from the 1969 Hindi film [Aradhana](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aradhana_(1969_film). The song appears just before a dashing young Air Force pilot, Arun (Rajesh Khanna), spends his first night with his new bride, Vandana (Sharmila Tagore, with her bouffant and perfect liquid eyeliner ). Arun and Vandana have just been married by a priest in a small temple because Arun has to leave to fight, and they’re in a rush to get married before he leaves. Unfortunately now it’s raining, and they’ve been drenched, so they huddle together in a rustic wooden cabin for warmth. Because they’re married, their isolation shouldn’t be a problem. But they’ve jumped the gun by getting married without their families’ presence. And now they’re getting closer and closer, to the point of no return…

(Nilanjana’s Rule #23 of Indian Film Plots: As if you have never seen any other Indian films that feature an Air Force Pilot as a [major](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silsila_(film) character, it rarely bodes well.)

“Roop Tera Mastana” is the steamiest song sequence I know, and I can only imagine how audiences reacted to it in 1969. The torrent of passion in Anand Bakshi’s lyrics only heightens the drama of the downpour outside, and Kishore Kumar’s hushed, enticing vocals were so popular that this song may have singlehandedly killed his acting career. Although Aradhana‘s soundtrack is officially credited to Sachin Dev Burman, the bass guitar, surging accordion, and sultry saxophone suggest that his son R.D. Burman may have had a stronger hand in this song.

Once you hear the saxophone solo that starts at 00:39, you don’t need to watch the next scene to know exactly how this drama will unfold.

Three days ago, the man behind that saxophone, Manohari Singh, passed away at the age of 79. His distinctive sound was one of the many crucial elements that defined R.D. Burman’s modern style in the 1960s and 1970s. One doesn’t have to look much further than “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” Watch out for the sax solo at 1:33 here, while you watch Helen do what only Helen can do…

15manohari4.jpgManohari Singh began his career in Kolkata (then Calcutta) as a clarinetist, and also occasionally played the mandolin and flute in jazz bands in nightclubs as well as the Calcutta Symphony Orchestra.

When he arrived in Bombay, in the late 1950s, the Hindi film world was uniquely prepared for him. “The most famous sax player was Ram Singh, and after he died, people simply stopped using the alto sax,” Lord says. “For six or seven years, there was a gap, because nobody was good enough. After that, Manohari filled the gap.” But Singh also caught Bollywood on a cusp. “Before him, the trumpet and saxophone would be used in a very muted manner–feeble but still beautiful,” says Manohar Iyer, who runs a music troupe in Mumbai called Keep Alive, and who first met Singh in the early 1990s. “Then the trend began to change. There were more solos. This is when Manohari-ji came in” (Livemint).

Some (but not all!) of us are quick to name our favorite film song composers and playback singers, but few if any of us stop to remember the incredible individual musicians like Manohari Singh who make great film songs what they are. Last year I came to understand much more about these musicians and their role in the film music industry overall after reading Gregory Booth’s recent book Behind the Curtain: Making Music in Mumbai’s film studios. Booth starts by revealing who the real Anthony Gonsalves was, and no, it wasn’t Amitabh Bachchan popping out of a giant Easter Egg. Booth’s book explores the pre-digital era of Indian film music from the late 1940s through the early 1990s, and it’s a must-read if you’re even vaguely interested in Indian film music.

Even if you’re not an old-school film song fan, you may have heard Manohari Singh’s sax in more recent films like Chalte Chalte and Veer-Zaara. Shortly before he died, Singh appeared with Asha Bhosle on an Indian Idol 5 show devoted to R.D. Burman. He was still playing as strong as ever.

Rest in peace, Maestro.

26 thoughts on “Saxophones and Seduction

  1. watching him play @ idol truly gave me goosebumps! Wonderful artist. may his soul Rest in Peace!

  2. I still enjoy the soundtrack the to Aradhana. I do not speak Hindi, and it was not until the Interweb came along that I found English translation of the lyrics.

  3. Wow, thanks for this! I’d wondered about the similarity in style across the saxophoning of that period, but I never realized that it was the same guy every time.

    And good choice of title. You simply can’t have one without the other. Except in very rare instances, like Kadri Gopalnath.

  4. Yikes, I just realized that I don’t know my instruments as well as I thought I did. I never put together that that was a sax in Mehbooba. I always just figured it was a random shennai. This cellist needs to learn more about wind instruments, obviously!

    (Great post!)

  5. @niki: You had the exact same reaction to that clip that I did. @KXB: Aradhana is a great soundtrack, through and through. Because my home language is/was Bengali and because my parents didn’t think much of popular Hindi films when I was growing up , it also took me a while before I could appreciate what was going on lyrically. There are Bengali versions of these songs floating around the Internets, but they’re not the same… God bless Bollywhat. @vivek: I’ve seen references to the Bombay jazz saxophonist Braz Gonsalves more than a few times, so it’s hard to say exactly where and when that style starts. That said, given that these musicians were rarely credited outright, who knows? Unfortunately the number of people who know the definitive answers to these questions is decreasing each day. As for the title, well, aren’t all of us seduced by music anyway? :-) @Melissa: Ha! There should be a technical term for Shehnai-style saxophone playing… In any case, you should know that V.V. Ganeshananthan is the saxophone queen of the bunker.

  6. As someone who detests Bollywood and saxophone in 80s regular American pop, I actually find this a good song. It seems like most of the Indian stuff I seem to like are the campy stuff from the Shammi Kapoor era or 70s Indian movie songs. As far as our regular pop in the US, I like all eras. So it’s not a case of me just lking old stuff. But I just find most Bollywood songs in the last 20 years to be unlistenable.

  7. the whole video for roop tera mastana seems to have been shot in one long take. is that really true? because that would be impressive!

  8. Nilanjana, thanks for the great memorial to Manohari Singh.

    Also, this AWESOME post. I <30, but am an unabashed fan of old Hindi music (basically, anything pre-1975, but my favorite decade is the 1950s). And thanks for the Gregory Booth recommendation. It’s on my Amazon wishlist.

  9. Ugh, my comment got cut off. What I meant to say was,

    “Thanks for this AWESOME post. I love old Hindi film music (anything pre-1975, but mainly the 1950s), and love reading about it. I appreciate the Gregory Booth book recommendation, it’s already on my wishlist.”

  10. Nilanjana,I’ve wondered about “Mere sapnon ki rani kab” too. The use of the mouth organ says R.D. Burman to me but once again its credited to S.D (and in interviews either Rajesh Khanna or Sharmila or Kishore– don’t remember referred to it as S.D.’s song).

    papaji: yes one take they say.

    There is a similar rain moment in the 1969 movie Yakeen. This time Sharmila (once again in a blanket) is with Dharmendra. But there is no heat. So there is something about the Roop Tera Mastana song that makes a difference.

  11. @Pravin– I could watch Teesri Manzil a hundred times… Kites? Not even once.

    @papaji– It definitely is one take– in relentless pursuit… Good eye!

    @Ocotillo– blush. As you know, I like to write about things I love… And I know you’ll enjoy the Booth.

    @my_dog_jagat– Rain songs. After rain songs. Storm songs. Oh, there’s a whole genre there, but I’m glad you also find that there’s something special going on in that song. I wrote this post in a noisy, crowded cafe while I rested my ear on my laptop speakers– because I forgot my headphones and was trying to be discreet (prompting the Mister to ask: “what are you doing?”), so I just listened to the song again to see if I mislabeled the accordion. My Googling indicates another unsung hero: Mr. Kersi Lord.

  12. P.S. @my_dog_jagat: Everybody everywhere seems to credit this song as well as Mere Sapno Ki Rani to R.D. Burman. I have yet to see anything definitive because in interviews I’ve read with R.D. Burman, he (ever a good son) always speaks of his work on Aradhana in the context of “assisting” his father though it’s established that he stepped in to take over things when his father was ill. S.D. Burman was not a Kishore Kumar fan (he was more a Rafi man), but R.D. insisted on using Kishore Kumar for these two songs– which ended up being the best known songs from the film.

  13. “Woh Tera Pyaar ka Gham” from the film My Love (1970) has a great combination of sax, guitar and piano thrown in with Mukesh’s voice and Shashi’s visage Now I wonder if Manohari was a part of this lovely composition. Will definitely buy the book. Thanks for a great post.

  14. Wow! That is steamy, steamy stuff! Eat your heart out, Twilighters! This is how to make denial super-hot. A little Singh saxophone would have done wonders.

  15. Hwuge crush on Sharmila Tagore, ever since I saw this movie as a kid!

    (Nilanjana’s Rule #23 of Indian Film Plots: As if you have never seen any other Indian films that feature an Air Force Pilot as a major character, it rarely bodes well.)

    you forgot the Ur-text of all these romance dramas with the doomed pilot figure – Sangam but some films do have happy endings despite the protagonist being an IAF pilot – cf ‘Hindustan Ki Kasam’ so the rule is violated on occasion.

  16. @Conran Barwa: Sangam!! That’s a biggie. Can’t believe I forgot it, especially after A N N A’ s post… To the rest of you, thanks for reading.

  17. Friends, I have voice recorded, typed and signed interviews with Manohari Singh and Kersi Lord who both have said that the music of Aradhana is by SD Burman and not RD Burman. In fact Kersi Lord has gone on record that during recording of ‘Roop tera mastana’ RDB wasn’t even present. I have heard Shakti Samanta in ‘Aaj ke Funkaar’ programme on Vividh Bharati where he said that SD Burman used Kishore Kumar on his suggestion, as Rafi had left for his foriegn tour of two months. There are two fans of SDB and RDB who both have met Shakti Samanta, the Producer and Director of the film, who informed them that it was SD Burman who gave Aradhana’s music, and not RD Burman. Unfortunately, the controversy has been created by RDB fans who do not realise that RDB got everything from his father, who was a genius himself. Some vested interests have also added to the confusion. Let anyone meet me, I’ll show the necessary proofs. Moti Lalwani

  18. Friends, I have voice recorded, typed and signed interviews with Manohari Singh and Kersi Lord who both have said that the music of Aradhana is by SD Burman and not RD Burman. In fact Kersi Lord has gone on record that during recording of ‘Roop tera mastana’ RDB wasn’t even present. I have heard Shakti Samanta in ‘Aaj ke Funkaar’ programme on Vividh Bharati where he said that SD Burman used Kishore Kumar on his suggestion, as Rafi had left for his foriegn tour of two months. There are two fans of SDB and RDB who both have met Shakti Samanta, the Producer and Director of the film, who informed them that it was SD Burman who gave Aradhana’s music, and not RD Burman. Unfortunately, the controversy has been created by RDB fans who do not realise that RDB got everything from his father, who was a genius himself. Some vested interests have also added to the confusion. Let anyone meet me, I’ll show the necessary proofs. Moti Lalwani

  19. Friends, I have voice recorded, typed and signed interviews with Manohari Singh and Kersi Lord who both have said that the music of Aradhana is by SD Burman and not RD Burman. In fact Kersi Lord has gone on record that during recording of ‘Roop tera mastana’ RDB wasn’t even present. I have heard Shakti Samanta in ‘Aaj ke Funkaar’ programme on Vividh Bharati where he said that SD Burman used Kishore Kumar on his suggestion, as Rafi had left for his foriegn tour of two months. There are two fans of SDB and RDB who both have met Shakti Samanta, the Producer and Director of the film, who informed them that it was SD Burman who gave Aradhana’s music, and not RD Burman. Unfortunately, the controversy has been created by RDB fans who do not realise that RDB got everything from his father, who was a genius himself. Some vested interests have also added to the confusion. Let anyone meet me, I’ll show the necessary proofs. Moti Lalwani

  20. My Interview with Manohari Singh (Excerpts):

    I had interviewed both Manohari Singh on 13 Oct., 2009 and this is what he said: (An excerpt) Q. Dada, ‘Aradhana’ picture I will come to. In Aradhana, Kersi was there, and you were also there? MS: Yes.

    Q. I met and talked to Kersi Lord the other day, and he said that it was purely S. D. Burman’s music, and during the recording of song ‘Roop Tera Mastana’, RDB wasn’t even present. MS: Yes. That’s correct, what Kersi said. Aapko Main batata hoon, that gaana, bante bante finally uska jab finishing banta hai na, finishing mein aata hai na, uska kuch shape alag ban jaata hai, bol aata hai, bol ka wajan ho jaata hai, bolon ko wajan mein daalne se, idhar udhar karte karte, gaana shuruaat hota hai ek type ka tune mein; aur usko sajaate sajaate, usko banaate banaate, finally uska shape change ho jaata hai.

    Woh ‘Roop Tera Mastana’, woh Dada ka hi gaana tha, woh gaane ko usne hi banaaya tha; Dada ne. Phir Kishoreda ne kuch idea diya, wajan diya, Kishoreda ne, ki aisa kuchh karenge gaane ke bol ko, ‘Roop tera mastana’ gaane ke bol ko thoda thoda wajan dekar phir baad mein Dada bola to “Arre Kishore accha us ko tune bana diya. Arre bahut achcha kiya tune Kishore, achcha usko bana diya.”

    Kishoreda bhi great composer, great actor, no doubt about that. Unhon ne kuch bol ko karke, kuch upar neeche karke, wajan idhar udhar daalke, gaane ko ek meter mein laya. Sur was not there, then after that ahste ahste usko sur improve hua, usko sur mein laya.

    Q. Par yeh normal hai, naturally assistants have to give suggestions to improve it. SDB aprove karenge nahin karenge, unke upar hai. That’s what I feel. MS: Correct. Wohi baat hai, assistants always suggestion denge, accha suggestion hoga to woh lelega, line daal bhi dete hain aisa, kuch gaane mein, do char sur ke liye gaane ka roop hi alag ho jaata hai. Aisa hota haina na, so why not accept it, aisa bhi hota hai. Credit goes to Burman. Haan, Kersi correct bolta hai. ‘Aradhana’ ka music sab S. D. Burman Saab ka hi hai. Poora music Burman Saab ka hai. Haan, RD is mein involve nahin hai. Nahin, RD is mein involve nahin hai.

    Q. That you are saying, because you were personally involved. ‘Aradhana’ mein aap Asst Music Director the. MS: Main Assistant Music Director tha ‘Aradhana’ mein. Mera poora arrangement tha us mein. Mera saath Basu Chakraborty bhi tha, mera partner. Main aur Basu music director bane the hum log, ‘Basu Manohari’. Hum logon ne music diya, ‘Sabse Bada Rupaiya’ aur kafi picture. Basu bhi tha. Humlogon ne milke kiya. Doosri baat yeh bhi hai, thora sa gaana sajana ke time mein, Burman saab ne humlog ke upar chod diya, ‘Usko Yeh hai, uska yeh roop batao, uska yeh roop dikhana. Thoda modern hai, aisa hai, yeh hai, who hai, thoda sexy banana. Burman Saab thora aise bolte rahte they.

    To hum logon ne socha chalo, theek hai, uska rhythm pattern fix kiya. Usmein kaun: main, Basu, Maruti, Pancham. Pancham bhi assistant hi tha full. Sab hum log wahan baithke rhythm ka pattern set karke aur uske baad tune ke upar aisa ……………………… filler hota hai, aisa banaya, hum log sab milke usko sajaya. In sajawat mein contribution sab ka hai, mera hai, RD ka hai, Basu ka hai, Maruti ka hai. Maruti rhythm section ka poora dekh bhaal karta tha.

    So it was team work. Hamara team bhi accha tha, bahut hi accha tha. SDBurman ka, RDBurman ka, dono ka team, it goes as a team work, aur assistant arranger sabhka, jo jitna ho sake, gaana ko khubsurat banana. That was their responsibility. Hum log karte the.

    To usme poora arrangement mera tha. Completely, gaane ka upar arrangement karne ke liye poora responsibility mera tha. Likhna, score banana, usko arrangement karna gaane ko aage peeche karna, that was my contribution. Yeh hi har assistant ka kaam hota tha jyada karke. Assistant log ka kaafi kaam hota hai, kaafi contribution hota hai. SD Burman ke liye kiya, RD ke liye bhi kiya. …………………… Excerpts from my Interview with Kersi Lord: Q. That was about your dad and Dada Burman. Tell us about you and Dada Burman. KL. I played in all his pictures after ’50-’51, mostly all the pictures.

    Q. Till which year? KL. Till he died.

    Q. Which means it included lovely music of ‘Aradhana’. KL. In ‘Roop tera mastana’ I played the accordion.

    Q. All songs of Aradhana are lovely. And how much part RD played in this? KL. According to me, I don’t think RD was present, I don’t remember seeing RD anywhere in the studios. But people say that he was there and ‘Roop Tera Mastana’ is his song, but I don’t know. Even for the song recording, he was not there.
    And I confirmed with Manohari also, who was his assistant. Manohari also said, “No, I don’t think Pancham was involved.” Maybe, he must have been sitting there, I don’t know, I’m not sure. Everybody asks us whether RD was there, but I said, for the recording he was not there. And sitting I don’t know. I didn’t play only for Mr. Burman. I played for all the top music directors. So, we couldn’t be involved in every recording. So, I don’t think RD’s involvement was there in ‘Aradhana’.

    Q. There is an article written on you and Manohari, that Dada, when he was giving music, making music for ‘Roop tera mastana’, the start he wasn’t getting right, and you played your Accordion, and Manohari played his Saxophone, and then the start was made (created) by both of you? KL. (He starts shaking his head gesturing ‘No’.)

    Q. That’s not correct? KL. Nothing like that; nothing like that; absolutely nothing like that.

    KL. Another thing about you people (He was talking about press, we were not press, only SDB lovers.) I am going little bit off track now. Somebody wrote one book in Pune, years back, on Pancham. Whatever the mistakes in that book, – mistakes are there, hundred percent, I vouch for it, those mistakes still continue. Because when anybody writes a new book, he refers to that book, so the publishing of wrong information continues.

    Q. Even the start which is there, you know starting with ‘Roop tera mastana’, that is done by SDB only himself? KL. Yeah! Yeah! S.D. Burman and his team. See, I only go for the recording. So, when I went to the studio, it was at Famous-Tardeo, so Burmanda called me to one side, “Suno”. He always talked in mono syllables, not long sentences. “Kersi, yeh bahut romantic gana hai. Ek fire place hai. Ek hero ek heroine hai. Baarish mein bheege hue hai, aur ekdam romance mein hai. Tumko jo bhi karna hai, karo.” “Whatever you want to do, you do it.” That is what he told me. So, lots of things I played on my own. Most of the things were given by Manohari, but all the fillings in the song, some extra things in the music which I felt like playing, I played it. And they liked it. When they appreciate it, you feel like giving more and more.

    Q. When you were called there, from that moment till the actual song was recorded, how long did it take for this song? KL. Four hours, maximum. Nothing more than four hours, from scratch. We didn’t know what we were going to play. Notation was given on the set, in the studio. Nine o’clock was the starting time and mostly by one o’clock we would pack up.

    Q. But before you were called, they might have done some rehearsal? KL. That work they would do in the sitting room itself. Making a song is a very difficult thing. First you have to get the lyrics written. Those days, songs were according to the situation in the picture. So generally, lyrics came first. The Producer and Director would also have to approve the lyrics. Then came the melody and then the music arrangement.