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The Sculptors of Film Songs (5): Manohari Singh


Guest article by Piyush M Pandya (Gujarati) and Ashok M Vaishnav (English translation) as a tribute to the legendary saxophone player Manohari Singh on his 13th Remembrance Day

(Our immortal songs are memorable not only because of the melody created by the music director, but also because of the preludes, interludes, the musicians who played them unrecognised, and the arrangers who decided in co-ordination with music director which instruments came when for how long. This combined effort created a beautiful ensemble.

Our guest authors, Piyush M Pandya (originally in Gujarati) and Ashok M Vaishnav (English translation) have been writing an excellent series of articles on the Arrangers and Musicians who remained behind the curtain, but who deserve our recognition. They have already written on Sebastian D’Souza, Anthony Gonsalves, Enoch Daniels, Kishore Desai. In their fifth article in the series, Piyushji and Ashokji now put the spotlight on the legendary saxophone player Manohari Singh on his 13th Remembrance Day (8 March 1931 – 13 July 2010).

Manohari Singh has the rare distinction of appearing on the screen prominently in a famous song with his saxophone. The guest writers start this article with that iconic song. Thank you Piyushji and Ashokji for another excellent article on the Arrangers and Musicians. – AK).      

Let us open our episode by listening to these songs:

1. Hai duniya usi ki zamana usi ka mohabbat mein jo ho gaya ho kisi ka Kashmir Ki Kali (1964) – Mohammad Rafi – Lyrics: S H Bihari – Music: O P Nayyar

Most of us who have watched the video pf the song would instantly recall a heart-broken Shammi Kapoor on the screen or the drunken yearning vocal of Mohammad Rafi or a solo player playing that instrument ….. But the effect that lingers on after the song is long over is that of the subdued mood of pathos created by that solo recital of the instrument.

2. Roop tera mastana pyar mera diwanaAaradhana (1969) – Kishore Kumar – Lyrics: Anand Bakshi – Music: S D Burman

The crackling flames of fire trying to warm the drenched Sharmila Tagore, Rajesh Khanna lost in her seducing beauty, and the opening notes of accordion had created the environment that already had brought the spectators on the edge of the seats. But what kept them glued to the seat without batting an eyelid was the mesmerising effect of the notes of another instrument slowly spreading in the air as the interlude begins.

3. Mehbooba mehboobaSholay (1973) – R D Burman – Lyrics: Anand Bakshi – Music: R D Burman

The simultaneous foot-tapping of spectators under the seducing effect of the sonorous baritone of R D Burman’s singing suddenly goes silent as the notes of that instrument permeate the atmosphere of the gypsy campfire.

To all those with some knowledge of musical instruments, ‘that’ instrument which singlehandedly overshadows all other effects in each of these songs is Saxophone, a single reed woodwind instrument named after its Belgian inventor Adolfe Sax. The saxophone is essentially a low-pitch instrument that spans the range of the scales in its six versions. To whet the urge for more detailed learning it is suggested to visit the four dedicated episodes on different types of saxophones on Saaz Tarang, viz. tenor, alto, soprano and sopranino.

4. Presently, our focus in relation to saxophone is one instrumentalist who is also almost synonymous with saxophone in Hindi films music – Manohari Singh.

Manohari Singh (8 March 1931 – 13 July 2010) was born in Calcutta in a Nepalese family of musicians. His father, grandfather, maternal uncle were all professional woodwind instrumentalists. It was, therefore, natural that he attained excellent command over woodwind instruments like key flute, trumpet and clarinet as well as the string instrument mandolin in his early childhood. By 1942, he had joined a brass band of Bata Shoe Company, Calcutta under its Hungarian conductor Joseph Newman. Newman also used to arrange music of Bengali music directors like Kamal Dasgupta, Timir Baran, Pankaj Mallik and S D Burman. Young Manohari Singh, thus, got opportunity to explore the world of Bengali and Hindi film music. One thing followed another and his fame with key flute or mandolin or trumpet went on to create his own network of contacts at different nightclubs. In order to be able to play more at these night clubs, he took up learning saxophone. It took him around six months to a year and he mastered alto and soprano saxophones.

It was Salil Chowdhury who persuaded Manohari Singh to join the film music world of Bombay where he would get a wider field to work with. Incidentally, one of the foremost alto saxophonists of 50s, Ram Singh had recently passed away, which had led to Hindi film world almost stop using saxophone. Thus, destiny had created the right spot for Manohari Singh to fill in the vacuum.

Manohari Singh got his break with Sitaron Se Aage (1958) to play the key flute under S D Burman. He also got to play the key flute for Madhumati (1958)’s background score.  But his fame as saxophonist came with:

5. Tumhein yaad hoga hum tum mile theySatta Bazar (1959) – Hemant Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar – Lyrics: Gulshan Bawra – Kalyanji Virji Shah

Saxophone comes at the first interlude @1.00 and then again @2.35. Three other saxophonists also were to play these pieces in unison. However, as fate would have it, it was Manohari Singh who played the saxophone as a solo instrument, with other three saxophonists playing rhythm to support his solo play.

Then came one gem after another that not only went on to establish Manohari Singh as The Saxophonist but saxophone as solo instrument to be played in a multi-instrument orchestra to create the special effect.

6. Ga mere man ga tu ga mere man ga Lajwanti (1958) – Asha Bhosle – Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri – Music S D Burman

The distinct notes of sax @1.19 accentuates the feeling of loneliness as it gets support of chorus @1.24 in the interlude. Next time sax comes in @3.38 and continues as solo till 3.54.

While working with Salil Chowdhury, Manohari Singh came in association with Sebastian D’Souza who was assisting Salil Da. Sebastian introduced him to Shankar-Jaikishan. Jaikishan immediately liked Manohari Singh’s style of playing solo sax. That gave him the first opportunity to play saxophone with SJ orchestra.

7. Title musicJunglee (1961)

We can listen to saxophone playing Chahe koi mujhe iunglee kahe in the titles.

SJ-Sebastian- Manohari Singh association has too long a list of remarkable solo sax pieces that can be covered in one article. We will have to be content with just one more:

8. Bedardi baalma tujhko mera man yaad karta haiAarzoo (1965) – Lata Mangeshkar – Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri – Music: Shankar Jaikishan

The wailing notes of sax are so prominent in the song that it would hardly need any formal introduction.

Manohari Singh has several remarkable sax solo pieces recorded under Roshan. Here is one that laid that foundation.

9. Zindagi bhar nahi bhulegi wo barsaat ki raatBarsat Ki Raat (1960) – Lata Mangeshkar – Lyrics: Sahir Ludhiyanvi – Music: Roshan

The soft notes of sax in the intro sets the mood for the whole song.

Another such soft solo sax piece can also be heard in

10. Jaag dil-e-diawana rut jagi vasl-e-yaar kiOonche Log (1965) – Mohammad Rafi – Lyrics; Majrooh Sultanpuri – Music: Chitragupta

Sax piece in the interlude syncs so well with soft setting of the song.

Madan Mohan also has used sax solo as intro for the dramatic effect in:

11. Shokh nazar ki bijliyan dil pe mere giraye ja Woh Kaun Thi (1964) – Asha Bhosle- Lyrics: Raja Mahendi Ali Kan – Music: Madan Mohan

After a short burst of violin ensemble intro that sets the motion to the song, sax syncs the mood of speed @ 0.11 moving along in the waving rhythm of ice skaters till 0.19.

Any discussion of use of saxophone in the intro pieces would remain incomplete without the mandatory mention of

12. Huzur-e-wala jo ho izazat Ye Raat Phir Na Aayegi (1966) – Asha Bhosle, Minoo Purushottam – Lyrics: Aziz Kashmiri – Music: O P Nayyar

Saxophone solo could not have been more haunting. Sax commences @ 0.31 and lingeringly continues till 0.55 to fade out into the solo alaap of Asha Bhosle.

13. Kyun mujhe itni khushi de di ki gabharata hai dil Anupama (1966) – Asha Bhosle – Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi – Music; Hemant Kumar

Manohari Singh plays sax solo from 1.08 to 1.14, which then repeats @ 2.24 till 3.01.

Whilst on the subject, it would be opportune to note that the music arrangement for the film also was done by Manohari Singh. Another film in which he arranged music for Hemant Kumar was Biwi Aur Makaan (1966).

In one of the interviews, Manohari Singh recalls one quite rare style of sax recitals, what is known in the musical terminology as staccato.

14. Duniya mein pyar ki sab ko zarurat haiSachcha Jhootha (1970) – Asha Bhosle – Lyrics: Gulshan Bawra – Music Kalyanji Anandji

Starting from 1.04 and running long up to 1.23, each sax note is sharp and detached from each other.

We will have to detach from the saxophone spell of Manohari Singh to get a peep into his other equally talented recitals of other instruments.

15. Achhaji main haari chalo maan jaao naKala Pani (1958) – Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri – Music: S D Burman

Just listen to the mesmerising vibrato notes of mandolin from 1.40 till 1.59.

Manohari Singh’s association with R D Burman as arranger, starting from Bhoot Bangla till RDB’s last film 1942: A Love Story is a subject for a full post. However, we will pick up one instance where their collaboration scaled a unique peak, with high standards that Manohari Singh maintained as a musician as well as an arranger.

16. Tum bin jaun kahanPyar Ka Mausam (1969) – Kishore Kumar: Happy version – Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri – Music: R Burman

It simply remains to be imagined how the intro piece of mandolin would have been actually arranged to give Manohari Singh’s solo recital a rich echoing effect!

However, when it came to playing mandolin for Mohammad Rafi version, Manohari Singh simply invited another ace mandolinist, Kishore Desai (who has already been covered in the series), so as to give a different feel to the mandolin piece to match the different mood in which Rafi version has been conceived.

17. Ja re, ja re ud ja re panchhiMaya (1961) – Lata Mangeshkar – Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri – Music: Salil Chowdhury

Listen to the pipe flute which Manohari Singh handles with equal ease in the intro as he does the alto saxophone in the interludes.

18. Ruk ja O janewali ruk jaKanhaiya (1959) – Mukesh – Lyrics: Shailendra – Music Shankar Jaikishan

Manohari Singh wonderfully weaves in the rolling movement of the bottle with the vibrato play of the flute in the intro. And then when the flute comes up in the first interlude it gives the full feeling of the vast openness of the mountains where Nutan is seen lost into her own thoughts.

19. Ye shaam mastani madhosh kiye jayKati Patang (1971) – Kishore Kumar – Lyrics; Anand Bakshi – Music: R D Burman

This time it is whistling in the intro ……!!!

20. Manohari Singh’s whistling prowess is innovatively harnessed by R D Burman in the title music of Sholay (1973), from 2.39 to 2.44.

Apart from being a multi-talented musician and a highly versatile arranger, Manohari Singh also played the triple role of music composer in association with long-time associate Basudev Chakraborty, a violinist. The three films for which the duo composed music were – Sab Se Bada Rupaiya (1976), Kanhaiya (1980, not Raj Kapoor’s) and Chatpati (1983).

Even after his association as active musician with Hindi films started diminishing, Manohari Singh continued playing saxophone, key flute etc. at live stage shows. In one such performance we see Manohari Singh playing key flute first and then sax while Ja re ud ja re is being played on harmonica by Shirali.

Manohari Singh was on dialysis for his last three years, but he would sometimes keep on playing for hours at a stretch after undergoing dialysis. He suffered cardiac arrest on 13 July 2010 to breathe his last.

All the obituaries that poured in invariably focussed on Manohari Singh’s exemplary artistry with saxophone. This was incontrovertible proof that Manohari Singh had achieved the seemingly impossible: he had overcome the anonymity that seemed to be the fate of even the most gifted of session musicians who have worked in Bombay’s film orchestras.

Credits and Disclaimers:
1. The song links have been given from the YouTube only for the listening pleasure of music lovers. This blog claims no copyright over these songs, which vests with the respective copyright holders.
2. The photographs are taken from the internet, duly recognising the full copyrights for the same to the either original creator or the site where they were originally displayed.

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