Guest article by Piyush M Pandya (Gujarati original) & Ashok M Vaishnav (English translation)
(V Balsara was an extremely talented musician encompassing proficiency in all the links in the vertical chain of producing music – instrumentalist to arranger to music director. He was a master of many instruments. He was also a rare exception for a non-Bengali to make a reverse migration from Mumbai to Kolkata and made a mark in Bengali music scene. We are grateful that our guest authors Piyush M Pandya and Ashok M Vaishnav, continuing the series on Arrangers and Musicians, now cover one of the well-known musicians V Balsara. He had the unique talent of creating piano accordion sound with harmonium in many landmark songs. Thank you Piyush ji and Ashok ji for another excellent article on the sculptors of film songs who were not adequately credited. – AK)
V(istasp Ardeshir) Balsara (B: 22 June 1922 – D: 24 March 2005) was a musician of trinity of talents – as an instrumentalist, arranger and music director. He was considered uncrowned wizard of instrumental orchestration. A master keyboardist, he was an ace player of instruments like harmonium, organ, piano, piano accordion, melodica and univox. He is considered instrumental in popularising these instruments in the recording industry. Rich in the knowledge of Indian and Western classical music, he has left behind a legacy of his recorded albums of Indian and Western music and the fusion of both these schools. He has also composed music for around 12 Hindi films and 32 Bengali films and several timeless non-film compositions.
Born in a Zoroastrian (Parsi) family in Bombay, the toddler V Balsara’s first teacher of music was his mother, Nazamaye. Vistasp gave his first public performance at the age of six. He played pedal harmonium at a packed CJ Hall in Bombay. By 1942, barely a lad of sixteen years, Vistasp was assisting music director Ustad Mustaq Hussain for the film Badal. He had been able to carve out a place for himself at Filmistan studio under music directors like Madan Mohan, Khemchand Prakash and Ghulam Haider.
V Balsara’s maiden assignment as independent music director was Circus Girl (1943). He got other films: O Panchhi (1944), jointly with Vasant Kumar Naidu, and Rang Mahal (1948) with K Datta.
1. Bachpan tum mera daaman chhod zara – Rang Mahal (1948) by Shalini and Anant Marathe – Lyrics: Shiv Kumar – Music: V Balsara
This is a good testimony of V Balsara’s skill in weaving complex orchestra in a pleasing, if little unorthodox, composition.
In the meanwhile, HMV picked him up in 1947 as Orchestra Director. He met here who’s who of the music world. This platform also provided V Balsara to publish several of his NFS albums.
2. Roothi huyi taqdeer ko ab kaise manaaun – NFS (1949) by Mukesh – Lyrics: Madhukar Rajasthani – Music: V Balsara
Keeping in line with the accepted practice, music plays secondary role in this very low-scale rendition by Mukesh. Use of soft piano notes as countermelody support validates V Balsara’s hold over the instrument.
3. Ye hawa ye fiza ye bahaarein – NFS (1950) by Geeta Dutt – Lyrics: Not known – Music: V Balsara
V Balsara’s soft piano countermelody support with the use of choir orchestra format in the prelude and interludes amplifies the mood in Geeta Dutt’s mellifluous voice.
4. Mera pyar mujhe lauta do – NFS – Talat Mahmood – Lyrics: Sajjan – Music: V Balsara
V Balsara has used musical support to the minimum so as to enable Talat Mahmood’s singing to convey full feelings.
Among various contacts that V Balsara had developed, his association with Shankar Jaikishan and RK banner is almost a folklore tale now.
5. Awara hoon – Harmonium recital – V Balsara
As we shall see a little later, if V Balsara himself would not have clarified, the jury would still have remained divided whether it was accordion or harmonium in this song.
Equally stunning is the use of harmonium in Yaad kiya tumne kahaan ho tum (Patita, 1953) and Ek bewafa se pyar kiya (Awara, 1951), for which V Balsara’s instrumental versions do not seem to be available.
6. Aye mere dil kahin aur chal – Harmonium recital – V Balsara
In this excerpt from a Doordarshan interview, we can directly hear from the horse’s mouth that the instrument that one may usually believe as accordion is in fact a harmonium.
7. Na tum humein jano – Harmonium recital – V Balsara
One more fine example of the way V Balsara’s fingers play with harmonium keyboard to create its own magic.
8. Kahin deep jale kahin dil – Harmonium recital – V Balsara
Even when one does listen to the way harmonium creates the haunting atmosphere, one may not believe that that sound is from what is considered to be a simple listless reed instrument with very limited range!
9. V Balsara: Harmonium Dance Tune (1)
One simply remains awestruck the way V Balsara plays with harmonium keys.
10. V Balsara: Harmonium Dance Tune (2)
In this part V Balsara plays the tunes in relatively easy rhythm, but his handling of harmonium remains a matter of wonder!
There is one record standing to the credit of V Balsara, which can also be considered to have received same amount of listless attention that the work of V Balsara in Hindi films has received.
11. Kisi ke zulm ki tasveer hai mazdoor ki hasti – Madmast (1953) – by Mahendra Kapoor and Dhan Indorewala – Lyrics: Maanav – Msuic: V Balsara
It is widely believed that Mahendra Kapoor’s singing career in Hindi films took off after he had won the 1957 Metro-Murphy Singing Contest. As was promised, it was Naushad who gave him the break with Chand chhupa aur taare doobe (Sohni Mahiwal, 1958).
However here is a duet which predates that (solo) ’debut’ by a good five years!
In fact, the film had another duet for Mahendra Kapoor, with S D Batish – Unhein dekhe to wo munh fer karke muskurate hain
However, the large-hearted V Balsara has never made any special efforts to claim this credit.
V Balsara’s career as a music director and arranger had now reached the critical mass. But before it could attain escape velocity, a trajectory-changing event happened. The period is 1953 or thereabout. Bengal’s noted harmonium and tabla payer and musicologist Jnan Prakash Ghosh invited V Balsara to participate in a public programme which had luminaries like Pankaj Mullik, Juthika Roy and other who’s who of the then Bengal music scene. As the saying goes, it was a case of love at first sight for V Balsara for the city of Calcutta. He decided to stay back there and then. He lost no time in learning the Bengali language and became as fluent as he was with Hindi, English or Gujarati (his Parsi-accented mother tongue). Even though now away from the mainstream Hindi cinema, his contacts with Bombay remained live and he did continue his association with Bollywood.
We will take up just three songs that V Balsara composed in this period to showcase what Hindi film industry potentially lost.
12. Nazaaron mein ho tum khayaalon mein ho tum (NFS 1960) by Manna Dey – Lyrics: Chandrashekhar Pande – Music: V Balsara
It should not surprise if any youngster uses the song to propose to his beloved! Beautiful composition in Raag Pahadi.
13. Ye aawaara raatein ye khoyi si baatein (NFS 1960) by Manna Dey – Lyrics: Madhukar Rajasthani – Music: V Balsara
If you listen to this song with your eyes closed, you will immediately be pulled into a trance.
14. More naina saawan bhado tori rah rah yaad sataye – Vidyapati (1964) by Lata Mangeshkar – Lyrics: Prahlad Sharma – Music: V Balsara
Opening with the wailing notes of Shehnai, the Raag Shivranjani based song creates a surrealistic haunting effect.
V Balsara’s repertoire of Begali films include Maa, Chalachal (1956), Panchatapa (1957), Subho Bibaha (1959), Manik, Kanchan Kanya (1969), Panna and Pathey Holo Dekha (1968), Joy Baba Baidyanath (1979) as music director. He has left imprint of his music in about 30 Bengali films as Orchestra Conductor, background music, assistant music director apart from being an independent music director.
Once settled in Calcutta, V Balsara took up learning Indian classical music from Muneshwar Dayal of Gaya and took interest in Rabindra Sangeet. He has written notations for several Rabindra Sangeet compositions. He also underwent extensive training under Hildafield, a German musician, for honing his piano skills. This videoclip nostalgically captures V Balsara’s life at Calcutta.
One can listen to many of V Balsara’s instrumental compositions on YT. Here is a representative selection:
16. Indian folk tunes – V Balsara on UNIVOX
In the first part of this vinyl record, V Balsara has replicated folk tunes on Clarinet, Kasthya Tarang, Flute and Shehnai, and then on the second side, has played Bihari, Assamese, Gujarati, Rajasthani, Bengali and Punjabi folk tunes on Univox.
17. Raag Yaman – V Balsara
V Balsara has played Raag Yaman on the piano!
18. Sindhu Bhairavi – Jnan Prakash Ghosh and V Balsara
In this Jugalbandhi, V Balsara plays the keyboard.
19. Raag – Piloo folk dhun – V Balsara
Kalayani Rao is on the sitar and V Basara on piano.
20. Lara’s Theme by Balsara & His Singing Sitars
V Balsara has even experimented with playing the original Lara’s theme on sitar
21. Raag Mood – V Balsara’s instrumental album on classical music.
Parts of his orchestra albums were often used by AIR and Radio Ceylon as filler after the end of a radio programme
22. Live solo piano concert by V Balsara (Last Concert)
This video shows how active V Balsara was almost till the end, even though he had lost his wife and two sons in the twilight years.
YT has all the 13 episodes of Life Biography of V Balsara (Full version)
Apart from extensive performances, among several books that V Balsara has written is a technical book where he has tried to explain to Western musicians how to apply chords in Indian raags. Besides writing lesson books on instruments and guidelines for playing Indian raags on Western instruments, V Balsara also wrote his autobiography Nana Ranger Dinguli, which was published later.
Those who were close to V Balsara recall that he was a very jovial person in the true mould of a Parsi. But when it came to professional work his commitment was unwavering rocklike.
I would conclude this episode of a small part of V Balsara’s varied music spectrum with a Gujarati NFS.
23. Mahtab sam madhuro dilkash deedar taaro (NFS) by Mukesh – Lyrics: Dara Printer – Music: V Balsara
Knowing fully well that the song is inspired from Que Sera Sera, V Balsara’s adaptation still feels so innovative!
Credits and Disclaimers:
1. The song links have been embedded 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.