Back in 1955, music composer duo Shankar-Jaikishan approached singer Manna Dey to record a musical duel with Pandit Bhimsen Joshi for an upcoming film ‘Basant Bahar’. The sequence required Dey to score over the Kirana Gharana stalwart. On hearing this, Manna Dey blatantly refused the offer saying he could not comprehend defeating Panditji even on screen. It took a lot of convincing to get the veteran singer on board and this is how-Ketaki Gulab Juhi-one of the most iconic songs of Indian Cinema was recorded. Despite zillions of films songs based on classical ragas, we have seen very few films themed around Hindustani classical music. Popular perception goes: it’s hard to blend classical music into contemporary stories. Last year, Anand Tiwari tried to tap into this largely unexplored genre with Bandish Bandits. Despite its inconsistent pace, the Amazon Prime series did create an impact musically. Here, we have compiled a list of 8 musical dramas where classical music forms the key part of the storyline.
1) The Disciple (2020):
Chaitanya Tamhane’s Marathi feature is a unique film in many aspects. It explores the journey of Sharad Nelukar, an avid practitioner of Hindustani classical music, who is in the pursuit of unblemished perfection but fails to meet the expectations of the people around him. Tamhane, who garnered critical-acclaim for his debut feature Court, scores again with an introspective foray into a music tradition that has largely resisted any change and questions its culture of reverence and submission. With Alfonso Curan serving as executive producer and Michal Sobocinski as cinematographer, The Disciple presents the ethical dilemma as music meets market.
2) Baiju Bawara (1952) :
Baiju Bawara is a story of a little-known singer who challenges the legendary Tansen to a musical duel in Mughal emperor Akbar’s Court. At its core, Baiju Bawra is a love story but it’s his music that binds them together. The period drama is best known for the exemplary music by Naushad. Every song is based on classical Ragas including Mann Tadpat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj(Malkauns), O Duniya ke Rakhwale (Darbari) TU Ganga Ki Mauj (Bhairavi) among others. Baiju Bawara is also remembered for its famous musical duel ‘Aaj Gaawat Man Mero Jhoomke’ where Ustad Amir Khan and Pandit D. V. Paluskar.
3) Sankarabharnam (1980):
The Telugu-language musical drama sheds light on the chasm between Classical and Western Music based on the perspective of people from two different generations. The film is about Sankara Shastry (JV Somayajulu), a purist Carnatic musician, who gives refuge to Tulsi, a prostitute’s daughter who was being forced into the same profession by her mother. Society raises questions about their relationship, forcing Tulshi to walk out of his life. She re-enters his life at a time when pop music has made him irrelevant. The rest of the story revolves around the episodes which lead to the reincarnation of classical music. The film was a commercial as well as critical success. Sankarabharnam won four national film awards and JV Somayajulu’s portrayal of musician is still hailed as one of the greatest performances in Indian cinema
4) Katyar Kaljat Ghusali (2015):
Adapted from the popular Marathi play of the same name, the Subodh Bhave directorial revolves around the battle between two music gharanas in the kingdom of Vishrampur. The Shankar-Ehassan-Loy trio recreated the compositions by Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki, a celebrated Hindustani classical vocalist and composer. The film is remembered for great performances, opulent art and costumes and of course, mesmerising music. The efficient renditions of classics like ‘Ghei Chhanda Makranda’, ‘Soorat Piya Ki’ and ‘Dil Ki Tapish’are sure to tug at your heartstrings. The film also won Mahesh Kale the National film award for best playback singer.
5) Bharatham (1992):
The Mohanlal-starrer is interpreted as a modern-day adaptation of the Ramayana from Bharatha’s perspective. The film essays the story of a family that has a longstanding tradition of music and how the younger brother takes the reins of the family in his hands after the elder one turns alcoholic. The film was widely praised for its music which is largely Carnatic classical and semi-classical. The film won three National Film Awards—Best Actor for Mohanlal, Best Male Playback Singer for K. J. Yesudas for the song “Rama Katha Ganalayam”, and Special Mention for Raveendran’s music
6) Sardari Begum (1997):
The Shyam Benegal directorial focuses on the tumultuous life of a Thumri singer accidentally killed during communal riots in New Delhi. With Kirron Kher in the titular role, the film portrays the love, career and struggles of the celebrated eponymous singer of the 20th century. It’s more of an exploration of the artist rather than the art. Composer Vanraj Bhatia’s excellent musical score and Aarti Ankalikar’s mellifluous voice makes Sardari Begum more engrossing
7) Khayal Gatha (1989):
Directed by Kumar Shahani, it’s an experimental film tracing the history of the Khayal genre of Indian classical singing. The film also explores the relationship between Khayal genre and Classical dance form. Starring Rajat Kapoor and Mita Vashish, the film re-enacts popular stories related to the evolution of classical music. It is considered an important documentation of the tradition of Indian classical singing.
8) Thillana Mohanambal (1968):
One of the most celebrated Tamil classics, Thillana Mohanambal is also credited for bringing the traditional arts of South India into prominence. With Sivaji Ganeshan and Padmini in lead roles, the musical drama tells the story of a Nadaswaram player who falls in love with a Bharatnatyam dancer. The immortal competition of music and dance as portrayed in the movie left an indelible mark on the minds of the earlier generation. The film won two national film awards — Best Feature Film in Tamil (President’s silver medal) and Best Cinematography.