Music By Laxmikant Pyarelal highlights the story of one of the most renowned Indian composer duos, Laxmikant Shantaram Kudalkar and Pyarelal Ramprasad Sharma. Chronicling the essence of the ‘musical universe’ created by the composers – the names behind several chartbusters from the 1960s to 90s, including evergreen albums like Karz, Saudagar and Mr. India – the biography has been penned by author and entertainment journalist Rajiv Vijayakar. His previous books include The History of Indian Film Music: A Showcase of the Very Best in Hindi Cinema (2010), Dharmendra: Not Just a He-Man (2018) and Main Shayar Toh Nahin (2019).
Below is an excerpt from the duo’s early lives, capturing a snapshot of their childhood, and the time they were just starting out as musicians. From doubling up as child actors in the films they would work on to assisting several music directors from the yesteryears – including another iconic musical duo, Kalyanji-Anandji – the book gives a glimpse of how their musical partnership came to fruition.
Pyarelal was often made by his father to dress up neatly and sit in recording studio waiting-rooms, with instructions to rise and salute if a top music director walked past. He was already proficient by the age of 12, incidentally making his debut as a musician for a song in Bulo C. Rani’s Jogan.
(Though he uncharacteristically became a shade immodest, Pyarelal, much later, began to count himself along with Oscar Pereira, Michael Martin, Alexander D’Souza and Siloo Panthaki among the finest violinists of his generation.)
Pyarelal then joined Ranjit Studios, where his duties were threefold—as a musician, as an ‘extra’ (a child junior artiste in a group of children on screen) and as violinist for the owner of this prestigious studio and banner (Ranjit Movietone), Chandulal Shah’s pleasure!
The family lived in Ahmed Mansion, near the same Famous Studios where Laxmikant would come. That was the regular workplace also of Anil Biswas, and the now-legendary musician Louiz Banks would be there as well. Top filmmakers like D.D. Kashyap and P.N. Arora would shoot there. ‘The mansion is still there, and we would pay its monthly rent of ₹ 13 late, every six months!’ said Pyarelal.
And Famous Studios—a prophetic name indeed—is where Laxmikant and Pyarelal met.
And the Two Met…
Laxmikant was 10 years old and Pyarelal was seven when they first met as kids. The two would play bat-ball (the kiddie version of cricket) and teen patthar, a crude children’s game with three stones. They would meet at lunch-time and slowly became friends. Pyarelal was working for C. Ramachandra—known as Annasaheb—and Chitragupta at the time, and knowing that his father’s financial condition was not good, Annasaheb offered him a chance to go with him to Madras (now Chennai) to play for his film’s song.
Pyarelal had to leave at very short notice. Laxmikant was a part of the contingent, as he was already working for the senior composer. The film was Devata, produced by Narayan Films and starring Gemini Ganesh and Anjali Devi. Vyjayanthimala played the vamp in it! That was the first film in which both of them played and the first time they saw big money—Pyarelal was paid ₹ 6,800 and so bought a gold ornament worth ₹ 1,200 for his father!
The friendship between the boys grew with time. Pyarelal remembered, ‘We would go to the studio canteen and eat vada-pav or misal-pav, sharing whatever money we had in our pockets, usually eight annas or less. Laxmi was also doubling up as a child actor, like playing the childhood version of the hero, and being paid ₹ 10 per hour. He would help me get in for group or crowd scenes of children. Once, my brother Mahesh and I had to act dead, and we were so tired that by the time the shot was over, we had gone to sleep!’
Pyarelal remembers the day the actress Madhubala had recalled his scene with the legendary Om Prakash in Rail Ka Dibba (Shammi Kapoor’s first released film). Carrying an umbrella in the scene, he got to speak a rude repartee to Om Prakash. Madhubala loved it and praised him when they met! The young musician’s schedule was soon to be frenetic. He would wake up at 6 a.m., catch the 6:55 O-2 bus route to Colaba in Mumbai South and practice violin at the house of his famed musician guru Anthony Gonsalves from 8 a.m. Pt Ramprasad had taught him the basics, but had wanted Gonsalves to refine his son’s playing. Gonsalves was kind enough to let the young boy leave at 9 a.m. to reach the headquarters of the Bombay Symphony Orchestra or BSO (now called the Symphony Orchestra of India or SOI) nearby.
Pyarelal would leave from the BSO by 10 a.m., reach Ranjit Studios at 10:45 a.m. and, though that would be late, no one said anything to him. At 5 p.m., he would reach Cadell Road, and walk via the seashore to St. Michael’s Church in Mahim, where he would attend school between 7 and 10 p.m. He remained a musician in the choir during church services even after quitting school.
In films, the two thus exploded the myth that only men above 35 could become good musicians, and they would often be made to sit on tall stools so that they were visible to the composers and their conductors.
And along with this came the phase when the duo became very close to the Mangeshkar family, even staying with them in their house ‘for months’ as Pyarelal put it. In Laxmikant’s words, ‘We were two souls, musically inclined. Gradually, our circle widened.’
There was Hridaynath (Mangeshkar) and his sister Usha, Laxmikant’s brother Shashikant, Pyarelal’s brothers Ganesh and Gorakh, Mayekar, who was a sitar player, and some others. The group began to do shows under the name of Surel Kala Kendra. It was then that Laxmikant and Pyarelal began to take long walks together, because that was when they composed tunes of their own. Both were in their teens then.
The Mangeshkar chapter had begun in the mid-’50s when Lata Mangeshkar had heard Laxmikant play the mandolin while she was performing at the Radio Club. She enquired about this boy whose playing was so beautiful, so polished, and on learning of his poor financial status, heeded his request to put in a word for him. This she did with Shankar-Jaikishan, Ghulam Mohammed, Jaidev (who also introduced Laxmikant to S.D. Burman) and some others.
Meanwhile, Pyarelal began to arrange music for C. Ramachandra, though according to him, his first break was in the 1958 Phir Subah Hogi, which was, incidentally, Khayyam’s first independent film as a composer. And when Kalyanji-Anandji began their careers as independent composers, they employed Shankar-Jaikishan’s arranger Sebastian, but Shankar-Jaikishan objected to this and Sebastian had to leave. Laxmikant had already joined them, and he suggested that Pyarelal be called in, as he was a master at arrangement. Together, therefore, they first worked with the senior duo in Chandrasena (1959), in which Kalyanji was billed as Kalyanji Virji Shah and Anandji as his assistant. Kalyanji liked to work with Laxmikant and Pyarelal, while Anandji preferred Jai Parte, according to Pyarelal. ‘Kalyanji bhai loved us a lot. He would often take us home. We loved the phulkas made there and I would eat almost a dozen! He would also take us to the races,’ he said.
Their joint tenure under Kalyanji-Anandji proved to be fruitful. Though technically their assistants, the two would handle and treat the film almost as their own. Sometimes, Kalyanji-Anandji would leave everything to the two of them.
The term ‘assistant music director’ is a term peculiar to Indian cinema. Abroad, apart from the composer, there are the musicians who actually play the music, while the arranger decides the notes, the type and the number of instruments. The conductor then conducts the orchestra. Here, an assistant may do one or more of these things and even rehearse a singer or compose a tune. The two youngsters would work unflaggingly for them.
In several Kalyanji-Anandji films, Laxmikant-Pyarelal were thus not just billed as assistants but as ‘Associate Music Directors’—Himalay Ki God Mein, Jab Jab Phool Khile and Juari among them. Later, Pyarelal had even stated that if an emergency arose with Kalyanji-Anandji, he would leave his own recording but make sure their music arrangements were looked after.
Pyarelal recalled a long phase when, after working the full day as musicians for others, they would work with the senior duo from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., snatch two hours of sleep and then work the entire day again as musicians! One prominent song wherein Pyarelal played the solo violin was in Madan Mohan’s ‘Main Yeh Soch Kar’ in Haqeeqat. Simultaneously, they would also arrange the music for dubbed Hindi versions of South Indian films and also do extensive work on the background music (BGM) of other films; S.D. Burman’s Ziddi among them.
Between them, as musicians, they worked with almost every composer who mattered. These included Shankar-Jaikishan, Roshan, Ravi, Madan Mohan, O.P. Nayyar, Naushad, Chitragupta, Hemant Kumar, Usha Khanna and finally, R.D. Burman, for whom they arranged the music of his first two films that were produced by Mehmood—Chhote Nawab and Bhoot Bangla. The last film in which they played was Roshan’s Bahu Begum, which released in 1967, four years after their debut as independent composers. ‘Roshan saab was a strict man in such matters,’ Laxmikant had quipped. ‘And he did not know we were among the musicians!’
The composer stressed that they learnt from all the stalwarts not only what to do as musicians, but more importantly, what not to do as musicians and as people.
And this was probably the secret behind Laxmikant-Pyarelal becoming the darlings of all their musicians, from the Indian classical and Western luminaries who played for them, to the smallest names, as well as singers, lyricists, filmmakers and stars. As Pyarelal put it, ‘I had a quick temper, but Laxmi would look after everything and never lose his equanimity.’
Edited excerpts from Music By Laxmikant Pyarelal by Rajiv Vijayakar with permission from Rupa Publications.