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Candid Confrontations – Jugalbandi In Hindi Cinema

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Jugalbandi – a word which is not new for those who follow Classical music. Whether Hindustani or Carnatic, jugalbandis have been a part of the tradition and history. The initial jugalbandis have been dated as early as 13th century during the period of Amir Khusro. Jugalbandi is a performance by 2 solo artists/musicians of an equal footing. It is a competition where the artists are not only relaying their art to the other artist but also complimenting him and communicating with him in a musical question-answer form. Respecting the other artist and having a healthy spirit of competition. Challenging or confronting the other artist to perform much better than he usually does and thus bringing out the best in both. It can be between 2 vocalists or 2 instrumentalists or 1 vocalist and 1 instrumentalist. Nowadays fusion jugalbandis have also become prevalent. Between a dancer and a singer, a painter and a singer and so on. The gist of all the jugalbandis being a healthy competition and entertainment. But these jugalbandis have been mostly looked upon as the medium of insulting or putting the other artist down. Stories/legends of the artists, losing their places in the court (darbar) as a result of jugalbandi or the winner given special treatment, are widely famous.
Katyar Kaljat Ghusali (2015), a brilliantly made Marathi movie by actor-director Subodh Bhave gives an account of one such fictional saga. Based on the Marathi play with same name, it has Subodh Bhave, Shankar Mahadevan and Sachin Pilgaonkar as the lead artists. Set during the British era, it is a story of 2 classical singers and their pupil. The jugalbandi (competition) between the 2 legends goes for a toss when classical singer Khansaheb Aftab Hussain Bareliwale (Sachin) cheats on Pandit Bhanu Shankar Shastri (Shankar Mahadevan) to win. The pupil Sadashiv (Subodh Bhave) later avenges Khan saheb in the court by challenging him for a jugalbandi. The movie is an audio-visual bliss, whereupon the narrative is by the Katyar (dagger) voiced over by Reema Lagoo and some original tunes by Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki retained for the jugalbandis.

Though on screen it is shown as the battle of the stalwarts, it is the rapport of the playback singers off screen which makes the jugalbandi enjoyable. The sportsmanship of the singers which dazzles as they sing the marathon. How often have we seen this in Hindi cinema? A singer is a singer whether he belongs to a classical or a popular genre. But the aesthetic value of a classical singer has always been much more than a singer of popular genre. Yet there are a few examples in Hindi cinema where the classical singer of the top most form takes a backseat as per the requirement of the story. And our maestroes have said to have been there and done that. Katyar Kaljat Ghusli being the latest of such an example with classical singers like Rahul Deshpande, Mahesh Kale and Shankar Mahadevan (a trained classical and popular singer) showing their calibre. One of the finest examples of setting a rapport with the other singer during the jugalbandi, making the atmosphere happy and sporty. A candid confrontation!!

Here are some of the finest examples of such jugalbandis where the classical singers have brought it out a sporting way –

1. Baiju Bawra (1952) – The movie depicts a fictional account of the singer Baijnath Mishra, a contemporary of Tansen. Baiju avenging his father’s death by defeating Tansen in a musical duel. According to a legend, there was a competition of singing between Tansen & Baiju, where he loses to Baiju. While we have Surendra and Bharat Bhushan playing the singers on screen, it is the magic of singers off screen which enthrals. Ustad Amir Khan gives his voice for Tansen while Pandit D. V. Paluskar for Baiju. A song which became a milestone in Hindi film music – Aaj gawat mann mero….!! Music by Naushad and lyrics Shakeel Badayuni. Though Pandit D. V. Paluskar was junior to the Ustad, Ustad Amir Khan did not mind losing to him.

2. Basant Bahar (1956) – Another milestone experimentation by Shankar-Jaikishen, lyrics by Shailendra. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, an all time great classical singer versus Manna Dey. Though Manna Dey was a classical singer himself, Pandit ji was several notches up in the field of classical singing and Manna Dey had developed a cold feet singing not only opposite him but also defeating him in the jugalbandi. It was Pandit ji who helped him in this difficult situation by asking him to raise his pitch than usual and then let it slide down.

3. Padosan (1968) – A man of Manna Dey’s calibre was not happy giving his voice to Mehmood who loses in the famous competition picturised on Sunil Dutt and Mehmood, with Kishore Kumar being the voice for Sunil Dutt (Kishore Kumar being an untrained singer). He had to be persuaded to allow the song to be used in the film. The song Ek Chatur Naar, though cannot be called as an independent song but an aesthetic parody, Manna Dey loses to Kishore Kumar in the competition.

Avid music lover and Dev Anand fan

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