Tribute to Saraswati Devi, the first woman music director in Hindi films, on her 40th death anniversary.

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Tribute to Saraswati Devi, the first woman music director in Hindi films, on her 40th death anniversary.

Born in a Parsi family in 1912, Saraswati Devi was a trained classical singer and rose to become India’s first woman music director of Bollywood.

A musical rage in the 30s and early 40s, Saraswati Devi’s musical career was mostly confined to films produced by Bombay Talkies. Starting with ‘Jawani Ki Hawa’ in 1935, she went on to compose highly popular music for hit films like Achhut Kanya, Kangan, Bandhan and jhoola.

She was born as Khursheed Manchersher Minocher — Homji.

She changed her name to escape the wrath of the conservative elements of her community as they could never stand that a lady from their clan would enter the film world.

Once when at a gathering the Bombay Talkies owner Himanshu Rai heard her, he instantly invited her to join his concern as a music director. She was reluctant at first, not knowing how she would adjust herself to the needs of the film industry. But finally she accepted the offer.

She was the first woman music director no doubt. But the biggest challenge she faced was to groom non-singers into singers. That was a very, very big challenge in view of the competition from New Theatres as she didn’t have a Saigal or a Kanan to sing her compositions. That is why one should say that she had a formidable task to perform unlike her counterparts like R.C.Boral, Tamir Baran and others in Calcutta.

The biggest contribution by Saraswati Devi, therefore, was to produce hit songs through the lips of non-singers like Ashok Kumar, Devika Rani and Leela Chitnis.. Right from Achchut Kanya till Jhoola, Saraswati Devi went on rampage, so to speak, producing one hit after another. Leela Chitnis could sing hit songs like, ‘Meera ke jeevan ki sooni parri re sitar’ (Kangan), ‘Man bhavan lo sawan aya re’(Bandhan) and ‘Jhoole ke sang jhoolo jhoolo mere man’.(Jhoola) Imagine Saraswati Devi producing a golden jubilee hit in the voices of Ashok Kumar and Devika Rani in film ‘Achhut Kanya’ (a film that Nehru saw and appreciated)-‘Main ban ki chirriya ban ke ban ban bolun re’. The biggest hit by her was the marching song of Bandhan, ‘Chal chal re nau jawan’ sung in solo by Ashok Kumar, sung in chorus by Ashok Kumar and sung as a duet by him with Leela Chitnis. She used a non-singer like Sneh Prabha to sing the Puner Milan song, ‘Nacho nacho pyare man ke mor’. The male singer she had was Arun Kumar, who sung for Kishore Sahu in Punermilan, for Mumtaz Ali in ‘Jhoola’ (Main to Dilli se dulhan laya re he babuji) and others. Incidentally, it was she who gave break to Kavi Pradeep as a singer though he was writing lyrics for the concern since 1939 from film ‘Kangan’. She first used him in that immortal song of ‘Bandhan’ which is played in the back ground: ‘Piyu piyu bol praan papeehe piyu piyu bol’ Pradeep did sing subsequently some big hits after leaving Bombay Talkies. But in ‘Jhoola’ he has left behind a memorable song too tuned by Saraswati Devi: ‘Mere bichade hue saathi teri yaad sataye, baar baar teri chavi aye birha agan jaraae’

After she left Bombay Talkies, she shot into limelight again in the early fifties when she tuned two non-film ghazals for Habib Wali Mohammad. These were: ‘Lagta nahin hai dil mera ujjarre dayar mein’ and ‘Yeh na thi hamari kismet ke visaal-e-yaar hota’. When you listen to her compositions, specially the indigenously-flavored background music, you are transported into the environment of the India of the early 20th century.

During the later years of her life, the bad and selfish film world turned apathetic towards the doyenne. Not even a single person visited her when she fractured her hip bone after falling from a private bus. The legendary singer and India’s first female music director left for a better world in 1980 with no one to mourn her death. Even the media did not find her worthy of an obituary.

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Celebrating Cinema

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