Tribute to Shankar Singh Raghuvanshi, the legendary film music composer in Hindi films, on his 31st death anniversary today.
Together with Jaikishan Dayabhai Panchal, he was one half of the duo Shankar-Jaikishan, a leading music director pair of the Hindi film industry in the 1950s and 1960s. Even after Jaikishan’s death at a rather young age in 1971, Shankar continued to use the name of Shankar-Jaikishan in films. He died on 26 April 1987.
Shanker Singh Raghuvanshi, was born in 1922 in Punjab. His father had settled in Andhra Pradesh, and hence Shankar spent much of his childhood in Hyderabad. Shanker trained as a dancer, and even worked with the famous Krishnan Kutty. He mastered the tabla (which he would play in a local temple there), pakhawaj and other instruments, and when he came to Mumbai he joined the troupe of dance-master Sohanlal and Hemavati (the late Sapru’s wife) as a tabla player.
Shankar and Jaikishan reportedly first met when they were both waiting outside a film director’s office. They soon became collaborators and helped in composing music for Prithvi Theatres, which was founded by the renowned actor Prithviraj Kapoor.
In the years to follow, Shankar-Jaikishan would become the favourite music directors of Prithviraj’s son, the legendary actor-director Raj Kapoor.
Shankar and Jaikishan assisted music director Ram Ganguly in Aag, director Raj Kapoor’s first film. For his subsequent film Barsaat, Raj Kapoor asked Shankar to do the music, and Shankar immediately roped in Jaikishan. Thus the famous Shankar-Jaikishan partnership was born.
The duo struck gold in their debut film, with the music of Barsaat becoming extremely popular.
Songs like ‘Hawa mein udta jaaye’ and ‘Jeeya bekrarar hai’, both sung by Lata Mangeshkar, are classics of Indian film music. The young Mangeshkar sang as many as nine songs in the film, seven of them solo. Along with Shankar-Jaikishan, the film’s lyricists Hasrat Jaipuri and Shailendra would also become a part of many future Raj Kapoor ventures.
“Shankar-Jaikishan reproduced the waltz ‘Blue Danube’ on the violin. It was played by Jaikishan and so impressed was Raj Kapoor that it became RK Banner’s theme music. At Raj Kapoor’s request, Shankar Jaikishan included a part of this piece in the first and third antaras of ‘Chod gaye balam’ rendered by Mukesh and Lata Mangeshkar,” Ranjan Das Gupta wrote in The Hindu.
Shankar-Jaikishan teamed up with Raj Kapoor in several films, including Awaara, Shree 420, Sangam, Teesri Kasam, and Mera Naam Joker.
Among its many brilliant songs, Awaara also had what is often regarded as the first dream sequence of Hindi cinema. In her award-winning book Awāra, the film scholar Gayatri Chatterjee writes: “One is struck with awe to think how the recording of this piece (the dream sequence) was achieved: Raj’s cry, the yell of the group dancers, the simulated sound of leaping flames, and the several instrumental pieces are all orchestrated together with remarkable expertise.”
Among the most feted music directors, Shankar-Jaikishan won the Filmfare award for Chori Chori, Anari, Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai, Professor, Suraj, Brahmachari, Pehchaan, Mera Naam Joker, Be-Imaan — all films from the 1960s and 70s except Chori Chori.
It is striking, however, that some of their most outstanding work of the 1950s was not awarded.
Shankar-Jaikishan were highly paid music directors. They reportedly had creative and personal differences in the mid-1960s but their name continued to appear together in the credits. After Jaikishan’s death in 1971 at the young age of 41, Shankar continued to compose music for films, but hits were no longer easy. Shankar Singh Raghuvanshi died in 1987. For millions of fans of Hindi film music, Shankar-Jaikishan remains alive through their unforgettable music.