Those three folks, what makes me put them in a same category? Let me explain.
Bollywood (I hate to use this aped term, but its an accepted word now) has given us great music. The music directors of past, and some present, these are the folks who deserve most credit for the musical treasure we have on our iPods today.
And I pick these three gentlemen to be my top 3 composers. Because, there is one thing common about their music – one word – style! OP, RDB and ARR, they belonged to different generations, and in their times, they were and are the folks with most distinctive and trademark styles!
‘Style’ sometimes gets mixed up with ‘repetitiveness’.
If you are in the overly critical mood, you might dismiss O P Nayyar as a horse-tap freak who knew nothing else. But look at it this way. OP dished out hits using this same trademark ‘tak-tak tak-tak‘ rhythm and style. His music was modern for the times and still sounds racy enough. And mind you, he did not use services of the most popular playback singer of his time – Lata Mangeshkar.
It is only OP, whose songs you are most likely to recognize seconds after you press play. And hits, there were plenty. Besides the obvious Kashmir Ki Kali, my personal favorite albums are Phir wohi dil laya hoon and Tumsa Nahin Dekha. Force me to pick the best OP song and I will fickle between at least 4 or 5. Main pyar ka raahi hoon, or Deewana hua baadal? Or should it be Laakhon hai nigaah mein. How about Aakhon hee aaknhon mein from CID?
Being an OP fan does not mean I belittle other super-great composers of the time. R D Burman and A R Rahman are lot less controversial choices for being the style-yet-substance leaders of their times. But OP had the likes of Shankar-Jaikishan, Roshan, the senior Burman, Ravi, Madan Mohan and few more for company and competition. Each of these gentlemen made really great music, but to me, only Shankar-Jaikishan comes close in that substance-with-style category.
Yes, you can tell Roshan from those very short and abruptly ending instrumental interludes that surprise. You can tell a Madan Mohan song by his overly melodious, slow and waltzy tunes that grow on you. And you can certainly figure S-J by the sound of that electric organ or guitar. I am not saying no to any of that. But OP is OP, with a little more distinctive feel to his music.
As I said already, RDB and perhaps ARR too are less controversial choices for leaders on “style”. I need not spend time on them in this post itself. Saved for later!
PS: So who is going to be the next person in this series? After a brief lull in late 80s and early 90s, Bollywood music has certainly been good. Jatin-Lalit flattered to deceive but Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy seem to be here to stay, Shantanu Moitra looks promising, and Pritam could very well be the S-J of present times.