Laxmikant-Pyarelal: Dream Composers

Their music is a supermarket, a joyride,” says singer Shreya Ghoshal, about Laxmikant-Pyarelal (LP). When I sing LP songs, I often can’t control myself and start crying. When this happened once on the TV show Indian Idol, everyone asked me why I was crying. I said I could not say why.”

Laxmikant (R) and Pyarelal.
Laxmikant (R) and Pyarelal.

She adds: “LP were a singer’s dream composers. So many singers have done their best work for them. Because they always found the right words for a singer to do trouble-free enunciation. That was a key magic in their songs.”

There was a time when the audience threw coins at the screen for songs they enjoyed. Songs of the 1979 LP film Sargam — particularly Dafliwale dafli baja — collected a whopping ₹1 crore from movie halls screening Sargam.

Film star Jeetendra once remarked that he owed at least two floors of his four-storeyed house in Juhu, Mumbai, to LP, because of what they had done for his career.

Laxmikant with Asha Bhosle.
Laxmikant with Asha Bhosle.

LP inspired many such encomiums. They were active in Bollywood for over three decades (1963–1993), composing over 2,900 songs for an incredible 500 films. As you could play LP’s songs 24×7 without repeating any song, LP was also known as ‘long playing’! Their career spelled longevity, quality and mass appeal. They composed music for every top filmmaker and enriched the careers of many singers.


Filmfare and Binaca Geetmala

LP won Filmfare’s best composer award seven times — for Dosti, 1964; Milan, 1967; Jeene Ki Raah,1969; Amar Akbar Anthony, 1977; Satyam Shivam Sundaram, 1978; Sargam, 1979 and Karz, 1980.

Laxmikant and Pyarelal met at a cricket pitch when they were 15 and 12 respectively. They became great pals, struggled together and did wonderful music together for 35 years.

The duo were dominant in Binaca Geetmala (1953–1994), the legendary Radio Ceylon programme compered by Amin Sayani, which ranked Hindi film songs by popularity, sale of records and listeners’ requests.

LP first figured in the programme with Hansta hua noorani chehra from the 1963 Parasmani. During the peak of LP’s career, from the mid-’60s to the mid-’80s, more than half the songs in this programme were LP numbers.


Evolution of LP’s career

LP exemplified the rags-to riches story. Laxmikant was born in 1937 in the slums of Vile Parle, Bombay, son of a mill worker and a nurse. Keenly interested in music even as a kid, he learnt the mandolin from Hussain Ali, and the violin from Husnlal (of the Husnlal-Bhagatram duo.)

Pyarelal playing the violin.
Pyarelal playing the violin.

Pyarelal was born in 1940. His father Pandit Ramprasad Sharma, a trumpeter, taught him the basics of music. He started learning violin at the age of 8 and practised it 8–10 hours daily. He also learnt to play violin from the Goan musician Anthony Gonsalves — Pyarelal immortalised him with the song My name is Anthony Gonsalves in the movie Amar Akbar Anthony.

Laxmikant and Pyarelal met at a cricket pitch when they were 15 and 12 respectively. They became great pals, struggled together and did wonderful music together for 35 years.


The Lata factor

A big factor behind the eventual LP success story was the queen of melody Lata Mangeshkar. She sang a staggering 712 songs for the duo. In 1967, Lata named LP’s song Jeevan dor tumhi sang baandhi in Sati Savitri as one of her favourites.


Lata sang cabaret songs for LP, a feat no other composer dared to attempt. Her famous song filmed on Helen in the 1969 IntaqamAa jaane ja — was a superhit. It’s because of LP that Lata sang for Raj Kapoor’s 1973 Bobby (Lata and Raj Kapoor were not on talking terms over a rift in royalty payment for the 1964 Sangam). When a critic once said that Lata made even ordinary songs of LP extraordinary, LP responded “Just as cooks keep sprinkling coconut in their food to make it tastier, we keep using Lata’s voice in our songs to make them better.”

Pyarelal learnt to play violin from the Goan musician Anthony Gonsalves. He immortalised him with the song My name is Anthony Gonsalves in the movie Amar Akbar Anthony.

Lata first heard 12-year-old Laxmikant playing the mandolin at a concert in Bombay. She was charmed and sought him out. Both he and Pyarelal later joined the Sureel Bal Kala Kendra, an academy run by Lata Mangeshkar for children. She urged top composers to engage the two kids in their orchestra, and they did. But L and P were not satisfied with the low wages. Pyarelal thought of migrating to Vienna and emulating his friend Zubin Mehta who had become a celebrity in the West. But Laxmikant dissuaded him, saying they could together make a name in Bollywood.

Laxmikant (L) and Pyarelal (R) with Raj Kapoor.
Laxmikant (L) and Pyarelal (R) with Raj Kapoor.

LP’s first break as independent composers came in the 1963 costume drama Parasmani. The movie was a musical triumph. Several of its songs are hummed even today — such as the effervescent, infectious, fast-moving Hansta hua noorani chehra (Lata and Kamal Barot) and the romantic charmer Woh jab yaad aye (Rafi and Lata). Lata and Rafi sang free of charge, but Lata accepted a cheque for ₹1,001 — it was gurudakshina rather than a fee. In some subsequent small budget movies, LP paid Lata at least a part of her fee from their own pockets.

Parasmani was followed the very next year by the even more successful Dosti. LP bagged the Filmfare award for best composers, despite the high-profile Sangam of Shankar-Jaikishen and Madan Mohan’s Woh Kaun Thi in the same year.

Lata Mangeshkar had once said that in an orchestra of 100, Pyarelal could make out immediately if a single instrument or player was off-key.

The LP era began in Bollywood, and their reputation and success kept growing. Aaye Din Bahar Ke (1966) was LP’s first musical hit with a big star cast. 1967 belonged to Laxmikant-Pyarelal, with a series of hits — Farz ( golden jubilee), Anita, Shagird, Patthar Ke Sanam, Night In London, Jaal — and Milan which won LP their second Filmfare award.

With Majrooh Sultanpuri.
With Majrooh Sultanpuri.

From 1969, LP were widely recognised as Bollywood’s No 1 composers, displacing Shankar-Jaikishan. Major film houses vied with one another in replacing scheduled music directors with LP. The duo were accused of price-cutting, a charge they didn’t deny. Said Laxmikant “If we can offer in two rupees what another does only for 10 rupees, what’s wrong? We lower only the cost, not the quality.” Several filmmakers were put off by SJ’s habit of hiking their rate with every hit film, and found LP to be an attractive alternative.

The LP juggernaut continued on its relentless march during the 1970s and 80s, but slackened in the 1990s. Just a few of the dozens of major films for which LP provided music: Do Raaste, Jeevan Mrityu, Hathi Mere Saathi, Humjoli, Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Jigri Dost, Shor, Roti Kapda Aur Makaan, Aan Milo Sajna, Daag, Bobby, Loafer, Khilona, Roti, Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Amar Akbar Anthony, Suhaag, Karz, Kranti, Prem Rog, Ek Duje Ke Liye, Utsav, Aakhri Raasta, Nagina, Tezaab, Ram Lakhan, Chalbaaz, Mr India, Saudagar and Khalnayak.

Pyarelal, Laxmikant, Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi and J Omprakash.
Pyarelal, Laxmikant, Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi and J Omprakash.

LP had an intuitive understanding of what would appeal to the common man. They were skilled at a variety of Indian and western instruments — the dholak and tabla, besides the violin, guitar, bongo, piano, santoor, sitar and mandolin. They were masters of folk and proficient in Hindustani classical. Their pre-composer experience of 10 years as instrumentalists, arrangers and assistants for many top composers was unequalled. And then, they were powerfully backed by the peerless Lata. No wonder they composed hundreds of melodious songs in every genre — classical, folk, qawwali, mujra, lori, bhajan, ghazal, western music.


Recalling some famous LP songs

  • Chahunga main tuje sanjh savere — Rafi, Dosti, 1964. Composer Roshan said no to this film, LP said yes with alacrity. Its music won laurels, particularly this moving song filmed on a blind youngster.
  • Mere mehboob qayamat hogi — Kishore, Mr X in Bombay, 1964. A masterpiece of melancholy, the song shows why old is gold.
  • Dil vil pyar vyar — Lata, Shagird, 1967. LP often gave Lata naughty romantic songs, which she rendered with gusto! This Saira Banu-Joy Mukherjee caper is an example.
  • Achcha to hum chalte hain — Lata and Kishore, Aan milo sajna, 1970. An entire song that is a romantic dialogue between hero and heroine — one of LP’s innovations.
  • Hum tum ek kamre mein bandh ho — Lata and Shailendra Singh, Bobby, 1973. Hugs and embraces behind locked doors, a rollicking LP tune, and teenage lovers Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia. Together, they make this an iconic love song.
  • My name is Antony Gonsalves Amar Akbar Antony, 1977. “He could think of the whackiest thing in the world and make it work,” said Amitabh Bachchan of Manmohan Desai. Certainly true of this hilarious party song, where Amitabh steps out of a huge Easter egg in an old Goan costume, and sings in Kishore’s voice.
  • Kate nahi katate — Kishore and Alisha Chenoy, Mr India, 1987. It has been described as Bollywood’s sexiest song. True! What can be sexier than a damsel romancing with a ghost? “The song appealed not just to Mr India but to every Mister in India,” it was said. Voice, visuals and Sridevi enhanced the magic!
  • Man kyon behka — Lata and Asha, Utsav, 1984. Exquisitely photographed and sung, this stunner shows two bedecked and bejeweled beauties, Rekha and Anuradha Patel, who obviously delight in each other’s company. The voices of Lata and Asha are sheer perfection.
  • Main teri dushman — Lata, Nagina, 1986. Snakewoman Sridevi performs a hypnotic snake dance to outwit Amrish Puri and his gang of goons. LP sizzles as composer, Lata is mesmeric as singer. This song is always associated with Sridevi.
  • Choli ke peeche kya hai — Alka Yagnik and Ila Arun, Khalnayak, 1993.
    This high-voltage LP song filmed on Madhuri Dixit and Neena Gupta sparked a national controversy for its first line! But it made Alka Yagnik and Ila Arun famous. The song’s cassettes sold in millions.
    A R Rahman described Choli ke peeche kya hai as “the most important anthem of the 1990s.” It influenced his choice of a song for his Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire. “I took the same singers for my song, Alka Yagnik and Ila Arun. The song was my ode to Laxmikant-Pyarelal.”


LP quotes and anecdotes

Stories abound in Bollywood and the music industry about LP — Laxmikant’s intrinisic goodness and his talent as a tunesmith; and Pyarelal’s wizardry with instruments and western music.

Laxmikant with R D Burman, Anandji and Pyarelal.
Laxmikant with R D Burman, Anandji and Pyarelal.

Nitin Mukesh has said that when his father died, Laxmikant visited him and handed over ₹20,000. “I said no, I wanted songs, not money.” But Laxmikant asserted: “I swear on my son Tikku that I owed your father the money I’m giving you.” Nitin said of Pyarelal “He is nothing less than a computer, a living Beethoven.”

Playback singer Kavitha Subramaniam reveals that her husband, the accomplished violinist Dr L Subramaniam, once discussed the intricacies of western classical music with Pyarelal for hours. Dr Subramaniam told Kavitha “What’s this genius doing here? He should be in the West. No one there can compose such symphonies.”

She revealed that the Laxmi-Pyare bonding was incredible — sometimes their thoughts were identical. While she was recording a song for Khuda Gawah, Laxmikant told her ‘After this antara, you should sing an alaap, I will tell Pyare.’ That very moment, Pyarelal walked in and said ‘I have thought of an alaap that Kavita can sing.’ It was uncanny.”

Lata herself had said that in an orchestra of 100, Pyarelal could make out immediately if a single instrument or player was off-key.

Manna Dey remarked: “Pyarelal is young enough to be my son, but there’s much I can learn from him. He knows every single instrument in and out. He knows so much about music. I think he can open a school of music for today’s composers.”

Laxmikant passed away in 1998 because of a kidney ailment. Pyarelal, now 82, appears now and then in the odd TV show, reminding viewers of Bollywood’s most prolific and successful music duo.

Note: The author thanks Rajiv Vijayakar, author of a biography of Laxmikant-Pyarelal.


The author is a senior journalist and member of the Rotary Club of Madras South

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