R.C. Boral – The Father of Indian Film Music

[This post originally appeared here.]

Rai Chand Boral, along with Pankaj Mullick, was one of the pioneers of Hindi film music. The duo started their careers together, directing live music for the Bengali silent film “Chorekanta” (1931). Their first talkie together was “Dena Paona” (1931). They were the first music director duo of the film industry, preceding the likes of Husnlal – Bhagatram and Shankar – Jaikishan. While they started their career together, they soon struck out on their own and established themselves individually as the preeminent music directors of the first decade of recorded film music.

In his rich and exemplary career, R.C. Boral is credited with introducing playback singing in Hindi films and for introducing the golden voice of Kundan Lal Saigal. Kanan Devi was another singer who shone under Boral’s baton.

After an outstanding run in the 1930s, R.C. Boral’s career lost steam in the 1940s. The shift of the Hindi film industry from Calcutta to Bombay, punctuated by K.L. Saigal’s move from New Theaters to Ranjit Movietone in 1941, slowed down his Hindi film career considerably. He retired in the mid-1950s.

Reverentially called the father of Indian film music, R.C. Boral was bestowed the Dadasaheb Phalke award in 1978. He passed away in 1981.

To commemorate his birth anniversary on October 19, I list 10 of R.C. Boral’s most memorable songs in this post.

Bhajoon Main To Bhaav Se Sri Giridhari (Pooran Bhagat, 1933)

While R.C. Boral made is career debut in Bengali films, Saigal recorded a hugely successful non-film song “Jhulana Jhulao Ri”. In 1932, both of them began their Hindi film career with three films together – “Mohabbat Ke Aansoo”, “Subah Ka Sitara” and “Zinda Lash”. The three films failed to make an impact but they struck gold the next year with “Pooran Bhagat”. Saigal did not have an acting role in the film but his songs became very popular. My pick from the film is the mellifluous bhajan “Bhajoon Main To Bhaav Se Sri Giridhari” by Saigal.

Prem Nagar Mein Banaoongi Ghar Main (Chandidas, 1934)

With “Chandidas”, R.C. Boral is credited with introducing full-fledged orchestra in films. In an era in which sound and film recording was not yet separated, the orchestra had to be played on the set and director Nitin Bose had to ensure that the instrumentalists stayed hidden or out of the frame. The impact was discernible – the film was a success and its music was appreciated. In fact, “Chandidas” was the first Saigal starrer that became successful. The Saigal – Uma Shashi duet, “Prem Nagar Mein…”, in particular, became a big hit.

Teri Gathri Mein Laaga Chor (Dhoop Chhaon, 1935)

R.C. Boral continued his association with cinematic firsts in “Dhoop Chhaon”. A medley of songs in the film, “Main Khush Hona Chahoon” and “Aaj Mero Ghar Mohan Aayo”, deployed the technique of playback singing for the first time in Indian film history. The unsighted K.C. Dey (Manna Dey’s uncle) sang for his own character as well as for the character of actor Ahi Sanyal, who lip-synced. I was not able to find this song on YouTube so I ended up choosing another interesting K.C. Dey song, “Teri Gathri Mein Laaga Chor”. Music lovers may remember this song from Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle’s “Paanch Rupaiya Barah Aana”. Kishore parodies three songs in “Paanch Rupaiya…”, the third being “Teri Gathri Mein Laaga Chor”.

Ek Bangla Bane Nyara (President, 1937)

Nitin Bose’s “President” exemplified the new generation film that had moved on from period/mythological dramas to depicting real life. With a strong female lead – Kamlesh Kumari playing a mill owner – the film was perhaps ahead of its time. However, what really captured filmgoers’ imagination was the song “Ek Bangla Bane Nyara”. Boral’s rich arrangement, Kidar Sharma’s grounded lyrics and Saigal’s earnest singing expressed the dreams and aspirations of the common man like no song before it had.

Ambua Ki Daali Daali (Vidyapati, 1937)

Primarily known as an actor in Bengali films till 1937, Kana Devi’s move to New Theatres, starting with her role in “Vidyapati”, established her as a singing star in Hindi films. It was R.C. Boral’s mentorship that helped Kanan Devi’s singing career reach its full potential. Bolstered by Kanan Devi’s performance and R.C. Boral’s music, the biopic of Maithili poet Vidyapati became a big success. My pick from the film is the catchy duet, “Ambua Ki Daali Daali”, sung by Kanan Devi and Dhumi Khan. The place of “Vidyapati” in Indian film history is such that Guru Dutt referenced it in “Kaagaz Ke Phool” (1959). Early on in the film, Guru Dutt’s character is seen leaning over the balcony in a theater playing “Vidyapati”.

Babul Mora Naihar Chhooto Hi Jaye (Street Singer, 1938)

“Street Singer” was the pinnacle of R.C. Boral’s career, perhaps even K.L. Saigal’s and Kanan Devi’s. The finest point of the film was Saigal’s brilliant rendition of the Raag Bhairavi based thumri, “Babul Mora Naihar Chhooto Hi Jaye”.  To fully appreciate K.L. Saigal’s singing prowess consider this – he was an untrained singer, singing the song live, walking while being filmed. It’s musical excellence aside, “Babul Mora” plays a pivotal role in the film’s plot. It was the song Saigal’s character teaches Kanan Devi’s character, who then goes on to become a more successful singer than him. Later, when Kanan Devi sings the song in a tune different from Saigal’s original, he is infuriated and breaks up with her.

Mast Pawan Shaakhen Lahrayen (Haar Jeet, 1939)

Not much is known about this film but I find the song duet “Mast Pawan…” by Kanan Devi and Pahari Sanyal very intriguing. The song highlights what seems to be an R.C. Boral signature – long instrumental openings. In this song, this signature stands out more than usual because the instrumental opening extends to half the length of the 3 minute song. The other interesting thing about the song is a very melodic violin solo, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the one in O.P. Nayyar’s “Ankhon Hi Ankhon Mein Ishara Ho Gaya” (“C.I.D.”, 1956).

Kaahe Ko Raad Machai (Lagan, 1941)

“Lagan” was K.L. Saigal’s last film for New Theaters. The film was fairly successful, in large part because of its music. An interesting feature of my pick, “Kaahe Ko Raad Machai”, was how Boral alternated between Western and Indian idioms through the song. The song’s opening and interludes used a primarily Western arrangement, a piano and clarinet prominent among the instruments, and the vocal sections had a primarily Indian arrangement.

Raja Beti Kekrala (Saugandh, 1942)

I must confess that I haven’t explored much the songs from post-Saigal New Theatres films. Of the ones I’ve heard, “Raja Beti..”, a light and cheerful duet by Asit Baran and an unknown female singer (internet forums seem to be inclined to believe it’s Bharati Devi), stands out.

Na To Din Hi Din Woh Rahe Mere (Dard-E-Dil, 1953)

A glaring limitation of R.C. Boral’s discography was that he had only a handful of songs by Lata Mangeshkar. Although Lata had proved herself with “Aayega Aanewala” (“Mahal”) in 1949, it wasn’t till 1953, in the twilight of his career, that R.C. Boral turned to her. Her stunning solo, “Na To Din Hi Din…” from “Dard-E-Dil” (1953) gives us an inkling of what might have been.

Here’s a longer list of R.C. Boral’s most popular songs.