A Throwback to Nadeem-Shravan’s Heady Success In Bollywood

Of the Nadeem-Shravan duo, there was no braggadocio or swag about the latter.

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Music composers Nadeem-Shravan.
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Congenial, smiling fluorescently, freshly-shampooed hair shading his forehead - he was an exemplar of courtesy which is unusual in the dagger-sharp competitive domain of Bollywood music. Without a pause, Shravan Rathod would bow before going, “Jee haanh, bilkul janaab, ho jayega, no dikkat,” when A-list producers would drop in at his music session room in his Andheri apartment.

Felled by the COVID virus on Thursday (22 April), Shravan's passing away at the age of 66 at the S.L. Raheja hospital in Mumbai is underlined by poignancy since his wife and one of his sons are also in hospital, fighting the virus. The second son, who has also tested positive and has been home quarantined, has stated that his parents had visited the Kumbh Mela.

Of the Nadeem-Shravan duo, who rocked the nation with their soundtracks in the late 1980s and ‘90s, there was no braggadocio or swag about the latter.

By contrast, Nadeem Akhtar Saifi was aware that an aggressive image shouting out loud that “We’re the best!” was a must-do. After all, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and to an extent, the rapidly-rising Anand-Milind, were the go-to music composers for sure-shot chartbusters. At least six songs, if not more, would have to be delivered then, for a cushy-budget romantic musical.

It is lored that the duo, using their own financial resources, possessed a bank of songs recorded in ‘scratch’ versions, which would be finessed later – a smart ploy which had already been initiated by Bappi Lahiri and Anu Malik. An array of these ‘scratch’ recordings would be offered to individual filmmakers, which would then be tailored to the script situations, and the personal tastes of the directors, producers and the boss of the music label.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Nadeem-Shravan.</p></div>

Nadeem-Shravan.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Insiders in the film industry maintain to date that Nadeem would compose the tune in synch with the lyrics. From that point, Shravan would take over, smoothen the rough edges and layer the tracks. Both of them would supervise the final recordings by playback singers – their top regulars being Kumar Sanu, Alka Yagnik, Udit Narayan and the T-series favourite, Anuradha Paudwal.

Evidently, Shravan specialised in the melody department, using flute strains, the sitar and shehnai, since he was familiar with Rajasthan’s folk music. And Nadeem would pop them up with electronica (pre-recorded rhythms and beats on a tap from a console) and frequently, overuse the bass thump of the octapad.

The sound was distinctively different, especially for the mid-budget films they started out with. In fact, the story and screenplay for Mahesh Bhatt and T Series’ Aashiqui (1991), are believed to have been conceived to suit the songs which had already been readied. With the surprise mega-hit, featuring rank newcomers Anu Aggarwal and Rahul Roy, Nadeem-Shravan became the hottest properties in B-town’s show business. It has been claimed that Aashiqui’s album sold 20 million units, making it one of the best-selling Bollywood soundtracks of all time.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>A still from Aashiqui.</p></div>

A still from Aashiqui.

I must have met them oftentimes during my tenure at the Filmfare magazine during the ‘90s. Success had certainly brought an aura of confidence, particularly in Nadeem and by association in Shravan. Both of them were now fixated with the Filmfare Award for the Best Music of the Year. In case of Nadeem, he’d even badmouth the rival nominees, while Shravan would smile as expressionlessly as he could through the harangue. “How can we not win?” Nadeem would huff belligerently. “We’ve already had our new suits stitched for the function!”

This was at an afternoon meeting at the Taj Mahal Hotel’s coffee shop. My immediate boss, Pradeep Guha and I, listened mouth agape, till Nadeem had to be stopped politely with a, “It doesn’t quite work that way. Let’s see what the readers’ poll and the jury decide.” Shravan’s face was a blank sheet of paper, but darkened visibly when his partner hinted at a ‘barter deal’, on the lines of “You scratch our back, and we’ll scratch yours.”

Shravan had sensed that his hyphenate had gone too far and intervened, “They’ll be fair with us. Relax.” Mercifully, the meeting was left unfinished. The trophy that year, 1994, went to Anu Malik, over their score for Hum Hain Raahi Pyaar Ke. Then began Nadeem’s back-biting that the award had been rigged. When it was conveyed to them that they would be banned from nominations in the future, they responded with an apology letter. Shravan personally called to say, “Please don’t ever take Nadeem’s words to heart. At times, he behaves like a child. Usse maaf kar do.”

The Filmfare Award had become an emblem of superiority for them perhaps, already having snagged the Black Lady for Aashiqui, Saajan (1992), Deewana (1993) in a hat-trick, a Special Award (whatever that means) for Raja, and lastly for Raja Hindustani (1997).

In the course of the years, Shravan carried himself with grace and used his pet word hanhji. Nadeem, who lived with his family at Mumbai Central, moved to an upscale apartment in Bandra and for a while would be featured in tabloids for a liaison with actor Pratibha Sinha.

Be that as it may, throughout the ‘90s the duo amassed a vast fan-base of loyal listeners, right from auto-rickshaw drivers and the campus crowd to those who hankered for a vestige of melody, which had deteriorated largely to the violence-spewing multi-starrers, spearheaded by that era’s ‘angry young man’ Amitabh Bachchan.

The pair had entered the showbiz scene with the little-known Bhojpuri film Dangal (with the rambunctious track 'Kashi Hile Patna Hile' sung by Manna Dey) and fretted with half a dozen B-grade features till Aashiqui happened. Whether as strugglers or as mega-successes Shravan remained the reticent one who’d speak when spoken to while Nadeem became more flamboyant with more radio hits.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>The films for which Nadeem and Shravan gave soundtracks.</p></div>

The films for which Nadeem and Shravan gave soundtracks.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Inexorably, Nadeem was scripting his own Waterloo. On August 12, 1997 outside the Jeeteshwar Mahadev Mandir in Andheri, T-Series’ head Gulshan Kumar was shot to death, it is said, because of professional differences allegedly by the D-Company in complicity with Nadeem, who fled to London. Protests began to ban the films with music by the duo, including Subhash Ghai’s Pardes (1997) and Rishi Kapoor’s Aa Ab Laut Chalen (1999). The protests ebbed as they always do.

To Shravan’s infinite credit, he maintained a low-profile. Steadily, he groomed his sons Sanjeev and Darshan to become music directors. Although their work wasn’t without merit, their careers suffered from comparisons to Nadeem-Shravan’s musicography.

Meanwhile, through long-distance technology, Shravan continued to collaborate with Nadeem for super-successful film soundtracks, among them being Sirf Tum (1999), Dhadkan (2000), Kasoor (2001), Andaz (2002), Raaz (2002) and Barsaat (2005).

A split was announced in 2005. End of story? Not quite. There would be a buzz of a comeback incessantly but it was never the same again.

Alas, any rewind to the calibre and personality of Shravan Rathore is inevitably harnessed to Nadeem portraying the more dominant role. Suffice it to wrap, Shravan was the quintessential Quiet One. Here was a man, then, who had a lust for the sound of music – and not that lust for blowing one’s own trumpet.

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