Jukebox: Shankar-Jaikishan, Together in Music, Life and Death

Humming along in memory of Shankar Singh Raghuvanshi of the Shankar-Jaikishan jodi, on his death anniversary.

3 min read
Humming along in memory of Shankar Singh Raghuvanshi of the Shankar-Jaikishan fame. (Photo: Twitter)

Music directors Shankar-Jaiskishan enjoyed supreme domination over the Hindi film industry with their melodious compositions from 1949 till 1971. Their tragic split in the ‘60s might have put an end to film music’s most glorious era, but we’re still humming. On Shankar’s death anniversary, here’s our tribute to the legendary jodi.

Shankar Jaikishan started out together at Mumbai’s Prithvi Theatre and their first big break came around thanks to Raj Kapoor’s Barsaat in 1949. Often referred to as the ‘Ram-Lakshman’ jodi, the two hit if off the very first time they met. While Shankar played the tabla, Jaikishan had a firm hold on the harmonium.

S-J’s core team included stalwarts like lyricists Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri, along with playback singers Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar and Manna Dey. The famous jodi also used Mukesh’s golden voice for all of Raj Kapoor’s on-screen performances. The music maestros were considered to be the kingpins of his iconic banner RK Films.

Shankar-Jaikishan’s compositions broke new ground in Hindi film music. They were the pioneers in establishing the role of the orchestra in song compositions as a medium to express and enhance the meanings and feelings of songs, rather than using it just as a filler, as was the the prevalent practice before they took over.

Even though they always worked as a team, Shankar and Jaikishan often composed their songs separately. While, Shankar liked to work with Shailendra, Jaikishan preferred to sit over lyrics with Hasrat Jaipuri. Between the two, Shankar, the senior partner would usually arrange the orchestra, even for Jaikishan’s songs. They had a gentleman’s agreement between them, one they honoured till the very end, that of never identifying the actual composer of the song. In fact, it has been a popular pastime for their fans to try and distinguish a Shankar song from a Jaikishan number.

They won nine Filmfare awards during the span of their reign. The last three awards were won in succession, and made S-J the industry’s first composers to score a hat trick. Their greatest accomplishments films like Chori Chori (1957), Anari (1960), Dil Apna Preet Parai (1960), Suraj (1967), Mera Naam Joker (1972) and Be-imaan (1972).

Shankar-Jaikishan also topped the Binaca Geetmala, the legendary radio countdown of Hindi film music, on six occasions. Their record was later equaled only by Laxmikant Pyarelal.

In a signed article published in Filmfare, Jaikishan spoke about the popular song Yeh Mera Prem Patra Padh Kar (Sangam) as ‘his’ composition. This led to an intense bitterness between the partners. Shankar considered it to be a violation of the unwritten agreement between them. Around the same time, Shankar gave Sharda a break, and started promoting her as the new singing sensation, over Lata Mangeshkar. Jaikishan, however, stuck to Lata for his compositions. They even started taking individual contracts for films, though every such film continued to show them together as the composers. Mohd. Rafi intervened at one point to help them settle their differences, but cracks in their relationship remained.

During their heyday, and even towards the later part of their career, S-J were the highest paid music directors in the industry. Barring a few exceptions, they were paid more than the leading actors of the time, and the promotional material of their films gave them more prominence than anyone other member of the crew. A sign that they were nothing less than kings.

But after their tragic split, Jaikishan took to heavy drinking and passed away in 1971 due to liver cirrhosis. Bollywood turned up in big numbers to say goodbye. After losing his partner, Shankar carried on with the Shankar-Jaikishan banner alone, as per the mutual understanding they had during their years together, that in case one of them passes on, the surviving partner will continue to work with the team name. But as the lone warrior, he couldn’t create the same magic ever again. Shankar passed away on April 26th, 1987. His death received nominal media coverage and his funeral was attended only by his family and a few friends. The film industry was hardly represented at his funeral. Even Raj Kapoor did not attend.

But with their music, timeless and unfading as it is, Shankar Jaikishan live on, as inseparable in life and music, as they are in death.

(This article is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on April 26, 2016. It is now being republished to mark Shankar’s death anniversary.)

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