The birth of the Indian film song may be traced to the
advent of India's first sound motion picture in 1931.This film was entitled "Alam Ara"
and heralded in a new era in Indian motion pictures.At the same time, it sewed the seeds for a
new musical genre.
In the 30's three major film centres developed. These were based in Bombay (AKA Mumbai),
Calcutta, and Madras (AKA Chenai). Of
theses centres, Bombay was known for the making of films geared for national
distribution, while Madras, and Calcutta were known for their regional films.
The early years of this industry were very fruitful. Between 1931 and 1940 India produced 931
Hindi feature films with an average of 10 songs per films. The numbers for the regional films from
Madas and Calcutta, were much lower, but the orientation towards music was
This period is notable for a number of major
artists. Music directors such as Pankaj
Mullick, Keshavrao Bhole, and Anil Biswas are a few who spring to mind. It is interesting to note that this early
period did not favour "playback" singers. Many of the original actors and actresses
sang their own songs. Many times, actors
were chosen specifically for their singing abilities, Bal Gandharva, and
Baburao Pendharkar are two examples.
In the 1940's and 1950's, the business began to shift away
from the big motion picture studios to the independent producers. Although this opened the doors to many new
musicians and music directors, the influence on whole was not positive. The distribution networks began to rely
heavily on the "formulas" (i.e., "X" number of big name
actors, "Y" numbers of songs, and "Z" number of dances,
etc.). These formula films are known in
Hindi as "masaala films".
These formulas were determined by commercial and not artistic
considerations. From that time on
formula music became the norm. The
number and variety of the film songs was solidly locked into place. The artistic results of making music by
formula rather than inspiration is obvious.
This period is also significant for the introduction of
the "playback" singer. Whereas
the earlier artists acted and sang, the movies of this period introduced the
custom of having actors who did not sing their own songs but instead had other
singers do this for them. This is the
Many notable playback singers came to prominence during
this period. The most notable are, Lata
Mangeshkar, Hemant Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, Geeta Dutt, and Asha Bhosle. Major music directors are Naushad, C.
Ramchandra, S. D. Burman, Shankar - Jaikishan, and Madan Mohan.