Music of Hindi Cinema Music of Talkie Films Film Music of 1930s & 1940s
Development of Music Contribution of Big Film Enterprises Film Music of Post Independence Period
Theatre Music in India Music of Parsi/ Urdu Theatre Phonograph & Theatre



In silent era, although the scope of incorporating music in film was limited, music was there as a supporting element. In those days there was a tradition of playing music, usually band, before starting of film to attract the people which was many times containing dancing of some girl and it was serving purpose of advertisement. Moreover this certain constraints involved in technicality of medium of cinema like noise produced due to running of projector machine, time gape in changing another reel etc. demanded need of music which not only act as a co-ordinating device but also attract the peoples.

In addition to this all theatres viz., Parsi-Urdu, Gujarati or Marathi, were on peak of their development & their music was highly popular. Also at that time the most of the films were attempted to be based on some very famous drama of that time as most of major film makers were associated with theatre.

For all these reasons music was associated in films in different forms either playing of gramophone record or performing live.
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Cinema began to talk from 1931. The first talkie film was ALAM AARA (Imperial Movietone, Bombay) which was released on 14th march 1931. It was containing 7 songs. However if we talk about music we should go little more back in to past as although ALAM AARA was first full length talkie feature film it was not first attempt to incorporate sound in film along with pictures. Prior to ALAM AARA also few short length talkie films were made on experimental basis, which were containing songs. However nothing is known more about those films & songs.

Very less information is available regarding the music of early talkie films as no reference material is available related to that. Even gramophone records were not released in this early period. Record production of film songs started in 1932 & the first songs that were released on gramophone records were of film MADHURI. Even though records started to be released from 1932. In initial period very few songs were used to be recorded by record companies for their commercial records & out of them very few are available today. 

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OVERVIEW OF FILM MUSIC OF 1930’s & 1940’s:

In early period films were highly influenced by theatre & along with other section like Acting, Direction, Dialogue delivery etc. Music was also very much identical to that of theatre. However this does not continued much longer & film music created its own identity in a very short period. Overview of two decades revels following facts:

  1. Total 931 films were released from 1931 to 1940 & 1236 films were released from1941 to 1950, which were containing about 9000 & 11000 songs respectively.
  2. Around 125 music directors were associated in film from 1930 to 1940 and around 180 music directors were associated with films from 1940 to 1950. Many music directors were active in both decades.
  3. Many music directors/singers of 1930’s were belonging to theatre. The few important names are Pransukh Nayak, Master Nagardas, Ustad Zande Khan, Ashraf Khan, Fida Hussain,Govindrao tembe, Master Krushnarao etc.
  4. Many artists of classical music were also closely associated with films like Dr. B.R. Devdhar, Pt. Dilipchandra Vedi, Suresh Babu Mane, Firoz Dastur, Hirabai Barodekar etc.

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As described earlier music was more supporting element than an integral part of film in silent era. Though it was sounding during film show it was not film music. Even with introduction of talkie the theatrical style of musical narration was adopted for initial few years. Thus if we consider development of film music from 1931 to 1950 we can describe this development process in following phases:


  1. Pre Independence Phase:
  1. Post independence Phase (1947 to 1950) :

In first phase music of films produced in Maharashtra region was highly influenced by Marathi stage music & Bhavgeet traditions. Majorities of artists/musicians were associated with theatre in some way. Only Bombay Talkies was exception in this. Its music was totally different from music of that period different tradition. New Theatres introduced Bengoli music along with Rabindra Sangeet. From 1941 Panjabi music was introduced in Hindi cinema. In this wave singer like Noorjehan, G.M.Durrani, Surinder Kaur, Shamshad Begum, Johrabai Ambalawali & music directors like Ghulam Haider, Firoze Nizami, Rafiq Ghazanavi came in limelight. Gujaratis were actively associated with film since beginning & Music directors and singers like Pransukh Nayak, Madhulal D.Master, Lalloobhai Nayak, Master Bhagwandas, Ishwarlal, Kantilal etc. were Gujarati. They constructed foundation on which music developed.

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While discussing evolution of film music contribution of big enterprises like New Theatres, Bombay Talkies, Prabhat etc should not be over looked. Apart from solidifying the foundation for film music these enterprises played a role of school where great music directors, singers, lyricists of later period trained/developed. New Theatres contributed Kedar Sharma (Lyricist, Director), Rajendra Krushna (Lyricist), Bombay Talkies contributed Pradeep, Narendra Sharma, (both lyricists),S.D.Burman, C.Ramchandra (Music Directors), Prabhat contributed Husnalal Bhagatram (Music director), Qamar Jalalabadi (Lyricist) & Ranjeet Movietone contributed Bulo C.Rani, Hansraj Bahel, (All Music directors), S.H.Bihaari, Raja Mehndi Ali Khan (All Lyricists). Here it is not said that they all started their carrier from above mentioned big enterprises but in beginning of their carrier they were associated with such big companies and they developed there. Contribution of these big companies was not limited to give exposure to new comer but they also contributed in development of music as a whole.



Independence caused great upheavals in all aspects of life. Partition affected film industry seriously as significant part of film production was done from Lahore, Karachi, Sindh etc. The distinct aspects of this period are:

  1. Use of systematic orchestration increased
  2. Punjabi style music introduced in larger way.
  3. Style of singing changed.
  4. Romantic approach with influence of fantasy seen in lyrics.

Thus we can see that Hindi film music which started in 1931 after passing through different stages of Stage influenced music, Classical Raagdari music gets form of light, melodious, harmonious music in fifties. Today period of 1950 to 1970 is considered as golden period of film music but while saying so we should not forget glorious past which laid foundation of it. Music of 1930’s & 1940’s will be remembered forever not only because it laid foundation for later generation but because of its qualitative contribution.

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Theatre tradition in Sanskrit was very rich & highly developed in ancient India. One more theatre tradition was there which was folk theatre tradition. Sanskrit Theatre tradition which was originated before Kalidas, developed rapidly up to 8th century. Thereafter emergence of outside forces restricted its growth up to beginning of 19th century. In all adverse conditions Folk Theatre kept alive its identity. Even in folk theatre two streams Ras lila & Ram lila was much popular & they contributed to development of modern theatre. For the pioneers of Modern Theatre like Vishnudas Bhave such traditions only were available for reference.

Parsi Theatrical Company

Mumbai Gujarati Natak Mandali

In 1840’s Vishnudas Bhave started Marathi Theatre. Before him king of Tanjore Bhonsle had written & staged few dramas which was basically inspired from ‘Jan Natak’ of that period & folk traditions like ‘Yaksha Gaan’ & ‘ Bhagvat Mela’. Within short period after that in 1850’s Parsis started Parsi Theatre in Bombay. Parsis were basically Gujarati. They started playing dramas in their Parsi language, which was typical form of Gujarati, language. In 1871 Dadi Patel staged first ever Urdu drama which was an Urdu translation of (Parsi) Gujarati drama ‘Suna Na Mul Ni Khurshed’ (Written by Edalji Khori, translated by Behramji F. Marzban).

Mulji A Oza

Around 1878 two brothers Mulji & Waghji Asharam Oza established ‘Morbi Arya Subodh Natak Mandali’ in Morbi (Saurashtra) & started Gujarati Theatre activity on full flagged. Thus all these three tradition are found distinct from each other at end of 19th century. However staging of Gujarati Dramas by Parsis & staging of Urdu – Hindi Dramas by Gujaratis are found up to 1930’s & even beyond that.Vaghji A Oza

Music of theatre is a unique feature of Indian culture. The main contribution of professional theatre which started in India in mid of 19th century is its music which was such significant that it is suppose to be given special identity as one more class of Indian musical tradition but it does not happened.


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Master Mohan

In the initial period (up to 1866 AD) music was not considered as a part of drama but was used to present at middle or end of drama in form of concert. Then after tradition of singing song in main stream of story came in to existence.

In Parsi theatre music one important type was of COMIC SONGS which was a unique feature significantly found in Parsi – Urdu & Gujarati theatre. Phirozshah Mistry, Sorabjee Dhondi, Master Mohan etc. were famous comic artists of that time. Their records were also cut in large numbers, which remained popular for a long time. Comic songs are also found in Urdu theatre.

Apart from Classical based songs & comic songs there were also some English songs or Western Music based songs. Many times such songs were comic songs.


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In beginning music of Gujarati Theatre was highly influenced by Parsi-Urdu Theatre. In this period overleaping and interactions of Parsi-Gujarati theatre was such an intense that it is very difficult to discriminate both. Attempts of incorporating classical music were done. However traditional folk music also find its way because the majority of viewers class belonged to rural population particularly in villages.

On Gujarati theatre many music directors and singers have contributed significantly in periods1870 to1950 some important name among them are:



Ustad Vadilal Nayak


Mulchand Vallabh Nayak (Mama)



Himmatram Meer Ashraf Khan

Lavjibhai Jayshankar ‘Sundari’


Amongst singers the greatest name was of Master Himmatram Meer. From 1890s to 1930s this great singing actor singularly dominated all and reigned on Gujarati stage. Perhaps he was the greatest stage singer of all time. His voice was such a beautiful that even the first ranking classical vocalist like Ustad Abdulkarim Khan praised his ‘Gaayaki’. He was also the best selling artist of all recording companies. He was also one of the earliest singer recorded from any theatre.

Another great actor / singer was Master Ashraf Khan who was popularly known as ‘Saigal of Gujarati Stage’. He was very good classical singer with a melodious high-pitched, fascinating voice. He recorded many private classical and light classical songs along with theatre songs.

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Thomas Alva Edison around 1876 A.D invented the Phonograph. It was a machine of very primary category in which sound was recorded on Wax coated Cylinders.Disc Records were introduced by Emilie Berliner in late Nineties.

In April 1898 The Gramophone Record company established in London. They started taking commercial recordings of Indian repertoire from March 1899 in London itself. In 1902 Fred William Gaisberg came to India as a Recording Expert to take commercial recordings of Indian repertoire for The Gramophone Company. After this different other indigenous recording companies were established one by one & by end of first decade of 20th century almost two dozens different labels were being marketed in India

Different record companies that were established in 1st decade of 20th century created an atmosphere of strong competition for The Gramophone Company. As most of them were short lived & had limited coverage the details of recordings taken by them have became obscure & a huge portion of sound recordings of Indian repertoire is still in darkness.

All these companies were tried to capture Indian market & obviously theatre became media for all of them. Due to high exposure to the society and high potential for marketing theatre music soon attracted record companies & they started recording theatre songs.

Gramophone company recorded first drama song in as early as 1902 AD which was a song from Urdu drama ‘KHUNENAHAQ’ titled ‘Dukhiya sukhiya banake tune..’ in duet voices of Miss Soshimukhi & Miss Fanibala. In subsequent years from 1906 AD one after another record producing companies established among which most of were under ownership of Indian businessmen. All these company had taken significant number of recordings from drama.

Gramophone company’s recordings includes many unknown singers whereas Ramaphone, Beka, Sun, Singer & James Opera records recorded many famous singers of different theatres. For example; two legendary artists in Indian Theatre history Jayshankar ‘Sundari’ ( Gujarati Theatre ) & Balgandharva ( Marathi Theatre ) were not recorded first by The Gramophone Company although it was the biggest sound recording enterprise. Jayshankar ‘Sundari’ was first recorded by Ramaphone company in 1907 AD & Balgandharva also was first recorded in the same year by Beka Record company.

After electrical recording introduced Gramophone Company started producing dramas written by famous writer of stage itself under the name of The Gramophone Dramatic Party or H.M.V. Dramatic Party. It was sold as a set only & not as single loose record, in form of beautiful Album along with complete script of drama as printed booklet. These dramas were written exactly in similar style as that of stages i.e. beginning with ringing of bell then explosion of Potash & then Nandi in chorus. Such recordings are very important as they give complete idea of theatrical performances of that time.


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