Shravan Rathod, Nadeem Saifi were the sound of '90s Bollywood and pioneers of the 'filmi ghazal'

Lakshmi Govindrajan Javeri
·5 min read

In the '90s, you could spot a Nadeem-Shravan hit from a mile: The jhankaar 4/4 beats, the unmistakable melody, lyrics by Sameer, and at least one singer from their favourite troika of Kumar Sanu, Udit Narayan, and Alka Yagnik.

With Shravan Rathod's demise on Thursday night after COVID-19 complications, a vital contributor to a golden era of Bollywood music comes to a decisive end.

Even as decades rolled on and varied musical influences have come into the Bollywood soundscape, chances are that if you are a '90s kid in India, the tunes that have been indelibly imprinted in your head would inadvertently be that of Nadeem-Shravan. You could start singing from 'Sochenge Tumhe Pyaar' (Deewana), move on to 'Aaye Ho Meri Zindagi Mein' (Raja Hindustani), and finish with 'Tum Dil Ki Dhadkan Mein' (Dhadkan), and you have yourself a succinct Nadeem-Shravan medley that is not only similar in scale but also traverses their prime.

Prior to their breakthrough with Aashiqui in 1990, Nadeem and Shravan had little success despite their first assignment being in 1973. The songs of Aashiqui were in fact meant to be a T-Series album called Chaahat. It was when late head honcho Gulshan Kumar made director Mahesh Bhatt listen to the songs that the latter insisted that a film be made around it. To think that Bhatt's conviction over the music made him create an entire film to house it, speaks volumes of Nadeem-Shravan's genius.

At the threshold of the late '80s and 1990, the audience for pure ghazals in cinema was dwindling. Jagjit Singh's sonorous vocals may have immortalised many songs of the '80s but the advent of Aashiqui repackaged the ghazal with an easy-listening melody, set to simple repetitive beats yet poetic lyrics. It worked brilliantly with the younger audiences without being derided by the older ones, as is the norm with every new generation of musicians.

Nadeem-Shravan contemporised the ghazal, stripped it off its perennial state of pathos, and made it a genre for all occasions.

At the same time, they ensured that the essence of the genre remained and rarely compromised on the melodic richness of their songs.

Some of their best hits, starting from Aashiqui and Saajan to Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin had "modern" ghazals that combined romance, pathos, and nostalgia, to create timeless melodies. Who can forget the visual of Sanjay Dutt from Saajan singing 'Mera Dil Bhi Kitna Paagal Hai' or Rahul Roy and Anu Agarwal mouthing 'Dheere Dheere Se' lovingly from Aashiqui?

Shravan has frequently spoken of how important it is for the melody to lead the sonic experience on a film. Often music composers have rich collaborative relationships with their film directors and lyricists; Bollywood too has seen a few directors with a strong ear for music. Mahesh Bhatt being one of them. His collaboration with the musical duo has given hit films with blockbuster music: Aashiqui, Saajan, Sadak, Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahin, Hum Hain Rahi Pyaar Ke€¦ the list is enormous.

While they can largely be credited for the creation of the filmi ghazal, there is so much more to their music than just that. Their collaborations with specific directors have altered the course of their own musical trajectory. If Bhatt nudged them into the ghazal space, then Subhash Ghai pushed them to put out one of their most unique soundtracks of the '90s: Pardes. In a sense, it is a most un-Nadeem-Shravan setlist. Ghai, who was looking to rope in AR Rahman instead, joined hands with them to create an award-winning soundtrack. Their intelligent use of Kumar Sanu's voice in 'Do Dil Mil Rahe Hain' and 'Meri Mehbooba,' remains our instant recall with the film, as does Sonu Nigam's unbridled song of love and freedom, 'Yeh Dil Deewana.'

They had tirelessly championed the deeply Indian sound €" shehnai, flute and, sitar €" in a highly contemporary style. If you just listen to the pulse of the tabla in their songs, you would almost instantaneously know that this is a Nadeem-Shravan song. Drawing inspiration from classical music and ghazals, they created songs that often outlived the success of the films they were associated with.

However, it was not as if the '90s were only for their music; Nadeem-Shravan's greatest rivals at the time were Jatin-Lalit, whose career graph began with the obscure film Yaara Dildara, whose song 'Bin Tere Sanam' remains a hit even today. Together, the Pandit brothers composed hit songs for Khamoshi: The Musical, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Sarfarosh and more in the same decade.

In a sense, Nadeem-Shravan had a first mover advantage. They had so many hit songs over 1990 and 1991, that by the time Jatin-Lalit's Yaara Dildara released, Nadeem-Shravan were already a mighty musical force to reckon with. Over time, as newer composers made their foray into Bollywood in the 2000s, the uniqueness of the Nadeem-Shravan though sound started to wane. Despite their various attempts to reunite post the Gulshan Kumar assassination and Nadeem's exile in London, they never quite achieved the success of their glorious past.

Even today, as we mourn Shravan Rathod's demise, we find ourselves going back to the '90s playlists on YouTube and Spotify. They set the tone for what filmi music should entail, a template that has only evolved as more composers and influences join the fray. For that, and for the great musical memories, we will be eternally grateful.

Also See: Shravan Rathod in 'extremely critical' condition after testing positive for COVID-19, says composer's son

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