KIRANMAYI INDRAGANTI is a trained film-maker and takes interest in research on cinema, which has helped her secure a PhD in film studies from the University of Nottingham, UK. Her documentary films and work on independent feature films have found audiences across the world. She currently teaches film studies at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru, India.
Growing up as a child in the south-Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, I listened to a variety of Indian music, predominantly the south-Indian Carnatic classical music and film songs. These were broadcast on two different stations of the All India Radio (AIR), the state-run radio network-Station A, that broadcast programmes as per the central government policy at the time, played classical music, welfare programmes, talks by eminent individuals, etc., and Station B, a commercial broadcast service, played film songs throughout the day. Station B or Vividh Bharti was the most exciting as it presented film songs of boundless variety, the only interruption being advertisements. As a student of Carnatic music, I was encouraged to learn the classical ragas (modes or musical structures), but my fascination always remained with film songs and the experience of listening to many of them on the radio for two reasons: firstly, one knew nothing about either the order or the mood of the songs to be played and secondly, one always wondered who the singer would be. One patiently waited for the announcement, gathered all the information, and hummed along. As one grew up, there was an increased awareness about the possibility of talking about film songs deferentially and irreverently: about their quality and appeal, lyrics and picturization, their recycling by political, social, and religious groups, and about their potential at college competitions to win a prize. One was drawn into the vortex of this offhand appreciation of a very popular form only to realize that at the centre of it all was one person who received immense admiration, and that was the playback singer. The songs of several playback singers have always been inexpensively available to all sections of society: the poor, the lower- and upper-middle classes, and the rich.
I need to draw an important distinction here. There were two sides to the consciousness of a south-Indian filmgoer, that is, the south Indians listened to a plethora of songs in two languages, Hindi, and whichever south-Indian language they spoke. In my case it was Telugu (Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, or Tulu for others), and in some instances merely understanding Hindi, even at a peripheral level, allowed us to participate in aural pleasures.' In this scenario, the term 'film song' connoted both Hindi and Telugu languages, and the songs of the 1950s broadly paved the way for standard terms, names, ways of appreciation, and linguistic affiliation. While the film song became a dominant mode of entertainment that lent itself to various identities, the playback singer became a musical model to be admired, emulated, and remembered, and it was here that one heard different voices and their qualities. This coterie of playback singers included Lata Mangeshkar, Jamuna Rani, P. Leela, Shamshad Begum, Geeta Dutt, P. Suseela, Jikki, and several others. It is simple to say that these names are integral to the song performance in Indian cinema, which this book aims to address to produce a social and cultural history of playback singers from south India, who worked in the Madras (now Chennai) film industry at a crucial period spanning the 1940s and 1950s.
Playback singers are professional singers who sing for actors in films. A song is recorded in the voice of a playback singer and an actor mimes to it as part of the process of acting.
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