Five reasons we in India love Mozart

Posted on February 2, 2006


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On the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, here’s how we in India remember the composer.

FEB 2, 2006 – 1. Itna na mujhse tu pyaar badha. The most famous instance of a western classical hit becoming a Talat-Lata megahit. The movie was Chhaya, and the music was composed, not surprisingly, by Salil Chowdhury. His western-classical bent resulted in some fiendishly complex creations – just try singing Woh Ik Nigaah from Half Ticket, or O Sajna from Parakh; there’s a reason Lata was asked to render them – but this one, everyone knows, everyone hums. Behind Salilda’s orchestral flourishes lies one of the most enduring melodies of Mozart, the Molto Allegro from Symphony No. 40 (in G minor).

2. A musical instrument plays a crucial role in uniting the hero and the heroine in a story filled with much magic, much singing and much love. You’re thinking, maybe, of the fifties’ Tamil hit Manalaney Mangayin Bhagyam? Earthbound Gemini Ganesan plays on the flute given to him by Anjali Devi, a dancer in Lord Indra’s court; she’s unable to resist the pull of his music, and she pleads, Azhaikaadhey… But a good century-and-a-half earlier, Mozart composed one of his most famous operas based on a prince, his faraway object of desire, and their eventual reunion through the means of a magic flute. It was called… The Magic Flute.

3. At a time the use of western classical music was becoming popular in Indian advertising – I’m unable to recall the brand, but there was an ad for a car tyre that used Blue Danube – came what is one of the most successful acts of pop-culture appropriation. Play the music for the Titan commercials to someone today, and they’ll instantly connect it with the watches that that Aamir Khan fellow endorses. The original is actually something that that Mozart fellow composed: Symphony No. 25.

4. And speaking of Symphony No. 25 should remind you of another actor, this one from Tamil cinema. Karthik, and his Kizhakku Vaasal. That genius named Ilayaraja composed and sang the symphony-inspired number that played over the opening credits, as Karthik breaks into a koothu – a piece of folk theatre. A raucous item song set in the heart of a Tamil Nadu village and inspired by classical music from Europe? Not for nothing were both composers hailed as a maestro in their own lifetime!

5. Can we mention Ilayaraja and leave out that other genius from Chennai, AR Rahman? He started out with music that was merely catchy – that’s hardly a criticism, though, when the music was so infectiously catchy – and has now grown into a bona fide composer, the go-to guy for prestige projects in the film industry. Just listen to his soundtrack for Rang De Basanti; listen to how magnificently he’s embellished the lyrics and how powerfully he’s underscored the mood of the movie. Is anyone really surprised that he’s come to be known as the Mozart of Madras?

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Posted in: Music