Remembering Chitragupta

Chitragupta Shrivastava may have been lesser known than some of his contemporaries but produced some memorable tunes over his long career in Hindi films. It might surprise some that Chitragupt’s career lasted more than forty years – from 1946 to 1988 – during which he composed for 144 films. One of things that set him apart in the film fraternity was how well read he was – he had a double Master of Arts in Economics and Journalism. A native of Bihar, when the first ever Bhojpuri film was about to be made, he was called upon to compose music for it. His music for the film – “Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo” (1962) – was a huge success and an important milestone in his career. Chitragupt passed away in 1991. His sons, Anand – Milind, went on to become successful music directors and furthered his legacy.

To commemorate his birth anniversary on November 16, I pick ten of Chitragupt’s most memorable songs.

Chal Ud Ja Re Panchhi (Bhabhi, 1957)

After being lost Bollywood wilderness for many years, Chitragupt’s first moderate success was the song “Ada Se Jhoomte Hue” for the film “Sindbad The Sailor” (1952). He truly arrived – more than a decade after his debut – with his music for “Bhabhi” (1957). My pick from the film, its best known song “Chal Ud Ja Re Panchhi”, had superb lyrics by Rajendra Krishan and was sung with a lot of soul by Mohammed Rafi. HMV also released a nicely done version recording sung by Talat Mahmood.

Ek Raat Mein Do Do Chand Khile (Barkha, 1959)

The success of “Bhabhi” helped Chitragupt bag a number of AVM films over the next few years. Although lesser known than their other films, “Barkha” had some excellent music. My pick from the film is one of the few Mukesh-Lata duets Chitragupt composed. “Dekho Mausam Kya Bahar Hai” is perhaps his most popular Mukesh-Lata duet, but given that it is based on Jim Reeves’ “Bimbo”, “Ek Raat Mein…” is more worthy of a spot in this list.

Laagi Chhoote Na Ab To Sanam (Kali Topi Lal Rumal, 1959)

Relegated to 2nd tier films, Chitragupt’s music was often the best thing about the films they featured in. It is a testament to Chitragupt’s song making ability that some of his most remembered songs are from obscure, forgotten films. “Kali Topi Lal Rumal” had some delectable tunes but is otherwise unremarkable. My pick from the film is the romantic Lata-Rafi duet, “Laagi Chhoote Na Ab To Sanam”. One of my favourite things about the song is the harmonica interlude. Chitragupt developed the interlude into a full-fledged song two years later – “Teri Duniya Se Door Chale Hoke Majboor” (“Zabak”, 1961).

Teri Duniya Se Door Chale Hoke Majboor (Zabak, 1961) 

“Teri Duniya Se Door” was another Chitragupt song that outshone the film that featured it. “Zabak” was a flop but the famous Lata-Rafi duet continues to be a favorite to this date.

Chand Jane Kahan Kho Gaya (Main Chup Rahungi, 1962)

“Main Chup Rahungi” was the Hindi remake of the award-winning AVM film in Tamil “Kalathur Kannamma”, in which Kamal Haasan debuted as a child artist. This was one of the films in which Chitragupt’s music was not weighed down by other aspects of the film. “Main Chup Rahungi” was one of the three films for which Meena Kumari received Filmfare Award nominations for Best Actress that year. My pick from the film is – again – a Lata-Rafi duet, “Chand Jane Kahan Kho Gaya”.

Chhedo Na Meri Zulfen (Ganga Ki Lahren, 1964)

Although Chitragupt did not use Kishore Kumar’s voice very often, he did compose some memorable songs for him. Probably the most loved among them is Kishore’s duet with Lata Mangeshkar, “Chhedo Na Meri Zulfen”. Some hammy acting aside, Kishore Kumar and Kumkum made an endearing couple on screen. It is no wonder that they were paired together in more than a dozen films.

Jaag Dil E Diwana (Oonche Log, 1965)

“Oonche Log” was based on K. Balachander’s play “Major Chandrakant”. Bolstered by some good writing and fine performances, ”Oonche Log” was critically acclaimed and got Feroz Khan noticed in one of his early roles. For me, the standout song from the film was “Jaag Dil E Diwana”. In a time when music was getting louder and the arrangement more elaborate, there were a few songs in which Chitragupt turned the volume down to devastating effect. In “Jaag Dil E Diwana”, he restrains Rafi’s singing to almost a whisper and keeps the arrangement simple and tasteful. Majrooh Sultanpuri’s lyrics and the counterpoints of a flute, saxophone and accordion make this an achingly beautiful song. This is one song that proves that sometimes less is more.

Yeh Parbaton Ke Daayre (Vaasna, 1968)

Chitragupt did two films with Sahir Ludhianvi – “Vaasna” and “Sansaar” (1971). “Vaasna”, with songs like “Itni Nazuk Na Bano” and “Yeh Parbaton Ke Dayre”, was easily the better album. Among Chitragupt’s specialties was melodies set to a waltz. Although not prominently so, “Yeh Parbaton Ke Dayre” is one such song.

Kabhi Doop Kabhi Chhaon (Kabhi Doop Kabhi Chhaon, 1971)

This isn’t perhaps the best song in this list musically but I find it remarkable enough to include because it’s one of the few songs that Kavi Pradeep not only wrote, but also sang. Chitragupt’s tune is competent enough, but Pradeep’s earthy, haunting voice and lyrics that resonate with the common man, elevate the song to a classic.

Aake Mil Ja (Intezar, 1973) 

Chitragupt’s career had lost steam by the early 1970s following a heart attack. He continued to compose for films till a few years before he died but he seemed to have lost his old touch. At a time like this, a song like “Aake Mil Ja”, reminded how good his melodies could be.

It’s quite possible that you may have heard the songs in this list but not associated them with Chitragupt. Due to his inability to break into A grade films with stars and the fact that his music rose above the films they featured in, Chitragupt’s songs became more recognizable than the music director himself. A look into some of Chitragupt’s most popular songs brings this discrepancy into focus.

Bonus:

A short clip of Chitragupt’s title song, sung by Lata Mangeshkar, for the first Bhojpuri film ever released, “Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSEShvkZfz0