May 25 marks music director Laxmikant's fifth death anniversary. But the extraordinary legacy created by him and Pyarelal in more than 450 films (including in Bengali, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu) over the last four decades continues to ride a wave of popularity.
The duo, a name to reckon with in Hindi cinema for more than three decades, lost ground in the early 1990s. Laxmikant's professional comedown -- as had been the case with so many great names earlier -- resulted in his health failing.
"The music industry is finished mainly because of their absence," says Pankaj Udhas, ghazal singer, composer, and playback artiste. "They have left a void that is impossible to fill. It was magical to see Laxmikant scan the lyrics, place two fingers on his harmonium, and play the perfect tune without any calculation."
Their music, however, continues to be in demand. Nutan Fernandes, operations manager at Mumbai's popular music store Rhythm House, says, "Their music from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s sells extremely well."
Indian Performing Rights Society chief Sanjay Tandon says Laxmikant-Pyarelal are among the highest royalty earners among Hindi film composers even today. In fact, they are the only senior composers to figure among the top earners.
What made L-P such a huge success?
Singer Roopkumar Rathod says, "Yeh saadhak log hain, jinhonein sangeet ki sadhana ki hai [they were seekers of music]. L-P's energy never sagged for over three decades! It was work, work, and only work. They looked for innovations constantly.
"I have worked as a tabla player with other composers too. The amazing part was that it would be the same studio, the same recording engineer, the same musicians and instruments, the same placements of the musicians' sections and acoustics -- and yet, the punch would be missing! Whenever a music arranger guided us, it was usually by giving an example of an L-P song and telling us to play in that way.
"Laxmiji made the ghazal singer in me realise I could sing a youthful tenor with Main tera aashiq hoon (Gumrah). He had the gift of tapping certain abilities in an artiste that the artiste himself was unaware he possessed."
Udhas rates this uncanny ability as one of the reasons for their success. "Without any ego, and with boundless enthusiasm and patience, they would extract the right things from the right people, whether they were lyricists, singers or musicians. I was witness to the creation of Chitthi aayi hai (Naam) and know how Laxmiji had to coax the song out of the late [lyricist] Anand Bakshi."
"They made even the chorus singer feel special," raves Nitin Mukesh, who sang many of their numbers in films like Kranti, Meri Jung, Tezaab and Eashwar. "Laxmikant was a buddy to everyone. He cajoled weak singers into giving exemplary work. Even if someone's singing was not up to the mark, he would compliment him with his characteristic 'A-1! First class!' Then he would say that a certain part of the song could be sung even better."
Many singers, like Sukhwinder Singh and Roopkumar Rathod, got their breaks because of Laxmikant. The composer had heard Sukhwinder Singh at a show and invited him to Mumbai. "For several months, I simply watched them at work," says Singh. "My career started with a few lines in a song in Karma. Then they gave me great songs in Yateem, Khilaaf and Saudagar."
Vinod Rathod says composers Nadeem-Shravan (the latter is Rathod's brother) and Anu Malik began using his voice only after he sang for L-P in Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja.
Playback singer Sonu Nigam agrees with this view. "After [music director] Usha Khannaji gave me a break, she and her arranger Amar Haldipurji stressed I meet Laxmiji. They said he is like the ISI mark [Indian Standards Institute, now known as Bureau of Indian Standards, the official Indian standard for quality]. If I could sing an L-P song, all doors would be open for me."
Late filmmaker Raj Khosla had said on record, "After I met L-P, I did not need anyone else."
While filmmaker Mohan Segal called them 'chameleons, who changed colours according to the need of the subject', director Manmohan Desai called them 'numbers 1-10, with the next music director at no 11'.
Banners that deserted L-P at the start of their low phase in 1993 have no permanent composer today. After 10 consecutive films in 16 years with L-P, filmmaker Subhash Ghai has changed six music directors in a span of six years. In his 15-year career, producer Boney Kapoor has tried out nine music directors after doing his first five films with L-P.
Despite this, Pyarelal has been sidelined after Laxmikant's death. Says Nigam, "Some composers are kept alive by their fans, powerful family members, or friends. But Pyarelalji is above all this. It is sad that a genius like him is without work. I feel L-P had an edge over Panchamda [the late R D Burman]. Shanker-Jaikishan and L-P were Hindi film music's greatest composers." Udhas, too, feels L-P's music represents the finest period of Hindi film music.
But veteran singer Mahendra Kapoor says that though L-P's mass appeal songs had class, they came in the way of a new generation brought up on Western music.
Singer Suresh Wadkar (Pyaasa Sawan, Krodhi, Prem Rog, Utsav and Sindoor), however, does not agree. "The variety in their work remains unequalled. It is a fallacy to say they created only Indian music. Karz, Intequam and songs like Aaja re piya khilne lage [Baharon Ki Manzil] and my waltz number Dhadkan zaraa ruk gayi hai [Prahaar] shows how good they were at Western music too."
Box-Office editor Vinod Mirani explains that, finally, it is the tunes and not the creators that are remembered. He feels it is remarkable that L-P's success lasted three decades despite changes in trends, tastes and lifestyles and without the kind of media hype, marketing and promotion seen today. "In their time, they only had the radio [for publicity]. L-P's music was not about one or two hit songs per film. The entire album would be a hit," he says.
Taran Adarsh, editor, Trade Guide, says, "My father produced their second film, Harishchandra Taramati . In return, he had asked them to do a second film free. They honoured their commitment despite the fact that they had made it big by then. In the 1970s and 1980s, they were like kings. To sign L-P for your film was to instantly enhance its viability. Many of today's music directors are inspired by them."
Vishal Bharadwaj (Maachis, Makdee), whose poet-father Ram worked with L-P as lyricist, says, "Though Shanker-Jaikishan had done it off and on, they were the ones who popularised the practice of including prelude and interlude music that became almost as popular as the song itself."
"The masses loved their songs because of their simplicity," says Nitin. "Though they were not as easy to sing, L-P made it easy."
Trade analyst Amod Mehra calls them 'the last composers who understood music'. He clarifies, "When I say 'understood', I mean the way in which music was blended with commercial appeal. If Bobby had eight hit songs, Sweekar had just one [Asha Bhosle's Kahin pyar ho na jaaye] and that too was a hit. Their range and consistency was unbelievable. To me, they are the greatest composers in Indian cinema, much above Shanker-Jaikishan and R D Burman."