'I am not underrated!': Celebrating Rajesh Roshan's superhit music

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·9-min read
'I am not underrated!': Celebrating Rajesh Roshan's superhit music

Dil kya kare jab kisiko kisise pyaar ho jaaye… of love’s first whispers

Pehle pyaar ka pehla gham… of the first heartbreak

Chal kahin door nikal jaaye… of forbidden paths and passions

Thoda hai thode ki zaroorat hai… of earthy romance and sky-high dreams

Jab koi baat bigad jaaye… of fidelity through infidel seasons

Aaina mujhse meri pehli si soorat maange... of the soul in search...

What’s common to all these timeless tracks is the soft cadence, the sweet consonance that’s been the hallmark of music director Rajesh Roshan. Staying away from the cacophony of competition, his music has always been about mellifluence. His father, late maestro Roshan, was also known for his lyrical euphonies. “Papa’s work is divine, mine is earthy, his music has soul, mine has rhythm,” once said a humble Rajesh Roshan.

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The composer, who believes in an all-genre and all-generation connect, has also given party rockers like Mungda mungda, Saara zamana, Disco ’82, Ikk pal ka jeena… and more.

His noteworthy work includes films with his brother/filmmaker Rakesh Roshan with Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai being an album that sky-rocketed his stocks. Five decades in showbiz, Rajesh, the most low-key of the Roshans, works at his pace, content to be heard than seen.

“When people call me underrated, it irritates me. My mind doesn’t allow me to believe I am any less. I may dwell in one corner but my music is as far reaching as someone else’s. Sanjeev Kumar was not a Dev Anand or Dharmendra. But you can’t call him underrated,” he said in a throwback interview.

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Music was the first language he picked up. Son of the late renowned music director, Roshan, Rajesh Roshan grew up to his father’s tunes sifting through the household.

One of the vivid memories he cherishes is that of his father’s sessions with the revered Sahir Ludhianvi, creating the score of Chitralekha (1964). As also of his father soaking in Mohammed Rafi’s soulful Mann re… his eyes closed.

Added to these are recollections of hearing Rafi sing Dil joh na keh saka from Bheegi Raat (1965) at Mehboob Studio. Of Rafi, Manna Dey and Asha Bhosle rehearsing the qawwaliYeh ishq ishq hai (Barsaat Ki Raat 1960) …

As also, of the time when the late Shammi Kapoor, who was shooting nearby, dropped home for lunch. Young Rajesh remembers the make-up lights the superstar brought along and the image of him getting ready there, the gold bracelet on his wrist adding to his sheen.

Actually, it was older brother Rakesh Roshan, who was interested in music. Their father had even got him a mandolin. But being good-looking, he veered towards acting and later filmmaking.

Rajesh was in standard eight when dad Roshan passed away due to a heart ailment in 1967. He was around 19 (born on 24 May, 1955), when he stepped in as a music director in an era where RD Burman and Laxmikant-Pyarelal were kingpins.

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Actor/filmmaker Mehmood gave Rajesh his first break with Kunwara Baap in 1974. The young musician mentioned being ‘intimidated’ by Mehmood’s larger-than-life persona. Sartorial ensembles with his handkerchief dangling from his pocket… Mehmood’s distinctive perfume rented the room he walked into recalled Rajesh.

Composing Saj rahi gali, his first, left Rajesh unnerved. “There were 15 hijras (eunuchs) in the recording room. There was absolute confusion. When I listened to the recording in the car, the ghungroos sounded overwhelming. I feared I’d messed up (Filmfare).” But Mehmood reassured him and the number raced up the hit playlists.

Julie (1975) catapulted Rajesh into the big league albeit with a few lessons. When Rajesh saw the rushes of the songs in producer B Nagi Reddy’s theatres, he didn’t like the sound quality and walked out annoyed. He was told by his singer/mother, the late Ira Roshan, to ‘calm down’! “I do yoga to keep my temper in check. It hampers your creativity,” Rajesh once reflected.

Dil kya kare was written by lyricist Anand Bakshi promptly within two hours. A 100-piece orchestra was deployed for the dreamy song rendered beautifully by Kishore Kumar. “It truly seemed as though Lakshmi was in the first flush of love and she had been touched for the first time,” said Rajesh about the number, which was a rage. 

Julie won him his first Filmfare Award, beating RD Burman’s soundtracks for Sholay and Khel Khel Mein that year.

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Rajesh had a fine tuning with Amitabh Bachchan. In fact, he was the first composer to harness Amitabh’s baritone. “Amitji called me on the set of Prakash Mehra’s Muqaddar Ka Sikander. After the shot, he sneaked out to the make-up room so that we could rehearse Mere paas aao (Mr Natwarlal 1979). But Prakashji didn’t like his time being used for someone else. So, Amitji went back to shoot. The song was recorded the next day without rehearsal (Filmfare),” recalled Rajesh. 

His album for Amitabh’s Yaarana (1981) was a bestseller. Rajesh mentioned that Amitabh would attend the music sitting of Yaarana. But he never interfered. He was to shoot Chhookar mere mann ko in a Kolkata stadium amidst a crowd of 11, 000. Finding the song too fast, the superstar asked Rajesh to change it. "I told him to have faith in me. I feared the song would be cancelled. But he retained it. He’s such a professional,” Rajesh said in the same interview.

Another memorable number is Saara zamana from the same. Reportedly, the bulb-studded outfit went on and off via a switch, which was placed in Amitabh’s hand. He pressed the switch on-off in keeping with the beats of the song.

The number Disco 82 for Khud-Daar (1982) was a chartbuster. Initially, Lata Mangeshkar was reluctant to sing it and remarked that the composer’s ‘taste’ had turned ‘bad’. Rajesh urged the veteran saying, “Disco is the now… you will be left behind… chalo mere saath (scroll.in)!” His other dance numbers include Jab chhaye mera jadoo for Lootmaar and the title song for Aap Ke Deewane (both in 1980).

Basu Chatterjee’s films owe a lot to Rajesh Roshan’s music. The duo came together for seven films – Swami, Priyatama, Khatta Meetha, Dillagi Baaton Baaton Mein, Man Pasand and Hamari Bahu Alka (between 1977- 1982).

“Basuda would say you’re my Shankar-Jaikishen. At first, Baaton… was announced with Bappi Lahiri. I confronted Basuda as to why he hadn’t signed me... That was the only time I played politics,” he confided to Filmfare.

The soundtrack of Basuda’s Swami had a rustic resonance. It traced protagonist Shabana Azmi’s journey with lyrical precision. Pal bhar mein yeh kya ho gaya was about the first flush of love, Yaadon mein woh of separation and Yesudas’ Ka karoon sajni a lament.

Rajesh’s music for Dev Anand was special too. In Man Pasand (1980), apparently based on both George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (1913) and My Fair Lady (1964), Rajesh ‘borrowed’ a song from the latter. “Lataji’s Hothon pe geet jaage was inspired by My Fair Lady’s I could have danced all night... But it wasn’t a straightforward copy... It was a recreation of the original (Bollywood Hungama),” he said. The number Rehne ko ek ghar hoga was reportedly adapted from Wouldn’t it be loverly from My Fair Lady.

Ramesh Talwar’s unconventional love triangle, Doosra Aadmi (1977), was aided by its subliminal score. Rajesh cherishes the moment when Rafi, who’d once sung for his father, sang the antara Yeh mastiyan yeh bahaar for a track. “All singers sang in the same 10 x 10 feet singing booth. Kishoreda, Rafi saab, and Lataji stood from left to right and sang Chal kahin door nikal jaayein (scroll.in),” he recalled.

About having to face intense competition in the ’80s, he once confided, “Mukesh Bhatt told me, ‘Tu so raha hai aur tere peeche se log aa rahe hain’… He told me about Anand-Milind’s score for Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) ... I thought I was the best. But… I was indeed sleeping (Mumbai Mirror).”

His notable work in the ’90s includes films like Jurm and Papa Kehte Hai and Kya Kehna in the millennium.

But what remains a significant chapter in his career is his music for big brother Rakesh Roshan’s films right from Khudgarz, Khoon Bhari Maang, Kishen Kanhaiya, Karan Arjun and Krazzy 4 (between 1987 – 2008) and later nephew Hrithik Roshan’s films – from Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai , Koi... Mil Gaya, the Krrish series, Kites and Kaabil (2000 - 2017).

Of this Kaho Na… Pyaar Hai remains a landmark. Singer/actor Lucky Ali used to be Rajesh’s assistant in the 1980s. Lucky, along with his musicians, helped arranging the chorus in Kaho Na... He also sang the party anthem, Ikk pal ka jeena, where Hrithik’s dance movements were in tandem with the beats.

“If I am not wrong HMV earned around 100 crores with the sales of CD and cassettes of Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai. My remuneration increased 10 folds after that film (Mumbai Mirror),” beamed Rajesh.

“All the tunes were accepted in one go! In fact, Pyar ki kashti was composed by Rakeshji,” he revealed about the film, which won him the Filmfare Award.

Unfortunately, Rajesh soon suffered his first heart attack. During this bleak phase, composing for Rakesh Roshan’s FilmKraft helped him stay afloat. But it’s not an equation he takes for granted. 

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“Dada (Rakesh) is difficult to please… We have arguments as he goes on cancelling tunes. I can never say, ‘don’t interfere in my domain’. That would be my last day with him… Till the time I give good music, Rakeshji will have me. The day I start taking things easy, the tide will change (Filmfare),” he shared.

About the changing dynamics of the music industry, he mentioned that earlier composers never had to create alternate tunes. Also, today an album has contributions by several composers. “The producer has this mindset that if this composer doesn’t deliver, we will throw him out," he was quoted saying.

Rajesh, who composed Mungda mungda (Inkaar) way back in 1977, is not dismissive of new-age songs. He asserts that songs by his contemporaries like Munni badnam hui (Dabangg), Dhinka chika (Ready) and Sheila ki jawani (Tees Maar Khan) have their own audience and reinvention is the way forward.

In keeping with that, the 65-year-old signed his first outside film in 16 years—Vivek Oberoi’s co-production, Iti—Can You Solve Your Own Murder? Like he says, music is a nasha, he always wishes to remain high on.

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