The man who created the sound of the 1990s

·6-min read
In this picture taken on February 19, 2020, music composer Shravan Kumar poses for photographs at the '12th Radio Mirchi Music Awards 2020' in Mumbai. Photo: Sujit Jaiswal/AFP via Getty Images
In this picture taken on February 19, 2020, music composer Shravan Kumar poses for photographs at the '12th Radio Mirchi Music Awards 2020' in Mumbai. Photo: Sujit Jaiswal/AFP via Getty Images

India has lost several luminaries in arts amongst the scores of deaths since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic. Besides Rishi Kapoor, Irrfan and SP Balasubramanian, the second wave of the COVID-19 snatched away Shravan Rathod, one-half of the most successful music composers of the 1990s. 

Along with Nadeem Saifi, Shravan Rathod achieved great success as music composers beginning with Aashiqui and established the 'sound' of the era. Although Nadeem-Shravan had a comparatively shorter run, probably less than a decade, yet the kind of impact their music had on the medium remains unparalleled. 

Born in 1954, Shravan was the eldest son of Dhrupad maestro Pandit Chaturbhuj Rathod, and his younger brothers Roopkumar and Vinod went on to become singers.

The term overnight success is often used too freely in the entertainment industry to define anyone who becomes the month's flavour. Nadeem and Shravan first met in 1972 and 'struggled' for almost two decades, beginning with the Bhojpuri film Dangal (1975) and Anmol Sitare (1982) in Hindi. 

Their debut Dangal featured the popular song 'Kasi hile, Patna hile' sung by Manna Dey, and the two struck gold with Mahesh Bhatt's Aashiqui in the early 1990s. Although a 'music label produced the film', there was not much expected from the film – the cast was unknown, and the music composers unheard. 

Moreover, Aashiqui featured Kumar Sanu and Anuradha Paudwal; singers considered a Kishore Kumar clone and a poor man's Lata Mangeshkar, respectively. The soundtrack was more ghazal-oriented than what one would have expected, considering that the film was a romance between a night club singer and a fashion model. 

With Gulshan Kumar as producer and Mahesh Bhatt as director, Aashiqui was a strange mix of two distinct kinds of tastes.

Usually, hunting in pairs, music composers in Hindi films neatly divide their area of expertise. Like many before them, Nadeem was the one who came up with the melody, and Shravan laid out the arrangement. Nadeem-Shravan's arrangement in Aashiqui was a mix of the traditional sounds of Shankar-Jaikishan, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and the melody-oriented tunes of R.D. Burman with a dash of Bappi Lahiri and Anand-Milind. 

It's not as though the composers were free from allegations of plagiarism. "Jaane Jigar Jaan-e-mann" from Aashiqui sounds eerily similar to Bappi Lahiri's "Duniya Mein Tere Siva" from Aandhiyaan (1990), while "Mera Dil Tere Liye" is a copy of "You're the Voice" by John Farnam. 

Yet, Aashiqui sealed the pair's fate, and there was no looking back. They delivered one hit after another the following year, including Saajan (1991), Saathi (1991), Phool Aur Kaante (1991), Dil Hai Ki Maanta Nahin (1991), Pyaar Ka Saaya (1991) and Sadak (1991).

Nadeem Saifi and Shravan Rathod could also be said to the first of the new-generation rock star music directors. Movies were sold on their name to the extent that their photographs were added to posters and cassette jackets. 

Unlike music composers before them, Nadeem-Shravan were confident of their talent to the extent of being cocky. They would famously get their suits stitched for award functions in advance and did not bother about the prevailing norms in terms of using singers or lyricists. 

Besides Sameer, they collaborated with relatively lesser-known lyricists such as Rani Malik, Surendra Sathi, Anwar Sagar, Madan Pal, Nawab Arzoo, Aziz Khan and Vishweshwar Sharma. At times, Nadeem-Shravan beyond Kumar Sanu and Udit Narayan and used singers such as Vipin Sachdeva.

While Nadeem was seen as the face, and even the brains, behind the operation, Shravan was primarily understated. What also made Shravan significant was that the duo's arrangement was what separated them from the ilk. 

Every Hindi film composer is associated with a particular sound - Laxmikant-Pyarelal, it's the dholak; RD Burman equals zaniness; SD Burman stands for the melodiousness of everyday sounds; Bappi Lahiri is all about the disco beat. But when it comes to Nadeem-Shravan, there's more than a signature timbre that comes to mind, and this is where Shravan's outdid Nadeem. 

One can see this from their albums that dominated the 1990s- Jaan Tere Naam (1992), Dil Ka Kya Kasoor (1992), Deewana (1992), Panaah (1992), Rang (1993), Dilwale (1994), Raja (1995), Jeet (1996), and Sirf Tum (1999).

The duo had a short golden period, but the chutzpah they brought to Hindi film music has endured. The stories of their legend – a music bank that had 1,000 ready to use tunes – further cemented their reputation. The only real competition that the two had was in the form of AR Rahman, whose Tamil debut Roja (1992) sold more in Hindi-speaking areas than any other non-Hindi film album. 

Unlike some of the other composers, Nadeem-Shravan found it hard to re-invent themselves and as a result, once the style of films changed, the demand for their kind of music reduced. Tragedy struck when rumour mills were abuzz with someone within the industry ordering a hit on Kumar, who was gunned down by two men on 12 August 1997. 

Later, Nadeem and Ramesh Taurani, producer and owner of Tips were arrested for conspiring to kill Kumar; Taurani was acquitted in 2002, and the Indian government lost the case to extradite Nadeem from the UK in a British court. There is also a belief that Dawood Ibrahim himself is protecting Nadeem.

In the first few years of the new millennium, Shravan and Nadeem made a comeback of sorts with Yeh Dil Aashiqanaa, Ek Rishta, and what would be their masterstroke Kasoor and Raaz.

They worked across different continents in near-perfect tandem with the help of the Internet and long-distance telephone calls. Nadeem composed the songs in London, and Shravan arranged and recorded it in India, but in 2005 they finally parted ways. Ironically, their last joint effort was for a film called Dosti: Friends Forever

While Nadeem attempted a solo career, Shravan receded into the background. His sons, Sanjeev and Darshan, became composers and tried to revive a bit of the Nadeem-Shravan magic, but that was not to be. The name 'Nadeem-Shravan' might not mean much today, but it was what defined the sound of Hindi cinema once upon a time. 

Although Shravan had not worked on anything new in the last fifteen years, his legacy only grows with time, and his memory would continue to linger.

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