Down Melody Lane
Music archivists are keeping alive the joy of listening to vintage film music through clubs and online sessions
Earlier this month, as the clock struck 10:30 pm on a Monday, members of Nostalgiaana, an online community of vintage film music lovers, tuned in to a special show on Lata Mangeshkar. A song from a less known movie called Naach Ghar (1959) played out, followed by another rarely heard gem ‘Samjhe na baat meri’ from Sa Re Ga Ma Pa (1972). The chat window of the Zoom-based radio-style show started buzzing with messages of listeners who were listening to these songs for the first time.
It was their shared passion for music that got Shankar Iyer, Archisman Mozumder (both from Mumbai) and Balaji Ramachandran (Chennai), the 50-something founders of Nostalgiaana, together. What started out as a chance meeting over long-forgotten Yahoo Groups and Orkut Communities have now transformed into music sessions over Zoom. “We were an extremely passionate lot and between us, we would share songs in Hindi, Marathi, Bengali and Tamil. We began Rewind in 2014 and did our first show ‘The Parsi Connection’ in Mumbai where we celebrated Parsi musicians such as Kersi Lord, Homi Mullan and Burjor Lord,” says Iyer. Initially, the trio did a few shows in small gatherings, where 50 to 100 people would assemble to listen to old songs and discuss various aspects of film music. Later, their popularity led them to organise shows for banks and rotary clubs. “When the lockdown was announced in 2020, we moved online. We did a one-hour show in April and May on Zoom and the response was heartening. So we started a paid membership,” says Iyer. Rewind is now Nostalgiaana, has 250 members who meet thrice a week online to listen to less heard works of Hindi film music.
For collectors of vintage music, it is a passion project and they invest a great deal of personal resources to keep it going. Take, for instance, Kushal Gopalka, a 54-year-old Mumbai-based businessman and musicologist. As a child, Gopalka was surrounded by gramophone records, tapes, audio cassettes and music lovers. “Back in the late 1980s, we had mehfils of music lovers at my home,” says Gopalka, who has a fine collection of 1,50,000 songs across records, cassettes, spools and CDs. Besides his musical sessions once a month at home, he has done guided listening sessions in public venues, such as the Prince of Wales Museum and Birla Centre for Art and Culture, in Mumbai. “For a session on percussion, we had got the great Homi Mullan and Kersi Lord who spoke on orchestration. The legendary lyricist Naqsh Lyallpuri did a session around lyrics for us,” he adds.
The members of these clubs can’t thank the organisers enough. Mumbai-based communications professional Kalpana Swamy could tide through the tough days of lockdown listening to Nostalgiaana. “My parents had an encyclopaedic knowledge of films and I took to this passion from them,” says Swamy, who started attending the programmes organised by Rewind in 2017. When the lockdown began in 2020, it was a blessing in disguise for Swamy, as she could attend shows sitting at home. “Being a part of this group helped me understand the finer points of a film song. We miss these elements during casual listening, like the arrangement of a song for instance,” she adds.
The organisers are passionately involved with various facets of music. For instance, Gopalka spends a lot of his time digitising old records and meets collectors across the country. Once the pandemic broke out, he began organising sessions on Zoom for fellow music lovers. Kersi Noshir Mistry lives in the US and joins the online mehfil of Gopalka every Thursday. “I left India in 1977. Songs have the ability to open up your subconscious mind. I cannot listen to an old song without remembering my parents and Bombay where I grew up. Every time, I listen to a song, I relive a part of my life,” says Mistry.
In Kolkata, Pawan Agarwal runs monthly karaoke and listening sessions in a forum called Pawan’s Music Adda. Since January 2012, lovers of vintage film music have been gathering at his residence for this adda. “Many of us have started learning singing after attending these sessions. One session we did was called ‘Chowringhee se Chowpathy Tak’ on the contribution of Bengali music and artists in the Bombay film industry,” says 66-year-old Agarwal.
For many, it’s a full-time project. Iyer was a banker but is now running Nostalgiaana on a full-time basis, with Ramachandran. “Cine music is a work of art. A lot of hard work and passion has gone into it over the decades to make film songs what they are today,” he says. Melophiles cannot agree more.
✥ Shankar Iyer (right) and Kushal Gopalka gathered a lot about vintage film music while working for the magazine Swar Aalap.
✥ Swar Aalap was launched in May 2002 by percussionist Dinesh Ghate to highlight the contributions of film musicians, arrangers and singers.
✥ It organised many shows to honour musicians and arrangers of Hindi film music like Kersi Lord, Manoharilal, Gorakh Sharma, Shayam Raj, Tony Vaz and Jairam Acharya.