In the background score of Pakeezah, for a brief 40 seconds, a womans voice delivers a lovely rendition of Mehdi Hassans, Dekh Toh Dil Ki Jaan. Abhay Phadnis has replayed those 40 seconds again and again for 10 years all in the hope of tracking down the singer, who was not mentioned in the films credits.
Such is the passion for vintage Hindi music among members of RMIM (rec.music.indian.misc), a global group of music aficionados. Their annual meet-up, this time in Chennai, is being organised by Adyar-based couple Abhay and Radha Rajagopalan.
We are a group that is into Hindi music from the 1940s and 50s, says Abhay. An understatement RMIM members live and breathe musical trivia from the era, whether offline or over WhatsApp and Facebook groups.
Every year since 2006, the group has been meeting in Bengaluru, with people from Jaipur, Pune, Chennai as well as from the US and Dubai joining in. Dr Guri Singh from Denver comes to India for three days every year, to attend this meetup, says Abhay.
This is the second time that the meeting is being held in Chennai; the first was in 2007.
It will be a two-day event, and we will have audio-visual quizzes, discussions and presentations. We will have one on the impact of a film director on its music. [Think Guru Dutt and Pyaasa], he says.
Back to the beginning
The group was started in California in 1992 an era pre-Google and YouTube as a Usenet group: rec.music.indian. This discussion board had branches such as Classical, but it is the misc group devoted to Hindi film music from the 1940s, that has stood the test of time. In the late 1990s, the Californians came up with the idea of meeting in person, to listen to music. Till today, the tradition continues twice annually once in the East Coast, once in the West, according to Abhay. When a few of those NRIs returned to India in the early 2000s, it spread here.
Back in the 1990s, we were getting new forms of media to listen through, and in the process we were losing out on some of the old songs. Everything could not be stored in a cloud like now. So having access to a lost treasure and sharing it in these meetups would be a sort of high, says Abhay.
Today, with easier access to music, what gives bragging rights is a members knowledge on the subject of Hindi music how well do you know your lyricists, singers, music directors and producers?
We have intense fights in the groups, such as who was the greatest singer of the era. Some for whom Lata Mangeshkar is akin to goddess Saraswati, some who accuse the Mangeshkar sisters of having an unfair stronghold causing other deserving singers to lose out on jobs. Then we argue over which was the first song Majnu Sultanpuri had written& I know youre thinking how it matters. But for us, it does! he exclaims
This concern with accuracy is what makes the group stand apart from others. Many members have turned into resources for other biographers, and song collectors.
Speaking of which, it took Abhay 10 years but today he finally has the identity of the mysterious singer in Pakeezah. Naushad did the background score (Ghulam Mohammad had passed away after recording the songs). His series of newspaper articles over the years was compiled in a book called Dastan-e-Naushad, in whose appendix was a list of every song he ever recorded.
And so it was that Abhay found the singers name: Naseem Bano Chopra. I loved her voice, but I loved this challenge even more.
The RMIM meetup will be held at YWCA International Guest House, Vepery on January 18 and 19, starting at 11 am on Saturday. Open to all, call Abhay at 9840966825 or Radha at 9884066825.