City anchor: Music speaks for India’s black-and-white gems

The best thing about celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema at the ongoing Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) has been the two silent movie packages. One of them has four of Dadasaheb Phalke's movies — Kaliya Mardan (1919), Shri Krishna Janma (1918), Lanka Dahan (1917) and Raja Harishchandra (1913). The other comprises two of Baburao Painter's films, Sati Savitri (1927) and Murlivala (1927) as well as Kalipada Das' Jamai Babu (1931). Both these packages were screened on Tuesday to the accompaniment of music that was instrumental in recreating Indian cinema's earliest era.

To compose music for Phalke's film screenings, Kausal Inamdar went back to the stories of his grandfather Shankarrao Biniwale regarding his association with silent movies. Biniwale was a violinist and he played music during the screenings of Bhajli Pendharkar's silent movies. He even composed music for V Shantaram's first talkie, Ayodhyacha Raja (1932) . "Those days, musicians used to play live as the movies were screened," recollects Inamdar, who has composed music for recent Marathi movies Balgandharv and Ajintha .

For Balgandharv, Inamdar had studied several ancient music instruments as well as traditions. This came handy when MFF officials approached him to play live orchestra. He used the old-style peddle harmonium, violin, tabla and percussion. Most interesting part of his orchestra was the use of conch as young Krishna emerges from underwater after taming the evil serpent Kaliya. "The music we played was acoustic and its tempo was not hampered by the use of electronic instruments."

The brief of festival director Srinivas Narayan to the musicians was to use soft, traditional Indian tune. Musician Madhav Vijay did that efficiently while viewers enjoyed the rare opportunity of watching work of Painter and Das. "We tried to recreate the atmosphere of the late 20s. For Jamai Babu , the music had a Bengali flavour," he says.

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