Laxmikant-Pyarelal have been one of the most successful and accomplished music composers of the Hindi film industry and provided music for nearly 500 films during their illustrious career spanning 35 years. They were considered to be inseparable and thrived despite cut throat competition in the industry where there were big names dominating the scene. Laxmikant Shantaram Kudalkar of this duo passed away in 1998 and Pyarelal Ramprasad Sharma, his partner, stopped taking on more films and preferred to go into retirement. On the eve of Republic Day, the central government issued a notification conferring the Padma Bhushan on Pyarelal evoking a strong response from Laxmikant’s family. His wife and daughter protested that while they welcomed the award being given to Pyarelal, their contention was that since the duo worked together and reached all the milestones as team, why was this honour only singular and not plural.
There is logic in the argument and it is evident that Laxmikant’s name has either been omitted because of a clerical error where the composers were mistaken as one entity and not two persons, or it was completely inadvertent. Therefore, it is for the authorities to straighten this up and clear the air about the confusion. Nevertheless, Pyarelal, an exceptional music director, is a deserving winner of the Padma Bhushan and simply because the Centre has not extended this honour to his partner, does not in any take away his contribution to the film music and Bollywood. Laxmikant-Pyarelal were fondly referred to as LP by their fans and music lovers. In an era where LP was associated with Long Playing records of 33 RPM, the music duo being described by the same abbreviations was a rare feat. Laxmikant, was to begin with, a mandolin player who was first spotted by Bhagatram of the Husnlal Bhagatram, musical team. Incidentally, Husnlal Bhagatram were the first musical duo of the country followed by the legendary Shankar Jaikishen.
Laxmikant first met Pyarelal, three years his junior, at a cricket match played by locals, and the two instantly became friends. Both were gifted musicians in their own right and Pyarelal despite being selected for the Vienna Symphony orchestra decided to stay back and be with his friend to realise their shared dream. The two were greatly influenced by Shankar Jaikishen, who were right on the top, and who were the first in the film industry to command a price of a whopping one lakh, a princely amount in those days for their movies. LP then worked as assistants to Kalyanji Anandji, also successful musicians, who became famous for their score in innumerable films. LP got their first break in “Parasmani’’ and their first recorded song for the film, “Hansta Hua Noorani Chehra’’ became an instant hit. The duo had arrived and in their next film, “Dosti’’, LP were awarded the prestigious Filmfare award. There was no looking back after that, and they conquered one frontier after the other. There is a famous anecdote of how Mohammad Rafi, who was at the peak of his career declined to accept any payment for his first song, and wished them the very best in their musical journey. The duo never forgot that gesture. LP were extremely close to Lata Mangeshkar and she remained a source of strength for them during their struggling days. It also suited Lata to promote a new duo, since Shankar Jaikishen were ruling the industry.
The common belief is that Lata never sang Cabaret type numbers but for “Intaquaam’’ where LP provided the music, she had no qualms about singing sizzling songs. Another exception which she had made around the same time was for Jaikishen of the SJ duo when she did playback for Rekha, in “Elaan’’ and the song, Ang se Ang laga le’’’ became a big hit. Raj Kapoor, considered the greatest showman of the industry was making “Mera Naam Joker’’, his magnum opus and due to some misunderstanding fueled by SJ, Lata Mangeshkar was denied even a single song in the three-hour long movie.
Though ahead of its times, Joker flopped at the box office and soon afterwards, Jaikishen of the SJ duo passed away. Raj Kapoor was devastated and when he launched “Bobby’’, he decided to prefer LP over Shankar of the SJ team. According to Shankar, who died 16 years after his partner in 1987, Raj Kapoor would have continued with him but for a conspiracy hatched by Mukesh, the playback singer. Mukesh was very close to Raj Kapoor and was peeved with SJ for not pushing for his son, Nitin, to become the voice of Rishi Kapoor, who made his debut in Joker. The fact is that RK himself was not happy with Nitin and had wanted a new voice. The Joker song was sung by Mukesh. But Mukesh convinced RK to go in for LP, using the Gujarati network. The big announcement was made by Raj Kapoor himself. Earlier, LP had made it clear to the showman that they would give music only if Lata was on board and Raj Kapoor thus made up with the nightingale. Rest is history and Bobby became a big blockbuster thus taking RK out of the big debts he had incurred with the Joker becoming a flop.
So far as Shankar’s version on why LP were picked up and on Mukesh’s role, it is very difficult to authenticate such things. Significantly, Shailendra Singh was picked as Rishi Kapoor’s new voice for “Bobby’’ after a talent hunt and it was not Nitin Mukesh. The short point is that the government must consider and review the appeal of Laxmikant’s family to also confer the Padma Bhushan on him posthumously.