The image of Shivkumar Sharma playing a santoor will remain engraved in our memory since time immemorial. The music icon, who died on Tuesday at the age of 84, has left behind a body of work that will remain a benchmark in Indian classical music for generations. Sharma can be credited with popularizing the santoor in India, as his son Rahul Sharma continues to carry the legacy forward.
As India mourns the legend’s demise, we take a look at Shivkumar SharmaThe musical trajectory of , which also attended Bollywood.
Shivkumar Sharma was one half of the Shiv-Hari musical composer duo with the classical flutist and another legend, Hariprasad Chaurasia. Musical directors gave numerous memorable melodies to Hindi films, along with some noteworthy classical notes.
Shivkumar began his time in cinema with the background score in Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje (1956), directed by V. Shantaram. He later recorded his first solo album in 1960.
He had previously talked about Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje. “Vasant Desai (music director) didn’t understand the technicalities of the santoor and generally left me to my own devices to explore and play however I wanted,” he had previously told DNA.
The legend of santoor added that V. Shantaram was immensely impressed by his work and eventually also offered him his next project: Toofan aur Diya. “I thanked him profusely and apologized saying that I wanted to complete my education as my father wanted and went back to Jammu,” he said.
Shivkumar’s first collaboration with Hariprasad Chaurasia was his concept album, Call of the Valley in 1967, along with guitarist Brij Bhushan Kabra. Shortly after, Shivkumar and Hariprasad teamed up as Shiv-Hari and composed music for their first film, Silsila (1981). Yash Chopra’s direction starred Amitabh Bachchan, Rekha, Jaya Bachchan and Sanjeev Kumar. Shiv-Hari also had Amitabh sing two songs in the hit movie: “Neela Aasman So Gaya” and “Rang Barse”. Shivkumar revealed that as an ode to Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje, his bhajan “Jo Tum Todo” was even incorporated into Silsila.
In his words, “We had no idea Silsila’s music would capture the way it did.” He told PTI: “I remember when Yash Chopra asked me and Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia to compose music for Silsila, everyone thought he was taking a big risk by hiring classical musicians. There is a difference between classical music and film music. And it was a tremendous challenge to live up to (film music).”
For the next several years, Shiv-Hari’s Bollywood collaborations remained with Yash Chopra. These included Faasle (1985), Vijay (1988), Chandni (1989), Lamhe (1991), Parampara (1993), and Darr (1993). They also made music for Sahibaan (1993) starring Rishi Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt and Madhuri Dixit.
Shivkumar Sharma and Hariprasad Chaurasia worked together for over a decade before splitting up. “Hariji and I made movies as long as they didn’t interfere with our classical music. Then it got tough as we were both on tour,” he told DNA.
He said in a PTI interview: “The shelf life of music, songs is very short nowadays. The old songs are still remembered and people like them even now. I doubt that any song of recent times has caught my attention.
Shivkumar also had to turn down Dil Toh Pagal Hai, despite Yash Chopra sending him tickets to travel back from Jammu. But Shivkumar’s talent was not limited to his santoor alone. He once revealed that he was even offered a role in a movie. This was when he was shooting for filmmaker Khwaja Ahmed Abbas. “He called me aside. I thought he wanted to tell me something specific but he offered me Saat Hindustani as an actor. ‘Dikhate-bolte bhi theek ho… kad-kaathi bhi sahi hai’. (You look good, you talk good. You even have a decent personality.) I crossed my hands and said that I wanted to pursue music,” Shivkumar shared.
He stayed away from Bollywood after Darr in 1993. He believed that a filmmaker’s taste impacted music, which was heavily influenced by “Western rhythms and has more noise than melody”.
“We are great imitators even of mediocrity,” he believed. According to him, the current times lacked the “right kind of directors to work with”.
Shiv-Hari continued to do live shows together even after he stopped composing for movies.
Shivkumar Sharma and Hariprasad Chaurasia received Filmfare Best Music Director nominations for Silsila, Chandni, Lamhe and Darr. The legend of santoor was also awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1986 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2001.