Shivkumar Sharma’s image playing a santoor will remain etched in our memories for times immemorial. The music icon, who passed away at the age of 84 on Tuesday, has left behind a body of work that’s going to remain a benchmark in Indian classical music for generations. Sharma can be credited for popularizing Santoor in India, as his son Rahul Sharma continues to take the legacy forward.
As India mourns the demise of the legend, we take a look back at Shivkumar Sharma‘s musical trajectory, which also catered to Bollywood.
Shivkumar Sharma was one half of the music composer duo Shiv-Hari with classical flautist and another legend, Hariprasad Chaurasia. The music directors gave numerous memorable tunes to Hindi films, along with some noteworthy classical notes.
Shivkumar started his stint in movies 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 spoken about Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje. “Vasant Desai (music director) didn’t understand the technicalities of the santoor and generally left me to my devices to explore and play like I wanted,” he had told DNA previously.
The santoor legend added that V. Shantaram was immensely impressed by his work and eventually offered him his next project too — Toofan aur Diya. “I thanked him profusely and apologized saying I wanted to complete my education like my father wanted and went back to Jammu,” he said.
Shivkumar’s first collaboration with Hariprasad Chaurasia was their concept album, Call of the Valley in 1967, along with guitarist Brij Bhushan Kabra. Soon after, Shivkumar and Hariprasad joined hands as Shiv-Hari and composed music for their first film, Silsila (1981). The Yash Chopra directorial starred Amitabh Bachchan, Rekha, Jaya Bachchan and Sanjeev Kumar. Shiv-Hari made Amitabh sing two tracks in the hit film too — “Neela Aasman So Gaya” and “Rang Barse”. Shivkumar revealed that as an ode to Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje, its bhajan “Jo Tum Todo” was incorporated even in Silsila.
In his words, “We had no idea Silsila’s music would catch on 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 signing classical musicians. There is a difference between classical 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 parting ways. “Hariji and me were doing films as long as it didn’t interfere with our classical music. Later it became difficult as both of us were touring,” he told DNA.
He said in a PTI interview, “The shelf-life of music, songs is very short today. Old songs are still remembered and people like them even now. I doubt if any song of late has caught my attention.”
Shivkumar had to decline Dil Toh Pagal Hai too, despite Yash Chopra sending him tickets to travel back from Jammu. But, Shivkumar’s talent wasn’t just limited to his santoor. He once revealed that he was even offered a role in a film. This was when he was recording 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, speak well. You even have a decent personality). I folded my hands and said I wanted to pursue music,” Shivkumar shared.
He stayed away from Bollywood post Darr in 1993. He believed that a filmmaker’s taste impacted the music, which was heavily influenced by “Western beats and has more noise than melody.”
“We’re such great imitators of even 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 giving up composing for movies.
Shivkumar Sharma and Hariprasad Chaurasia received Best Music Director Filmfare nominations for Silsila, Chandni, Lamhe and Darr. The santoor legend was also bestowed with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1986 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2001.