I have been wondering about how different musical instruments are used in songs, especially in Bollywood. I recently found the Eminent Violinist Kala Ramnath. She shared her insights about the violin and how she came about playing it. Thus, the article Violin and Bollywood emerged from our discussion.
Violin is a hollow-bodied instrument with one string on a fingerboard 22 inches long played with a bow traversing 3 octaves.
Inspiration to take up Violin
Kala explained, “My family was my inspiration and I think I must have loved it because I do not know how I felt. When I started playing violin I was two and a half years old. I belong to the seventh generation in a family of musicians. My ancestors were court musicians in the royal court of Travancore. The first 4 generations were vocalists and the next three including me took to violin and the vocals.”
Why violin? It could have been only vocals or any other instrument.
Kala replied, “Sure. I did both as a child. And I do both even now. But, I perform only on the violin. The reason, according to me, there are very few violinists in the field in India and my grandfather must have thought I might stand better chances to shine as the violin is recognized the world over.”
Not many know that the ancestor of the violin in Vedic ages was called Dhanur veena or the veena played with a bow. It was a favorite of Lord Shiva. During the Ramayan period, the demon king Ravan was supposed to play this instrument so well that it was renamed after him from then onwards as Ravan Hatta. The violin can express all emotions. It according to me is the most complete instrument. It can reproduce what a voice can do which most instruments cannot do due to constraints like no continuity in sound, etc. and also what other instruments are capable of doing technically. Today also you can find Ravan Hatta in Rajasthan.
In the 6th century, it went to Persia with the Arabs when they came here for trade and became the Rababeh.
This instrument went to Spain during the Moors invasion in the 10th century and became the viol there. Then it went to Europe to become the viola and then the violin, which again returned in its present form when the Britishers came to India in the 17th century.
Violin and Bollywood
Unfortunately in India, especially in Bollywood this instrument is only used to express sorrow or sadness. Every song till music changed with synthesizers coming into play in the early 1990s, had violins playing in the background as an orchestra. Some songs had 30-40 violins being played in them.
Today, the violin had 4 strings with a fingerboard measuring five and a half inches traversing 3 octaves. So, 4 times 5 1/2 inches is 22 inches, which is the measurement of the fingerboard of the Ravan Hatta where one could traverse 3 octaves in one string. So, until this instrument is considered ours there will not be many students to learn this or teachers wanting to develop good techniques. It will always be an instrument for background music as it is in films.
One movie I can think of is Mohabbatein. Violin was used and is used as a background instrument in all Bollywood songs. But, Mohabbatein was the only movie where the violin got prominence from being in the background music to being solo pieces in songs.
Yun hasraton ke dagh… Adalat (1958)
Ek pyaar ka nagma hai… Shor (1972)
Humko humise chura lo… Mohabbatein (2000)
Do pal… Veer Zaara (2004)
Tum hi ho… Aashiqui 2 (2013)
Tera ban jaunga… Kabir (2019)