Sunday, March 8, 2015


We had occasion to talk about someone called an ‘arranger’ in the context of film music, and the confusion was sought to be dispelled in the entry on Goan musicians. Here we seek to further confound the confusion, he, he, he…

Sometime ago we came across an anxious query about this legendary creature on a music-group and a contributor wisely referred everybody curious to that excellent channel sudeep audio on Youtube. However the group continues to debate the role of the arranger, and confusion continues to reign, leading to the conclusion that it’s somehow a ‘subjective’ issue. The following lines will demonstrate exactly how. The story is something as wacky as the protagonist of the concerned movie (James Bond) himself, and when CNN put it out on Youtube they called it the ‘Amazing story of the James Bond theme’! This unique piece of music charts invariably amongst the top 5 film-background themes of all times. Just imagine: the original for that theme was an Indian sounding song, “Good Sign, Bad Sign” from the aborted movie ‘A House for Mr. Biswas’ played to the sitar at that! The following is Monty's 2005 re-rendering of Good Sign, Bad Sign by way of nostalgia, in which the sitar is played by Ustad Mehboob Nadeem, and tabla by Pt. Dimesh. Note the swarsamooh P D S^S^D P g R S S, reminiscent of Shivranjani.

Well Dr. No, the first Bond movie was produced in Great Britain in 1962, on a shoe-string budget, as the concept found few takers in Hollywood. As the shooting went on, stars turned favourable for James, and the producers could cadge another $ 100,000 for funding the scene where  Dr. No’s pad blows up, on top of the $ 1 mn. initially placed on stakes by financers United Artists.

The musical score of Dr. No was with the Jewish Monty Norman, who wrote the melody for the Bond theme, basing it on the above-said song created by Monty earlier for the Trinidadian movie which came unstuck.. It did not sound convincing, and the celebrated John Barry, was engaged to ‘arrange’ its score, offering him a princely sum of  £ 250, with three days at his disposal! The famous rock guitarist Vic Flick then replaced the sitar with his guitar, and the rest is cinematic history.

Not that history ended there. John Barry went on to score music for the next 11 Bond movies, and thus identified with Bond-music, the glory and credits associated with the theme came to be cornered by him. Considerable acrimony grew between Monty and Barry, with a libel case slapped by the former on the latter. The copyright royalty battle ended in court, and the victor was Monty, who was awarded all royalties since 1962, the sum being in excess of £ 600,000 upto the year 2000!

Well, the court preferred the melody over the arrangement, but the two versions need to be checked out at leisure by the reader, to decide whether the content is more important or the packaging, whether he or she would like to split the honours, or whether the medium is the message, that is whether the form is itself the content, as most listeners in England seem to believe! 

In the Indian Bollywood context, the arranger has to be awarded additional points at the cost of the Music Director, however. The MD i.e. the melody maker usually starts with a raga suitable to the mood of the song, or frequently sifts through the endless procession of western songs, 'adapting' tunes from here and there. Thus in more than 75% of the cases, the melody is a given, the arranger then rendering the notation and fleshing out the melody, giving life and form to the song. In such a case, the lyricist's contribution will also be more substantial.
The comments about Monty that embellish the following musical saga of the song depict youtubiana at its crappiest. The comments seem to have racist overtones really...guys, music knows no boundaries, I sayyy...

The following is an utterly refreshing example of what Surinamese kids are capable of. It's Pt. Madhup Mudgal's Jogkauns-based Charishnu, conducted by his student Pta. Rita Bokil (not my cousin, he, he, he...):

[Incidentally, in the American Film Institute’s list of top cinematic heroes, Bond ranks at no. 3, Atticus Finch taking the first place. Mahatma Gandhi (21) is ahead of Superman (26), Tarzan (34) and The Tramp (Chaplin: 38)]...!

[Also, House for Mr. Biswas figures in the Time list of the best 100 English novels for 1923-2005]

No comments: