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SN Tripathi – His Music Still Lives On

March 14, 2024 | By

His songs are still popular but his name evokes little recognition. Anuradha Warrier shines a spotlight on the multi-faceted SN Tripathi

Many a flower is born to blush unseen
And waste its sweetness on the desert air

— Thomas Gray (Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard)

SN Tripathi

SN Tripathi

Few people remember SN Tripathi even while many of his songs continue to be popular. Was it because much of his work was for the genre of mythologicals or costume dramas that he was never considered ‘great’? One never knows. But his compositions definitely elevated the films he composed for, and several have withstood the vagaries of differing tastes.

Born in a traditional Brahmin family in Benares on 14 March 1913, SN Tripathi belonged to an educated family. His grandfather, Pandit Ganesh Dutt Tripathi was the principal of Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, Kashi, and his father, Pandit Damodar Dutt Thakur the principal of Government High School, Kashi. This background gave SN Tripathi a good grounding in Sanskrit and Hindi. Having completed his early education in Benares, he moved to Allahabad for his undergraduate studies. The young boy had always been interested in music. After completing his BSc., he enrolled in Marris College, Lucknow (now the VN Bhatkande Music Institute) for his formal training in classical music. At the same time, he underwent private training in light classical and folk music. One of his teachers at Marris College was Khurshid Minocher Homji, whom Hindi film music buffs will remember as Saraswati Devi. She was so impressed with SN Tripathi’s talent that when movie mogul Himanshu Rai visited Marris College and offered her a contract with Bombay Talkies to compose music, she invited her star student to accompany her.

SN Tripathi joined Bombay Talkies in 1935 as a violinist. Very soon, however, he became Saraswati Devi’s assistant. In 1936, while assisting Saraswati Devi, he also acted in his first film – Jeevan Naiyya. It was a small role, but he got the chance to sing a song (Ai ri daiyya lachak lachak). For the next ten years, however, acting would remain on the back burner, while he continued to work towards a music career. In 1938, after assisting Saraswati Devi on Bhabhi, SN Tripathi ended his contract with Bombay Talkies. But his tutelage under his mentor had taught him much – he now knew how to make notations as well as how to arrange music.

SN Tripathi

SN Tripathi
(Pic courtesy: Facebook)

By all accounts, his first film as an independent composer was Chandan (1941). The film, started in 1939, would be delayed by two years. It had a successful run but it was Panghat (1943) which brought him acclaim; he not only composed the songs for the film, he also sang the film’s duets (with Rajkumari). The first song he recorded was the duet, Nanha sa dil deti huun pardesi preet nibhana.

In 1946, he was offered Uttara Abhimanyu – he not only composed its music but also acted in it. Basing his compositions on Rabindra Sangeet, he delivered a bouquet of melodies that became immensely popular. This film proved a fillip to his acting career. In 1948, he was signed on as music director for the film Shri Ram Bhakt Hanuman, directed by Homi Wadia. He was also offered the role of Hanuman to Trilok Kapoor’s Ram. The film was a smashing success. Tripathi would go on to reprise this role in several other mythologicals, including his first directorial venture, Ram Hanuman YudhI (1959).

By now, mythological films were giving way to historical and fantasy films, and SN Tripathi made a smooth transition. He was versatile enough to compose in a wide variety of genres for a wide variety of films: Rabindra Sangeet-inspired compositions in Panghat, ghazals in Lal Qila (1960), classical music-based compositions for Rani Roopmati and Sangeet Samrat Tansen, Arabic music-inspired melodies for Hatim Tai and Alibaba aur Chalis Chor (1954), etc. Given this versatility, it is surprising that he was never counted among the great composers of the golden period.

Perhaps it was because he wore many hats. The least-known facet of this versatile composer was his foray into directing movies, several of which were better-than-average successes at the box office: Rani Roopmati, Kavi Kalidas, Sangeet Samrat Tansen, etc. His last directorial was Nag Champa (1976). He also wrote the dialogues and screenplays for several movies including Luv Kush (1967) and Mahasati Tulsi (1974). But with time, as musical tastes and preferences changed, there were few takers for his music.

SN Tripathi passed away on 28 March 1988. Today, on his 111th birth anniversary here are some of my favourite melodies composed by this maverick music director in no particular order.

Na kisi ka aankh ka noor hoon
Lal Qila (1960)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics: Muztar Khairabadi

A mellifluous voice that dripped melancholy, lyrics that evoked the despondency of an old man about to be exiled from his home and country, the music barely there yet emphasizing the melancholy – Na kisi ki aankh ka noor hoon will always be considered one of Mohammed Rafia’s and SN Tripathi’s best collaborations. Yet, the authorship of the lyrics that evokes the image of the old emperor as he’s exiled to Burma after the 1857 war of independence, had always been in dispute. Research had never thrown up this ghazal in any of Zafar’s writings. And until recently, that’s where the matter stood. But when Javed Akhtar found a handwritten copy of this ghazal amongst his grandfather Muztar Khairabadi’s papers, it seemed like a revelation. Today, most Urdu poets and scholars of note seem inclined to attribute this ghazal to Muztar Khairabadi.

Lal Qila is not the first film in which this ghazal was used; composer Nashad presented it differently in Toote Taare (1948), where the lyrics reflected the heroine’s point of view. It was sung by Rajkumari.

Zara saamne to aao chhaliye
Janam Janam ke Phere (1957)
Singers: Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Bharat Vyas

‘Lovely songs in mediocre films’ could well be SN Tripathi’s epitaph. This Rafi-Lata duet is a melodious devotional number, sung by grieving parents in the film. Janam Janam ke Phere was an obscure film starring Manhar Desai and Nirupa Roy. But, this song swept the popularity charts like a tsunami,  reaching the No.1 slot on Binaca Geetmala that year, pushing aside heavyweights like Pyaasa, Nau Do Gyaarah, Paying Guest (SD Burman), Chori Chori (Shankar-Jaikishan), Tumsa Nahin Dekha, Naya Daur (OP Nayyar), Dekh Kabira Roya (Madan Mohan), etc.

SN Tripathi’s collaboration with lyricist Bharat Vyas would begin with this film; it’s a collaboration that produced some outstanding songs over the next few years.

Nain ka chain churaakar le gayi
Chandramukhi (1960)
Singer: Mukesh
Lyrics: Bharat Vyas

Costume drama/fantasy was a very common genre of film during the early days of the film industry. By the 60s, their popularity had begun to wane. This film, probably a retelling of a folk tale, had the requisite tropes – a child abandoned at birth due to a prophecy that the sight of him would blind his father; a princess turned into a statue by a wicked magician; a hero with magical flute playing abilities; a court dancer who is enamoured of the hero; a good fairy who helps him, etc. The film sank without a trace but this song – one of the happiest love songs I have heard – has overcome the mists of obscurity to remain a perennial classic.

O pavan veg se udnewaale ghode
Jai Chittor (1961)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Bharat Vyas

A ‘historical’ movie based on Maharana Pratap Singh of Mewar, ruler of the Sisodias, Jai Chittor tells the tale of the brave Rajput’s resistance to the Mughals, which culminated in the Battle of Haldighati (1576) in the Aravali range. Unfortunately, the film, starring Jairaj and Nirupa Roy had nothing to recommend it except this song that stands testimony to SN Tripathi’s talent as a composer.

Aa laut ke aaja mere meet
Rani Roopmati (1957)
Singer: Mukesh
Lyrics: Bharat Vyas

The plaintive call of a man for his lover, this song from Rani Roopmati was tailormade for Mukesh, who lifted what could have been a whiny, self-pitying song into a beautiful romantic melody. SN Tripathi’s music segues from emphasizing a man’s loneliness while separated from his lover to a melody that coaxes the beloved to come. Mukesh’s voice takes on the same lilt – loving, pleading, romantic. It is hard to resist the call. The female version of this song is sung by Lata Mangeshkar.

Hai naam mera Ramzani
Alladin aur Jaadui Chirag (1952)
Singers: Chitragupt, Shamshad Begum
Lyrics: Shyam Hindi

We veer from mythology and historicals to the fantasy of the Arabian Nights. BM Vyas dons the role of the wicked magician who is out to sell new lamps for old in this tale of magic lamps, wish-fulfilling genies and treasure caves. Not to mention lovely princesses. This is a lovely ditty, sung with charm by Chitragupt and Shamshad Begum.

Watch it here

Dekhoji chand nikla peeche khajoor ke
Alibaba aur Chalis Chor (1954)
Singer: Asha Bhosle
Music: with Chitragupt
Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan

A lovely Asha Bhosle solo from another film based on a tale from the Arabian Nights. As for the previous song, SN Tripathi, composing in tandem with his erstwhile assistant Chitragupt, took inspiration from Arabic music to lend colour to his composition. Shakila plays Marjina to Mahipal’s Alibaba.

Aayi birha ki raat
Nav Durga (1953)
Singer: Geeta Dutt
Lyrics: Ramesh Pande

Many of the films that SN Tripathi composed for, have been lost in the mists of time. But good songs often outlive the films for which they were composed. This melodious Geeta Dutt solo is yet another example of it.

Un par kaun karega vishwas
Kavi Kalidas (1959)
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics: Bharat Vyas

Folk tales, mythology and history provided a rich lode of stories on which films could be made. While mainstream Hindi cinema was moving from the social films of the 50s into the mostly escapist fare of the colourful 60s, smaller film-makers were continuing to make films that were rooted in the cultural ethos of the country. Kavi Kalidas is one such film, focusing on the story of the poet and his muse. Longtime collaborator Bharat Vyas writes chaste Hindi lyrics for this melodious war-of-the-genders song. Bharat Bhushan plays the eponymous role, while Nirupa Roy essays the role of his wife.

Madbhari masti bhari ye raat hai
Jagga Daku (1959)
Singers: Geeta Dutt, Manna Dey
Lyrics: BD Mishra

Another obscure Raja-Rani film, filled with beautiful princesses, dashing heroes, wicked viziers, good fairies – and a great score by SN Tripathi. Thanks to YouTube which throws up these gems for our listening pleasure.

Sudh bisar gayi aaj apne gunn kii
Sangeet Samrat Tansen (1962)
Singers: Manna Dey, Mohammed Rafi
Lyrics: Shailendra

To end, a classical masterpiece from SN Tripathi, based on Raag Hemant. The composer had a stiff benchmark to meet – Khemchand Prakash’s score for the legendary KL Saigal who played the eponymous role in the 1943 film. But this film’s compositions is no less. Given the context of the film, SN Tripathi borrowed heavily from his classical repertoire to lend music to Shailendra’s lyrics. Manna Dey and Mohammed Rafi lend their voices to M Kumar (who plays Swami Haridas) and Bharat Bhushan (as Tansen) in this glorious duet.

What SN Tripathi songs do you like? Tell us in the comments below.

More Must Reads in Silhouette

Bharat Vyas: Hindi Poetry Thrived in His Film Songs

Chalo Ik Baar Phir Se: The Versatility of Ravi

Vasant Desai: When Classical Music, Dance Themes and Bhajans Gained Mass Popularity

‘Feelings, Lyrics, Orchestra — Everything was Different in Salil Chowdhury’s Songs’: Jyoti Chowdhury

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Anuradha Warrier is an editor by profession, a writer by inclination, and is passionate about books, music and films, all of which she writes about on her blog, Conversations over Chai.
All Posts of Anuradha Warrier

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4 thoughts on “SN Tripathi – His Music Still Lives On

  • N.S.Rajan

    A very enjoyable essay on SN Tripathi and his songs. Another talented composer who had to remain on the sidelines. Those days(1957 in Dehra Dun) as one would walk the streets, one would be swamped by popular songs pouring out of hotels and Dhabas. “Aa laut ke aaja mere meet” and “Zara saamne to aao chaliye” were played almost non-stop while “Na kisiki aankh ka noor hoon” was enjoyed in the quietness of one own dwellings. I remember to have read somewhere that OP Nayyar, who was riding high with his successes in the mid 1950s and fearless of any opposition, was awed by SN Tripathi’s tunes and began taking his own work more seriously.
    Thank you, Anuradha for another interesting peep into the past and reviving the memories of gifted composers who sadly had to remain in the shadows.

  • Gandhi Vadlapatla

    Anu Ji,
    Your article beautifully highlights SN Tripathi’s immense talent and contribution to the Indian film industry. It provides a glimpse into his multifaceted career, showcasing just a few of his mesmerizing melodies. From the soul-stirring beauty of ‘Na kisi ka aankh ka noor hoon’ to the classical masterpiece ‘Sudh bisar gayi aaj apne gunn kii’ from Sangeet Samrat Tansen (1962), your selection showcases Tripathi’s mastery over diverse musical genres and emotions.
    It’s a fitting tribute to the legendary artist, SN Tripathi, whose creativity continues to leave a lasting impact on the hearts of audiences.
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful homage to his remarkable legacy.
    Gandhi Vadlapatla

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