The cover songs to many of our favourite movies may be rooted in metal and rock music, but we often don’t realise the little bits of classical music which sneak into movies and works its way into our heart during a dramatic or a romantic moment – a bit of darbaari raag straight from the court of Tansen, or the light-hearted tinkling of Mozart’s sonata.
But if this is the effect that small bits of classical music have upon us, what about movies based entirely on classical music? Classical music aficionados will love this list, for sure. And if you haven’t heard much classical music before, these beautiful movies are the best ways to get yourself acquainted with this form of music.
This movie is on every Carnatic music aficionado and musician’s must watch list and is considered one of the greatest ever contributions to Carnatic music. The Telugu movie Shankarabaranam was a hit all through the ’80s after it released. It rekindled interest in classical music, which had by then been banished to the dark, dusty shelves of people’s homes and gave it glamour of sorts. The movie depicts the life of one popular singer, Sankara Sastri, who later struggles with his livelihood as interest in classical music wanes and pop music takes over.
Morning Raga tells the very dramatic story of a Carnatic singer, Swarnalata (Shabana Azmi), who loses her young son and a close friend, who’s also her violinist-accompanist, in a bus accident. The incident scars her for life, impeding her dreams of becoming a great classical singer in her own right. She remains closeted in her village, never straying out until her friend’s son, a band musician comes to the village wanting her to join his band. If Sankarabaranam espoused the purity of classical music, Morning Raga is all about the joy of tinkering with the classic and bringing about a new experience – fusion music.
There are literally thousands of films based on classical music all over the world, but no list could be complete without including Disney’s 1940 masterpiece Fantasia. Although this is an animated film, the music is set for adults as well as children. The whole movie revolves around the use of different classical pieces to set varying moods and help move the story along. The film features no dialogue at all, so it relies completely on the music to set the stage. The classical music for this film include many great works by well-known composers like Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky.
Beethoven Lives Upstairs
There are many movies based on the life and works of Ludwig Van Beethoven – some emphasise more on his life and inspirations while others focus more on the music he created. But this film is one of the best of the lot with a perfect balance of both story and music. The film was received so well that a CD of Beethoven’s most noted works was created to accompany it, so fans are truly treated to a bonus.
A child prodigy and a musical genius, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s work has continuously inspired generations of Musicians. The movie tells the tale of Mozart’s life, and the rivalry between Mozart and fellow composer Salieri. Amadeus was a huge success at the box office when it was released in 1984.
The story of Baiju Bawra is set in the period of Akbar as a revenge plot against his favourite musician Tansen. Baiju Bawra is the story of an unknown singer, Baiju, who is on a mission to defeat Tansen in a musical duel to avenge the death of his father. The movie, produced in 1952, had the genius of Naushad and the songs were crooned by the silken voices of Mohammad Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Shamshad Begum, Ustad Amir Khan and DV Baluskar.
Everybody knows the story of Meera, a devout young Rajput princess who has fallen madly in love with Lord Krishna and disregards her family and forsakes her marriage for her love for Lord Krishna. Eventually, she leaves her husband’s house and goes around like a mendicant and a mystic poet, singing songs in his praise. Directed by an American, Ellis R Dungan, and made in Tamil, the chief character Meera is played by the late MS Subbulakshmi, who sings all Meera’s songs in the movie. The film went on to become a big hit in 1945 and was remade into Hindi too.
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Cover Image Courtesy: Morning Raga