PT. SHRI NATH TRIPATHI by Kalyan Kolachala
If there is a contest on who was the most versatile artist in Hindi films, the hands-down winner would be the topic of today’s theme – actor, singer, composer, story and screenplay writer and film maker – Pandit Shri Nath Tripathi. S N Tripathi was a man of many parts and talents. Many creative artistes have achieved greatness and immortality in the Indian film industry but only a few have displayed the range of versatility that S. N. Tripathi did with such consummate ease. S. N. Tripathi’s main field of endeavour were the much-neglected mythologicals to which he brought an aura of credibility thanks to his scholarship and painstaking research. When it comes to his use of classical music in films, he should certainly feature in the top tier. Despite the classical base, his songs often have an inherent simplicity and effortlessness – it is as if his tunes existed naturally and he simply discovered them and not created them. This write-up has biographical details, musical style and association with singers but consciously avoids talking about specific songs (unless they have historical value like first song etc.) as it is expected that SKS members will be posting most of his gems, both popular and rare.
Shri Nath Tripathi was born in a Brahmin family of Kashi (Benaras, U.P.) on 14th March 1913. His grandfather Pandit Ganesh Dutt Tripathi was principal of Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, Kashi and his father Pandit Damodar Dutt Thakur was principal of Government high school, Kashi. He completed his education from Banaras. He did his B.Sc. from Allahabad. He took classical music training from V N Bhatkhande’s Morris College of Music, Lucknow. He took light classical and folk music training from Maina Devi, Lucknow. He earned himself the degree of ‘Sangeet Praveen’ from Prayag Sangeet Samiti and ‘Sangeet Visharad’ from Morris Music College. He was also well versed in the folk music of UP.
He went to Bombay and joined Bombay Talkies in 1935 as a violinist. He then joined music director Saraswati Devi as an assistant at a salary of Rs. 100 per month. He got his first break in Jivan Naiya as a singer (‘Ae Ri Daiya Lachak Lachak Chalo..’) in 1936. Jivan Naiya was also the first film of Ashok Kumar. He left Bombay Talkies in 1938, his last film with Bombay Talkies was Bhabhi (1938), another film where he also sang. It is probably Saraswati Devi’s influence that he retained the simplicity in his tunes even after going more classical in from mid-late 1940s onwards. It should be added that as a sign of gratitude, Pt. Tripathi was instrumental in bringing back Saraswati Devi as an co-composer in 1955 film, Inaam, after which she bid farewell to Hindi films.
In 1939 he got his first independent break as a music director in ‘Chandan’, which ultimately got released after two years in 1941. He composed his first song ‘Nanha Sa Dil Deti Hoon..’, sung by Rajkumari and Tripathi himself. He got his first success as a music director with Panghat (1943).
Besides music, Tripathi also tried his hand in acting. He got his first chance to act, in a film ‘Uttara Abhimanyu’ (1946) followed by ‘Ram Bhakt Hanumaan’ (1948) – he played Hanuman in the latter film. He acted in many films after that, but he also pursued his career as a music director. While he was fairly prolific in the ‘40s and ‘50s primarily working on mythological and historical films (mostly with Basant Pictures, directed by either Homi Wadia or Nanabhai Bhatt), he found major success from mid 50s onwards.
He hit a purple patch for the decade from 1955 to 1965 when many of his films/soundtracks were popular and his work is also of great quality and critically acclaimed. His popular and quality soundtracks from this period are Haatimtai (1956), Janam Janam Ke Phere (1957), Rani Roopmati (1959), Kavi Kalidas (1959), Laal Qila (1960), Piya Mila Ki Aas (1961) and Sangeet Samrat Tansen (1962). Some lesser known films from this period with great music are Roopkumari (1956), Pakshiraj (1959), Chandramukhi (1960), Amrit Manthan (1961) and Jadu Nagri (1961).
His first directorial venture was ‘Ram Hanuman Yudhh’ in 1959. He directed few more films after that, like, Kavi Kalidas (1959), Pakshiraj (1959), Rani Roopmati (1960), Amrit Manthan (1961), Piya Milan Ki Aas (1961), Sangeet Samrat Tansen (1962), Shiv Parvati (1962), Dev Kanya (1963), Maharaja Vikram (1965), Kunwari (1966) etc. It is interesting that some of his best/most popular music is in the films he produced/directed despite the added responsibility that was involved.
In his early films in the 1940s, Rajkumari was the singer he used the most and the rest of the singers are either unknown or obscure. He too sang a few songs, mostly duets. Rafi, Shamshad and Geeta first sang for him in Manasarovar (1946) but very little after that in the 40s. Mukesh first sang for him in ‘Ram Bhakt Hanumaan’ (1948). In the 1950s, he started working with the mainstream singers more often. In the mid ‘40s, Chitragupta started assisting him and also sang occasionally (they also composed together for ‘Alibaba and 40 thieves’). After Chitragupta parted ways with him, he was assisted by Dilip Dholakia. His influence and style can be seen in both his assistants when they worked later as composers.
Panditji’s association with Rafi started early with the film Manasarovar (1946) and continued for most of his career. Rafi was the primary male singer through most of his career and has the highest number of songs of all the singers he has worked with – there is a wide range of songs including classical, romantic, sad and fun songs in good measure.
Geeta Dutt’s association with Panditji started right in her debut year with the film Manasarovar (1946). It was her first song with Mohd. Rafi. The song was “Jai hind, yeh hind ki kahaniyaan” with Binapani Mukherjee as the third singer. From 1946 to 1962, the maestro S. N. Tripathi composed close to 50 songs for Geeta. Notable among these are Saudamini (1950), Shri Ganesh Mahima (1950), Laxmi Narayan (1951), Nav Durga (1953), Roop Kumari (1956), Sati Naag Kanya (1956) and Kavi Kalidas (1956). He also composed music for several Bhojpuri films and Geeta sang several songs for him in those films.
Panditji’s association with Lata and Asha began with “Alladin aur jadui chiraag”(1952). Lata has sung around 71 songs spread over 24 films. Most of these are in Panditji’s golden period, very good and make the most of Lata’s supreme classical skills. Asha Bosle sang around 129 songs for him 43 films spread over a wider period (1954-1976).
Panditji also had some great and popular songs with Mukesh and Manna Dey though the song count isn’t as high as others. Some of Manna Dey’s best classical songs are with Panditji but his repertoire with Panditji is not only limited to that, and includes nice romantic songs as well.
Panditji started working with Suman Kalyanpur in early 60s and has given her the largest number of songs of all the composers she has worked with. She sang around 85-90 songs under his baton.
As is well known, Panditji excelled in classical based songs and used a wide range of ragas for various situations and genres. Some of the ragas he used the most are Kanada, Malhar and Sarang variations, Malkauns, Bhimpalasi, Pahadi, Bhairavi, Shivaranjani, Bageshri etc. Another Panditji signature is the use of the woodwind, the clarinet or shehnai like sound often heard in his songs. He also used folk styles from UP such as Kajri, Hori, Chaiti particularly in his Bhojpuri and Awadhi films.
Another unique feature of Panditji’s music is the extensive reuse of his tunes/melodies (others like Salil Chowdhury, S. D Burman, etc. have done it across languages but Panditji’s reuse was within his Hindi film songs). Thus one can see an older tune/melody repeating multiple times with little or no changes. Probably what tempted/motivated this was the fact that a number of films were obscure and replicating a tune increased the chances of it being heard. This aspect could be explored during the theme when members can identify similar tunes in comments on a song post.
He was truly a many-splendoured personality. He composed music, wrote dialogues and stories for many regional films also. His contribution to Bhojpuri films is significant. He passed away on 28th March 1988, in Bombay after over 50 active professional years, poor, unsung and largely forgotten.
1. Down melody lane, also includes filmography
2. RMIM commemorative dedicated to Pt. S. N. Tripathi by Vish and Guri
3. Geeta Dutt website,
4. Extensive collection of Pt. Tripathi songs on YouTube