Thursday, 4 October 2012

RB Tone Sangeetmala

Or how I miss those cassettes

By MV Swaroop

My lifelong love affair with the Hindi film song started, rather curiously, because my parents are doctors. One of the perks of their profession is that medical representatives gift them a variety of goodies, from stationery to showcase pieces to coffee mugs to clocks to umbrellas, all proudly announcing the name of some drug or the other.

One such goody, handed out each year, was called “R.B. Tone Sangeetmala” – a cassette with fifteen or so old Hindi songs, featuring what were, for my ten year old self, names as unfamiliar and exotic as Naushad, O.P. Nayyar, S.D. Burman, GeetaDutt, and Shamshad Begum.

R.B. Tone was a cough syrup of some sort, I gathered, from the announcements that came after every song. “Doctor,” it would start, addressing its audience in a warm, friendly baritone, and proceed to talk about the greatness of R.B. Tone Syrup.

R.B. Tone Sangeetmala was clearly compiled by someone who had an intimate relationship with the Hindi film song. While it featured popular old songs like Meranaam chin chinchoo, or Ek Ladki Bheegi Bhagisi, it didn’t shy away from throwing in Shubh din aayo in Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s booming voice or the delicately sung Do Sitaron ka zameen par hai milan. It even had time for the cheeky Mere piya gaye Rangoon and Sarjo tera chakraaye complete with the “Maalish, telmaalish!” at the beginning.

Each year, around January, I would ask my mother every other day if the R.B. Tone rep had given her the cassette. Last year’s tape would be so thoroughly abused that I would even be able to speak those homilies to R.B. Tone’s curative properties along with it. I would know exactly what line came after which song and exactly what pitch the next song started at! To this day, I prefer Ye lo main hari piya to be followed by Raina beeti jaaye to be followed by Hoon abhi main jawaan.

Since the Sangeetmala was a cassette, and it was not easy to precisely forward and rewind songs, it demanded something from the listener – to give unfamiliar or not immediately appealing tunes a chance. It forced you to listen to those songs, and allowed those songs the space to grow on you. This meant that a musician like K.L. Saigal, seen only through the prism of an edgy blues version that appeared in Delhi Belly, was curiously a part of my childhood.

This was still the mid 90s, though, and households, including mine, tuned in each week to watch Superhit Muqabla or Philips Top 10 and listen to the unspeakably terrible music of the 90s. Kumar Sanu’s nasal crooning, Anuradha Paudwal’s deeply melodramatic devotion, Anu Malik’s tunelessness and the lyrics’ abject frivolousness (sample this – “Main laila laila chillaoonga, kurta phaadke”, “Ek rasgulla kahin phatgaya re.  Re baba re. Phatke jalebi se lipatgaya re.”) all got too much to handle on a daily basis, and made me run to the Sangeetmala for some respite.

Around the time the fourth or fifth cassette of this series came out, the mp3 revolution struck, and our local computer dealer filled our modest 256MB hard drive with all the popular Kishore Kumar songs. The folder was imaginatively titled “Romentic Mode”. Soon, this folder was joined by many many others, “Old Hindi”, “Old Hindi more”, “Mukesh Songs”, “Lata-Rafi Greatest Hits”…  Supply had, as it tends to do these days, outpaced demand.

This flood of music, I think, killed R.B. Tone Sangeetmala; my parents stopped getting those tapes around the turn of the century. The space for a tightlycurated annual tape of only fifteen songs, held together by only two conditions – that they be old Hindi songs, and that they be riveting– had gone. People could now choose from thousands of songs and create their own Sangeetmalas. If you don’t like a song, skip to the next. Delete it from the playlist even.

If the man who made those Sangeetmala cassettes is still around, I’d love for him to make tapes for me each year. Fifteen songs, completely his choice. Some would be eccentric, some expected, some would be vaguely known, some completely unknown. I would place a lifetime standing order, and put each cassette through a detailed examination over a period of one year till the next arrived.


  1. so good to find someone sharing same sentiments for a cassette i grew up listening to!!

  2. Hi,

    I grew up listening to the RB Tone Sangeetmala series as well. However, in the process of moving house the cassettes seem to have gone missing and my folks can't find them anywhere. Do you happen to have a copy of the list of songs in the series? I'd love to be able to make a curated playlist on Spotify etc!