Bollywood strings: how the violin became the signature sound of Hindi cinema

Frank fernand at a recording credit naresh fernandes taj mahal foxtrot

The sound of massed violins underpins the music in thousands of Indian films. Tim Woodall traces the instrument’s colourful history in Mumbai’s film industry

The story of the violin in Bollywood is at times a strange one. A suited man in a top hat, umbrella in hand, steps out of an egg-shaped pod into what looks like a wedding party and starts to sing. A song-and-dance routine follows. The infuriatingly catchy melody is played by a full studio orchestra. When the camera focuses on the female star, the object of the singer’s attention, a group of violins plays a falling rhythmic figure of the sort heard in hundreds of Bollywood films. The song, ‘My Name Is Anthony Gonsalves’, from the 1977 film Amar Akbar Anthony, is significant because it was an unusual musical tribute to the father of Bollywood violin playing.

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