Up in the AIR

Oct 14 2013, 05:13 IST
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SummaryA book on Walter Kaufmann, the composer of the Akashvani jingle, details his tryst with Bombay and Indian cinema

On his maiden trip to India in 1934, Walter Kaufmann, then 27, arrived with a return ticket in hand. The German musician had clearly not anticipated that he would end up spending 12 years in the country, during which he would compose one of the most iconic tunes that rules Indian airwaves to date — All India Radio’s (AIR) signature jingle.

“Very little was known about the composer of the tune which airs on Akashvani every morning,” says Amrit Gangar, film historian and curator. He spent days at the William and Gayle Cook Music library at the Indiana University researching on Kaufmann’s connection with Indian cinema. Only after establishing definite links, Gangar started work on The Music That Still Rings At Dawn, Every Dawn, a book being launched as part of a series commissioned by Max Mueller Bhavan on German artistes who migrated to India. The first two books in the series, also authored by Gangar, are on German filmmaker-Franz Osten, titled Franz Osten and the Bombay Talkies: Journey from Munich to Malad (2001), and documentary filmmaker Paul Zils, titled Paul Zils and the Indian Documentary (2003). “I wanted to remind people of the contribution of German filmmakers, musicians and indologists to Indian culture,” says Gangar. The book, which was released on October 12 at Max Mueller Bhavan, Mumbai, talks in detail about Kaufmann and his life in Mumbai during World War II. It will be available across all Max Mueller centres in the country.

During his research at the Indiana University (where Kaufmann taught), the Mumbai-based author found that the AIR jingle was composed by Kaufmann. “Noted Indian orchestra conductor Mehli Mehta , the father of Zubin Mehta, had played the violin for it,” says Gangar.

Abject war conditions and Hitler’s fascist rule forced Kaufmann, a Prague immigrant, to move to Bombay. His mastery over Western music got him the job as the Director of Western Music at the AIR. Kaufmann’s correspondence with his family back home confirmed that he stayed at Rewa House, a two-storeyed bungalow off Warden Road (now Bhulabhai Desai Road) towards Mahalaxmi temple.

Around that time, the shift from silent movies to talkies helped Kaufmann establish himself as a musician in the Hindi film industry. “He composed the background score for several films by Mohan Bhavnani whom he had met in Berlin,” says Gangar. Amongst Bhavnani’s films, Kaufmann worked on Mazdoor (The Mill, 1934), Jagran (The

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