A very long time ago in Calcutta, a magnificent shop called The HMV Store opened. It was located in the lane right next to the Statesman House and predated the Music Worlds and the Planets M by a good decade and a half. It had rows and rows of alphabetically arranged cassette covers, along with a listening nook (manned by a rather fierce looking gentleman in a dhoti).
Our (his and mine) modus operandi was to enter this air-conditioned haven (armed with pad and pen), hang around till the salespeople got really agitated, copy out the details of all the tapes we wanted, leave, have beef kabab at the shack outside and then go to Melody to purchase whatever we could afford of our wishlist. Melody was populated by ever-smiling salesmen, willing to listen to our arbitrary demands and even amenable to discounts (unlike the pension-eligible, constipated employees of RPG).
During these visits, one of the biggest 'things to do' was to identify the 'combination cassettes'. With less disposable income but probably a greater need for the classics of Hindi film music, HMV had a huge list of cassettes, which carried the soundtrack of two films. These two films usually had a common element (director, producer, actor, composer, all of the above) but sometimes it was nothing but an imagined theme.
And one's life depended on the best value-for-money that can be extracted from choosing the most judicious combo.
My absolute favourite combo was Guide-Jewel Thief.
SD, Navketan, Dev Anand have always given music that is unforgettable, not to mention the films. One of the biggest problems of Dev Anand's recent prolific but execrable output is that people born in the 1980s would never know what brilliant films he worked in.
Anyway, Guide and Jewel Thief had a vast musical range which went from cabaret to classical and back.
My main grouse against this perfect combo was that they dropped one song each from the two soundtracks to fit them into the tape. It was Wahan kaun hain tera and Baithe hain unke pass from the two films respectively. Since I watched both the movies after I bought the tape, I was quite shattered when I found out at this breach of trust by HMV.
My second favourite was Saath Saath-Arth.
Javed Akhtar recently mentioned in an interview that this was the highest selling combination cassette ever in the history of HMV. It is quite easy to see why.
Young romantic melodies written, composed and sung by young romantic souls (of which Jagjit Singh became the biggest star then) have a way of getting into your minds and never leaving. And the fact that both the films were perfect examples of middle-of-the-road cinema and excellent platforms for the music just added to the magic.
Even a perfectly round Raj Kiran could not do anything to spoil the melody and peerless lyrics which went - Tum itna jo muskura rahe ho / Kya gham hain jo chhupa rahe ho...
The third on this list has to be Safar-Anand.
Rajesh Khanna on a death-bed did to the women of the 1970s what SRK in Aviators did to the women of 2000s! He popped it like no other, to the accompaniment of screeching violins and maudlin speeches but you have to admit that nobody carried off a kurta-pajama better than he did (except for probably Amol Palekar in Golmaal).
The best part about this cassette was that since the songs were not enough to fill the tape, they interspersed them with dialogues. Safar was slightly philosophical and opaque on this count but Anand had rockin' stuff. You just have to hear Rajesh Khanna's introduction scene to know what I mean ("Lymphocarcoma of the intestine. Wah - jaise koi Viceroy ka naam ho!"). And then there is Amitabh's tour-de-force at the last scene (which was a unique response to a tragedy - anger).
All in all, this combo (with his lesser number of, but brilliant, songs) was what Anand Sehgal said about life... Zindagi badi honi chahiye, lambi nahin!
If I liked the second half of this tape as much as the first, then Aandhi-Mausam would have topped this list of combo cassettes.
Aandhi is my favourite Hindi film soundtrack - absolute favourite. (Shaan is second.)
Even at the risk of repeating myself, I just cannot get enough of Gulzar and RD. With this one, they just went on to another plane altogether. Even the title music of Aandhi, recorded with a full-fledged orchestra going crash-bang-boom, had a rather un-subtle mix of the tunes but I even liked that!
Mausam's high point, of course, is Dil dhoondta hain but somehow that tune never grew on me.
All that is compensated by "Tere bina zindagi se koi shikwa toh nahin / Tere bina zindagi bhi lekin zindagi toh nahin..." Is there anything else to say?
Apart from these masterpieces, I had quite a few 'flavours of the day' - of which we had to buy Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak-Waqt ki Awaaz due to my sister's insistence that Aamir Khan looked most handsome on this particular cover. My disappointment at not being able to explore better combinations was somewhat alleviated by playing the Waqt Ki Awaaz side of the tape very regularly. In what would be one of his last songs, Kishore Kumar sang "I want to HIT some-buddy / I want to EAT somebody" to Asha's limpid "Mujhe tod do, mujhe mod do / Meri baahon ko tum maror do...".
It was so bad that it was good! For the trivially inclined, the film starred Mithun and Sridevi.
Nowadays, this concept of combo cassette is no longer there. Even films with non-existent music have a single-soundtrack album, with the numbers being made up by music video songs, DJ Aqeel remixes and excerpts from background scores.
In fact, the last combo I bought was Murder-Paap - yet another favourite of mine!
But the sad part is that both these films had just one landmark number each (unlike the roll call of unforgettables in the earlier examples!). The only consolation was that Bheege hnot tere and Mann ki lagan were so placed that if you reversed the tape right after the first one, the second one started almost immediately. I must have worn out the tapes at exactly that spot!
Because one of thrills of listening to songs on the car stereo is that you can hum along with Kabhi mere saath koi raat guzaar / Tujhe subah tak main karoon pyaar... and then you sing loudly along with Woh oh oh, woh oh oh!
Now, I am looking for yet another combo, which I know exists but remains untraceable! If any of you see a tape of Jism-Raaz, do let me know!