Celebrating Bollywood's most underrated musician Ravi (of Babul Ki Duyaen fame)

No Indian wedding used to be complete without at least two songs of the maestro who died five years ago.

 |  8-minute read |   07-03-2017
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Chances are, if you ask any middle-aged music lover to state (not rate) the names of seven Hindi music directors of the 1960s, very few would come up with Ravi. Which is a real mystery!

Let me explain why I am mystified. When I first met Ravi in the mid-90s, he very proudly (justifiably) told me that no Indian wedding used to be complete without at least two of his songs - Babul Ki Duyaen Leti Ja (Neel Kamal) and Aaj Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai (Aadmi Sadak Ka). How true that was.

Add to the mix the optional Mera Yaar Banha Hai Dulha (Chaudhvin Ka Chand) and Doli Chadh Ke Dulhan Sasural Chali (Doli). Round it off with Ai Meri Zohra Jabeen (Waqt) in the pre-wedding mehndi ceremony, and you had Ravi ruling the nuptial musical landscape. No self-respecting wedding band could do without Ravi in its repertoire.

Now think of beggars singing on the streets, or traffic intersections, or on local trains during the 1960s. Two songs stand out - Amma Ek Roti De (Samaj Ko Badal Dalo) and Gareebon Ki Suno (Dus Lakh). Both Ravi.

Let’s consider lullabies. Two of the most popular ones have not only been composed by Ravi but have been penned by him as well - Chanda Mama Door Ke (Vachan) and Tim Tim Karte Taare (Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan). In fact, Ravi wrote lyrics for many more songs.

So, with all these songs being an integral part of the aural scenery of middle-aged Indians since their childhood, Ravi not being on the recall list is an enigma. He was certainly under-rated despite composing memorable music in 112 films.

Just consider his oeuvre in his two-decade stint in the Hindi film industry - songs ranging from romantic (Chaudhvin Ka Chand Ho), to peppy (Baar Baar Dekho), to madcap (CAT Cat Maane Billee), to seductive (Shishe Se Pee), to pathos-filled (Sab Kuchh Luta Ke Hosh), to heart-rending (Chalo Ek Baar Phir Se), to rumbustious (Dil Karta Oh Yaara Dildara), to devotional (Badi Der Bhai Nandlala). He was truly a colossus.

He has recognition to prove it. Two Filmfare Awards for Gharana (1962) and Khandan (1966). Rafi was eternally grateful to him for his first Filmfare Award for best singer for Chaudhvin Ka Chand Ho (Chaudhvin Ka Chand) in 1960.

Lata won the 1965 Filmfare for Ravi’s Tumhee Mere Mandir (Khandan). Mahendra Kapoor won it for Ravi’s Chalo Ek Baar (Gumraah) in 1964, and Neele Gagan Ke Tale (Humraaz) in 1968. Asha won it for Ravi’s Garibon Ki Suno (Dus Lakh) in 1968. Salma Agha won in 1983 for Ravi’s Dil Ke Armaan (Nikaah). A formidable achievement!

In the 1980s and 90s, Ravi worked successfully in Malayalam films such as Bombay Ravi. He won his only National Film Award for best music direction in 1994 for Parinayam and Sukhrutham, and two Filmfare Awards (Malayalam) - Sargam (1992) and Parinayam (1994).

Ravi (Ravi Shankar Sharma), born in 1936, came to Mumbai aged 24, to become a singer. He sang in choruses - SD Burman’s Naujawaan and Hemant Kumar’s Anandmath. After working for a few years as Hemant Kumar’s assistant, he branched off (at Hemant’s insistence) as an independent composer, his debut film being Devendra Goel’s Vachan (1955).

Goel and Ravi would have a life-long collaboration of several successful films. Similarly, with BR Chopra. Ravi also worked a lot with South Indian film makers such as SS Vasan, AV Meyappan, Vasu Menon and Sivaji Ganesan.

Ravi was a minimalist. His orchestra was spare, barring exceptions. His music never overwhelmed the singer. Its effect was always tender and soft. The singer always remained centre-stage giving the artist full carte blanche to exhibit his/her vocal mastery.

His interludes were gentle and non-obtrusive. Even in a song such as Zohra Jabeen, with its inherent Punjabi boisterousness, the dholaks and clapping did not overpower the singing and the effect was endearing, not brash. He managed to mould his music to suit the mood brilliantly. This was craftsmanship of the highest order.

The Rafi-Ravi combination yielded outstanding songs. They did 235 songs in 79 films. Some of the mesmerizing ones are - Chaudhvin ka Chand Ho, Mujhe Pyar Ki Zindagi Denewale (Pyar Ka Saagar), Baar Baar Dekho (China Town), Na Jhatko Zulf Se Paani (Shehnai), Chhoo Lene Do Nazuk Hoton Ko, Yeh Zulf Agar Khulke (both Kaajal), Tujhko Pukare Mera Pyar (Neel Kamal), Yeh Wadiyan Yeh Fizayen (Aaj Aur Kal), Zindagi Ke Safar Mein (Nartaki). And the list goes on.

Asha was Ravi’s main female singer - 385 songs in all. Songs are too many to enumerate but have a look at some - Hey Rom Rom Mein Basne Wale (Neel Kamal), Sheeshe Se Pee (Phool Aur Pathar), Aaj Yeh Meri Zindagi (Yeh Raaste Hain Pyar Ke), Mujhe Gale Se Laga Lo (Aaj Aur Kal), Uljhan Suljhe Na (Dhund), Tora Man Darpan Kehlaye (Kaajal), Aage Bhi Jaane Na Tu (Waqt), Jab Chali Thandi Hawa (Do Badan), Zindagi Ittefaq Hai (Aadmi Aur Insaan).

Though she did a few songs, Lata was at her dulcet best with Ravi - Woh Dil Kahaan Se Laoon (Bharosa), Ae Mere Dil-e-Naadan Tu Gham Se Na Ghabrana (Tower House), Laage Na Mora Jiya (Ghunghat), Lo Aa Gayi Unki Yaad (Do Badan), Aapki Inayatein Aapke Karam (Vandana), Gairon Pe Karam (Aankhen).

The Sahir-Ravi pairing resulted in the most outstanding music in the BR Chopra films. Mahendra Kapoor was the main male singer and Ravi brought out the best from him, more than any other composer. Mahendra Kapoor was masterfully controlled by Ravi to bring out softness and sublimity. Songs such as Chalo Ek Baar, Aap Aaye, In Hawaon Mein, Aa Bhi Ja (all from Gumraah), Neele Gagan Ke Tale, Kissi Pathar Ki Moorat, Na Moonh Chhupa Ke Jiyo (all from Humraaz), and from Waqt, Aadmi Aur Insaan and Dhund form an indelible part of the nation’s musical memory.

I met Ravi a few years before his death at his house, appropriately called Vachan (his first film). Frail of health, he was still mentally alert and dexterous on the keyboards. We spent a glorious afternoon together talking about his life and music. He told me that the room we were sitting in was the same where Rafi had broken down during rehearsals of Babul Ki Duyaen.

Ravi asked Rafi’s brother-in-law Zaheer Bari, his secretary and manager, about it. He was told that Rafi’s daughter had recently got married and Rafi had got emotional. The paternal emotion came out clearly and so endearingly in the recording.

Another incident that was narrated was regarding the song Yeh Zulf Agar Khulke. The word "acchha" is repeated several times and the challenge was to sing it differently each time. Rafi suggested he be given the chance to try, which he did with such superlative effect.

I was fortunate to have heard Ravi sing his best-known songs for me. He also played for me a tape of a song he had composed and sung himself as a tribute to Rafi.

I discussed with Ravi the controversy surrounding his bhajan Darshan Do Ghanshyam (Narsi Bhagat) so evocatively sung by Hemant Kumar, who gave his best to his former protégé. The movie Slumdog Millionaire had used the bhajan without Ravi’s prior permission. To add insult to injury, the answer shown in the film regarding its lyricist was wrongly mentioned as Surdas.

The lyrics were penned by Gopal Singh Nepali. Ravi told me that he had arraigned the filmmakers. Later, I learnt there had been an out-of-court settlement. Ravi also told me he had no knowledge of classical music and had been asked by the Narsi Bhagat maker to listen to a Raag Kedar based bhajan of the 40s, based on which Ravi had come up with the tune. This honest self-effacement of a fact not well-known was in line with Ravi’s simplicity and modesty - two qualities which endeared him to the film industry.

I was aware of the personal problems Ravi was facing with his son. It showed on his face; on his drooping shoulders. When I left, I couldn’t but remember Ravi’s own song Is Bhari Duniya Mein Koi Bhi Hamara Na Hua from his film Bharosa.

How Ravi is still remembered in the remotest corners of the country was driven home to me some years back when I was in Upper Assam, three hours from Dibrugarh. The head of production of the urea plant was entertaining me to dinner during my official visit. He was an Assamese and didn’t know a word of Hindi. 

He requested me to sing a Rafi song from Do Badan. Which one? I was testing him. Any of the three, he replied. Impressed, I asked which I should sing first. Bhari Duniya Mein, he suggested. Ok, let’s do it together. He knew every word. We then went on to Naseeb Mein Jiske Jo Likha Tha, finally ending with Raha Gardishon Mein. By this time, all senior officers had joined in. Who says Ravi had been laid to rest! He was well and alive in Namrup!

Ravi’s piece de resistance is from an eminently forgettable film Ustadon Ke Ustad (1963).

Sau Baar Janam Lenge, Sau Baar Fanna Honge,

Ai Jaan-e-Wafa Phir Bhi, Hum Tum Na Judaa Honge.

As we pay homage to Ravi on his fifth death anniversary on March 7, we doff our hats to this musical genius who can never be judaa from our respect and love for his unforgettable melodies!

Also read: Haunting melodies from life of Bollywood musical genius Khayyam

Also read: For better and worse, AR Rahman transformed Indian film music


Ajay Mankotia Ajay Mankotia @ajaymankotia

The writer is an author, former revenue official and a music aficionado.

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