Bombay Ravi, who died at the age of 86 in Mumbai on Wednesday, was a composer who played a key role in bringing melody back into Malayalam cinema in the 1980s.
He may have tuned songs for just over a dozen films in Malayalam, but nearly all those songs were hits and are still cherished by Malayalis. Songs like “Manjal prasdavum…” (‘Nakhakshathangal'), “Sagarangale…” (‘Panchagni'), “Indupushpam...” (‘Vaishali'), “Chandrakantham kondu…” (‘Patheyam') and “Andolanam...” (‘Sargam') are timeless.
When director Hariharan introduced him to Malayalam cinema through ‘Panchagni' in 1986, Ravi was not exactly the busiest composer in Bollywood. “I was not happy with the music in Hindi film those days and relished the opportunity to work in Malayalam cinema,” he had told this writer during an interview in Thiruvananthapuram years ago.
Songs of ‘Panchagni' and ‘Nakhakshathangal' became a rage. The audio cassette containing those films created records in sales. Suddenly, Malayalis were buying music cassettes with a vengeance.
With films like ‘Vaishali', ‘Parinayam' and ‘Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha', Ravi proved that he was in a league of his own in Malayalam film music. Long before he sat down with Hariharan and O.N.V. Kurup, who wrote many of his hits, to create songs for ‘Panchagni', Ravi had several hits to his credit in Bollywood, such as “Chaudhuvin ka chand…” (‘Chaudhuvin Ka Chand'), “Aye meri zohra jabeen…” (‘Waqt'), “Babul ki duayen…” (‘Neel Kamal') and “Dil ke armaan…” (‘Nikah').
“When I first heard the songs of ‘Panchagni', I had thought that Bombay Ravi and Hindi music director Ravi were two different people,” said Kaithapram Damodaran Namboothiri, who worked with him in films like ‘Vidyarambham' and ‘Patheyam'. “I was a big fan of his Hindi songs. Writing lyrics for him was a privilege. He could create wonders in Malayalam songs using ragas like Mohanam and Kalyani.”
Jayaraj, director of ‘Vidyarambham', said he had determined to assign Ravi as the composer of his debut film. “I was a fan of his music and was bowled over by his humility, right from the time I first met him, during the making of ‘Vaishali', directed by Bharathan, my guru.”