Song from the shadows

ziya us salam
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tribute The career of music director Ravi was shaped by ironies and ornamented with timeless melodies.

RaviPhoto: S.Gopakumar
RaviPhoto: S.Gopakumar

At one time he gave us the joy of being young. Now his songs make nostalgia a worthwhile emotion. And for a few moments they convey that sweet, if illusory feeling, that we are never going to be sad again. In the millions of toothless smiles that his songs evoked, the countless sweet dreams that followed, lies the greatest contribution of Ravi, a self-effacing music director, who even cut short his name to avoid being mistaken for the legendary Pandit Ravi Shankar. Yes, Ravi Shankar Sharma was made of such mettle. He longed for recognition yet was happy to stay in the shadows. His work though spoke for him, ensuring that he experienced high noon too.

With songs like Chanda Mama Door Ke , Dadi Amma, Dadi Amma , Hum Bhi Agar Bachcha Hote and Bache Man ke Sacche , his songs were a perennial favourite at birthday parties and children's get-togethers. Not to forget C.A.T., Cat mane billi . He added a lilt to childhood and kept the child in us singing for ever. Then, on a poignant note, Ravi's songs struck a chord with the beggars on the street. In the early '50s, they used to sing Ek Paisa de de Babu , his composition from Vachan . Then came Gharibon ki Suno woh Tumhari Sunega . Finally, in the 1980s and on to the '90s and beyond, mendicants in North India and Mumbai would board public transport buses and local trains singing Dil ke Armaan Aansuon mein Beh Gaye , a super hit song from B.R. Chopra's Nikaah that introduced music lovers to the charms of Salma Agha.

Of course, without a touch of irony, the soft-spoken lullaby-children songs' specialist also gave us two timeless romantic songs for two generations: if youth, drunk on beauty could sing Chaudhvin ka Chand ho , the seasoned men, long married, with a helipad for a head and tyres around the middle, could sing Ae meri Zohrajabeen tu abhi tak hai haseen to their spouse, now with grey hair, wrinkles and all. On such delicious ironies lay the contribution of Ravi, who passed away recently. The prolonged property dispute at home failing to put in the shade the luminosity of his compositions. Or even cast a shadow on some wonderful bonds he forged with the likes of Mohammed Rafi, Hemant Kumar, Devendra Goel, Asha Bhonsle, Mahendra Kapoor and the Chopras, B.R. and Yash.

Meeting Rafi

Yet, the songs almost did not materialise. The young man in Old Delhi once heard that Mohammed Rafi was in town. Hesitatingly, he gathered a tanpura and a harmonium to meet the legend. Ravi had dreams of becoming a singer and carried the instruments to impress Rafi — he was not a trained musician either. Yet when he came face to face with Rafi he could not muster up enough courage to say in as many words. Instead, he told Rafi that he wanted to be a music director! The words proved prophetic. Rafi asked him to compose something. A couple of tunes later, he asked him to come to Bombay! He still had to do the hard yards though, before Goel's Vachan brought him out of anonymity. Then Ravi who learnt the ropes under the guidance of Hemant Kumar, was to go on to carve out his own niche in Hindi cinema as a director of soft, soothing melodies. He did sing a song or two — notably as part of the chorus in Anand Math — but it was as a music director that he was to earn his place in the annals of Indian cinema. Yes, Indian cinema which goes beyond Bollywood, as Ravi also composed songs for Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu films. In a piece of irony, he stayed in Bombay for more than half a century yet never got a chance to score a Marathi filmHe came to be called Bombay Ravi in Malayalam films!

The early meeting with Rafi was to be instrumental in shaping their partnership in latter years. When Ravi did finally get to helm a film as a music director, he made sure that nobody but Rafi sang for him. Vachan , Kaajal , Chaudhvin ka Chand , Neel Kamal , Do Badan ….the association was long and melody ever present with timeless songs like Chaudhvin ka chand ho , Chhoo leno do nazuk hothon ko , Baabul ki duayen leti jaa and Raha gardishon mein har dum …. Equally importantly, the time he spent in Old Delhi apprised him with Muslim culture. Later, Ravi was to use his familiarity with Muslim culture to great effect in films like Waqt and Nikaah , and less so in Tawaif .

On more or less the same lines went the relationship with Goel. He gave music to every film of Goel, who gave him his first break with Vachan . Particularly memorable being his composition Tujhe Suraj Kahun Ya Chanda in Goel's Ek Phool Do Maali . Ravi's relationship with the Chopras too endured through thick and thin. Under the baton of B.R. Chopra he gave Mahendra Kapoor and later Salma Agha plenty of opportunity to leave a mark for posterity with wonderful songs of Humraaz and Nikaah . Not to forget revamping of Asha Bhosle with Tora Man Darpan .

Though he gave singers complete freedom to sing the way they wanted, Ravi was essentially a lyricists' music director. As opposed to most music directors, he would give the lyricist concerned a chance to first pen down his song, then set it to tune. On such notes lay the fame and name of Ravi. Sad that “ Chanda Mama Door Ke ” has taken him far, far from us.

ziya us salam



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