He had just turned 86 on March 3 but, ailing as he was, composer Ravi Shankar Sharma, must have hardly been aware of it. Four days later came the end, drawing the curtains on a melodious career. Simply called Ravi in the Hindi film industry and Bombay Ravi in the South, the man gave the world of Indian film music some of its best-remembered songs.
There can hardly be any mother even today who has not sung ‘Chandamama Door Ke' for her children. The composer of that song began his career with it and ended it in near obscurity; reportedly fighting a legal battle with his own kith and kin for a roof over his head. Ravi Shankar Sharma, a Padma Shri awardee, had a wonderful career in not just Hindi films (1955-70 and early 1980s) but also in Malayalam cinema (1986-2005) even with about a dozen films. His Hindi songs such as ‘Dil ke armaan ansoo on mein beh gaye' ( Nikaah ), ‘Lo aa gayi unki yaad' ( Do Badan ), ‘Chaudhvin ka chand' ( Chaudhvin Ka Chand ), ‘Neele gagan ke tale' ( Humraaz ), ‘Gairon pe karam' ( Ankhen ), ‘Yeh raatein yeh mausam' ( Dilli Ka Thug ), ‘Baar baar dekho' ( China Town ), and many more, have an immortal tag attached to them. Weddings even now are incomplete without the band playing tunes of his songs ‘Aaj mere yaar ki shaadi hai,' ‘Babul ki duaen leti ja' and ‘Doli chadh ke dulhan sasural chali.'
In the 1980s, Ravi, reportedly disillusioned with the deteriorating quality of Hindi film music, came back after a long hiatus as a music director in Malayalam (and some Hindi) films as Bombay Ravi. In 1986, he scored the music for his first Malayalam movie – Panchagni . The songs ‘Saagarangale' and ‘Aa raatri maanju poyi' (sung by Yesudas and Chitra) were hits. That same year, Hariharan's ‘Nakhakshathangal' was released and Chithra won her second National Award for the song ‘Manjal prasadavum.' All the songs from the Malayalam movie Vaishali released in 1989 were superhits and Chithra won her third National Award for the song ‘Indupushpam Choodi Nilkum' from the same film. ‘Chandrakantham kondu' ( Patheyam ) and ‘Andolanam' ( Sargam ) are timeless melodies.
A versatile and talented composer, he had very humble beginnings. Born in Delhi in 1926, Ravi had no formal training in classical music but self-trained through his father's bhajan group — Kalki Bhagwan Mandal — where he would sing devotional songs every evening. The young boy learnt harmonium and other instruments though observation alone. He was a self-confessed Hindi film music lover and no good at studies. From 1943 to 1950, till he landed in Mumbai keen on becoming a singer, he did all sorts of jobs, including that of an electrician, to support his father and his own love for music.
A fruitful meeting with composer Hemant Kumar gave him a chance to sing as the chorus of ‘Vande Mataram' and with the money he earned Ravi bought his first house — one made with tin sheets. After he moved away as an assistant of Hemant Kumar, Guru Dutt gave him a big chance with ‘Chaudhvin Ka Chand' and he didn't let him down. Ravi gave Asha Bhosale a song such as ‘Tora man darpan kehlaaye' ( Kaajal ). Pakistani actress and singer Salma Agha had her big claim to fame ‘Dil ke armaan' thanks to him. South Indian singer Chithra also gave him credit for her National Awards.
The life and times of this melody maker can probably be best summed up in the words of one of his most popular song from the film Waqt – ‘Aage bhi jaane na tu, peeche bhi jaane na tu, jo bhi hai bas yehi ek pal hai.'