Language of melody

Tunesmith: Octogenarian Ravi Shankar Sharma, alias Bombay Ravi, has the rare ability of creating the kind of music that does justice to the lyrics and the situation in the film.

Tunesmith: Octogenarian Ravi Shankar Sharma, alias Bombay Ravi, has the rare ability of creating the kind of music that does justice to the lyrics and the situation in the film.   | Photo Credit: Photo: S. Gopakumar


Bombay Ravi feels that contemporary film music sounds homogenous as it has lost its regional accents.

He reached Mumbai to become a singer and went on to become one of the top music directors in Bollywood. For five decades, he composed songs for more than 250 films. In the late Eighties, he enriched Malayalam cinema with a medley of unforgettable melodic songs that catapulted the singers to fame and made the director, Ravi Shankar Sharma, alias Bombay Ravi, an honorary Malayali.

“Melody exists only in Malayalam cinema,” says Ravi who was in Kerala to receive the G. Devarajan Award for the best music director.

Mixing sounds

“There is hardly any music left in Hindi films. The current crop of music directors must be made to compose for Malayalam lyrics and cinema to see whether they have any innate talent. Many of them merely mix sounds from a synthesiser and call it music.

“A tabla has to sound like a tabla and Punjabi music like Punjabi music. Now there is a dreary homogeneity that is making all music and orchestrations sound the same. I feel it is only in Malayalam cinema that one still finds that respect for melody,” says the veteran who has worked with almost all the greats of Bollywood.

He still recalls with gratitude the confidence Hemant Kumar reposed in him when he was still struggling to make it as a singer. “I was singing in the chorus of Hemantji’s ‘Vande Mathram’ when he spotted me and made me his assistant. I used to help him with his pronunciation of Hindi and Urdu words. After working with him on more than a dozen films, he insisted that I should start on my own. I was devastated and went to meet Devendra Goel with a heavy heart. But he signed me on for three films,” he recounts.

And that kick-started his career as a music director. Ravi soon became a byword for lilting songs that topped the charts.

“The entire team used to be present to record a song. That is one reason why there was so much feel in the songs of those times. Singers, even the top ones like Lata Mangeshkar, Asha, Kishore and Mohammed Rafi, used to turn up for rehearsals and they were the first to ask for a retake if they felt they had not done justice to the tune or the lyrics. That humility and sincerity is missing now,” he rues.

Ravi’s long association with B.R. Chopra helped Mahendra Kapoor make his mark as a playback singer in films such as ‘Gumrah’, ‘Waqt,’ ‘Hamraaz,’ ‘Aadmi aur Insaan’ and so on.

He points that out he had a special connection with the leading South India filmmakers of the time such as S.S. Vasan and A.V. Meiyappan. But the Eighties saw Ravi moving away from centrestage.

“Kishore, Mukesh, the one and only Rafi saab…. There is no one to replace those golden voices. The zest has gone out of making music for Hindi films. I do compose for Punjabi films and serials.”

Instead of trying to join the rat race, Ravi preferred to stick to his world of melody. It was during a lull that Hariharan approached him with a request to compose music for his film ‘Nakshatangal.’

“I did not know a word of Malayalam but his persuasion brought me to Kerala. O.N.V. Kurup explained the lyrics of ‘Manja prasadavum…’ and left for the day. I worried whether I would be able to do justice to the poetic words. As is my habit, I composed six or seven tunes for the lyrics and presented it to Hariharan,” recalls Ravi.

The song, a melodious chart buster, brought playback singer K.S. Chitra a National award for the best singer. “Hariharan requested me to compose for his next film ‘Panchagni.’ I came for one film and went on to compose for 14 or 15 films,” says Ravi, the delight evident on his face.

His last Malayalam film was ‘Mayukham.’ But he adds that he might be coming back soon with his lilting tunes in a couple of Malayalam films.

For the record

Five Filmfare nominations for ‘Chaudvin ka Chand,’ ‘Do Badan,’ ‘Humraaz,’ ‘Ankhen’and ‘Nikah.’

Filmfare awards for ‘Gharana’ and ‘Khandaan.’

Worked with Hemant Kumar, Manna Dey, Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, Mahendra Kapoor, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Salma Agha…

Some of his hit songs: ‘Chandamama door Hai,’ ‘Lage na mora jiya, sajana…’ ‘Darshan do Ghanshyam,’ ‘Hum bi agar bachche ho to,’ ‘Ai meri Zohra jabeen,’ ‘Baar baar dekho,’ ‘CAT, cat…,’ ‘Jeevan jyot jale,’ ‘Jab se tumhe dekha hai,’ ‘Husnwale tera jawab nahi,’ ‘Dil ke armaan’...

He composed the songs for ‘Panchagni,’ ‘Nakhakshathangal,’ ‘Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha,’ ‘Vaishali,’ ‘Sargam,’ ‘Sukrutham’ ‘Ghazal’ ‘Padheyam’ and ‘Mayookham.’

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