This was not what I’d planned as my next post. But I learnt this morning that Ravi – the man who composed some wonderful tunes from the 50s and 60s – is no more. He passed away yesterday, the 7th of March, just four days after his 86th birthday. Ravi (born Ravi Shankar Sharma) also had a teeny-weeny link with my family. Like my uncle, he too sang part of the chorus for Vande Mataram!
More importantly, though, Ravi made a name for himself as a composer of songs that ranged from dreamily romantic to peppy, madcap to devotional (Ravi himself learnt how to sing by listening to his father sing bhajans when Ravi was a child).
1. Chaudhvin ka chaand ho (Chaudhvin ka Chaand, 1961): When I mentioned ‘dreamily romantic’ Ravi songs, this was the one I had in mind. Chaudhvin ka Chaand had excellent songs – the classic combination of Ravi’s music and Shakeel Badayuni’s lyrics produced gems like the heartbreaking Badle-badle mere sarkar and the comic-philosophical Yeh duniya gol hai. But this one, in Rafi’s gloriously soothing voice, is my favourite. It epitomises romance: soft, melodious music that lets the man’s voice take centrestage. Even the interludes are gentle, unobtrusive.
2. Zindagi ittefaq hai (Aadmi aur Insaan, 1969): This is the complete opposite of the very soft, lyrical Chaudhvin ka chaand ho. Asha Bhonsle is sultry, seductive and superb in this very Western tune by Ravi: lots of drums, guitars, and piano accordions – and while the interludes start off with a faintly Indian touch, the overall feel is of the West. Very smart, very stylish and swish.
3. Ae mere dil-e-naadaan (Tower House, 1962): I have a track record of watching films simply because of one song; Tower House is an example. I first heard Ae mere dil-e-naadaan when I was a child, and have ever since loved it so much, that I watched the film for it. The film (it’s a not-too-well-made suspense one) isn’t great, but this lovely song – an attempt to be hopeful in the face of despair – is worth it. Gentle, sweet music that allows Lata’s voice and Asad Bhopali’s lyrics to shine through.
(That, I realise, is one of Ravi’s strengths: he manages to mould his music to suit the mood brilliantly: where the lyrics need to be in the limelight, he composes soft music that doesn’t overpower the words).
4. Aa bhi jaa (Gumraah, 1963): Like Chaudhvin ka Chaand, Gumraah was another fantastic example of the genius of two great men – the composer Ravi, and this time the poet Sahir – at work. This film had some wonderful songs, of which this one is my personal favourite. I love the echo effect here, the way Mahendra Kapoor’s voice goes softer as his words ‘bounce off’ the surrounding mountains. I love the hauntingly soft beauty of the tune. I love the way it suddenly swells between stanzas. I love the way it becomes suspenseful – as if in time to each heartbeat – as Mala Sinha walks down the staircase. Unforgettable.
5. Aage bhi jaane na tu (Waqt, 1965): Yet another Ravi-Sahir collaboration, and a score from which it was very difficult to pick one song as my favourite. Waqt was chockfull of fabulous songs, from Hum jab simatke aapki baahon mein to Ae meri zohrajabeen to Kaun aaya ke nigaahon mein khanak – to this one. Like Zindagi ittefaq hai, Aage bhi jaane na tu has a definitely Western flavour to it, but here it’s in a relaxed, stylish way: the quintessential crooner song. Asha’s voice dominates, sweet yet never shrill, rising into a crescendo to a backdrop of guitars.
6. Yeh zulf agar khulke (Kaajal, 1965): One of the classic Hindi film ‘drinking’ songs, in which the inebriated man is melancholy rather than boisterous. Rafi’s slow, slightly slurred rendition is wonderful, and the way Ravi gives the song the traditional feel of a mujra – with the tablas that accompany the dancer, and the sound of the dancer’s ghungroos, forming the main music – is just right.
7. Rangeen bahaaron se hai gulzar China Town (China Town, 1962): Although Baar-baar dekho hazaar baar dekho was probably the most popular of the songs from China Town, this one is my favourite. Since it’s set in Calcutta’s China Town, Ravi gives this nightclub song an enchantingly Oriental flavour – combined with some Western flourishes. The music trips along charmingly, with occasional bursts on the sax.
(While surfing Youtube, I found this lovely performance – by the Shanghai National Music Orchestra, of traditional Chinese New Year music. I thought it showed more than a passing resemblance – in sonorous pipes, stringed instruments, etc – to Rangeen bahaaron se hai gulzar).
8. O babu o lala mausam dekho chala (Dilli ka Thug, 1958): Yes, this isn’t an absolute original. The original song was Rum and Coca-Cola. But this is my favourite example of a song that is inspired by another – and takes the song to a completely different level. Rum and Coca-Cola is relatively flat and repetitive; Ravi makes O babu o lala an infectiously peppy, yet sexy, number. Whoops, whistles, clapping, lots of lovely variations in the music (especially that harmonica!), and Geeta Dutt’s gorgeous voice make this my favourite club song, ever.
9. Jab chali thandi hawa (Do Badan, 1966): One of the loveliest ‘missing-you’ songs in classic Hindi cinema. There’s a delicacy, a pleasantness about this song that manages to combine yearning with the joy of springtime. Even if you don’t watch the song, it’s easy – from the music – to imagine the heroine’s sahelis frolicking about at a picnic, while the heroine herself sings sadly of the lover she misses so much.
10. Tum agar saath dene ka vaada karo (Humraaz, 1967): Ravi created two of his best scores to showcase the voice of Mahendra Kapoor. One was Gumraah. The other was Humraaz, which featured some of Mahendra Kapoor’s best songs: Neele gagan ke tale, Kisi patthar ki moorat se, Na moonh chhupaake jiyo—and this one.
The music here is sublime: for nearly a minute and a half at the beginning, there’s only very sweet, restrained music that trills and ripples beautifully. Then, even when Mahendra Kapoor begins singing, the music is simple, with the flute predominating. And I like the occasional ‘echoing’ chorus interspersed with his singing: the effect is lovely.