…specifically, songs which he composed, not just songs he sang (since C Ramachandra also lent his voice to some of his best songs).
Chitalkar Ramachandra was born 97 years ago—on January 12, 1918, in the town of Puntamba in Maharashtra. Although he’d studied music, it was as an actor that C Ramachandra joined the film industry—he debuted in a lead role in a film called Nagananda. This didn’t continue for long, though; he eventually shifted to composing songs, first for Tamil cinema, and then for Hindi. And he came like a breath of fresh air to Hindi film music: in a period dominated by classical tunes composed by the likes of Naushad, Anil Biswas and Pankaj Mullick, C Ramachandra had the guts to bring in music with distinctly Western rhythms, what with hits like Aana meri jaan Sunday ke Sunday and Mere piya gaye Rangoon. And he was brilliantly versatile: as the following selection will (hopefully) show, he could compose just about everything from peppy club songs to lullabies to ghazals (if one can expect a particular style of music for a ghazal) and lilting love songs.
Therefore, without further ado, a list of ten of my favourite C Ramachandra songs. These are all from pre-70s films that I’ve seen, and no two songs are from the same film (yes, that was a toughie, because there are several instances of C Ramachandra scores where almost every song was a gem). In no particular order
1. Jaag dard-e-ishq jaag (Anarkali, 1953): To begin with, a song that most people would not associate with C Ramachandra: a song with a distinctly classical bent to it, probably something one would expect of a Naushad (or a Madan Mohan?) But Jaag dard-e-ishq jaag is C Ramachandra’s music, and how beautifully restrained it is. I love the way Hemant’s and Lata’s voices are allowed to take centrestage, and the instrumentation is kept pretty much in the background.
Incidentally, one of my earliest memories of trying to sing (thankfully at home, not anywhere public) is of Jaag dard-e-ishq jaag. By the time I was about 12, this was one of my favourite songs. It sounded (as I realized later, deceptively) simple, so I tried to sing it—and failed miserably. Because the voices, especially Lata’s, go from very low to very high. I ended up growling one moment and shrieking the next. I still can’t manage it. Full marks to Lata for pulling it off, and full marks too to C Ramachandra for composing it that way.
2. Taaron ki zubaan par hai mohabbat ki kahaani (Nausherwan-e-Aadil, 1957): Long before I’d ever watched this film (or even knew heard of C Ramachandra), I’d seen Taaron ki zubaan par hai mohabbat ki kahaani on Chitrahaar, and had fallen in love with it. This is one of those fairly predictable love songs as far as elements are concerned: a beautiful night, the stars, the moon, the two lovers singing of their love as they go out in a boat. C Ramachandra’s music is very sweet and melodious—and, interestingly, while it seems that each verse is going to play out the same way as the previous one, there’s an unexpected twist midway through the song, with the tune taking a lovely little diversion before going back to the refrain.
3. Gore-gore o baanke chhore (Samadhi, 1950): This was a song that gave me a hard time. I wanted very much to include it in my list simply because it’s such a delightfully peppy song—so essential C Ramachandra. On the other hand, it’s also not an original song (the original was Edmundo Ros’s Chico-chico, released in 1945). Eventually, my love for Gore-gore o baanke chhore won: it’s so infectious, so lively and charming. The two voices—Lata singing playback for Nalini Jaywant while Ameerbai Karnataki sings for Kuldeep Kaur, who acts as Nalini Jaywant’s sister and fellow spy in this INA-centric patriotic film—blend together perfectly. And, while the song is an easily recognizable copy of Chico-chico, there are little details that are new and unique to the Hindi song, too.
4. Kitna haseen hai mausam (Azaad, 1955): The score for Azaad is one of C Ramachandra’s best, with songs like Radha na bole na bole and Aplam chaplam chaplai re—and this one, a beautifully romantic duet. The best part of Azaad’s music is that it’s a brilliant example of the man’s legendary speed at composing. C Ramachandra hadn’t been director SM Naidu’s first choice: that had been Naushad. But SM Naidu could offer only two weeks for the composer to create the score, and Naushad flatly refused. It was then offered to C Ramachandra, who composed ten songs for Azaad in that seemingly impossible period of a mere two weeks.
Of those songs, this one’s my favourite. It was initially supposed to have been sung by Talat (one of C Ramachandra’s favourite singers), but since Talat couldn’t find time for the recording, C Ramachandra stepped in and sang (and in a voice so reminiscent of Talat’s, I actually used to think, till some years back, that it was Talat. Lilting, lovely music with more than a hint of the Middle East in it.
5. Shola jo bhadke dil mera dhadke (Albela, 1951): Another song sung by C Ramachandra himself (as a singer, he used to go by the name ‘Chitalkar’). And this, from another film known for one great song after another, all the way from Shaam dhale khidki tale to the lullaby Dheere se aaja re akhiyan mein. (The latter, incidentally, has also gone down in legend as an example of C Ramachandra’s speed as a composer: according to Ganesh Anantharaman (in Bollywood Melodies), C Ramachandra received the lyrics for Dheere se aaja re akhiyan mein at 4 PM for a recording scheduled at 6 PM. He composed the tune in the car on his way to the recording studio).
While that’s impressive, and I like the song, Shola jo bhadke is the defining song from Albela for me. Frothy and playful, romantic and seductive, this one’s such a fabulously infectious combination of musical instruments, the solo voices, the chorus, and clapping, my feet start tapping of their own accord every time I hear it.
6. Dil lagaakar hum yeh samjhe (Zindagi Aur Maut, 1965): C Ramachandra was sadly underrated, and perhaps one reason for that is that some of his best songs were for films very few people have even heard of. NA Ansari’s B-grade, extremely convoluted spy flick Zindagi Aur Maut, for example, is an imminently forgettable film—except for Dil lagaakar hum yeh samjhe. This song appears in the film in two avatars: once in a female version (a sad one) and once here: a softly romantic male version sung by Mahendra Kapoor. While the female version is also good, I prefer this one: there’s something very soothing and dreamy about it.
7. Eena meena deeka (Aasha, 1957): Like Dil lagaakar hum yeh samjhe, another song which had two versions—a male one and a female one, though in the case of Eena meena deeka, both songs were similar in tone: peppy and light-hearted. I’m choosing the Kishore Kumar version because I prefer it just that little bit to the Asha Bhonsle one: more madcap, more an embodiment of total nuttiness (Kishore, after all!)
But we’re talking about the music here, and I think C Ramachandra’s virtuosity as a composer of Western-oriented songs shines through here. Listen to the occasional flourishes, of wind instruments, of piano (towards the end). Note the sudden, momentary silences that act as a prelude to a flourish. Note the rhythmic clapping, the foot-tapping beats. This is one of those songs I can’t listen to without wanting to get up and dance.
8. Main jaagoon saari rain (Bahurani, 1963): My first instinct was to choose Umr hui tumse mile from Bahurani—a fairly ‘typical’ C Ramachandra tune (if one still insists, even after listening to some pretty atypical songs, that there was something typical about his music). Umr hui tumse mile is a sweet, frothy little song, but I finally chose this: a suhaag raat song with a difference, a lullaby with a difference. A new bride, married to a man she has never even met, realizes that her new husband has the mind of a child. Her attempt to be a ‘mother’, to lull him to sleep, finally gives way to despair, revealing her anguish and disappointment.
I love the gentleness of the music here, the way it allows the words to stand forth. Even when the music swells, it never gets intrusive.
9. Aa dil se dil mila le (Navrang, 1958): Navrang was one of those occasional films (with, invariably, a singer, poet or dancer as a protagonist) that have a fairly basic and uncluttered storyline, whose main purpose is to showcase lots of songs. Here, with Sandhya acting the dancing muse to Mahipal’s poet, there were songs galore—including the extremely popular Aadha hai chandrama raat aadhi, the defiant Toh maati sabhi ki kahaani kahegi, and the Holi song Arre jaa re hatt natkhat.
More than any of those, however, I choose Aa dil se dil mila le. This song—picturised on Vandana Karmarkar (and, interestingly, sung by Asha Bhonsle in a somewhat nasal voice quite different from her own, but well-suited to Vandana Karmarkar’s)—seems straightforward at first, but gets more complex and nuanced as it progresses, Asha’s voice rising to a crescendo, tapering off, rising again. And with only a very few instruments to support it. A brilliant composition, and a rendition to match.
10. Gagan jhanjhana raha (Nastik, 1954): Like Navrang and Aadha hai chandrama raat aadhi, so it is with Nastik and Dekh tere sansaar ki haalat kya ho gayi bhagwaan: both songs tend to eclipse all the other songs in their respective films. Here, too, I choose a song that is comparatively little-known, but is a beautiful song nevertheless. Gagan jhanjhana raha, sung by Hemant (whose voice, nasal and deep and mellifluous, seems so perfectly suited to this song of a storm) and Lata. And supported by a chorus which comes in now and then, the ‘music’ of thunder, the occasional—and superbly timed—clang of a temple bell. One of those great songs which incorporate everyday sounds in their music.