Electrician-turned-music maker who used only Indian instruments for soulful melodies

March 3, 2024
Music director Ravi, to whom we owe this melody, revealed the tune came to him as he was returning home from work and it took him "just 5 to 7 minutes" to refine it.

It is one of Hindi films’ most cherished and eternal romantic songs, featuring the urbane Guru Dutt and the ethereal Waheeda Rehman, but the dream-like music for “Chaudhvin Ka Chand Ho” was scored by its composer within 10 minutes and its opening lyrics took even lesser time. Music director Ravi, to whom we owe this melody, revealed the tune came to him as he was returning home from work and it took him “just 5 to 7 minutes” to refine it.

Stopping there, he called up lyricist Shakeel Badayuni and recited “Chaudvin ka chand ho…”. In a minute, Shakeel responded with “Ya aftaab ho…” and after another couple of minutes, added “Jo bhi ho tum khuda ki kasam, laajawab ho”.

“Chaudvin ka Chand” (1960) proved to be a pace-setter for Ravi, who was born in Delhi on this day (March 3) in 1926, for it established his reputation, and he went on to score for many other top movies in the 1960s, especially those made by B.R. Chopra.

It is incredible how many of his songs permeate Indian popular culture – be it children’s lullabies such as “Chandamama door ke” or “Chal mere ghode”, birthday songs like “Ham bhi agar bachche hote”, and the evergreen “Mera yaar bana hai dulha” and “Aaj mere yaar ki shaadi hai”, celebrating the Big Fat Indian Wedding.

It is not bad for a self-taught musician, whose foray into (the then) Bombay had him spend the night at railway station platforms and subsist by repairing household electrical appliances.

Ravi Shankar Sharma, or Ravi as he became known in his film career, was interested in music but received no formal training in it and picked up its nuances from hearing his father sing bhajans.

He worked as an electrician in the Posts and Telegraph Department in New Delhi from 1945 to 1950 and occasionally sang on AIR, before moving to Bombay in 1950. Waiting for a break, he revealed he used to clean ceiling fans at Rs 2 per piece and repaired the electrical appliances of his creditors.

He did not have to wait long, however, as S.D. Burman selected him for the chorus for a song in “Naujawan” (1951) and then, Hemant Kumar first used him in the chorus of the iconic “Vande Mataram” in “Ananda Math” (1952), and then, made him his assistant.

Ravi helped Hemant Kumar in films like “Shart”, “Jagriti”, and above all, “Nagin” (all 1954) – where he later disclosed how the iconic ‘been’ music in “Man dole mera tan dola” was derived from the already recorded “Mera dil yeh pukare aaja”.

His first independent work was the film “Vachan” (1955) – where he also wrote lyrics for “Chandamama door ke” and sang a duet with Asha Bhosle (“Yun hi chupke chupke”).

He would go on to give Asha Bhosle a prominent place in playback with songs ranging from the playful “C A T cat, cat maane billii” (“Dilli ka Thug”, 1958) to the wistfully romantic “Jab chali thandi hawa” (“Do Badan”), to the entrancingly philosophical “Aage bhi na jaane tu” (“Waqt”).

Ravi also helped Mahendra Kapoor evolve from yet another Mohammed Rafi clone, and set Shammi Kapoor on his rollicking career with songs like “Baar baar dekho” (“China Town”, 1962).

Some of Ravi’s best-known works include “Ae meri zohra jabeen”, influenced by an Afghan folk song, and other tracks of “Waqt”, “Na munh chhupa ke jiyo”, and “Tum agar saath dene ka vada karo” from “Hamraaz”, and the Arabian-themed “Ghairon pe karam” in the spy flick “Aankhen” (1968), and there are many more evergreen songs to his name from his 100-odd films,

Take the pensive “Chalo ik baar phir se, ajanabi ban jaaye” (“Gumrah”), the comforting “Ae mere dil-e-naadan, tu gham se na ghabrana” (“Tower House”, 1962), the sensuous “Chhu lene do naazuk honthon ko” (“Kaajal”, 1965), the philosophical “Sansar ki har shai ka itna hi fasaana hai” (‘Dhund”, 1973), the poetic lament “Garibon ki suno” (“Dus Lakh”, 1965), and the playful “Tum jis pe nazar dalo” (“Yeh Rastey Hain Pyar Ke”, 1963),

True to his early days when he would hear his father’s bhajans, Ravi is also known for “Jai Raghunandan Jai Siyaram” (“Gharana”, 1961) and “Badi der bhayi Nandlala” (“Khandaan”, 1965).

What distinguished Ravi’s music was its simultaneous simplicity, smoothness yet profundity and how it never drowned the singer’s voice. Also, he never used western musical instruments, confining himself to the santoor, sitar, shehnai, and others.

He only worked sporadically in the 1970s before making his comeback with “Nikaah” (1982) and then reinvented himself, as a music composer for Malayalam films, ostensibly at the urging of singer Hariharan. As ‘Bombay Ravi’, he did some 15-odd films between 1986 and 2005, of which at least 10 were super hits.

Ravi spent his last years in peaceful retirement before passing away a few days after turning 86 in 2012.

–By Vikas Datta

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