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12 January 2021

The Masters: C Ramchandra


C Ramchandra. Or to give him his full name, Ramchandra Narhar Chitalkar was born on January 12th 1918 and died on January 5th 1982. It seemed apt then to do a post on the composer this month. Born in a small town named Puntambe in Maharashtra, Ramchandra was fascinated by films early on. In fact, he wanted to try his luck as an actor, and even acted as the hero in a film called Nagananda (1935). The film was never released. Bit roles in indifferent films followed, but the young lad never quite made it big.

But young Ramchandra had been musically trained. According to an interview that he gave in the 60s, his first guru was Sri Shankar Rao Sapre, a classical musician, under whom he learnt classical music for six years. It would stand him in good stead later, when upon pleading for a job, any job, Sohrab Modi would employ him in the music department at Minerva Movietone. From running errands for the music director and musicians, he soon progressed to becoming the assistant of music director Mir Saheb, assisting him on several of Modi’s films – Meetha Zehar, Pukar, Jailor, etc. 

CR with Bhagwan (Picture Credit: Film History Pics

It was here that he also became acquainted with actor Bhagwan, who gave him his first break as an independent music director in a Tamil film that he was directing – Jayakodi (1939). Then he signed Ramachandra for his next film, also in Tamil, called Vanamohini (1941). By now, the two were close friends, and when Bhagwan decided to make Sukhi Jeevan (1942) in Hindi, it was taken for granted that ‘Ramchandra Chitalkar’ would score the music for the film. While the film only did average business, the music was appreciated, and Ramchandra had his foot in the door in the Hindi film industry as well. Bhagwan and he would collaborate professionally on a further 15 films.

It was producer Jayant Desai who christened him ‘C Ramchandra’, a name under which he established himself in Hindi. His collaboration with Desai lasted for two years and five films. A falling out with Desai ended that partnership, but C Ramchandra (CR) continued to compose for Bhagwan’s productions. He also composed for a few stunt films under the pseudonym ‘Anna Saheb’ – a nickname bestowed upon him during his sojourn down south.

Success wasn’t too far behind – the young composer was fast making a name for himself for the wide variety of songs he was composing. He was also making a name as a singer of note - singing under the name 'Chitalkar'. 

CR was insistent on the lyrics being written before he began composing, preferring to compose a melody according to the metre of the verses. He formed a lasting collaboration with several lyricists; in fact, it was one of them, Kavi Pradeep, who introduced him to S Mukherji, and the collaboration with Filmistan Studios would prove very lucrative for the ambitious composer.

Shehnai (1947) was the first Filmistan production that CR would score for – it would prove to be a turning point in the composer’s career. It was also the beginning of what would be a long and productive collaboration – that with Lata Mangeshkar, whom he considered his muse.

Today, on what would be his 102nd birth anniversary, a collection of my (and my husband’s) favourite CR songs.

Tum kya jano tumhari yaad mein 
Shin Shinaki Babla Boo (1952)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: PL Santoshi 

CR was known for his decidedly westernised tunes, but this one from Shin Shinaki Babla Boo is a wistful, plaintive ballad penned by director-producer-lyricist, PL Santoshi. There’s a deep sadness that underlies Lata’s voice as it skims lightly and effortlessly over the notes. I don’t know if the picturisation would have done justice to this melody, but it touches a chord deep within me.  

Kaat-te hain dukh mein ye din
Parchhaiin (1952)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Noor Lucknowi 

My initial pick from Parchhain was Talat Mahmood’s smoky vocals crooning Mohabbat hi na jo samjhe, but my husband picked this song from the film. The song begins with a long prelude, almost a minute and a half before Lata’s voice begins, softly, quietly. It’s a beautiful melody with minimal instrumentation while Lata is singing, CR reserving the music for the interludes. (I must confess, though, that the picturisation made me laugh.)

Kitna haseen hai mausam
Azaad (1955)
Singers: Chitalkar, Lata Mangeshkar 
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan

The first two songs on this list have been my husband’s picks, but this was on my original list of ‘Favourite CR songs’ that I listed, let’s see, around 7 years ago. When I mentioned it to my husband who was helping me with the songs on this list, he grinned and said, Kitna haseen hai mausam, kitna haseen safar hai, Saathi hai khubsoorat, aur Meena Kumari hai. ‘nuff said. And so we finally agreed on one song.

Azaad fell into CR’s lap because Naushad was aghast at the producers’ temerity in wanting him to compose the songs within a month. CR agreed to the deadline, with one proviso – he would be paid a rupee more than what they were offering Naushad. Perhaps the challenge excited him. Perhaps he had a point to prove. Whatever be the reason, CR composed all 10 songs and had them recorded in a month. What’s more, when Talat, whom he had signed for this song had a scheduling conflict, CR stepped in, modulating his voice to sound exactly like Talat.

I love all the songs of Azaad, from Radha na bole na bole na bole re to Jaa ri jaa ri o kaari badariya to Aplam chaplam, but this lilting melody is one of my favourite songs.

Aana meri jaan meri jaan
Shehnai (1947)
Singers: Chitalkar, Lalita Deulkar, Amirbai Karnataki (Shamshad Begum, Meena Kapoor)
Lyrics: PL Santoshi

Another film that ‘accidentally’ fell into CR’s lap. The film was originally offered to Ghulam Haider, who was too busy then to take up the offer. So we got a soundtrack that was youthful, and straddled a variety of genres with ease. This song, as CR himself admitted, was inspired by a Goan folk song called Majhya ektyachi. Interestingly, while the record credits the song to Shamshad Begum, Meena Kapoor and Chitalkar, the film version credits Chitalkar, Lalita Deulkar and Amirbai Karnataki. Considering the period, the sounds are very contemporary. (In the 90s, there was an ad on Doordarshan that used this song to encourage people to eat more eggs.)

Taaron ke zubaan par
Nausherwan-e-Adil (1957)
Singers: Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Parvez Shamsi

I’d initially heard Taaron ke zubaan par over the radio when I was a child. Then, many years later, I watched the song on Chhayaageet or Chitrahaar. (Truth to tell, I have completely forgotten the story of Nausherwan-e-adil.) Parvez Shamsi pens a quintessential love ballad with the lovers extolling the ambience, the stars, the moon and their love for each other. The song ends with a lovely piece of music that continues even as the voices fade away.

Nastik (1954)
Singer: Kavi Pradeep
Lyrics: Kavi Pradeep 

My husband’s choice. 'Why?' I asked him? 'Because I'm a naastik,' he said. I didn’t quibble too much since this was on my list as well. Moreover, it seems particularly apt for these times, as the world deals with the rise of authoritarianism and the forces of divisiveness. A seething critique of religion, Kavi Pradeep, who doubled as both lyricist and singer, poured his soul into the lyrics and the singing.

Nirala (1950)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: PL Santoshi

Another ghazal from CR (though a ghazal depends on the metre and has nothing to do with its music). I’ve always loved this song, and it is one of Lata’s great solos. The film was a sorry mess, with Madhubala playing Poonam, a village belle in love with a foreign-educated Dr Anand (Dev) but forced to marry a thrice-widowed man old enough to be her father instead. Strangely enough, the leading man (a very young Dev Anand) didn’t have a single song in the film.

Albela (1950)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar, Chitalkar
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan 

Here’s the ‘typical’ CR song, a song that’s gained a cult status over the decades. Albela had a dozen songs, each one of them a staggering hit, as was the movie, including Shaam dhale khidki tale, Dheere se aaja re akhiyan mein, Bholi soorat dil ke khote, Qismet kihawa kabhi naram. By now, Bhagwan and CR had formed an unbeatable team, but Albela was their tour de force.

Shola jo bhadke is a lovely melody, one that really sets your foot tapping. Chitalkar sang the bulk of the songs (Rafi stepped in for a duet), and here, with Lata, there’s a joie de vivre that’s infectious. It is the quintessential picnic or party song.

Anarkali (1953)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan 

Like for Azaad, CR came late to the table. Composer Basant Prakash (Khemchand Prakash’s younger brother, was the original composer, but ill-health forced him to leave the project midway. Then, Hemant Kumar took over, but for reasons unknown, he too stepped aside. But film lore also has it that the film had been offered to CR first, and because he couldn’t find the dates, it was offered to Basant Prakash. Ultimately, however, it was CR who composed the score, proving that daane daane pe likha hai khaane waale ka naam is perhaps not just an idiom. Anarkali was indeed a career-defining score.

I must confess to a sneaking preference for Ye zindagi usi ki hai and O aasmaan waale, but I love all the songs in this film, and Mohabbat mein aise qadam dagmagaaye is my husband’s pick. And Lata, who sang all the (female) songs (except the Basant Prakash-composed Ae jaan-e-wafa) brought alive Anarkali’s joy and anguish.
Samadhi (1950)
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Amirbai Karnataka
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan

A gender-reversal song of sorts with the girls teasing the boys, this Lata-Amirbai duet has become another cult favourite over the decades. It’s another infectious, foot-tapping number picturised on a pair of lady spies (Nalini Jaywant and Kuldip Kaur) in this film that focused on the activities of the Indian National Army during the British occupation of India. 

CR was definitely ‘inspired’ by the Latin-American beats of Edmundo Ros’s Chico-chico, but I have to confess that I have (almost) always preferred the Indian composers’ arrangements in 'inspired' songs to that of the originals. (There's also a Carmen Miranda version of the song.)

Mere man ka baawra panchhi
Amardeep (1958)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan

Amardeep was a wreck of a film, and when Dev comes off as a thespian compared to the heroines, you can guess how bad it was. The heroines outdid each other in the hamming stakes. When I add that Dev lost his memory, not once but twice, each time forgetting one of the two women he loves (not the same one each time), perhaps you can understand what I'm getting at. But, Dev is just eye candy – the film belongs to its two heroines.

CR gamely soldiered on, though I doubt the film inspired him. But this Lata solo has always been a favourite.

Sargam (1950) 
Singers: Chitalkar, Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: PL Santoshi

PL Santoshi wore a number of hats and delighted in telling convoluted stories – the more the members of cast, the merrier. While the film was nothing to write home about, and Rehana is by no means a great actress, Raj Kapoor was delightful in a film that had the potential to be a comedy of errors (but faltered along the way).

 But CR composed a lovely bouquet of songs for the film, and though Barsaat, coming the year before had established Mukesh as Raj Kapoor’s ‘voice’, Chitalkar playbacked for him in this lovely duet with Lata Mangeshkar. If I were to ever post a list of my favourite Lata-Chitalkar duets, this song would be somewhere on the top of the list.

 Eena meena deeka
Asha (1957)
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishen
Not one of my favourite songs, because I ‘saw’ it first before I heard it and Kishore Kumar’s on-screen antics are unbearable. However, over the years, just listening to it, I’ve come to appreciate the song much more than I did before. The song is reprised in the film (the other version being sung by Asha Bhosle), but as in a lot of male/female versions of a song, here, too, I prefer Kishore’s rendition. He brings the requisite lunacy to the nonsense lyrics, his vocal calisthenics complementing the rollicking melody that CR composed. Like Vyjayanthimala in the film, one can’t help but want to get up and dance.
Navrang (1959)
Singers: Manna Dey, Asha Bhosle
Lyrics: Bharat Vyas

CR was past master at making successful albums, not just hit songs. Like Albela, Anarkali, Sagaai, Sargam, etc., Navrang, too, had a score that was absolutely inspired, including Aadha hai chandramaraat aadhi, Arre ja re hat natkhat, Kaari kaari andhiyaari thi raat, Shyamal shyamal baran and Ye maati sabhi ki kahani kahegi. And above all, this song – Tu chhupii hai kahaan – which I like as much for its melody with its long stretches of instrumentation, as for the picturisation, with its fabulously imaginative sets. (Everything except Sandhya and her costume/make-up.) But apart from all that, it’s Bharat Vyas’s lyrics – its plaintive search for a lost love, the desperation of a man who’s lost his muse, and with a burst of sheer joy when the lover returns, that makes it extra special. This is one of Manna Dey’s finest duets, and Asha matches both his vocal skill as well as the song's emotional beats – it’s a song that strikes a chord deep within me, and will always be there nestling along the top few songs among the hundred or so that constitute my eternal favourites.

Sharda (1957)
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan 

One of the handful of Lata-Asha duets, I’ve always had a soft spot for this song. My husband promptly seconded my choice – it’s picturised on Meena Kumari (and Shyama, but that’s besides the point). While the moon as a messenger is a common enough trope in old-fashioned love stories, lyricist Rajinder Krishan spun magic for both heroines – one maiden is exhorting the moon to stay with her beloved, illuminating his path; the other, is simply pining away for him, and wants the moon to tell him how much she misses him. Love has many different shades.

Vanjikkottai Valiban (1958)
Singers: P Leela, Jikki
Lyrics: Kothamangalam Subbu 

And finally, as a bonus, a song that has made CR’s a household name in Tamil Nadu – it’s as much a triumph of melody as it is one of the best 'dance-off' sequences in Indian films, a competition between Padmini and Vyjanthimala. The film, Vanjikkottai Valiban was remade in Hindi as Raj Tilak, with the actors reprising their roles, and CR composing the music for the Hindi version as well.

Which of C Ramchandra's compositions would you pick? Tell me in the comments below.

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