Meeting Ravindra Jain

Author: Dr. Mandar V. Bichu

Even if you have two equally crazy music-lover friends to help you find a famous person alighting from a dhow-cruise at Dubai Creek, the task becomes near impossible if you don't know the name of the boat and its position at the dock. At 11 pm, I learned this lesson. After cruising along the creek, the boats – at least 10 of them, had docked at the same time and an avalanche of contented, well-fed and noisy passengers descended from them making it practically impossible to locate the person we were eagerly looking forward to meet. Ravindra Jain, the composer of many popular soundtracks like Saudagar, Geeet Gaata Chal, Chitchor, Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se, Ram Teri Ganga Maili and Heena (and not to forget the mega-TV-serial Ramayan), was in Dubai and we (Kaustubh Pingle, Deepak Soni and myself) were there to meet him and hoping to nab him for a musical chat. After spending half an hour looking at every possible face remotely resembling the artist, we were about to dejectedly call it quits. The dock was now deserted barring three of us!

But the Gods were kind and Kaustubh somehow managed to locate the maestro, who was waiting for us in the car park! The night was young and we accompanied Jain's entourage to his hotel room. After spending more than one hour chatting animatedly about various musical things, we departed with a promise to meet him again the next day. As promised, the veteran composer met us over a burger lunch in the Dubai Mall food-court the next day. Overlooking the buzzing ice-rink, I managed to conduct a detailed interview with this colorfully attired composer wearing the white-rimmed dark glasses, which he practically wears 24/7 to cover his dysfunctional eyes. Jovial, smiling, always ready with a quip or a couplet to liven up the conversation and always eager to break into a song, Ravindra Jain proved to be an extremely interesting interviewee. Especially inspiring is his will-power and never-say-die positive attitude to achieve so many artistic laurels despite his visual handicap.
Here are the excerpts from our conversation
Tell us about your early years.
My father had migrated to Aligarh from a nearby small village. He was a Vaid – Ayurvedacharya. When I was born, both my eyes were tightly closed. Dr. Mohanlal – a famous eye doctor, was called for and he operated to open my eyes. He told my father that over the years, my sight was very weak and it was highly unlikely that I would be able to take the strain of reading for the studies. So I had my formal education only till the 5th Standard. But I had a strong curiosity to learn new things. I used to sit along with my elder brother Dr.D.K.Jain, who was a Doctor of Literature. As he studied from books in Hindi, Persian, English and French languages, I used to listen to him and absorb whatever I could.
My flair for writing started in school. There when we played Antakshari, I used to create my own songs when I did not know a song from a particular letter. Aligarh has a Ganga-Jamni culture where both Hindu and Muslim, Hindi and Urdu cultural influences are mixed and that also helped me to broaden my perspective.
I learned music from masters like Ghamandilal Jain, Janardan Sharma and Nathuram Sharma. Once I got my Sangeet Prabhakar degree, Nathuramji advised me to move on from Aligarh. I went to Kolkata and stayed with a Bengali family. My love for Rabindra sangeet started over there. In Kolkata, I taught music in schools, did music tuitions, sang and wrote for radio and even recorded my first song in Bengali in Arati-di's (Arati Mukherjee's) voice. There I met a Hindi film producer Radheshyam Jhunjhunwala, who promised to give me a break at an opportune time.
Tell us about your initial experiences in Hindi film industry.
Ravail-saab was making Mehboob Ki Mehendi and he wanted me to work as an assistant with Naushad-saab. But I refused the offer as I was not interested in working as an assistant and wanted to work independently. My first film as a composer was Nari Sippy's Silsila Hai Pyaar Ka but that got shelved. The first released film was Kaanch Aur Heera, where Rafi-saab sang 'Nazar Aatee Naheen Manzil'. The first film that brought me popularity was Chor Machaye Shor, which again was a Nari Sippy- film. I got that opportunity thanks to Sanjeev Kumar, who was my friend from Kolkata days. Sanjeev called me to Devlali where he was shooting for Paras and arranged a meeting with Sippy-saab.
Nari-saab had a peculiar habit. He would give me 10 rupees as a token money if he liked any of my tunes. 'Shyaam Teree Bansee' (from Geet Gaata Chal), 'Bedardee Tere Pyaar Ne' ( from Heena) and the title-song of Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se were some of the tunes he had originally reserved.
Are there any special memories about the Chor Machaye Shor- song 'Le Jaayenge Le Jaayenge'?
Sippy-saab told me to make a duet for the film. Shashi Kapoor was the film's hero. I made so many tunes but either Sippy-saab or Shashiji or the director kept rejecting all of them. Finally I was tired and wanted to give up. I told Sippy-saab that this is my final tune and if you don't like it, I am leaving the film. When I sang to him the tune with dummy lyrics, he immediately said- 'This is what we are looking for'! Till today the marriage-bands are playing that song. For what reasons, one particular song would click, no one knows!
Which artists influenced you in those formative years?
I used to love songs of Madan Mohan, Roshan and Burman-saab. Lataji's voice was another big influence and I always used to wonder whether I would ever get a chance to compose for her. Finally Radheshyamji provided me that first opportunity in a film called Lori where she sang for me the song – Jo dard diyaa tumne aankhon mein piro lenaa. Unfortunately that film was shelved and its songs never got released.
So how did Lataji agree to sing for a newcomer like you and how was your first interaction with her?
Lataji had earlier sang for Radheshyamji film Parichay and he told her that he was now giving a chance to a newcomer and would like her to sing for him. She agreed immediately. In those days, I was staying in Makani Manor, which is quite near Lataji's Prabhukunj residence on Pedder Road. Coincidentally Madanji's flat was also in Makani Manor!
After listening to my tune, Lataji asked me whether I had any classical training and I nodded. She was so happy with the song that she returned back 2000 rupees out of her 3000 rupees remuneration!
Lata's Teraa Meraa Saath Rahe from Saudagar is another special song.
We had got Lataji's recording date after a long wait and just before the recording, I received a cable informing me of my father's death. I discussed the situation with Rajkumar Barjatya. In those days, it wasn't going to be possible for me to reach in time in Aligarh to attend the funeral. So I decided to finish the recording and then go there! You can imagine in what mental status I was while doing that recording. But what a song it turned out to be! How beautifully she has sung that song!
It also proved to be a prophetic song in my personal life as I met with my future wife Divya at the time of Saudagar. She waited for eight years to marry me!
What are your thoughts on Lata?
We saw it in the last millennium and we are seeing it now in the new millennium that there is no replacement for Lataji. She had a God-given tonal quality, just like Rafi-saab had. Asha did not have that tonal quality- she improved her voice through practice. Practice can improve the singer's diction, throw of voice and breathing capacity but the inherent tonal quality is something one cannot change.
Lataji's voice has a pure, pious quality which is best suited for classical melodious songs. Unfortunately her relations with me always remained strained. Perhaps she felt that I was promoting newcomers like Hemlata and Arati Mukherjee. To be frank, I was always all for Lata but I was a new composer, my producers were small and we could not for a long time to get her dates, so I had rely on other singers. She could never really come to terms with that.
You have done many films with Rajshri Films.
From Saudagar to Vivah, I have done 20 films with Rajshri Films. With Barjatyas I share family-like relations. Rajkumarji is one of my biggest fans and has kept a complete list of all my released and unreleased songs!
Tell us your memories of Rafi-saab.
I had first met Rafi-saab in Kolkata in a program but that was in a crowded setting. He sang my first song for Sippy-saab's Silsila Hai Pyar Ka. Its refrain was 'Maaanaa Ki Tere Honth Meraa Jaam Naheen Hai'. Then he sang many songs like a qawwali in Lori and 'Tu hee Wo Haseen Hai' in Khwab.
From Pedder Road, later I had shifted to Bandra and Rafi-saab's house was close by. For rehearsals, many times he would come wearing a lungi! He was such a great singer but a very humble and simple person. He used speak very softly- he practically reserved all his energy for singing! I would like to say:
Nagme Mein Mere Kuchh Bhee Na Thaa 
Lekin Aye Rafi
Aawaaaz Ne Teree Use Heeraa Banaa Diyaa!
(My songs had nothing special in them but Rafi, your voice turned them into diamonds!)
What are your memories of Kishoreda?
The first song that he sang for me was 'Ghungaroo Kee Tarah Bajtaa Hee Rahaa Main', an unforgettable song which I always have to sing in any of my live shows. It brings to mind a poem:
Apne sangeet se patthar naheen pighale naa sahee
Baawraa main be hoon sangeet mein baiju kee tarah
Pehle main kehta thaa ab kehte hain log
Yeh wohee hai jo ghungroo kee tarah bajtaa rahaa!
Before this song, Kishoreda was just told that I was a young composer coming from Kolkata and I have made a Bangla-style tune. When he was requested to give me a listen, he said- 'No, I don't want to listen. Just tell him to schedule the recording!' On the day of the recording, he unexpectedly landed at 9 am in the studio of Bombay Labs. I told him – 'Kishoreda, I have not even arranged the orchestra musicians.' But he said, 'Don't worry, just sing to me the song's mukhda'! When I sang the mukhda, he was satisfied and said, 'Take your time. Now I will go only after recording your song'! He canceled the other recording and recorded this song. After this song, he never questioned me about any detail whenever I called him for my songs. He started calling me 'Rabindranath'!
Was there any other memorable experience of his eccentric behaviour?
Oh, yes! When we were recording the Fakira-duet 'Totaa Mainaa Kee Kahaanee', Kishoreda suddenly lay down on the floor and said that he felt sleepy and would sing only in that position. He even told the Famous Studio people to put off the lights! Lataji just kept laughing at his antics and I had a tough time convincing him to stand up and sing!
He was a gifted singer. He had a wacky sense of humour but all that madness was just for fun. He exactly knew how to deal with different people. He never interfered in any composer's work. For years, he was sidelined by the industry and perhaps he wanted to get back at some people. I have heard that once B.R. Chopra wanted him to sing a song and Kishoreda told him that he would only sing if Chopra danced on the table! Then for a patriotic song recording, he had apparently made the producer run to get the tricolor in the studio!
What were your experiences while working with Raj Kapoor?
I had first met Raj-ji in Aligarh when Sangam was released in the 60s. When I came to Bombay, I had meetings with him at Radheshyamji's place and then once at H.S.Ravail's place. I had composed the music of Do Jasoos, where Raj-ji had worked with Rajendra Kumar. That time, he (Raj Kapoor) passed all my songs in one sitting. Later I would keep calling him to ask for an opportunity in RK-films. He just replied that when the time comes, he himself likes to go to the doors of the Gunee Jan (Talented people).
In Delhi, I sang 'Ik Raadha Ik Meera' at a marriage Sangeet Party hosted by T.P. Jhunjhunwala. Raj-ji was there and he immediately gave me Savaa Rupaiya (Rs. 1.25/-). He said- 'Now this song is mine'! I had actually composed that song for Rajshri Films' Jeevan but I accepted his offer. Later he called me for his birthday party at Poona. The next day we were having tea in the afternoon and he said that he has a germ of an idea for a film. He told me a story of one Totapuri Maharaaj accusing Ramkrishna Paramhans – 'Ram Teri Ganga Maili'! He wanted to use that as a title-theme but he was worried that after making a film like Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, how he could now say to that the Ganga was Maili. So I replied him there and then- 'Ram Teri Ganga Maili Ho Gayi/ Paapiyon Ke Paap Dhote Dhote'! He was so happy that he literally touched my feet! He had got his idea for the film!
Was the tune of Sun Saaiba Sun suggested to you by Raj Kapoor?
Raj-ji did suggest to me the tune and words of the first line of the song. He had that mukhda in mind for many years. But the moment he sang to me: 'Sun saaiba sun pyaar kee dhun', I sang to him the next line: 'Maine tujhe chun liyaa too bhee mujhe chun'! Hasratji later completed the song. Barring that first line, the entire song was my composition.
Raj-ji used to compliment me: 'In you I have found Shankar-Jaikishan and Shailendra together!'
How was the experience of working for Heena?
While recording songs for Ram Teri Ganga Maili, we had also started working on music of Heena. During that time I once sang for Raj-ji a song that I had then composed for Ramayan. He was touched by that song but the next moment he turned to his wife and said, 'Now he won't be doing music for Heena!' I was shocked. One week later, his production-in-charge phoned me to leave for Kashmir. So I and my wife along with Raj-ji and Krishna-Bhabhi set off to Shrinagar. For next 25 days, he just took me along to various places in Kashmir. We were just enjoying ourselves, practically not doing any work. I had left all my other assignments pending in Bombay and was not understanding the logic behind all this touring exercise. When we came back to Bombay, I came to know that all that was just done to wipe off Ramayan from mind, so that I could think clearly about Heena's music! Tell me, who else would have gone to such lengths to ensure the best for his film's music?
We had recorded only three songs of Heena when Raj-ji was alive. They were 'Chitthiye', 'Der Naa Ho Jaaye' and another song which was later deleted. At that time, he was also thinking of making another film called Ghunghat Ke Pat Khol. Then he went to Delhi to receive Dadasaheb Phalke award and never returned! He had a foreboding. He had seemingly told Krishna-bhabhi that he was going as a passenger but would return as a cargo! When he was on his death-bed, I along with all his family members promised him that we would complete Heena. He was not able to talk but he just spoke with his eyes! Where can we find such men today? He was totally dedicated to his craft and much ahead of his times!
What was his method of working with a composer?
He would go to any length to keep his artist happy. Best food, best drinks, best hotels – he never bothered about expenses over his artists. He never showed any haughtiness and was very respectful. He was very clear-headed about what he wanted. He explained the song-situations in detail. He would say- 'If you want more musicians, take them. If necessary I would even break down the Famous Studio walls to accommodate them. But use only the number of musicians that you actually require. Not one more, not one less!'
The arrangements for your RTGM-songs like 'Tujhe Bulaaye Yeh Meri Baahein' are so brilliant. How do you arrange for your tunes?
Every song has a soul – according to its raga, its structure, its emotions. The orchestra arrangements should match that soul. The composer knows that, the arranger may not fully understand it. I do all my music arrangements myself including the preludes, interludes, harmony chords and notations. Today's song- arrangements are just looking for sound, not for soul!
On which raga is 'Saathi Re Bhool Naa Jaanaa Meraa Pyaar' based?
It is based on Maarvaa raga and a bit of Bhairav raga. I had made it for Hrishikesh Mukherjee's film Kotwal Saab. Ashaji sang the song after rehearsing it for two-three days. I had okayed her first take itself but she insisted on giving one more take.
Ustad Amir Khan wanted to sing this song. He wanted to sing it with Lata!
How did you discover singers like Yesudas, Suresh Wadkar, Jaspal Singh and Hemlata?
When I was thinking about a new voice for Chitchor, Basu Bhattacharya made me listen to some Sanskrit shlok recited by Yesudas. I was impressed with him straightaway. Such a melodious and classically trained voice! I came across Suresh Wadkar while judging for a music competition and gave him a chance in Paheli. Jaspal Singh was a lawyer by profession. Actually the actor Sachin was supposed to sing his own songs in Geet Gaata Chal but then we thought otherwise. Somebody suggested me Jaspal's name and when I took his trial, I really liked his voice.
I met with Hemlata in Kolkata in the 60s when she was just a young girl. I remember that when I had gone to her place, she was woken up from her sleep and sang Lata- Madanji's 'Meree Aankhon Se Koee Neend Liye Jaaataaa Hai'. She came to Bombay before me and had sung a few songs of mine in front of maestros like Roshan and Naushad. In fact, Mukeshji's Saathi- song 'Jo Chalaa Gayaa Use Bhool Jaa' (composed by Naushad) was inspired by my tune!
Is there any special memory associated with the song 'Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se'?
Sippy -saab was making a film called Ghar and I had made this tune for that movie. The director did not like it and felt that it was too slow. The next day, I sang the same tune to Rajkumar Barjatya, who liked both the tune and the lyrics. He even decided that the film's title should be 'Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se'. Soon after that I received a call from Sippy-saab who said that he had discussed the matter with his director and now he wanted the same tune for their movie! Now how could I take the tune back again from Rajshri? That was not possible. That led to a great dilemma and a bit of bitterness, too!
One thing I have been wondering all these years is how did you cope up with your visual disability? Did it not hamper your work in the film industry?
If you are able to give what they want, the industry people won't bother about anything. So in the industry, I did not face any big problems because of my visual handicap. Personally I obviously face some difficulties. But I have always tried to count my blessings and not focus on my minus points. Being blind, I have been able to concentrate better, get involved in my work better. You should never let these problems get the better of you. You should never give up in life. I would like to recite a poem in this regard:
Tan ke hisse mein sirf do aankhein hain
Man kee aankhein hazaar hotee hain
Tan kee aankhein so bhee jaatee hain
Man kee aankhein kabhee na sotee hain
Chaand suraj ke hain jo mohtaaj
Bheekh naa maango un ujaalon se
Band aankhon se woh kaam karo
Aankh khul jaaye aankhwaaalon kee
Hain andhere bahut sitaare bano
Doosron ke liye kinaare bano
Hain zamaane mein besahaare bahut
Tum sahaare naa lo sahaare bano!
I think I have followed the same philosophy in life.
What are your new projects?

I am planning to release some of my unreleased film-songs on a CD. In that album, there will be songs from Rafi-saab, Lataji, Mukeshji, Talat-saab, Ashaji, Kishoreda and other singers. I have also translated the Islamic scriptures of Quran-E- Shareef in Hindi and that will be released in audio and book formats.
In Bhopal and Delhi, I have started music institutes (Ravindra Jain Academy Of Music and Fine Arts) to groom new talents and even in Bombay, at my home, I train talented singers. I feel it is my duty to hand over the legacy of Indian melody to the new generation.