C. Ramchandra - Remembering The Magic

Author: Dr. Mandar V. Bichu

“Some make it, others don't. He was in the former category. Unfortunately his success story was cut short by circumstances and the fame and glory slowly faded away. Today his contribution is all but forgotten but the history will never fail to recognize its significance.”

This could be the perfect epitaph for many a talented artiste - most certainly for the man called C.Ramchandra.

When a railway worker Narhari Chitalkar living in Puntambe - a small town in Maharashtra - got a son on 12th January 1918 and named him Ramchandra, little did he know that his son would never be called by the plain and simple name 'R.N. Chitalkar'! From the early age young Ramchandra was fascinated by music and drama. He left for Kolhapur after leaving the school in ninth standard and tried his hand at acting. At the age of seventeen he bagged a hero's role in 'Naganand'- a film which bombed heavily at the box-office. After this early setback he moved on to Bombay. His training in classical music from Shankarrao Sapre came in handy to bag a job as a music assistant in Minerva Movietone where he started working with the then leading music directors Mir Sahib and Bundu Khan.

Bhagwan - a leading comedian and film maker of that era - spotted Ramchandra's musical talent and offered him his film 'Sukhi Jeevan' as a composer. That year was 1942. At the age of twenty four a glittering career was about to begin. The promise turned into reality with hit soundtracks like 'Lalkar', 'Safar', 'Samrat Chandragupta' and 'Bhaktaraj'. It was during the making of 'Bhaktaraj' he was re-christened 'C.Ramchandra' by the film's producer Jayant Desai. This screen name was to stick permanently. Only when he would sing his own songs the records labeled him as Chitalkar. So as a composer he was C.Ramchandra, as a singer he was Chitalkar and to the near and dear ones he was simply Anna!

The first spark of his talent was in 'Shehnai'(1947) where he literally rock 'n rolled the film music by that immortal trail blazer Meri jaan, meri jaan Sunday ke Sunday aana. The echoes of this song sung by himself along with Shamshad Beghum can be heard till today through that egg- ad jingle 'Sunday ko unde khaana'! In a way he can be credited (and discredited!) for the entry of Western Music into Hindi film music. But I am sure he wouldn't have dreamt in his worst nightmares that the funny genie released by him would turn into a demon devouring the very Indian core of Hindi film music!

The fifties saw him emerge as one of the leading lights of Hindi film music. His music in 'Nastik','Shagufa', 'Yasmin', 'Shinshinaki bublaboo', 'Parchhai' and 'Yasmin' is still remembered fondly by nostalgic music lovers. But for the common listeners his introduction is through his more popular soundtracks - 'Anarkali', 'Albela', 'Aazad' and 'Navrang'.

His music had a superb blend of melody and rhythm.  Exceptional use of piano, violins, tabla, dholak and khanjiri gave unique freshness and liveliness to his tunes. If Kishore's Ina mina dika and Asha's Mister John o Baba Khan showed his trendiness then Talat's Mohabbat hi na jo samajhe or Rafi's Yeh hasrat thi vouched for his mastery over emotional stuff.  But his musical association with Lata Mangeshkar was something really special. Their songs are in a league of their own. Take Mohabbat aisi dhadkan hai, Radha na bole re, Dheere se aaja ri ankhiyan mein or Kaise Aaoon Jamuna ke teer, the terrific chemistry that they shared is all too apparent!

Even today's audiences go ga-ga over 'Albela’s Lata - Chitalkar duets Shaam dhale khidki tale and Bholi surat dil ke khotey. Over all these years theatre screens showing these songs have never failed to be showered with coins thrown by the frenzied fans. The jazzy rhythm of this Bholi surat was played by a toilet- cleaner on a tin pot. Can you believe it?

He did many such unbelievable things - like adapting from a Marathi naatya- geet the evergreen 'Anarkali' classic Yeh zindaghi usiki hai, using the madhyam from an Islamic qawwali to create that bewitching beauty Dil ki duniya basa ke saawariya and composing the entire soundtrack of 'Azaad' studded with stunning songs like Jaari jaari o kaari badariya, Kitni jawan hai raat and Aplam chaplam in just seven days! Lata reckoned him to be the fastest composer she ever came across.

His finest hour came through his non- film composition Aye mere watan ke logo. Composed for an army welfare program after the Indo - China war (1962) and sung by Lata, this emotional patriotic number even moved the then Prime Minister Pt. Nehru to tears. Such was the impact of this song on Nehru that he embraced the composer on stage!

After the advent of sixties slowly he lost his ground to the newcomers. His soured personal and professional relationship with Lata definitely contributed to his downfall as he could never really find the same magic with other playback singers. The decline in the quality of his music was all too evident in his 'sans Lata' soundtracks, 'Navrang' being the notable exception. Aadha hai chandrama and Tu chhupi hai kahan had the same spark as before.

After 'Rootha na karo' (1970), he didn't compose for Hindi films. Last few years of his life were spent in composing music for non-film songs. On 5th January 1982 - a week before his 64th birthday he left this world.

Now only memories remain!


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