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Faded, not forgotten - Snehal Bhatkar

Even though his career in Hindi cinema music faded to obscurity despite his unique style, Snehal Bhatkar’s legacy as a pioneering composer in the early days of Indian film music remains

In 1981, Doordharsan telecast retrospective of great masters of Indian cinema. The great masters in this series were Mehboob Khan, V.Shantaram, Kidar Sharma, Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt, Ritwik Ghatak and S.S.Wason. These films were introduced by a person who was associated with the film.

Since Kidar Sharma was alive, he came to introduce his films Neel Kamal, Suhag Raat and Hamari Yaad Aayegi. I got an opportunity to record these introductions. Kidar Sharma was known as a one-man film industry. He was an excellent painter, ace still photographer, lyricist, story, screenplay, and dialogue writer and producer-director. He even acted in his film Neki aur Badi (1949) opposite Madhu Bala and Geeta Bali. Last but not least, he introduced Raj Kapoor (who was his clapper boy). Madhubala, Geeta Bali, Bharat Bhushan, Mala Sinha and composers Snehal Bhatkar and Roshan to the industry.

Snehal Bhatkar was born as Vasudev Bhatkar on July 17, 1919, in Bombay (Mumbai). His mother Sakhu Bai was a teacher and a singer, she used to sing Bhajjans with a harmonium which young Vasudev used to listen with great interest. She taught him the intricacies of music. Vasudev had made up his mind that he would become a composer. He formed a Bhajan Mandli in Dadar along with its members (the Mandli is still active).

Vasudev learned to play the Harmonium and soon became a master player, joining the music department of His Masters Voice (HMV) in 1939. He was associated with HMV till 1949. He met several composers who used to come to the studios to record their music. He learnt a lot and developed his skills as a composer. Sudhir Phadke was his colleague in HMV, they came closer to each other and later gave a joint musical score for a film.

GA Chishti was another big name in the industry in those days who used to come to HMV to record his music. He was impressed by young Vasudev and gave him a break in the film Kaliyan as a playback Singer. Vasudev sang two duets with Lalita Sawant- Sajan paas Bula lo and Sanwre Bawre Bansuri Bajaye ja.

Kidar Sharma had become an independent director after leaving New Theatres. He had directed hit films Aulad and Chitra Lekha in Calcutta. Later he moved to Mumbai in 1941 and directed Gauri in 1943.

He directed Kaliyan in 1944 and GA Chishti was the composer. Kidar Sharma was impressed by Vasudev Bhatkar and offered him Rs 10,000 to give music in his film. When HMV officials came to know about this, they told him that working outside was against the contract he had signed with them. Vasudev was upset about this and shared his predicament with Kidar Sharma, who told him to work under an alias in the film. Thus, he became Snehal Bhatkar, as suggested by Kidar Sharma, named after his daughter's name, Sneha Prabha.

When Bhatkar got a break as an independent film composer from Kidar Sharma in Neel Kamal in which he gave music as B. Vasudev, HMV asked him to resign. Kidar Sharma told him he was not meant for HMV on the meagre salary of Rs 40 per month. Vasudev resigned from HMV and joined Kidar Sharma. GA Chishti had already left for Pakistan and so Kidar Sharma took Snehal Bhatkar under his wings.

Kidar Sharma was a highly talented, temperamental, honest and sharp-witted person. He had come to Calcutta to become a director and became the apprentice of Debki Bose who had directed the classic, Puran Bhagat Vidyapati (whose dialogues and songs were written by Kidar Sharma). Sharma asked for a raise of Rs 5, from Rs 60 to 65. Debki Bose declined his request and so Kidar Sharma resigned from New Theatres and became an independent director. The rest is history.

When Kidar Sharma announced his film Suhaagraat (1948), Snehal Bhatkar had already resigned from HMV and gave music in the film for the first time. The film came to be known for its fine cinematography, direction and music. Snehal scored 9 compositions which were all hits, Rum Jhum Matwale Badal Chaa gaye, Baje Mori Payal Thunak Thunak and Kis Papi Sang uljhi Ankhiyan (Geeta Roy/Rajkumari). Bhatkar composed a single composition, sung by MS Subha Lakshmi, Pagh Ghungroo Bandh Meera Naachi re. He was also involved in recording a private song for India's Independence Day celebration sung by none other than Magoo Bai Kurdi Kar.

In 1948, he gave music as BG Bhatkar in the dubbed Hindi version of Prabhat Film Company's Marathi classic, Sant Tuka Ram (1936), directed by Sheikh Fattehlal and Vishnupant Govind Damle. The original score was given by Keshav Rao Bhole.

In 1949, he gave music in Kidar Sharma's hit film Thes. He made catchy compositions such as Baat to kuchh bhi ni dil hai ki bhar aaya, a duet in the voices of Mukesh and Rafi.

In 1950, actress Shobhna Samarth made her debut as a director under her own banner Shobhna Samarth pictures and approached Snehal Bhatkar to compose the music in the film Humari Baat. The highlight of the film was Nutan's ( her daughter's) debut as a singer and the song was Tujhe kaise dulha bhaye ri Banki dulhaniyaa. It was also around this period that Lata Mangeshkar sang for the first time under the baton of Snehal.

He came back with Kidar Sharma's next film Gunah (1953), starring Geeta Bali, Jagdev and Giani. It's hit numbers were Hum par jaadoo daal gaye o zulmi and Tu ishq se dar bemaut na mar (Lata Mangeshkar). 1955 was a lucky year for Snehal Bhatkar.

His film Bindiya which had Aaja Tujhe Main ek baar Seene se Lga lu, Hai Dil mein Milan ki aas was set in Raag Darbari in Daku, his duet Dil ke badle dil hi lungi was a sweet melody.

Next year, in 1956, his successful movie project was Diwali Ki Raat, which had a variety of numbers. Mahendra Kapoor sang his first solo, Tere dar ki beekh mangi hai data and Talat sang two solos, Yeh Khushi ka samaa zindagi hai jawan and Zindagi kis mod pe layi mujhe, which were based on military band music.

Next, he worked with his mentor Kidar Sharma on 9 films when the Children Film Society was formed. On the request of the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Kidar Sharma directed a few films. His film Jaldeep (1956) in which his son Ashok Sharma made his debut was awarded in Venice Film Festival as the Best Children's Film. He also directed Hariya, Gulab Ka Phool (1957) and Scout Camp (1958). Snehal Bhatkar gave music in all these films.

His most successful film with Kidar Sharma was Humari Yaad Aayegi (1961), starring his son Ashok Sharma. His most popular number for the film was Farieshton ki nagri mein aa gya hun main (Mukesh/Mubarak Begum and chorus). But the chart buster of this film was its title song, Kabhi Tanhaion mein yun humari yaad aayegi (Mubarak Begum).

Kidar Sharma did another film with Snehal Bhatkar, Fariyad in 1964.

Snehal Bhatkar was known for his experimentation and he was at his best in this film. He composed beautiful Ghazal such as Haal-e-dil unko sunana tha sunaya na gaya. Its other popular numbers were Tune teri nazar ne kafir bana diya and O dekho dekha dekh raha tha paphiya. There was also the popular duet, Apne hazoor kya se kya bana diya.

In spite of quality music, Bhatkar could not become as popular as his contemporaries.

After Fariyad, he did films with Kidar Sharma once again, Pehla Kadam(1980), Pyaase Nain (1989) and Sehme Hue Sitare (1964).

After an active career of five decades in films, he was lost to obscurity, even as he remained active in Marathi Films. He was given the Lata Mangeshkar Award in 2004. He died on May 29, 2007, at the ripe age of 88. He left the footprints of his melodious music behind him.

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