C Ramachandra: The Merchant of Magical Melodies
Isn't it a sheer coincidence that five young men came to the city of their dreams to become an actor? Some were outright rejected and some did cameos and became music directors. Their contribution to the golden era of film music, ie the 1950s and 1960s, would always be cherished in the annals of the industry. There is an interesting story about an actor turned music director. In 1955, a studio owner, producer and director from the South, SMS Naidu, met the veteran music director Naushad to give a musical score in his film. But there was a precondition to accomplish it in a month's time. He offered a fat sum of one lakh rupees to the maestro, who politely declined the offer saying he would take at least a year to compose for a film.
Soon after, a young music director met Naidu and told him that he would render the compositions within a week, but charge just one rupee extra offered to Naushad Saab. He kept his word and met the deadline. The film was Azad, starring Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari, and the music director was C Ramachandra. The other four aspiring actors turned music directors were OP Nayyar, Madan Mohan, Khayyam and Jaidev.
Son of a station master in Indian Railways, Ramachandra Narhar Chitalkar was born in Puntambe village of Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra, on June 10, 1910. During his father's posting in Nagpur, he took lessons in music at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya of Pandit Vinayak Rao Patwardhan. A young Ramachandra had a great fascination for films, which brought him to Kolhapur, the birthplace of Marathi film industry. This handsome lad got the role of an extra for Rs 50 in Lalit Pictures and played some itsy-bitsy characters till he got a lead role in Naganand (1935). Unfortunately, the film flopped. Thereafter, Ramachandra acted in Said-e-Hawas and Atmatarang, films produced by the legendary Sohrab Modi's Minerva Movietone. But soon it dawned that acting was not his forte and again approached Modi. He got a job as harmonium player and it was an ideal opportunity to showcase his talent that was duly acknowledged. He became an assistant to Meer Saab, the music director of Minerva Movietone, and made a mark in Meetha Zehar, Jailor and Pukar. That classic song of Pukar, 'Tum bin kaun khabar le', was composed by Ramachandra himself. Later, he also composed a popular number for singer-actor Noor Jehan, 'Aao mere pyare saanwariya', in Laal Haveli, but both these numbers were credited to Meer Saab.
Actor, singer and music director, Ramachandra sang as Chitalkar and gave music in some films as Anna Sahib, Ram Chatalkar, P Ramakant and Shyamoo. Subsequently, like V Shantaram he adopted his name as C Ramachandra but kept on singing as Chitalkar. Ramachandra had a lifelong bonhomie with the actor, producer and director Bhagwan (better known as Bhagwan Dada), as they met during the making of Bahadur Kisan, produced and directed by Bhagwan.
Although Ramachandra got this maiden break as an independent music director with Sukhi Jeevan (1942), the film bombed. But his music style was considerably noticed. And with two patriotic songs, 'Bharat pyara desh hamara' in Sukhi Jeevan and 'Soya desh jaga do' in his second film Muskrahat (1943) Ramachandra ensconced himself in the industry. Among the several producers, who approached him, Jayant Desai from KL Saigal's Tansen fame signed Ramachandra and composed for four films. But they parted company during the making of Tadbir in 1945, when Ramachandra wished his salary to be raised to one thousand rupees, but Desai wanted him to accept just six hundred rupees, and also lured him that in his next film Ramachandra would work with the legendary KL Saigal. But Ramachandra walked out of the company asserting, "Agar wo Saigal hai to main bhi C Ramachandra hoon".
The next big banner that C Ramachandra signed was Filmistan. And he gave a score for eleven films. His very first film Safar with Filmistan had superb songs rendered by Mohammad Rafi - 'Keh ke bhi naa aaye tum' and 'Ab to hamare ho gaye iqrar karein na karein'. But the biggest hit was a lilting duet, 'Kabhi yaad karke, gali paar karke, chali aana hamari galiyan', sung by Chitalkar and Veena Pani Mukherjee. In his next film for Filmistan, Leela(1947), he composed a delectable thumri, 'Maine lakhon ke bole sahey saanwariya tere liye', by Veena Pani Mukherjee. And yet, the most memorable song was by Chitalkar himself, 'Tum saath raho to main prem karoon sukh paoon'.
Two years later Naushad composed a number for Mehboob Khan's Andaz in 1949, which had a striking echo of Ramachandra's Leela song. Ramachandra composed a few more songs of patriotic fervour. Many a year later he composed the heart-rending non-filmy song written by Kavi Pradeep, 'Aye mere watan ke logo', sung by Lata after the Chinese aggression, and brought tears to Pt Jawaharlal Nehru's eyes.
Filmistan's Sajan directed by Kishore Sahu (starring Ashok Kumar and Rehana) had an interesting story to narrate. Ashok Kumar was the singing star of Bombay Talkies in the 30s and 40s. He had sung very popular duets and solos, and wished to sing the duet, 'Hum ko tumahra hi asara, tum hamare ho na ho', with Lalita Dewoolkar. But Ramachandra wanted Mohammad Rafi instead of Ashok Kumar. On the day of recording, Ashok Kumar reached late in the studio and by that time Ramachandra had already recorded the song in Rafi's voice. This duet became an instant hit and also spelt the end of Ashok Kumar's career as a playback singer.
It so happened that Master Ghulam Haider was originally signed for Filmistan's Shehnai in 1947, but due to his extremely hectic schedule, he could not devote much time to the film. Rai Bahadur Chunnilal, father of music director Madan Mohan and also a partner in Filmistan asked Ramachandra to compose one song, which was to be shot soon, but Ramachandra didn't agree for he wanted to score music for the entire film. Luckily he was strongly endorsed by S Mukherjee, the co-partner of Filmistan – that's how this film came to Ramachandra. The music captivated the audience and the song, 'Maar katar mar jana', sung by Ameerbai Karnataki in mujra style with the melodious harmony of sitar, harmonium and tabla created a nationwide storm. Another hit song of the film was 'Jawani ki rail chali jaaye re'. During the recording of this song, Ramachandra met Lata the very first time and they were to create a unique musical history in years to come. Nadiya Ke Paar (1948) directed by Kishore Sahu was a first golden jubilee hit of Ramachandra. Lata sang her first solo under Ramachandra's baton, 'Dil le ke bhaga, daga de ke bhaga'.
Ramachandra's female singers up till now were Ameerbai Karnataki, Lalita Dewoolkar, Beena Pani Mukherjee, Shamshad Begum, Zohra Bai Ambalewali, Mohantara Talpade, Surender Kaur and Geeta Roy. But it was the Lata and Ramachandra duo that created a sensation in cine music. Lata sang 248 songs (200 solo, 76 male duets, 18 female duets and four miscellaneous in 63 films) for Ramachandra and she even composed for a Marathi film, 'Ram Ram Pahune', under his tutelage.
Patanga (1949) directed by HS Rawel (starring Shayam, Nigar Sultana, Gope, Yaqoob and Purnima) was a super hit because of its music, as Ramachandra was at the peak of his creativity. The film had soulful solos sung by Lata, 'Dil se bhula do tum hamein', 'Jane wale tu ney armano ki duniya loot li' and 'Kabhi khamosh ho jana', which became immortal. The film had the evergreen number 'Mere piya gaye Rangoon'.
The 1950s was the golden era of Ramachandra's musical trajectory. Samadhi was a silver jubilee hit. The title track of the movie was Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's Indian National Army song, 'Kadam kadam badaye ja'. The chartbuster of the film was a dance number, 'Gore gore, O baanke chorey, kabhi meri gali aaya karo' and Samadhi became a cult film on the Second World War.
Ramachandra also scored music for Sangeeta and Khazana in 1951. The influence of Latin American/ Caribbean beats in the songs composed by Ramachandra could be distinctly deciphered. Again in 1951, Ramachandra gave comic situation numbers for Sagai, 'Jhukti hai duniya jhukane wala chahiye' and 'Daddyji meri mummi ko satana nahi accha' (Lata). In 1951 also came Albela which still makes you nostalgic for its songs, Dil dhadke nazar sharmaye, Balma bada naadaan, and all-time great lullaby, Dheere se aana re akhiyan mein (Lata). Chitalkar was at his best singing, 'O beta ji kismet ki hawa kabhi naram kabhi garam', and 'Haseeno ki mohabbat mein yahi anjaam hota hai', which were on everyone's lips. Another musical hit of Ramachandra, Shin shinaki boobla boo, in 1952, was again directed by PL Santoshi. Ramachandra was a staunch devotee of Shri Sai Baba.
He launched his own company, New Sai Productions, with his comedian friend Om Prakash. After the success of Azad Ramachandra was flooded with offers from the South. He gave music for SS Vasan's Insaniyat in 1955 , Raj Tilak in 1958, Paigam in 1959, MV Raman's Pehli Jhalak in 1954 and Asha in 1957. For Asha he composed 'Eena Meena Deeka', a song in scat singing style, for Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhonsle separately. He also gave music for another South Indian film Devta in 1956, which had classical numbers like 'Kaise aoon Jamuna ke teer', set in Raga Bhairavi, that became a rage. T Prakash Rao signed Ramachandra for his film Bahu Rani in 1963 and Lata sang two unforgettable songs, 'Balma anari man bhaye' and 'Main jagoon saari raat'.
Ramachandra worked with all the leading banners of his time. He also did a film for his benefactor Sohrab Modi, Nousherwan-e-Adil which had some lilting numbers sung by Lata and Rafi. He did four films with V Shantaram; Parchhaiyan in 1952, Subah Ka Tara in 1954, Navrang in 1959 and Stree in 1961, a remake of Shantaram's own Shakuntala. In these films Ramachandra composed music to Shantaram's utter delight. According to vintage film music lovers, Ramachandra was remarkable in Albela, Anarkali and Azad. One more film worth mentioning is Yasmeen, where he made his favourite singer Talat sing his all-time great songs. His excellent chemistry with Lata and Talat was more than evident. Ramachandra was a trailblazer and trendsetting music director. Right at the outset, he aspired to leave an indelible imprint. A trained classical singer, his orchestra had a mix of instruments ranging from sitar, flute, tabla, sarangi, shehnai, clarionet, oboe, harmonica, trumpet, turhi to congo, that he used deftly to perfection.
At the fag end of his career, he had set-up an Academy of Indian Music and gave public performances of his haunting melodies along with his disciples Promila Datar and Kavita Krishnamurthi. He also composed for Marathi films and sang Sai bhajans. Ramachandra reigned supreme in the world of music for three decades, but succumbed to terminal disease at 72, and passed away on January 5 of 1982. He would always be missed by millions of his fans.