The Impeccable Arranger Dattaram Wadkar
There were many musicians responsible in making the 1950’s and 1960’s the Golden Era of Indian Film music, but Dattaram, a prominet and immensely talented music composer, donned many hats – as a tabla player, as an arranger, an assistant music director and also as an independent music composer
Many composers had remained unsung in the history of Bollywood music. They never lacked creativity. They were as competent as the composers they assisted. Ghulam Mohammad, N Datta and Jaidev were a few such assistants to be mentioned. Upon becoming independent composers, they were accused that their music was in the mold with the work of those they assisted. It happened with Dattaram too – who assisted Shankar Jaikishan for more than four decades. Dattaram Wadkar was born in Goa in 1929. He moved to Bombay along with his mother in 1942. In his earlier days, he worked as a loader in the Bombay docks. He learned to play the tabla from Pandhari Nageshwar and later from Yashwant Kerkar. On the recommendation of Kerkar, he worked with composer Sajjad Hussain for three months. Dattaram was fond of bodybuilding and was a regular visitor to a gym. Shankar of Shankar Jaikishan fame used to visit the same gym. Once, Shankar saw a pair of Tabla and was tempted to play. When Dattaram heard Shankar playing he was overwhelmed and made him his Guru.
Shankar and Jaikishan were working with the Prithvi Theatres where they used to play tabla and harmonium respectively. Shankar invited Dattaram to come to Prithvi Theatre. Later, Dattaram started playing the sitar and shehnai during the intervals of the plays. When Shankar Jaikishan became independent composers with Raj Kapoor's Barsat, Dattaram also joined the RK camp. Raj Kapoor was impressed by Dattaram's tabla performances.
Dattaram started playing tabla and dholak in Shankar Jaikishan's orchestra and started assisting them. He shared the credit with them as an assistant from Nagina onwards. One could enjoy Dattaram's tabla performances in the songs of Shri 420: Mud mud ke na dekh and Ramayyaa vastaavayyaa and also in Chori Chori: Aaja sanam madhur chandni mein hum and Jahan main jati hoon wahi chale aate ho. Dattaram was a master of thekka (Beat) and it was known as Dattu's thekka. Dattaram also played Duff in the songs Dil ka haal sune dilwala and Mera naam raju gharana in Shri 420 and Jis Desh Mein Ganga Bahti Hai. Later on, he became the arranger of Shankar Jaikishan along with his other Goan colleague Sebastian. Dattaram used to arrange for percussion-based songs. Sebastian used to arrange tune based on western instruments.
After the grand success of Barsat, Awara and Shri 420, Raj Kapoor decided to make Ab Dilli Door Nahi (1957). He entrusted the music to Dattaram as an independent composer. Although the film didn't do well at the box office, Raj Kapoor liked the music. Some compositions became very popular: Ye chaman hamara apna hai (Asha/Chorus), Jiyo laal mere lakhon baras (Lata/Chorus), Mata o mata jo tu aaj hoti (Sudha Malhotra). But the most popular song was Chhun chhun karti aaiye chidya (Rafi).
According to many connoisseurs of film music, Aansu bhari hai was Dattaram best creation. Dattaram proved them wrong. Next year he came with a unique number of Lata in Qaidi No. 911 (1959): Meethi meethi baaton se bachna zara. There was another romantic duet Pyaar bhari ye ghatain (Manna Dey/Lata) that became very popular. In Santaan (1959), he gave another romantic duet Bole ye dil ka ishara (Manna Dey/Lata). Other hit numbers were: Dil ne use maan liya jiska andaaz naya (Mukesh) and a children song Chhoti si dulhaniya ki shaadi (Lata/Chorus).
In 1960, Dattaram did another film with Raj Kapoor – Shrimaan Satyavadi. He composed pleasing songs in Mukesh's voice. The numbers were: Rut albeli mast shama and Haal-e-dil hamara. Another romantic duet was Bhhingi hawaon mein teri adaon mein (Manna Dey/Suman Kalyanpur). Despite a star-studded cast, the film bombed at the box office.
In Kala Aadmi (1960), Mukesh sang another unforgettable number for Dattaram, Dil dhundhta hai sahare sahare. He kept continuing. In 1961, he gave few pleasing compositions in First Love: Mere pyaar mein ya wafa na thi (Mukesh) with brilliant interludes of the violin. Other evergreen songs were: Mujhe mil gai mohabbat ki manjil (Mukesh), Bite hue din kuch aise hi hai (Suman Kalyanpur) and an immensely popular duet – Mano ya na mano (Mukesh/Suman Kalyanpur).
Another film of Dattaram which needs special mention was Meena Kumari and Rajendar Kumar starter, Zindagi Aur Khwaab (1961). The popular numbers were: Kabhi kisi ki khushiyaan koi loote na (Mukesh), He ho phool bagiyan mein bhanvre aaye (Mubarak Begum), a duet Na jane kahan tum the na jane khan hum thein (Suman/Manna Dey) and a fast number, Kehti hai jhuki jhuki nazar (Suman Kalyanpur).
His other musical hit was Jab Se Tumhe Dekha Hai (1963). Its popular numbers were the sad number in Rafi's voice, Hum aapki mehfil mein bhule se chale aaye and a classically based composition Mohammad shah rangele gavat aaj prem raag sur bade nasheele in Manna Dey's voice. Dattaram also composed the evergreen Qawwali, Tumhe husn de ke khuda ne sitamgar banaya (Rafi/Lata/Asha/Chorus). The second part of the Qawwali was in the voice of Manna Dey and Chorus.
Dattaram was a percussionist par excellence. He played the dholak in Sari sari raat teri yaad sataye (Lata) for Aji Bas Sukriya (1958). In Madhumati (1958), he played the tabla in Aaja re pardesi and Ghadi ghadi mera dil dhadke (Lata) and Suhana safar aur ye mausam hansee.
The music scenario was undergoing a sea change. Laxmikant Pyarelal and Kalyanji-Anandji came as a forerunner. Dattaram's started getting B grade films like Tarjan Comes to Delhi, Raaka and Choron Ka Chore. Somehow two numbers of Neeli Aankhein (1962) were noticed: Ae meri jaan-e-wafa maine dekha hai ye pyaar (Mukesh/Chorus) and Dekhiye na is tarah jhoom ke (Geeta Dutt).
After Jaikishan's death in 1973, Shankar didn't record for quite some time. Even Shankar couldn't create the same magic they did as a duo. Dattaram was disappointed with the music of the 80s and 90s and was of the perception that though these songs were popular, they will not last forever.After working as an independent film composer in twenty films, he left for his native place Goa. By then, he would hardly get any offer. With his deteriorating health, he couldn't even afford his regular medicines. He developed kidney stones but couldn't get it operated due to the lack of funds. He eventually scummed to death on October 8, 2007, at the age of 78.