Ravindra Jain: Living The Light Of Music

He who has light within him will sit in the centre and enjoy a bright day
But he who hides a dark soul will walk in darkness under the mid-day sun,
to his own prison.
-John Milton

After an entire night and morning of music listening, reading and writing, I fell on my bed at mid day eleven into a deep dreamless sleep. Suddenly the cell phone sounded like a piercing sound of hell. I took it, with my barely open eyes casting anger and reproof for being wakened. The call was from Rajesh Sharma, my friend from Mumbai. He was brief and to the point: “You had wanted to meet Ravindra Jain, right? He is in Chennai today. He returns to Mumbai in the afternoon. I am sending you his number and the name of the hotel where he stays. Leave at once to meet him. I will call and tell him that you are coming.” I got up from my bed, still half asleep, and readied myself in a hurry. As I hastened out of my house, I did not forget to pick up a CD of songs of Ravindra Jain. My car drove ahead to the foot tapping number ‘Geet Gaata Chal, O Saati Gun Gunaata Chal’.

‘My friend, keep going ahead with a song on your lips……..’ It is a happy song that brims with hope and energy. Penned and composed by Ravindra Jain, one of the great composers to have born on the Indian soil with many such melodic gems to his credit. He illuminated countless hearts of music lovers by touching them with the brilliance of his compositions like ‘Akhiyon Ki Jharokkon Se’ (From the entrance of my eyes). His songs like ‘Ghungroo Ki Tarah Bajta Hi Raha Hoom Mein’ (I am ever playing like the bells of anklet) are unforgettable evergreens. His song ‘Do Panchhi Do Thinke’ (Birds couple that flew carrying two twigs) moistens my eyes every time I listen to it.

Ravindra Jain, who has given us many sweet songs based on Hindustani classical ragas, has also shown unusual creativity and flourishes in scoring the instrumental music parts of his songs. He is a lyricist, at once poetic and with a sense of beauty as well. In fact, he has written the lyrics of most of his songs! It does feel strange that, in his four decades as film music composer, he has composed music for only about forty films! But his songs have never failed to make us happy, to bring that smile on our face or a tear in our emotionally moved eyes.

My love of Ravindra Jain musical creations started in 1976 with the songs of the film Chit Chor. In this film, Yesudas had sung all the four songs which had become a raging success all over India. Ravindra Jain wrote the lyrics of all the songs. ‘Gori Tera Gaon Bada Pyaara’ (Fair maiden, your village is so lovely) scored in folksy style was on every lip of those days. Foot-tapping number ‘Aaj Se Pehle Aaj Se Zyaada’ (I was never happier than this day before this day) was hugely popular as well. ‘Jab Deep Jale Aana Jab Shaam Dhale Aana’ (Come when dusk falls, come when lamps are lit) in Raag Yamen Kalyan and ‘Tu Jo Mere Sur Me Sur Mila Le Sang Ga Le’ (Let your pitch mingle with mine as you sing with me) in Raag Peelu not only became the favourites of discerning music lovers, but to no one’s surprise became hugely popular hits as well.

My heart skipped a beat as I prepared to meet a living miracle, a legend who gave the world so many songs that are close to my heart! I arrived at the hotel where he stayed.  Before I entered the room, I saw Yesudas leaving. Ravindra Jain was seated in a sofa, dressed in a long white dress. Wearing his big dark glasses, he welcomed me with softest of smiles. He did not look his sixty six years. He did not betray any uncertain restlessness normally displayed by visually challenged persons. I went near him and touched his feet. He said: “Your voice reaches me from a great height. You must certainly be more than six feet tall.” When he learned that Malayalam is my mother tongue, he asked me: “Did you see Yesu? He just left.” He kept talking to me for the next two hours, telling me of his life, his music.

Born on 28th February of 1944, Ravindra Jain’s father was an Ayurvedic practitioner in Aligarh of Uttar Pradesh. Ravindra Jain’s eyes were tightly closed when he was born. Doctors, who surgically opened his eyes, revealed their foreboding diagnosis that his visual capability was low and that it will completely fade away, soon.

In spite of lacking sight, he was eager to learn all things new even as a child and was deeply interested in music. His father felt that thinking of music and launching himself in music will guide his son from darkness to light and presented him a harmonium at a very young age. Ravindra Jain simply loved to listen to and learn from his multi-lingual elder brother who read out to him from his books in Hindi, English and French.

When stumped for songs in any letter of the alphabet while playing Antakshari game of songs at home, he was the kind of precocious child who would create songs of his own for the occasion. The social scene in Aligarh, where Hindi and Urdu were the warp and weft of a composite culture that evolved as an amalgam of Hindu and Muslim culture, broadened his capacity for both humane and artistic understanding.

Later, learning the classical music in traditional manner over a long period under the tutelage of different teachers, Ravindra Jain was able to obtain the highly valued title of ‘Sangeet Prabhakar’ by the time he was seventeen. Respecting the opinion of his music Guru that staying in Aligarh will not further his prospects in a career of music, he left for Calcutta. There he stayed with a Bengali family and became proficient in Bengali language. He became an aficionado of Rabindra Sangeet. Soon he was teaching music in schools of music in Calcutta and writing and composing songs for Calcutta station of All India Radio as well. He had also recorded a song sung by the popular Bengali singer Aarti Mukherji. It was this impact of Bengali music forms that later made him a great creator of light music that unfailingly touched the hearts of his listeners. Many even consider him a full-blown Bengali to this day. Many, like Yesudas, fix the Bengali suffix for elder brother ‘Dada’ while addressing him.

When he had met a Hindi film producer in Calcutta, the producer had promised to give him an opportunity in Hindi films. This motivated him to shift to Bombay in 1968 and there he plunged into full time efforts to become a music composer. In 1971, he was asked by the Director of the film Mehboob Ki Mehendi H S Rawail, to work as assistant to Naushad, the film’s music composer. But he refused the offer point blank, saying that he wanted to be nobody’s assistant. This was the decision of a very clear and determined mind that, even with the daily handicap of a visually challenged person, was supremely confident of his own art.

His first tilt at becoming a music composer was the opportunity provided by N.N.Sippy’s production company that had many superhit films to its credit. But the film was shelved before songs were recorded. Later, this company went on to make the superhit movie Sholay. The first film to be released with Ravindra Jain as music composer was Kanchh Aur Hira (1972). ‘Nazar Aati Nahin Manzil’ (Destination is nowhere in sight), one of the best of sad songs sung by Mohammad Rafi, was a superhit song of this unsuccessful film. The first film to become popular with Ravindra Jain’s music was Chor Machaye Shor. It was in this film released in 1974 that the earlier mentioned song ‘Ghungroo Ki Tarah Bajta Hi Raha Hoom Main’ sung by Kishore Kumar stole the hearts of music lovers. This film also had another blockbuster number ‘Le Jaayengey Le Jaayengey Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayengey’ (Large Hearted Lover Will Carry Away the Bride). This song is the staple of Indian marriages in the last 37 years. Ravindra Jain had himself written the lyrics of this song and the blockbuster line ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayengey’ became the title of one of the all-time big grosser film with Shah Rukh Khan playing the protagonist!

This song had a background of many interesting anecdotes. N.N.Sippy, the producer of this film, was reluctant to give Ravindra another chance after his earlier film got shelved. At that time, Sanjeev Kumar was acting in another film of N.N.Sippy. Sanjeev Kumar was a friend of Ravindra from his Calcutta days. And finally, Ravindra Jain got his chance on the insistent recommendation of Sanjeev Kumar. But that was not the last for his problems. Sippy as well as Shashi Kapoor, the protagonist of the film, kept rejecting all the tunes composed by Ravindra Jain!

Tired by the repeated rejection of the many tunes sung by him, Ravindra felt extremely frustrated. He told them in a matter of fact tone that he will finally sing to them one more tune and if it fails to pass muster with them, then he will withdraw himself from the film. What followed should certainly rank with top mysteries of film making! Ravindra sang to them a tune that ranked as a very ordinary one in his book of standards. Surprisingly, both Sippy and Shashi Kapoor approved the tune at once, saying that this was what they were waiting for! Truth to be told, no film composer knows why a tune is rejected or why a tune is selected!

From that moment Ravindra’s stars were on a continuous ascendance. As a classy composer of Hindi film music he kept on creating one marvelous score after another. He was called upon by such big banners as Raj Kapoor’s R.K.Films, Rajshree Pictures, Sippy Films and Barjatya Films, now and then, to work his creative magic. Though he did not achieve commercial super stardom, Ravindra Jain is a happy and contended man that he has done more than justice to the opportunities he had been afforded with his superbly crafted songs. His innings as music composer continues up to the recent film Ek Vivah Isi Bhi starring the latest young protagonist Shahid Kapoor.

‘Tera Mera Saath Rahe’ sung by Lata Mangeshkar for the film Saudagar(1973), ‘Jo Raah Chuni Tu Ne’ sung by Kishore Kumar for the film Tapasya(1975) and the earlier mentioned duet ‘Do Panchhi Do Thinke’ sung by Kishore Kumar along with Aarti Mukherji for the same film, ‘Purvaiya Leke Chali Meri Naiya’ sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Shailendra Singh for the film Do Jasoos(1975), ‘Kaun Disha Me Leke Chala Re’ sung by Jaspal Singh and Hemlata for the film Nadiya Ke Paar(1982) and the beautiful rain song ‘Sona Kare Jilmil’ sung by Suresh Wadkar and Hemlata are great examples of the genius of his music and composing craft.

‘Fakira Chal Chala Chal’ sung by Mahendra Kapoor for the film Fakira (1976) was full of magical moments of Sufi music. ‘Shyam Teri Bansi Pukare’, a song studded with beautiful note sequences of the Raag Charukesi, was sung so marvelously by Aarti Mukherji and Jaspal Singh for the film Geet Gaata Chal released in 1975. It was a song that created, at once, the sadness of separated lovers and atmospherics of a Bhajan suited to the devotional scene that was picturised on it!

You would have noticed that most of the names of the singers cited above are new. Hemlata is the female voice that had sung with Yesudas in the songs of the film Chit Chor. Hers is a voice not very familiar to the world of Hindi films. But she is still remembered for singing the already mentioned song ‘Akhiyon Ki Jharokkon Se’. Aarti Mukherji who sang the song ‘Do Panchi Do Thinke’ is a marvelously emotive Bengali singer. I started liking her sweet voice for that slight tremolo in her singing.  Ravindra Jain had introduced, enthused and encouraged many singers with opportunities to sing in Hindi films, exactly the way he had encouraged Yesudas to sing in Hindi. This includes names like Jaspal Singh, Suresh Wadkar, Sushma Shreshta and Kavita Krishnamurthy.

Talking on this subject, he narrated how he had always been on the look out for new voices and how in the process he had found the classically trained and pleasant to hear voice of Yesudas. Impressed by the voice of Suresh Wadkar when he went as a judge to a music contest, he gave him a chance to prove himself. Jaspal Singh was actually a practicing lawyer. Ravindra Jain found that he had a voice that exhibited some of the traits of Rafi and Mukesh at different levels. Hemlata was a Bengali girl who was his student. Ravindra narrated how Hemlata, while seeking a chance to sing, had sung before Roshan and Naushad a few of the scores he had composed before he came to be a film music composer. Naushad then went on to imitate one of the tunes sung by Hemlata and recorded the song ‘Jo Chala Gaya Usey Bhool Jaa’ for the film Saathi (1968) with the voice of Mukesh.

Ravindra Jain was a great fan of the songs of composers like Madan Mohan, Roshan and S.D.Burman. Lata Mangeshkar had always been his favourite singer. With her voice, Ravindra Jain had given many beautiful songs like ‘Tera Mera Saath Rahe’. For this song, in particular, he had waited for two months to get Lata Mangeshkar’s date and as he readied for recording he received a telegram informing him of the passing away of his father. But he stood and recorded the song with heavy sorrow weighing in his mind!

Unfortunately, his relations with Lata Mangeshkar were always traumatic. Apparently Lata had believed that he was only interested in furthering the interests of new singers like Aarti Mukherji and Hemlata. Ravindra says: “I had always wanted Lata Mangeshkar for my songs. But I was a new person in the industry. Many of my producers were small budget producers. We could not wait for extended periods to get her date. I also thought that new voices would lend new feel and expression to my songs. These factors made me use other singers for recording. Lataji could never accept this. She was always short tempered with me.” But Ravindra Jain, later, went on to win the Lata Mangeshkar award for his accomplishments in music.

Ravindra Jain’s take on Lata – Asha Bhonsle comparison goes like this: “Lataji’s voice is pure, delicate and suited to classical music. Lataji had a voice made for natural rendering like Rafi Saheb. But Asha’s voice lacked these qualities. She improved the tonal qualities of her voice by rigorous training. Singers can indeed improve their rendering style by voice training. But it is not possible to change the voice quality itself.” There are only a few successful songs for Ravindra Jain-Asha Bhonsle combination. The song ‘Sajna Hai Mujhe Sajna Ke Liye’ (I have to dress up for my love) in the film Saudagar is one such rare song.

On Mohammad Rafi: “I first met Rafi Saheb in a function at Calcutta. But, there a mob of admirers literally pushed me out. Later, in Bombay, we were both neighbors in Bandra. He used to come to my place in his lungi for the rehearsal before recording. He was humble and a very simple person in spite of being such a great singer. He always spoke softly. It was as if he reserved all his energy for singing.”

He had only good words about Kishore Kumar too: “The first song he sang for me was ‘Ghungroo Ki Tarah’. Even today I am asked to sing this song at all my stage shows! When I first approached Kishoreda for the song I told him ‘I am a composer from Calcutta wishing to come up. I have set a Bengali-music-type tune for you. You should hear it.’ He said, ‘No need. Get ready for the recording.’ Unexpectedly, on the recording day he came to the recording studio by nine o’clock. At that time nothing had been readied. Even the score sheets had not been given to the music artistes! I was upset and worried. But he surprised me by asking me ‘Just sing the pallavi (first stanza of the song) for me now.’ When I sang the pallavi for him, he comforted me by saying ‘Take your time. I will leave only after recording your song.’ That day, he recorded the song for me after cancelling all his other recordings. And he started calling me ‘Rabindra Jain Tagore’!”

In his early days, Ravindra Jain had met Raj Kapoor and asked for composing opportunities after singing a few scores of his. He kept on ringing up R.K.Films to ask Raj Kapoor for that coveted chance. Raj Kapoor had then said: “When the time comes, I personally go knocking on the doors of talented ones.” Later, Raj Kapoor invited him to Pune where his birthday was being celebrated and offered him his film Ram Teri Ganga Maili. Ravindra Jain won the then most credible Filmfare award in 1985 for this film. Raj Kapoor had then told him: “I see in you a combination of Shankar Jaikishen and Shailendra.” They were Raj Kapoor’s favourite composers and lyricist respectively.

When I asked him about arranging the orchestra for his songs, Ravindra Jain had this to say: “Good songs have emotional souls of their own based on their Raaga and composition. Instrumental orchestration should be attuned to this soul. People who merely arrange the orchestra mostly may not understand this. I arrange the instrumentation for my songs myself. Present day arrangers are mere arrangers of sounds without the soul. I have scored the background music for all my films. And I had put them together with great care to synchronise with the film's narrative.” What is a matter of wonder for me is how a visually challenged person could have scored the background music without the benefit of visuals in the totally visual medium of cinema!

Seeing that I was talking about only his Hindi film songs, Ravindra Jain asked me: “Have you not heard my Malayalam songs?” I had liked the songs he had composed for the Malayalam film Sujata released in 1977. Asha Bhonsle had sung the song ‘Swayamvara Shubhadhina Mangalangal’. It was a highly successful song that was frequently heard on wedding days in Kerala. ‘Kalidasante Kavya Bhavanaye’ and ‘Thalippoo Peelippoo’, both sung by Yesudas, were great songs as well. But none of them were in my mind’s radar when I was talking to him. He commented with a smile: “Apparently you are totally immersed in Hindi film songs.” He had also composed music for the Malayalam film Sukham Sukhakaram in 1994. Though the songs were good, it somehow did not reach the audience.

When I think of Ravindra Jain, I never cease to wonder how in spite of being visually challenged, he handles with aplomb his many roles in scoring the background music for films, composing music, writing lyrics, conducting stage shows, acting in music videos, being a judge of music contests on television and many such assignments. He told me: “In the world of cinema, people will overlook absolutely everything, if you give them what they want. I never faced any problem in the film industry on account of being visually challenged. But in the realities and daily chores of personal life I do face difficulties. But still, I count only my blessings.”

He went on to say:”I am able to bring greater intensity and attention to my work, being visually challenged. Physical deficiencies will not depreciate your talents or what is good about you. One should never give up that zest for life.” Then he recited to me this poem that he had written:

Face has but two eyes
Mind watches with thousand eyes
Eyes on the face go to sleep
Mind’s eyes are ever vigilant;
Eyes of many remain closed for ever
And darkness engulfed their minds
But there you can be the star on parade
Many sink in the river of life
Unable to find its shores;
For them you can be the shore at hand
Many are lost in unending darkness
For them you can be the beckoning beacon.

Poet Milton who also was visually challenged once said: “Sorrow lies not in living in darkness. Real sorrow is not being able to bear the darkness.” There was not even a trace of darkness on the face of Ravindra Jain. That is because he always lives in the cozy lap of music, a beacon of light that never fades.