Ravi: The Master of Situational Songs

Underrated—is the word that most serious followers of Hindi film music would use to describe music composer Ravi. I myself must have used the adjective for him umpteen number of times during our college day discussions on film music. So, I was not surprised to find that the title of the chapter on Ravi in Raju Bharatan’s book, A Journey Down The Meoldy Lane, was exactly that: The Underrated Melody Maker. Underrated—he was; and melody maker—he was to the hilt. Bharatan, to the uninitiated, is arguably the most well-known journalist covering the golden era of Hindi film music, often giving an insider’s view.

As the word suggests, Ravi’s value as a music composer was far more underestimated, as compared to the popularity that his songs achieved.

I myself put him as one of the top five composers—along with Naushad, who is my No 1; Madan Mohan, Roshan, and Sachin Dev Burman. Except for Naushad, I would not rank anyone.  So, that also makes him, in my eyes, one of the top three versatile greats of all times. Madan Mohan and Roshan would, of course, not exactly qualify for the “verstaile” tag.

But whether you look at tangible recognition such as Filmfare awards (No, he did not win it for Chaudvin Ka Chand; Shakeel won the Best Lyricist for the title song and Mohd Rafi the Best Playback Singer for the same song) or the list of all time greats that people keep making, somehow Ravi’s name takes a backseat.

Why, I never understood.

But I had some idea when I met him for an interview a few months back—on 12th November 2011, to be precise. The interview, which I and a friend took, lasted for more than two and half hours and touched all aspects of his career and life and we got interesting anecdotes. But I will post a write-up on that separately.

The reason I refer to it here is that it gave me an idea why he might have been underestimated. It is probably because of his unassuming nature that extended to his professional life. He readily listened to the directors. So, if a Rafi did not sing for BR Films, and he was asked to manage with Mahendra Kapoor, he did. And ended up giving us a few classics. But this is something which did not go well with his peers. Bharatan, in his book, quotes Salil Chowdhury saying, “I don’t rate Ravi as a composer at all; at best, he is a tunesmith.”

Do not get me wrong. He was not exactly an epitome of humbleness. He did vociferously deny in that interview that Kalyanji had much to do with the Nagin been music in Man dole and he did not hide his disappointment over not being recognized enough (for some reason, he thought that he was much better recognized in the South as Bombay Ravi, when he scored for Malayalam movies). But when he did that, it was the way a ten year old child would do. It was never in a tone that was arrogant or dimissive. And I could see the excitement and a little blush on his face when I said Tora Man Darpan, I consider to be one of the three best bhajans in Hindi films. And who was I? A nobody in music. And who was he? Creator of some of the most successful songs in Hindi film music.

I will come back to why I went so much into his personality—his unassuming nature.

The Situation Songs

About half of the songs in the Hindi films are romantic/love songs. And tt least 10-20% are songs that celebrate youthfulness, energy etc. That leaves only 30-40% songs for every other type of songs—comic, tragic, philosophical, festival songs, bhajans, and situation songs.

For long, I have felt that it was Ravi’s songs that always have stood out as iconic situational songs. Over all these years in Hindi cinema, though many songs have been composed  for a particular kind of situation or occasion, it is always Ravi’s songs that have ruled.

Even today, there is no Hindi film lullaby that comes anywhere near Ravi’s Chanda Mama Door Ke, from his debut movie as an independent music director, Vachan, a song which Ravi himself wrote. As children’s birthday songs, there is little comparison with Hum bhi agar bachche hote from Door ki Aawaz. No matter, how many birthday songs that you have in Hindi films, it is Hum bhi agar that still rules.

Similarly, even with the advent of all Punjabi songs, no baarat is complete without, Aaj mere yaar ki shaadi hai, from a forgettable movie, Aadmi Sadak Ka. And as a bidaai song, what can replace, Babul ki dooaen leti ja from Neel Kamal ? Which marriage recording does not have these as the background music? Another such song—though its popularity has faded in recent years because the idea of a doli is now alien to many—is Doli chadh ke Dulhan Sasural Chali from Doli.

And when it is time to celebrate a 30th anniversary of marriage, what do children play to the ageing couple? Of course, that classic in Manna Dey’s voice, O mere Zohra jabeen from Waqt? There is no other song that is anywhere close to this song.

It is not just events in one’s life that Ravi’s music is apt for. It is also meant for typical situations. For beggars, there is hardly any match for his O babu, o janewale babu from Vachan or Garibon ki suno woh tumhari sunega from Dus Lakh.

Ravi himself described an incident. He once saw a rich looking young man stopping his car in Marine Drive in Mumbai. The young man took the begging bowl from a beggar and started singing ek paisa de de. Within no time, there were people throwing coins to the bowl. The young man then advised the beggar to learn that song well and sing it while begging so that people would oblige him.

I can give a few more examples—one specifically played to us in the beginning of a time management workshop was the title song of Waqt.

All these–I can go on and on, but the above list is fairly representative–just prove that there is something about his music that stands out, when it comes to situational songs.

I never understood what that something was. It is somewhat understandable if they are by one lyricist. But why one music director? I had thought a lot over it, asked quite a few of my friends who are knowledgeable about this area. But had not found a satisfactory answer.

Till, Ravi himself provided me with the answer. And in hindsight, it looks so simple.

This, of course, was one of my first question to him. And he said, “That is because I do not ask lyricists to write to a tune, as most composers do. Most often, I take a piece and then create music for it.” Many composers would find it below their dignity to do so. But isn’t it more logical?

And then you understand why some of the best situational songs—where the lyricist is already under a constraint—came from pens of these lyricists, when there was no additional constraint of writing to the tune.

And this is why I got so much into his unassuming nature. It is because of this nature that he never thought it important enough to force the lyricists to write to the tune. And that, in turn, helped his situational songs become so lively. And apt.

Ravi will always live through his songs. As long as we have the need for a lullaby to sing to our children, as long as we dance on our baarats, we will remember Ravi’s songs–even though we may not explicitly remember the composer.



Filed under Hindi Film Music, Music

20 responses to “Ravi: The Master of Situational Songs

  1. Excellent article, shyamanuja. I think Ravi made a lot of sense when he said that he first read the lyrics and then composed the music for it. That’s probably why his music was so good at reflecting the mood of the song. Not drowning out gentle lyrics with loud orchestration, and not letting the otherwise ‘not great lyrics’ (for instance, in peppy club songs) take centrestage.

    I wish some other music directors – especially in later years – had learnt from Ravi.

  2. Bravo shyamanuja! Very well-written article. Loved the different anecdotes which you have recounted. And I didn’t know at all that he composed the music for completed lyrics. That is in complete contrast to how other MDs work! Very good!
    Thank you very much for this article and I am looking forward to your interview!

  3. Shyamanuja ji,
    a very good article on a music director who had tremendous luck to magnify his talents to fame but not enough luck to get the recognition due.
    looking forward to your article on his interview,including some anecdotes.
    -Arunkumar deshmukh

  4. vikram

    Thanks a million Ravi sahab for all those wonderful songs. You will surely be missed. Rest in peace sir!
    Ravi has given more hits than Salil Chaudhary. The latter would not even feature among the top twenty music composers of all time.

  5. Ruby Matondkar

    Lovely article Shyamanuja. Yes Ravi saab was a great composer..he was never given his due while he was alive. I happen to be at the Show where he was give the State Award by MP govt. (Lata Alankaran). What surprises me is that you said – he Managed with Mahendra Kapoor on the instance of BR Chopra. in fact the two have given us some of the most memorable songs EVER…. Mahendra Saab has sung in most Ravi Saabs films which were never a BR Chopra production..how come ? i actually heard a speech he gave in one of his shows in Jaipur where he said “my two most favorite Male singers were Mohd Rafi & Mahendra Kapoor & i would be incomplete without their inimitable contribution to my songs..”
    Nevertheless your article is wonderful & a very sincere tribute to this great master we shall always miss…Ravi ji God Bless your Soul…

    • shyamanuja

      Well, he told me Rafi would have been his first choice but he did not sing for BR Films–very matter of factly The “managed with” phrase is mine. Sorry if that gives an impression that he did not like Mahendra Kapoor

  6. This is just beautiful ! So well expressed ! When one of our popular US radio stations RADIO DIL from New Jersey played the tributes for Ravi, they went on and on and on for over 2 hours and I thought, ” God ! He has composed so many wonderful “singable” songs !”
    But what about the “Slum dog ” controversy ? This “under- rated ” composer was still struggling for a cash settlement of peanuts when he died , for the “Darshan Do Ghanshyam” song while almost being turned out of his home !

  7. Shivkumar V Dalvi

    It is a very well written article.Ravisaab’s compositions speak for themselves.There is absolutely no regret or bitterness in his tone.Despite giving hits in the company of such great MDs like Naushadji,C Ramchandra,SD Burman,Roshan,Shanker Jaikishen,Madan Mohan he was never considered in their class.He really did not get his due.He was in true essence people’s MD.Extremely talented but very unassuming people like him are rare birds in film industry.He was a real team man and always did as was asked by the captain(Director),never tried to grab the credit to himself.

  8. Pingback: Who created the classic been music in Man Dole, Mera Tan Dole? | Nothing to Declare

  9. VVKB

    Salil Chowdhury’s comments on Ravi are offending no doubt. But it is injustice to say that Salilda doesn’t figure among top 20 composers. Salilda is a genius and is favourite MD of Lata Mangeshkar.

    • shyamanuja

      Thanks for your comment. Did I say anywhere if Salilda features among Top 20? I have never tried creating a top 20 MD list. And such a list would be based on one’s personal choice but if I do, probably Salilda would feature in that

      • vvkb22

        Dear Shyamanuja,

        I am sorry for the misunderstanding I have created. I should have mentioned my comment as a reply to Mr Vikram who in fact referred to top 20 MD s. Thanks for ur nice article and for ur liking for Salil Chowdhury.

        Regards – VVKB

  10. VVKB

    Dear Shyamanuja,

    I am sorry for the misunderstanding I have created. I should have mentioned my comment as a reply to Mr Vikram who in fact referred to top 20 MD s.
    Thanks for ur nice article and for ur liking for Salil Chowdhury.

    Regards – VVKB

    • Bhagwan Murthy

      Naushad had also commented about Ravi. I remember he had said that Ravi “intrigued” him. He seemed to be accusing Ravi of copying tunes. To this allegation Ravi had responded saying “tune is no one’s property” (a debatable issue). But I am aware of any tune that Ravi had copied, except his own. Please enlighten me if you can. (For example Ravi has used the tune of one of his own Hindi songs in a Malayali song. But for that matter Naushad himself has copied the tune of his own song from the unreleased film Abba Khatoon in his only Malayalam film Dhwani).
      Even though Salil Chowdhury said “I don’t rate Ravi as a composer at all; at best, he is a tunesmith” in a derogatory tone, I feel the statement should be taken honorifically. If Ravi was a tune smith, so be it. I consider it a positive quality rather than a negative one. It is a talent even the greatest “composers” like Salil and Naushad lacked, and perhaps envied?
      I feel that by ridiculing a “lesser” artist these “greater” artists have reduced their own greatness. Everyone has a place in this world. A blacksmith cannot replace a goldsmith and a goldsmith cannot replace a blacksmith. Like wise, a ‘composer’ cannot replace a ‘tune smith’. If a tune smith is liked by everyone, why should a composer not put aside his ego and HONOUR him for being a great tune smith?

  11. Bhagwan Murthy

    I got it! Perhaps he had earned Naushadji’s wrath by committing this mischief (gleaned from another article)
    “Ravisaab would even play on other composers’ creations, turn them around and win laurels. For instance, he revealed to me that night that the popular Salma Agha number, Dil ke armaan aansuon mein beh gaye, from B R Chopra’s Nikaah (1982) was merely a jumbled-up version of an earlier Naushad classic. “Milte hi aankhein dil hua deewana kisi ka”, the Talat (Mehmood)-Shamshad (Begum) number by Naushadsaab for Babul (1950).
    “I merely interchanged the tunes of its first two lines and created Dil ke armaan”. And Salma won an award,” the composer said with a wry smile.
    How hilarious!

  12. Amresh

    Regardless, he is my number one composer and others come only at distant second, third etc. be that Naushad or Shankar Jaikisan. Salil Chaudhari is not even on my radar of favorite musicians. If one can make sweet melodies by being a tunesmith rather than a composer then I would like to see all the composers be turned into tunesmith and give up being composer. No matter how original a composition is if it is not palatable to my ears I could not care less. I would love to read ‘Journey down the melody lane’. where can I buy it ? and I could not agree more with the adjective “Underrated”. This is a disservice to the contribution of Ravi and entire Hindi cine music.

    • Shivkumar Dalvi

      You are making some very sweeping statements which may not be acceptable to a majority of music connossieurs.Agreed Ravi was the most underrated.But his tunes were so popular that some great songs of his needed time to register that they were by Ravi.Also remark about Salil Chaudhary is uncalled for.

  13. Dr Pradeep Sharma

    Thanks Shyamanujaji for that special writeup on my favorite MD Ravi. He never got his due its true. In fact it is to his credit that he brought the melody out of Mahendra Kapoor who was used by others like a loudspeaker for Deshbhakti songs only. Same for Asha Bhonsle who is so melodious without being sensuous as with OP Nayyar or RD. My other favorite for melodies is Hemant Kumar. I don’t know how much credit may go to Ravi for the melodies he created in the period that he was his assistant or should we say Ravi wad inspired by Hemant dada.Salutations to both Melodians!!!

  14. Itactually a nice and helpful piece of information. I satisfied that you simply shared this helpful information with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thank you for sharing.


    Salil chaudhry’s comments are note only derogatory but also show his arrogance. He should have compared his hit songs with those songs composed by ravi. It was a syndicate formed by a few music directors which never allowed to blossom the real talents.

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