Whether they know it or not, most married folk in India have heard the music of Ravi Sharma. It's unavoidable, really, considering he is the man behind the classic Aaj meri yaar ki shaadi hai from the film Aadmi Sadak Ka.
Unmarried folk have heard his work too. There's Baar Baar Dekho from China Town, for one, and Ae meri zohra jabeen from Waqt.
For those who know and love the movies, Ravi -- as he likes to be called is a treasure. His story could probably make it as a script too, considering he rose from the post of lead singer at a mere bhajan mandali (choir specialising in religious hymns) to that of celebrated music director and winner of a Padma Shri from the government of India.
Now in his eighties, Ravi says he has always loved singing, since childhood. People who heard him sing at the bhajan mandali asked him to go to Mumbai. They told him he would be famous because his voice resembled that of legendary singer Mohammad Rafi.
Ravi himself was unconvinced. He wasn't confident enough about his voice, and stuck to his day job at the post and telegraph department in Delhi. After India gained independence, he was transferred to Pathankot, but still longed to go to Mumbai and try his luck at singing. Then, at the 1949 world trade fair in Delhi, he got his voice recorded at a wire recorder booth and heard it for the first time. The results left him ecstatic. His voice really did resemble Rafi's!
A 23-year old Ravi made his decision. Taking 20 days off from work, he boarded a train to the city of dreams.
Throughout the journey, he rehearsed songs he planned to sing before music directors. His woes began the minute he arrived in Mumbai though. As he was new to the city, he had no place to stay. He tried meeting music directors, but was rebuffed. Soon, his leave expired. Ravi decided to stay back, extending his leave three times before finally resigning. His struggle continued.
He still remembers the days when he and his family used to stay at a rented house made of tin, in a warehouse that had no electricity. Worse, the house was adjacent to a godown that stocked chillies and cement.
Finally, after two and a half years, Ravi saw a light at the end of the tunnel when music director Hemant Kumar gave him an opportunity to sing as a chorus singer in Anand Math. Kumar happened to pronounce some Urdu word incorrectly, and Ravi corrected him. The music director was so pleased that he asked Ravi to join him. He worked on a lot of movies with Hemant and also began to get work outside, paid Rs 20 per song and Rs 2 per rehearsal. It would add up to a princely Rs 60 per month. He also began playing instruments like the tabla and harmonium.
For Ravi, two men he owes a lot of his success to are Devendra Goel and Hemant Kumar -- one gave him his first break as a music composer in the movie Vachan, the other kept him as an assistant.
In Nagin, he created the sound of a been using the harmonium. People at Filmistan Studios liked it so much that he started being paid Rs 250 per month, apart from the Rs 200 for the films Hemant was working on. Ravi's good days had finally begun, but then came a turning point in his life.
Hemant told Ravi to start working on his own. The thought of losing his job came as a big shock, but the ever-helpful Hemant told Ravi that he would one day be a good music director if he worked independently. He said he would be wasting his talent if he simply hung around with him. A dejected Ravi couldn't sleep that night. The next day, he pulled himself up and went to Karimbhai Nadiadwala, who heard his story and gave him a three-film contract.
From there, he went to another production house where he used to work, and got another three-film contract.
Gradually, work started coming his way and his financial position improved. He had finally arrived.
Ravi had his own style. He would never create a tune without going through the lyrics first. He believes, to this day, that a lyric writer should not be bound by the tune but should have the freedom to write whatever he wants. Secondly, he would see to it that music played a subordinate role to poetry. He feels this is why he got the best poetry from his writers.
He still remembers the day Guru Dutt told him he was making Chaudhvin Ka Chand and asked him to do the music. The director thought of taking Shakeel Badayuni who, at the time, worked only with Naushad. When Ravi met Shakeel, the latter told him he was worried as he had never worked with anyone other than Naushad.
Chaudhvin Ka Chand was Ravi's ticket to popularity. Soon after, B R Chopra approached him for Gumraah. One after the other, Ravi's movies hit the jackpot. At one point, he says beaming, there were twelve releases a month. He soon began composing music and even wrote lyrics for tracks like Aulaad walo fulo falo, Chanda mama door se and many more.
Years later, producers began asking Ravi for more modern music, of the 'hotchpotch' sort more popular now. He turned them down, reasoning that he was from a generation that made melodious music. Today, the dilemma that dogs him is who should he write for or, even if he does write something, who will sing it. Mohammad Rafi, Mukesh and Kishore Kumar are no more. Writers like Shakeel Badayuni, Shiar Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Asad Bhopali and S H Bihari have gone.
His last Hindi film was Khamosh Nigahein, which never made it to theatres. Ravi still gets royalties for his songs though. Ae meri zohra jabeen was used in the Shah Rukh-starrer Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge.
When Malayalam director Hariharan and writer M T Vasudevan sought his music for a Malayalam film, Ravi didn't hesitate. He had done two Gujarati films before, and even received an award from the government of Gujarat. Two of the films he scored music for -- Panchagni and Nakhshathangal -- also won him awards from the government of Kerala. He soon became popular as a Malayalam music composer and has done about 17 films so far, with more on the cards.
Ravi feels that music today has undergone a tremendous change. For him, yesteryears music was the real deal. Today's sound is more artificial. He also believes that, with the advent of computers, a composer need not be very talented any more. A push of a button creates synthesized music; the real tone of the instrument is missing.
"Even for singers, we have to search for talent these days," he says. "Songs like Papa Kehte Hai aren't difficult to sing. Even my servant can manage a track like that. I'm not saying the singers aren't talented; maybe they are, but aren't given good songs." He also dislikes the way music is being copied. Today, all of it sounds similar.
Ravi also has a word or two to say about remixes. "They are bad," he tells me. "Something that is old should be kept old. If you try and change the Taj Mahal from marble to granite, it won't work. I request the makers of these remixes -- if you are so interested in making albums with scantily clad dancers, why don't you create new songs? Why do you want to spoil the old ones? Even my songs are remixed. I don't like it, I have no hold over it, and we aren't even credited for the music!"
Still going strong, Ravi remains elusive. He stays away from both gimmicks and publicity, choosing to bask in the glory of 70rpm records instead.