My father’s old transistor with its feeble and fluctuating sounds of Radio Ceylon and Vividbharathi had voiced many a time his name and my memory gathers it clearly—“ sangeetkar- Ravi”. Years later, when our aged Radio become sick to air only programs from Trivandrum and Calicut Stations, I started missing Ameen Sayani. The tunes of favorite music makers along with the charm of Binaca Geetmala then get settled in musing. But the only remaining Malayalam Stations of our Radio astoundingly reinvented his revised notations and yes, unlike his fellow music makers, Ravi made a surprising re-entry with a new style as Ravi Bombay (a later realization that it was the same old ‘Sangeetkar Ravi’)
How one could so easily cross the regional and linguistic borders? When M.T Vasudevan Nair and Hariharan approached Ravi for the Malayalam film Panchagni in 1985, he had replied “but I don’t know your language at all!” They convinced him and took him to Madras for recording.
In fact his trips to Madras were frequent since he earlier worked for many South Indian banners like Gemini, AVM, Vasu Films and so on. Ravi recalls that testing time: “O N V Kuruppu asked me, please give us a tune”. It gave him a surprise: “I never created music that way, so I need some lyrics”. When ONV wrote a few lines, he got confused. Tensed Ravi asked for a day and he could not sleep that night properly. The next day he came with the tune; excited Hariharan greeted him with applause: “this is what we were looking for”. There itself he got the offer for his second movie- Naghakshathangal. Ravi won the Kerala State award for best music director that year.
Ravi Bombay became a household name among the Malayali Music lovers that they could not find even a shadow of north Indian touch (if anything like that exists) in his music and his north Indian identity was unknown to many. The popular imagination appreciated the ‘revival’ of ‘good’ music in Malayalam Cinema with the flavour of ‘Malayaliness’. Almost all of his Malayalam songs became so popular that the average Malayali could identify with them. The usual say on Salil Chaudhari’s Bengali/north Indian essence in his Malayalam songs had never surfaced in Ravi’s case (Almost all Salil Chaudhari Malayalam tunes are copies of his own Bengali songs). What was the secret? Perhaps no one knows; even Ravi himself had little idea about the so-called ‘Malayaliness’ while creating it. But he is confident on one point that he believes in ‘original’. “I never used keyboard while recording, maybe once or twice, that too out of some compulsion, I try to avoid maximum instances the western instruments, I don’t want to use jingo-jango rhythms, music needs to be soothing, calm and melodious, MT and Hariharan want songs like Chaudhvin Ka Chand and I made Malayalam songs with similar touch”. Being a puritan and allergic to technology, Ravi required the full orchestra to record and he treated instrument substitutions (with keyboard and rhythm composers) as corrupt practice. Was this the reason, the puritan approach, behind the reclaimed ‘Malayaliness’?
A revisit to Ravi’s career in Hindi Film Industry leaves certain questions to ponder on his early exit when he was at the peak of melody making.
Ravi had no formal training in classical music. And while learning Harmonium, his teacher started with the notes-sa re ga ma..But he responded quickly: “I don’t want to learn this sa re ga ma, tell me how to play tum bin hamri song. Bombay was his ambitious ground. Following Rafi’s path, Ravi also left his border village after partition seeking a career in Bombay film industry. Taking a few days leave from his apprenticeship job in a Delhi based company Ravi reached Bombay in the year 1950. He had to extend the leave and finally quit since nothing worked out in Bombay. Struggle continued for another five years till he met Hemant Kumar. Hemant Kumar gave him chance to sing chorus and to work as his assistant later. Ravi composed for Vachan in 1955; his first movie as an independent music director. His simple melody hit the stands and he never turned back. Offers came one by one and Bombay invented him as the melody maker of Bollywood. Chaudhvin Ka Chand (1960) gave him a big break and the movies followed it—Gharana (1961) Gumraah (1963), Khandaan (1965), Vaqt (1965), Badan (1966), Humraaz (1967), Ankhen (1968), Neel Kamal (1968) and many more— made Rafi-Ravi combo an unswerving alliance of melody. His shadisongs- Aaj mere yaar ki shaadi hai, Babul ki duyaen leti ja and Doli chadh ke dulhan sasural chali- became very popular in wedding celebrations.
At this peak hours of successful music making, Ravi took a break in the early 70s to mid 80s. Between he composed a few hits (Including Nikah in 1982), but more or less remained in silence. In fact it was the time of Bappi Lahiri as trendsetter with western instruments (keyboard and guitar with effects) and heavy beats and rhythms gathering pace. Ravi could not make a comeback since he was not cut out for the changes. He then became triumphant with a new ‘languaged’ music, reviving the ‘good’ Malayalam music crossing many boundaries.
(Based on a conversation with Mr.Ravi)