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The Sculptors of Film Songs (8): Ramlal

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Guest article by Piyush M Pandya (Gujarati original) and Ashok M Vaishnav (English translation)

(We all know Ramlal as the music director of V Shantaram’s films ‘Sehra’ and ‘Geet Gaya Pattharon Ne’. We also generally know that he was an ace shehnai player having been associated with Ustad Bismillah Khan. But we hardly know that besides his these two acknowledged scores, he was also associated as a great flute and shehnai player in many songs. His instrumental pieces had an important role in making those songs great. It is telepathic that a few days ago, a regular reader, Ashok Kumar Tyagi, who had recently come across Ramlal’s talents with many instruments, requested for an article on him in this series. And as if in answer to his requests, our guest authors Piyush M Pandya (Gujarati original) and Ashok M Vaishnav (English translation), continuing the series on Arrangers and Musicians, now put the spotlight on the legendary musician, Ramlal. Thank you Piyush ji and Ashok ji for another excellent article in the series. – AK)

For most of the fans of Hindi film songs, the name Ramlal should instantly remind them of the songs of ‘Sehra’ or ‘Geet Gaya Paththoron Ne’. If such is the case, would mention of Ramlal in this series on Musicians and Arrangers not be incongruous?

Howsoever Ramlal’s music for these two films is applauded, the fact remains that such exceptional success did not bring him any more substantive work. In fact, it has effectively overshadowed his lifelong work as one of the most outstanding players of flute and shehnai in the Hindi film industry.

We will, therefore, focus on his work as an instrument player.

Ramlal (a.k.a. Ramlal Choudhary) had musical instinct from his childhood. Born and brought up in Banaras (UP, India), he was attracted to shehnai because of the influence of another legend from Banaras, Ustad Bismillah Khan. Ramlal’s instinct for wind instruments also brought him under the influence of Pannalal Ghosh. Thus, he had attained excellent command over playing shehnai and flute at an early stage in his life.

(Please visit the exclusive episode on Shehnai @ Saaj Tarang to know more about the instrument and its varied role in film music.)

As the destiny would have it, Ramlal was spotted by another Banarasi music personality, Ram Ganguly. On Ram Ganguly’s invitation, Ramlal landed up in Bombay in 1944. Ram Gangly immediately settled him in the music team of Prithvi Theatres on a monthly salary of Rs. 80. When Raj Kapoor entrusted the music of his maiden film, Aag (1948), to Ram Ganguly, he appointed Ramlal as his assistant. Unfortunately it seems luck had made up its mind to deal cruelly with Ramlal. The credit titles of Aag do not mention Ramlal as assistant music director. However, his flute playing in almost all the songs in the film caught the attention of music lovers.

1. Dekh chand ki ore musafir dekh chand ki oreAag (1948) – Shailesh, Shamshad Begum – Lyrics: Saraswati Kumar ‘Deepak’ – Music: Ram Ganguly

Flute from the very beginning of the prelude (@0.05 till 0.23, 0.41 till 0.56) catches the attention. Then @1.17 to 1.27 and @ 1.34 to 1.41 it blends with other string instruments to set the stage for the opening notes of the song, and literally ushers in the song @ 1.46 to 1.57. Flute remains the lead countermelody instrument. Perhaps more interesting is the way flute replicates the sounds of oar hitting the river water in the interlude @2.39 to 2.44 before reverting back to the original tune of the song till 2.51. Its countermelody support to string instruments (from 3.39 till 3.56) accentuates the feeling of the rising wave.

2 Zinda hun is tarah ke gham-e-zindagi nahinAag (1948) – Mukesh – Lyrics: Behzad Lakhanavi – Music: Ram Ganguly

Flute is used as a countermelody instrument, starting with prelude. What is noteworthy is that the flute comes in for very short pieces but still has its impact on the song.

Apart from these two songs, one may pick up any song from the film, like Kaahe koyal shor machaye re, Na aankhon mein aansoo snd Raat ko ji chamke taare.  Even a fleeting piece of flute therein would not fail to catch the attention. Solah baras ki bhayi umariya has exquisite pieces of shehnai.

In 1950, the highly reputed film producer of that time, Pyarelal Santoshi launched ‘Taangewala’, with Raj Kapoor and Vyjayanthimala in the lead. The music score for the film was entrusted to Ramlal. However, financial difficulties forced the project to be shelved. By that time Ramlal had composed several songs.

Fortunately, two of these songs were used in ‘Naqabposh’ (1956). The remaining six songs of this film are composed by Dhoomi Khan.

3. O re dilwaale apna bana leNaqabposh (1956) – Asha Bhosle – Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri – Music: Ramlal

Ramlal has composed the song with Arabic orchestration. However, since the film was a ‘B’ grade project, the song too fizzled out soon from the memory of the fans.

4. Hum tumhaare hain talabgaar tumhein kya maaloomHusn Banoo (1956) – Sudha Malhotra – Lyrics: Sahir Chandpuri – Music: Ramlal

Ramlal has come up with a very pleasing composition here too.

Barring some exceptions like these, as independent music director, Ramlal had now been employed as a full-time instrument player by V Shantaram for his Rajkamal Kala Mandir. One can pick up any song from the films produced in those days by this production house, if one hears a piece of flute it would have been played by Ramlal. Here are some representative songs:

Aye kaale badal bolDahej (1950) | Gaya andhera hua ujalaSubah Ka Taara (1952) | Dil dil se kah raha haiParchhain (1952) | Apni ada par main hun fidaTeen Batti Char Rasta (1953).

The year 1959 was a watershed year for Ramlal for his association with shehnai with one song from Navrang and several songs of the eponymous Goonj Uthi Shehnai.

5. Tu chhupi hai kahanNavrang (1959) – Manna Dey, Asha Bhosle, chorus – Lyrics: Bharat Vyas – Music: C Ramchandra

The song remains another landmark in Hind films as a dream-sequence song. Every instrument used in the orchestration of the song has its distinct effect. We normally are wired to associate shehnai with its traditional playing style, in folk or in classical music. However, the soft wailing piece in shehnai, as played by Ramlal, @0.53 to 1.07, which again comes up @2.01 to 2.11 puts the use of shehnai into a very different league.

Goonj Uthi Shehnai (1959), obviously, revolves around shehnai. As such, Vasant Desai had approached the ace shehnai player, Ustad Bismillah Khan, to play shehnai for the film. Ustadji agreed to play only the standalone classical pieces. So, it was Ramlal who was the obvious choice to fill that void. As mentioned in the interview referred to at the end of the article, Ramlal was promised a special mention in the credit titles in the film. Unfortunately, that promise remained unfulfilled. But Ramlal’s shehnai in the songs and the background score remains immortally etched into the annals of HFM.

The initial pieces of shehnai (from 0.18 till 0.50), which also remains the theme piece of shehnai across the film, being played Ramlal, easily blends with Ustad Bismillah Khan’s subsequent solo performance during the entire credit title score of the film. The full-scale song based on this theme piece is –

6. Tere sur aur mere geet Goonj Uthi Shehnai (1959) – Lata Mangeshkar – Lyrics: Bharat Vyas – Music: Vasant Desai

Ramlal’s shehnai easily matches Lata Mangeshkar’s soft humming in the prelude. Similarly, shehnai matches the soft flute notes in the interludes. Use of shehnai pieces in the countermelody support puts Ramlal’s virtuosity into a different orbit.

7. Teri shehnai bole sun ke dil mera doleGoonj Uthi Shehnai (1959) – Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi – Lyrics: Bharat Vyas – Music: Vasant Desai

The soft wailing notes of pathos is generally the trademark use of shehnai. However, Vasant Desai’s composition calls for the soft rendition that Ramla has so magically reproduced. The theme music piece also then blends in with a slightly different beat.

8. Jeevan mein piya tera saath raheGoonj Uthi Shehnai (1959) – Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi – Lyrics: Bharat Vyas – Music: Vasant Desai

The song opens with soft wailing notes of separation, so effectively accentuated by shehnai. Then as the songs moves into the mood of heightened happiness of the meeting between the separated love birds, Ramlal dons the role of playing the flute across the song.

We will end the success saga of Ramlal in Goonj Uthi Shehnai with one more ingenious variation of the theme shehnai music pipes.

9. Haule haule ghunghat pat khole ke balamava bedardi Goonj Uthi Shehnai (1959) – Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi, Chorus – Lyrics: Bharat Vyas – Music: Vasant Desai

Note the highly innovative use of traditional style of playing shehnai in the folk tunes, for the soft intense call for meeting now in a different setup (@ 1.18 till 1.58). If all these variations were not enough, Vasant Desai and Ramlal come up with even more innovative solo lead play of shehnai (from 4.58 till 6.24) wherein the traditional soft wailing of shehnai notes create the mood of collective exuberance. The shehnai then so easily slips into the countermelody support in the end notes of the song.

With such exceptional success ultimately, Ramlal was able to convince V Shantaram to entrust him with the music of Rajkamal’s next venture – Sehra (1963). The rousing success of the music for the film then led to Ramlal being handed over the reins of V Shantaram’s  dream project, Geet Gaya Paththaron Ne (1964). Much has been said about each of the songs from these two films, so we will avoid the repetition, save taking special note of Ramlal’s unusual contribution as instrumentalist as well as innovativeness as a music director.

10. Taqdeer ka fasana ja kar kise sunayein Sehra (1963) – Mohammad Rafi – Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri – Music: Ramlal

Just note how even a small prelude note piece (till 0.20), which continues till 0.34 as countermelody support has created the mood of one of the most iconic songs of HFM. Of course, shehnai keeps supporting the orchestration across the whole song.

11. Laagi mast nazar ki katar Sehra (1963) – Mohammad Rafi – Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri – Music: Ramlal

Ramlal has been able to tame the loudness of the wavy movement of a galloping camel into a very unique song. In the interview referred to at the end, he very candidly gives credit to this idea to his wife Rita and her sister.

12 Mandve tale gareeb ke do phool khil rahein hain Geet Gaya Paththaron Ne (1964) – C H Atma – Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri – Music: Ramlal

V Shantaram perhaps has decided to help C H Atma in his last days by giving him this cameo role. But Ramlal has converted that opportunity, like an alchemist, to create one of the all-time great songs of C H Atma. However, use of rabab, the Afghan string instrument, as the lead instrument and unbelievable harmonium support in the countermelody would perhaps pale before the way Ramlal has been able to modulate the failing sound of ageing C H Atma for such a slow-paced song.

Note: That it is harmonium in the countermelody support is mentioned by Ramlal himself in the interview referred to at the end, when he talks about this song.

The vicious competition of HFM succeeded in pushing Ramlal from the height of success, and corresponding elite lifestyle, to living on the Rs. 700 a month government dole in the later years of his life. Not only that, there is hardly any worthwhile documentation of his work as a shehnai and flute player.

I have banked heavily upon the Vividh Bharati interview by Kamal Sharma, referred to at the footnote of the article, to dig out some more songs wherein Ramlal has played these instruments.

13. Gore gore haathon mein menhdi laga keParineeta (1953) – Asha Bhosle, chorus – Lyrics: Bharat Vyas – Music; Arun Kumar Mukherjee

We get to listen here shehnai as is being played at the marriage functions. Of course, Ramlal has left his indelible imprint the way shehnai vibrates so vividly, say @1.28 to 1.32 etc.

14. Aaye na baalam vaada karkeShabab (1954) – Mohammad Rafi – Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni – Music: Naushad

The brief note at the very beginning even shadows the superb, deep-throated, shehnai rendition @ 0.32 to 0.40. and even more noteworthy is the way Ramlal has handled shehnai notes in the gayaki (singing) mode @ 1.21 to 1.28, 2.28 to 2.34 etc. in the interludes.

15. Beqas pe karam kijiye sarkar-e-madinaMughal-e-Azam (1960) – Lata Mangeshkar – Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni – Music: Naushad

In an otherwise violin dominant orchestration, brief notes of shehnai, as @ 1.38 -1.40, 2.00 to 2.03 etc. leave a profound impact.

16. Saanwariya re apni Meera ko bhool na jaanaAanchal (1960) – Suman Kalyanpur – Lyrics: Kavi Pradeep – Music: C Ramchandra

In the first happy version shehnai is used quite selectively, but nonetheless what was played on cello @ 0.50 to 0.54 is imaginatively replayed on shehnai @1.57 to 1.59 (repeating @ 3.01 to 3.04 and then a little more extended @ 3.54 till 3.60, again @4.09 to 4.11). Then in the sad version shehnai takes over for the opening stroke of the prelude, countermelody intervention accentuating the pathos (@6.31 to 6.35, again @ 7.36 to 7.40).

17. Haye saawan ban gaye nain piya binKrorepati (1961) – Asha Bhosle – Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri – Music: Shankar Jaikishan

Perhaps one of the rare songs wherein SJ have used shehnai as an integral part of multi-instrument orchestra. It is so interesting to note the deft use of shehnai across the song, albeit in SJ’s signature higher-scale composition. Shehnai repeats the notes (@ 016 to 0.19) that violin ensemble plays @0.11 to 0.14; shehnai taking over high-scale rendition of mukhada in the interlude (0.54 to 1.08).

How one would wish to keep on getting to listen to such innovative and unconventional play of shehnai ………..!

Credits and Disclaimers:
1. The song links have been embedded from the YouTube only for the listening pleasure of music lovers. This blog claims no copyright over these songs, which vests with the respective copyright holders.

2. The photographs are taken from the internet, duly recognising the full copyrights for the same to the either original creator or the site where they were originally displayed.

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