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On the golden threshold

Noted composer Ravi and singer Mahendra Kapoor who have completed fifty years were recently felicitated by the A.P. Kala Vedika. They reminisce about their journey.


SON AND FATHER: Rohan and Mahendra Kapoor.

IN AN era where change is the order of the day two veterans in Bollywood have stood the test of time. Ravi's and Mahendra Kapoor's melodious journey began at the same time. While Ravi is now composing for Malayalam films, Mahendra Kapoor sings for B.R. Chopra's television serials and private bhajan and Sufi albums.

"Destiny made me a singer," says Mahendra Kapoor, beginning the conversation. Being the son of a businessman, he was the first to take up professional singing in the family. "My parents were very encouraging. When I was in kindergarten my teacher asked us to sing and I sang a film song of Aminbhai Karnataki's Maar katari marjana ki akhiyon kisise milanana. Thenceforth, I became popular in school." His brother too encouraged him and he took him to Rafi (Muhammad) saab and Rafi suggested he learn classical music. So Mahendraji began with a tutor Manhar Poddar from All India Radio and later learnt from different ustads.

Mahendraji has sung with all the great names in music.What has been his experience? "I have a lot of respect for them. They were very nice to me. I used to feel nervous as most of them were established but they were so encouraging, they never made me feel low or inferior."

In the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies singers were the soul of actors - Mukesh to Raj Kapoor, Muhammad Rafi to Shammi Kapoor, Kishore Kumar to Rajesh Khanna and Mahendra Kapoor to Manoj Kumar. Though this trend continues today, it is not the same. Mahendraji responds, "I feel the actors are not particular about singers. Earlier, they used to sit in the music rehearsals. They even selected the singer at times - make the singer know his mannerisms. That way one got into the mood. Nowadays the heroes don't have the time to do that".

With digitisation and computerisation there is a predominance of sound in today's music. Is the singer's role undermined? "During our times, live musicians were used and the orchestra followed the singer. Now the singer has to follow the music. Music is pre-recorded. More of mechanism has set in and it doesn't touch the heart and soul".

Mahendraji has rendered innumerable songs and if one wants to know what he is proud of singing, he says "songs which the audience want repeatedly become lovable to you. Songs like Chalo ek baar phir se, Nayyar saab's laakhon hai yahan dilwale which I love singing even now."

Mahendra Kapoor made a foray into television with Mahabharata. "I always sang for B.R. Chopra When the pilot was sent to Doordarshan they suggested a woman singer but Chopra saab wanted only me to sing. Luckily for me Sanskrit was my second language in school and college and this facilitated my singing," he says.

The singer confesses he had a desire to sing in south Indian films and even sang in a Malayalam film. "Music has no language barriers. I listen to Balamuralikrishna's Carnatic music".

Mahendraji's knowledge of classical music has helped him to move from one genre to another. Today he is active singing bhajans and Sufi music doing live shows. How would he describe his 50-year journey in music? "I am thankful to the Almighty for having blessed me and he should continue to bless my son Rohan to carry on the mantle. Rohan has also learnt classical music and is singing for private albums. I pray to God that I should keep singing till the end," he says signing off.


TUNING MELODIOUSLY: Ravi

Ravi Sharma, better known as Ravi, has given some super hit songs in films like Chaudhvin ka chand, Humraaz, Waqt, Neel kamal and Gumraah. Today there is no Hindu wedding without his two songs namely Aaj mere yaar ki shaadi hai and Babul duyaen leti ja.. Even for that matter his song Hum bhi agar bachche hote is a popular tune. Ravi has composed for many films produced by South Indian banners - Ghoonghat, Gharana, Grihasti, Aurat, Samaj ko badal dalo (Gemini), Meherban, Do kaliyan (AVM) Bharosa, Khandaan (Vasu films). So his trips to Madras were frequent. In fact he mentions that he was close to the late Sivaji Ganesan.

Ravi has now diverted to Malayalam films. He has composed music for 14 Malayalam films in the last six-seven " Ten were super hits. Those who have heard songs of Panchagni and Nakashatangal would vouch for the gifted composer's compositions.

Ravi sets the tune for the lyrics and not the other way around. This is what he has been doing for five decades. "Since I choose written poetry to compose, the lyricist and the composer have full freedom to write and compose."

M.T. Vasudevan Nair and Hariharan made Ravi's entry into Malayalam cinema possible. Having liked his music they called him to Chennai. "The writer OVN Kurup asked me to give him the tune. I asked him to give me the words. He laughed and gave me the words. As was my habit I made a number of tunes according to the situation using traditional instruments. I liked one and when the director came in the evening he liked what I composed. Chitra sang the song which became a hit." For his efforts the State government conferred the best music director award.

Ravi never imagined he would compose for Malayalam films. "I went to do one film and did the next one immediately," he says. More films followed - Vaishali, Oruvelakkam veeru gatha, Sargam and more awards - State and national. Ravi does not mind venturing into other languages provided he gets good producers.

For someone who was not formally trained in music, Ravi has indeed come a long way. Not many are aware that he used to sing bhajans and songs . He has even written and sung songs for Hindi films.

Ravi came to Mumbai in 1952 to become a singer and became an assistant to Hemant Kumar. He was the one who played the bheen on the harmonium in the film Nagin. During that time he got a chance to compose for Vachan and the other offers followed.

Looking back at his efforts he feels satisfied. "When I composed years ago I never thought that I would get the recognition and popularity even after so many years. Even in the programmes like Saregama or Antakshri people are singing old songs," ending the conversation on this happy note.

RADHIKA RAJAMANI

Photos: K. Ramesh Babu

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