Remembering Ravindra Jain, and the India he made music for.
When I heard about Ravindra Jain’s demise, I thought of Naseeruddin Shah. Not the most obvious association, I know, but think of Jain’s title song for Sunayana, the 1979 Rajshri Productions’ romance, and recall Shah trying to do the romantic-hero thing, flailing his arms about in a candy-coloured set, the centrepiece of which was a fountain springing forth from a giant lotus. According to the lyrics, the Shah character is saying, O beautiful-eyed one, I want to see you enjoy the sights of the world, but his face says, Someone shoot me, please. In his entertaining memoir, And Then One Day, Shah says, “All I thought I had to do was lip-sync perfectly… What in fact I should have done is study the songs in Shammi Kapoor’s movies… It took me years before I learnt the difference between merely singing a song and ‘performing’ it.” It’s easy to understand Shah’s befuddlement at the time. He came from a different world, the world of Nishant, Manthan, Bhumika and Junoon. The rest of India, while not queuing up for the Bachchan movies, was watching Chitchor and Sawan Ko Aane Do.
Ravindra Jain’s demise also brought to mind a song from Sawan Ko Aane Do, the one that goes Kajre ki baati. This isn’t Jain’s music, as I discovered after a bit of Googling – the composer is Rajkamal. I suppose the confusion came about because audio cassettes, in the India of those days, carried songs from two films of the same era, and it’s possible that I’d first listened to Kajre ki baati on a Chitchor/ Sawan Ko Aane Do combo. (Chitchor had Ravindra Jain’s music.) But my point isn’t about the music. It’s about the lyrics. This is one of those songs where the heroine is bawling her eyes out, and she compares her kohl to a wick and her tears to oil. (We are left to complete the metaphor in our heads: the eye is the lamp.) It’s an exquisitely beautiful image, a very Indian image. It’s also an image that’s no longer marketable. At the pharmacy, I see ads for Lakmé Eyeconic Kajal and L’Oréal Kajal Magique. We live in an India of Madison Avenue makeovers, endorsed by a size-zero Kareena Kapoor. The kajal in the Sawan Ko Aane Do song is different. It’s kajra, the black cake in the little round container you may have seen in your mother’s cabinet as she dipped a finger in and lined her eye and wiped off the excess in her hair. That was what this music was, the music of Rajshri Productions, the music of Rajkamal, the music of Ravindra Jain.
This lack of… individuality may be why Ravindra Jain did not rise to the heights expected of him after his scores for Saudagar and Chitchor. Compare the way he used Yesudas to the way Salil Chaudhury used the singer in Chhoti Si Baat, the Basu Chatterjee-Amol Palekar collaboration that came before Chitchor. Jaaneman, jaaneman, tere do nayan… There’s pizzazz. You want to dance. With Jab deep jale aana (Chitchor), you want to sit in a corner, close your eyes and lose yourself. This isn’t about which is the better song, which is the better way of making music. It’s about versatility, range. It’s about why Ravindra Jain is remembered fondly, with a lot of nostalgia, but without the “genius” word being thrown around too much. Salil Chaudhury, in Chhoti Si Baat, also gave us Lata Mangeshkar’s wistful Na jaane kyon, a number that makes you want to sit in a corner, close your eyes and lose yourself. Plus, there was the ebullient Yeh din kya aaye, by Mukesh. In contrast, the songs of Chitchor, though lovely (and still dewdrop-fresh), share the same DNA. Jain was happy in his little corner. Or maybe the word is modest. He had his hits with bigger singers, but he seemed content in his little world with Hemlata and Yesudas.
Listening to his songs, we slip back into that world, the India of Chitchor, where the hero would, without smirking, liken his love to kohl and ask the heroine to line her eyes with it. Meri preet ka kaajal tum apne nainon mein male aana… Kohl keeps coming up in these songs (many of them written by Jain himself), for one of the things the heroine liked to do was sit down and make herself pretty for her beloved… Sajna hai mujhe sajana ke liye, as the song went in Saudagar. The entire sequence is about Padma Khanna getting ready to meet Amitabh Bachchan. There was a whole genre of songs woven around words denoting ornaments and makeup. Gajra. Kajra. Jhumka. Payal. Kangana. The latter, today, is one of our top actresses, and she wouldn’t be caught dead playing coy in one of these numbers – or endorsing the sentiments in them. In the gorgeous title song of Ankhiyon Ke Jharokon Se (one of my favourite Ravindra Jain compositions), the girl sings, Tum ho jahan saajan meri duniya hai wahin pe. Her world is where the man is. Women like these don’t exist today – at least on screen, where they go to work and come back home to live-in partners. The cosmetics, too, have changed, and unless your name is Gulzar, you’re going to struggle to work “Hydrating Super Sunscreen SPF 50 PA+++” into a tune.
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