Note: Recently, there have been discussions on the creation and performance of the famous song, Ai Mere Watan Ke Logo. Many stories have been told from many points of view. I had heard about the Marathi autobiography of the music director C Ramchandra, but have not been able to find it anywhere. It is as it never existed! However, my friends who have read the book have told me many things from the autobiography.
So, one day, out of nowhere, somebody sent me this English version of the relevant section from the missing book. Unfortunately, it was mailed from a one-use throw-away email and I cannot find any more information about the author. Frankly, I would like to see the whole book translated into Hindi or English and published. It is a historical document and part of our cultural heritage. I wonder why it has not been done so far. My plea to anybody who has a copy, please translate and have it published so that we can all benefit.
Before we get to that, here are some remarks about him, based on conversations with my friends.
Ramchandra Narhar Chitalkar, famously known by his screen name C. Ramchandra, was one of the most talented, celebrated, top-ranking, and highly successful composers of Bollywood of the 1940s and 1950s. He also produced movies, crooned and had a brief stint as an actor.
He was also a skilled musician who played harmonium, mandolin, piano, and wrote music, too. He was gifted with good looks and imposing physique -- over 6 ft tall with fine features.
C. Ramchandra came from very humble family origins. He was born to struggling parents of high-caste Brahmin descent from Punatamba village, Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra, India, on January 12, 1918.
He passed through an insecure, unstable and a painful childhood. He had very little schooling, since his heart and soul was in music, singing and movies. He began taking music and singing lessons when he was just about 12 years old in pursuit of his dream of becoming a music director. He took it in his stride the early humiliation at the hands of bosses of big film studios.
His mother and siblings made the best use of his fame and fortune, he was betrayed by his best actor-director-producer friend, he was two-timed by women he fell in love with, envious colleagues in the film industry harmed his professional reputation and falling out with his famous sweetheart wrecked his career. However, perhaps a tragic figure that emerges from his memoirs is his long-suffering wife Ben who was aware that her husband was a philanderer and an alcoholic.
His first major hit as music director came about when he was merely 24, and afterwards he never looked back. He composed most melodious and soaring scores for box-office hits such as ‘Safar’, ‘Shehnai’, ‘Saajan’, ‘Siphaiya’,‘Samadhi’, ‘Sangram’, ‘Patanga’, ‘Sagai’, ‘Albela’, ‘Parchhain’, ‘Anarkali’, ‘Nastik’, ‘Azaad’, ‘Insaniyat’, ‘Sharada’, ‘Navrang’ and many more. He scored music for more than 120 films.
He tickled moviegoers’ eardrums with his exciting musical and singing talent for over 15 years, comprising brilliant work which reached an exalted position.
The iconic and enduring patriotic song ‘Aye mere watan ke logo’ was composed and then performed by him live on India’s Republic Day function at Ramlila grounds in New Delhi on January 27, 1963.
A friend of mine who had read the Marathi autobiography very long ago mentioned that in his autobiography C. Ramchandra alludes to the fact that his insatiable passion for women and booze took its toll on his glorious career and well-being which led to his downfall. And he also makes blunt disclosures about Bollywood film industry, studio bosses and artistes. We wish he had focused more on his melodic achievements in his 15-year-long career as one of the most acclaimed music directors ever.
His splendid musical journey and controversial private life met a sorrowful end at a hospital in Mumbai, India, on January 5, 1982.
The Republic Day Concert
I was at the top of the tree as one of Bollywood’s top-notch and successful music directors of the 1940s and 1950s. The lofty status bestowed me with fame and fortune. Many of my dreams and ambitions were fulfilled. Some blessed me with joy, others left behind a string of heart-rending memories.
Among one of my most cherished ambitions was to present a live musical performance on India’s Republic Day celebrations on January 27, 1963 in New Delhi on Ramlila grounds, in the presence of my beloved Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) and other eminent Indian and foreign political dignitaries of the time.
Once in the past I had attended this magnificent national spectacle. The vast arena with a huge stage was packed with thousands of people from all over India. Each state of India showcased its unique and colorful folk dances. It was truly splendid to behold!
I pondered if an artiste like me from the film industry would ever get a chance to perform in that program. Will they allow entertainers from films to hold a live concert there in front of our dear dealers?
Believe it or not, that day actually dawned – on January 27, 1963. God heard my prayer, but there was a dilemma – I had no song to play or sing fitting for the grand occasion. Suddenly, one name came to mind – Kavi Pradip (1915-1998), known as Kalidas of the film industry. He was a renowned poet and songwriter. I went to meet him.
“I want you to write a song for the Republic Day function on January 27,” I said to him.
“You come to meet me only when you want to get done something for free,” he retorted.
“Oh shit!” I said to myself. He forgot what I had done for him earlier.
As far I was concerned, there was only one Hindi poet for me – Pradip; only he was capable of penning the kind of song I wanted for the occasion. I was determined.
Meanwhile, Dilip Kumar (1922-2021) a top leading man of that era, who was the chief of the event committee, told me, “Panditji only likes to listen to Hindi film songs.” For a moment I felt numb. At that time I had no movies on hand, and no songs to compose.
I once again rushed to Pradip, and met him several times later on. I reminded him about the well-known Marathi poet and songwriter, G. D. Madgulkar (1919-1977), who wrote songs like “Many days have gone by since I last saw you”, “Let’s win or die”, “I am a watchman, India is my town, fighter is my name” and so on. I sang these songs to Pradip to tease him.
Finally he agreed to write the song. When it came to commitment, no one could doubt Pradip’s integrity. He immediately got to work on it.
Lata Mangeshkar or Asha Bhosle
It was the time when Lata Mangeshkar (1929- ) and I were not on talking terms, and she had stopped singing for me. She bluntly told me that she would never attend the Republic Day program. Meanwhile, actor Dilip Kumar was insisting, “Whatever you say, Annaji – Lata must come.” I said, “Once she says ‘no’ she means ‘no’. She will never come. I will ask Asha Bhosle (1933 - ) Lata’s younger sister, also a singer, to sing the song. Anyway, Lata no longer sings for me; nowadays she sings only for other music directors. Let her sing for them if she wants to. She is not ready to come. What can I do?” Dilip Kumar became restless.
One early morning my telephone suddenly rang. It was Pradip. “Lata is ready to sing for you,” he revealed. I said, “That can’t be. Asha is willing and she will sing for me. No I won’t say ‘no’ to Asha.” Then Pradip suggested, “Take Lata also.”
So I finally said, “OK. Both Lata and Asha will sing.”
But Pradip asked me to wait. Later he told me that he telephoned Lata and she agreed to sing with sister Asha; so both will sing. I think this incident took place on January 21, 1963, if I remember correctly.
The event committee asked me which songs I would perform. “Pradip is writing it,” I told them.
Meanwhile, actor Raj Kapoor (1924-1988), a top leading man of that era, suggested to me, “Annnaji, why don’t you sing this song yourself ‘Oh, Chou En Lai, shame on you’.” (In 1962, China had declared war on India, and Zhou En Lai was its Premier.) I said to Raj, “Now tell me, how can I sing that kind of song in front of Panditji. Never!”
Pradip wrote one lyric “Aye mere watan ke logo, tum khoob laga lo naara.” It took him 15 days to complete it. Both Pradip and I sat at home every night from 7 to 1 am and wrote 100 stanzas. Out of these many we had to select only 5 or 6 – such a staggering task! Every stanza was simply outstanding. We made a final selection and the song was ready, and by January 19, the tune was also somewhat fixed.
Everyone was curious to know what type of song I would present. Nobody knew. All other music directors had already begun their rehearsals – only my rehearsal was yet to begin. Musicians, boys and girls in the chorus had no notion about the song.
In order to check the sound system in Delhi, a recordist friend Mr B. N. Sharma and myself were to leave for Delhi on January 24. I called my musician assistant Johnny on January 21 and gave him only the last three stanzas which were to be played by musicians. I called the chorus group and explained to them the tune of only the first line of the song.
Lata vs Asha
Who is the loser?
On January 23 I called up Lata and Asha for rehearsals in Mumbai. Lata came first, followed by Asha later on. I wrote down the song and gave it to them, but before rehearsals could begin, Lata said to Asha, “Why don’t you tell Ram that you are unwell, and cannot come to the Republic Day function?”
Asha took me outside the rehearsal hall and said, “Anna, Lata doesn’t wish me to sing the song. I’m not coming to Delhi.” I said to Asha, “But I’ve already booked a flight for you, and you’ve promised that you would come. Please come.” But Asha replied, “I’m not coming,” and she left the hall. I felt sad and utterly disappointed to see Asha leave.
I knew Asha too well. She is a good-natured girl and a great singer, too. Anyway, there was now only Lata. I don’t know why Asha gave in to Lata’s suggestion. Perhaps out of great respect for her elder sister, she sacrificed her talent on her sister’s altar!
Tight secrecy about the song
The starting lines of Pradip’s song ran like this: “Aye mere watan ke logo, tum khoob laga lo naaraa, yeh shubh din hai hum sub ka, lehra do tiranga pyara.” The song begins with a happy note, but later on it turns sad. That’s why a day earlier before the program, I wrote for Johnny the happy notes, and asked him to rehearse them. Even Lata had not done any rehearsals yet. I taped the song for her and asked her to come to Delhi a day earlier ahead of the concert.
On January 24 I myself and recordist Sharma arrived in Delhi. While on the plane, Sharma asked me, “Why the hell is X X coming here?” I shot back, “Why don’t you ask her?”
There was tight secrecy about the song – its idea, words, tune, etc – because they are a very vital part of it. So far typical patriotic songs had themes such as Let’s Fight, Let’s Kill or Die, and so on. Only our song graphically depicted the intense suffering of the Jawans (soldiers), how they endured the heavy snowfalls and freezing cold in the mountains, and yet they bravely fought to protect their country, India. The song paid a tribute to them and their praiseworthy, selfless dedication. Had someone stolen our idea, we could have lost our originality, and our efforts would have been a total waste
Lata Mangeshkar arrived in Delhi on January 26 and stayed in Ashoka Hotel, where I was also put up. That day she rehearsed very hard for hours on end. The program was scheduled on January 27 at 2.30 in the afternoon. Two plane loads of musicians, artistes, chorus boys and girls arrived in Delhi from Mumbai on the morning of January 27.
The happy notes were to begin with playing of a flute by the best flutist in the film industry – his name was Manohari.
Prime Minister Pandit Nehru arrives
All of us in the team gathered at the stadium at 1 in the afternoon, and at 2.30 sharp, Panditji (Nehru) arrived. The programme started. We four music directors had decided to perform a number each for Panditji. In Mumbai we had thrown the lots, and my number was the last!
As a prelude to her major act, Lata first sang these two songs: ‘Aap ki nazron ne samjha’, and ‘Allah tero naam’.
Then my turn came, and an announcement was made to that effect. Lata, myself and the musicians walked over to the stage. As I was standing, I said, “One, two…,” but the music couldn’t start.
Somehow Manohari had forgotten how to play his piece due to lack of rehearsal. I was nervous and began to sweat heavily. Then I instructed Manohari, “You must start now. Once again, one, two…”and it started well!
After the flute act, the song itself began:
“Aye mere watan ke logo, tum laga lo naaraa
Yeh shubh din hai hum sab ka
Lehra do tiranga pyara
Par mat bhoolo, seemapar veeron ne pran ganwaye.”
Thus far everything was going very well as planned, and even the audience was spellbound – and suddenly, a fighter plane flew above in the sky. All the 40,000 people in the stadium stretched their necks to stare in the sky with deep anger. That made me very happy because I knew that the song had touched their hearts. Imagine 40,000 people with 80,000 thousand eyes looking at the sky with contempt!
In pin-drop silence the crowd listened to the 10-minute song. My eyes focused on Panditji – he was soaking in every word and note. When he heard the chorus, “Jai Hind, Jai Hind ki Sena”, he looked everywhere to see where the sound of singing was coming from. What I did was to keep the chorus group behind the curtain on the stage, and asked Sharma to create echo sound effect. As was the common practice, the chorus stood on the stage, but I placed the group behind the scene. It sounded as if Indians all over India had joined in the chorus singing – “Jai Hind, Jai Hind ki Sena, Jai Hind, Jai Hind ki Sena” – the impact was breathtaking, to say the least.
The dream fulfilled
The singing ended, followed by a loud, ear-splitting applause from thousands of people. It was such a thrilling and unforgettable experience! Everyone loved the music, the song and its rendering by Lata, especially my most beloved Panditji.
At the end of the concert, music director Naushad Ali (1919-2006), Raj Kapoor and Dililp Kumar showered me with compliments and affection. Movie moghul Mehboob Khan (1907-1964) remarked, “Annaji, all the film industry is very proud of you. We’ll walk around with our chins up!”
That was the happiest day of my life and the climax of my musical talent. The tremendous appreciation for the artiste in me was never like it before and never will be again. “Sa re ga ma padh ni sa…every ‘sur’ perfectly matched. Thank you God, you’ve been so gracious to me.”
Party at Panditji!
After interval, Panditji left. A party was arranged at his residence. I reached there late, and to my delight and surprise I saw both Panditji and his daughter Indiraji (1917-1984) waiting for me on the staircase. As soon as they saw me they both clasped my hands and exclaimed, “Aaj aapne hum ko rulaya.” (“Today, you brought tears to our eyes.”)
I was speechless and weeping. I sat down at a distance, alone. A group of frenzied lensmen were clicking away pictures one after the other. Everyone wanted their picture with great Panditji. When he called me, I requested him, “Please Sir, I want one photograph with you, with only me.” He smilingly obliged and said, “Sure, why not?” Thus, my longtime wish was fulfilled.
After a short while, the highly regarded Yashwantrao Chavan (1913-1984), the first Chief Minsiter of Maharashtra, joined us. He gave me a tight embrace – that said it all. I was photographed with Chavanji. Close to the party hall was Panditji’s study room and drawing room. Veteran actor David Abraham (1902-1982), director-producer Ram Kamlani and Panditji went there and called me to join them. Panditji instructed a servant not to allow anyone inside.
When I entered Panditji’s study room, there were rows and piles of books all over – from the floor to the ceiling! There was a huge table and a chair. I couldn’t help but stare with awe at his huge collection of books. Panditji was amused when he saw me and mischievously said, “Don’t think I’ve read them all!” – and he chuckled impishly!
In his drawing room there was a pair of large white elephant tusks, and the sculpture of a horse made of china clay. He said that only he had that kind of horse made of one entire piece, and not joined with small loose pieces, and he beamed from ear to ear, like a little boy!
After enjoying the party and having fun, all of us returned to our rooms at Ashoka Hotel to a much deserved rest, the past few days have been so tough and weary.
Now I wished to be alone in my room, no visitors – just sitting on my own; I told all my friends not to disturb.
I thought about our Republic Day performance – about poet Pradip, how beautiful and touching lyrics he penned down. But he didn’t come to Delhi. About Asha (Bhosle) who drew a veil over her hurt feelings. I had just one word for her ‘Bechari’. (Poor Asha, poor girl.)
In reflective mood
Then I retreated and recalled the events since the day I was born -- January 12, 1918. There have been so many escapades in my life – some pleasing, others unpleasant -- fame, fortune, love affairs, domestic discord, conflicts in the film industry…even in my own mind! I couldn’t get to the bottom of them all, so confused I was. I was also heavily drinking to my heart’s content.
The story of my life began to roll before my eyes like a movie reel.