Ravi Shankar remembered
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It is hard to realise today that Indian classical music was thought to be boring and an elite preoccupation when I was a teenager in the fifties. Dr B V Keskar, as Minister for Information and Broadcasting, had banned film music from radio and insisted on playing only classical music. It was a real turn off. We switched to Radio Ceylon and even Radio Pakistan to listen to film music. Then the Government decided to popularise classical music, both North Indian and Carnatic.
My early taste of Ravi Shankar, like many others, was from his divine musical score for Pather Panchali. This was music as poetic as the film; the blending was immaculate. The music did not intrude; it heightened the film. Then I heard him live at the Bombay State Music Festival. This was held at the Rang Bhavan, a large open air theatre location in Dhobi Talao in the dying days of cosmopolitan Bombay before it became Mumbai. Ravi Shankar's was always the last performance of the evening. Each day would end with one of the greats—Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Vilayat Khan, Bismillah Khan, Pandit Omkarnath. We listened to the younger performers for the prize of listening to the greats at the end of the evening. The programme had to end by 11 p.m. so we could catch the last train home to the suburbs.
The next thing was the music of Anuradha. When I first heard a snatch of Haye re woh din kyun na aaye on Radio Ceylon one morning, it was clear that this was a new music director like no other. When the song ended, they announced that it was Lata singing a song from Anuradha with music by Ravi Shankar. Wow! Ravi Shankar dabbling in Hindi film music and delivering hit songs Jaane kaise sapno me so gayi ankhiyan and of course Haye re woh din. They were not just hits; they were unusual melodies for a commercial Hindi film. Naushad had used classical music as had S D Burman. But this was different. It was deep and genuine. The work of a genius.