The Versatile Music Composer – Vasant Desai
(In commemoration of Shri Vasant Desai’s 36th Death Anniversary on 22nd December, 2011 and his Birth Centenary on 9th June, 2012)
Vasant Desai (1912 - 1975) was one of the greatest music composers of Hindi and Marathi films. He was born on 9th June, 1912 in a wealthy family in Sonwad village, in the princely State of Sawantwadi (now in Maharashtra), then ruled by the Bhonsale clan. He grew up in Kudal, Sindhdurg district (of present day Maharashtra). (Some sources indicate that he was born in Kudal). He got an impression as a classist for most of his career, which made him not to come up in commercial films. He was limited mainly to mythological and historical films.
Vasantji was fascinated by music when he was living with his maternal uncle. He bought an old harmonium and started learning music. Fascinated by films, he went to Kolhapur where he met the legend V.Shantaram, who was then working in Prabhat Film Company.
Vasantji was associated with Prabhat Film Company in his early film career. He entered into films as an actor in Prabhat’s silent film Khooni Khanjar (1930). He worked as an assistant under music director Govindrao Tembe for Prabhat Co.’s first talkie ‘Ayodhyecha Raja (1932)’, which was the first Marathi talkie. The film was also made simultaneously in Hindi as Ayodhya Ka Raja (1932). After the 2003 fire at the National Archives of India, Pune in which prints of first Indian talkie Alam Ara (1931) were lost, it became the earliest surviving talkie of Indian cinema. Vasantji worked with Govindrao Tembe for a few other films like Our India, Monsoon, Amar Bhoopali, Shobha Aankh Ki Sharam and Mauj.
Vasantji acted, composed music and also sang in a few films of Prabhat co. like Dharmatma and Sant Dhyaneshwar. He sang many songs in that period in various films. He could not get the lead-role in the film Aadmi (1939), so he gave up acting and started his training in music, under Ustaad Aalam Khan and Ustaad Inaayat Khan.
He settled into composing music for films in 1940s. His first film as a composer was V.Shantaram’s mythological film Shakunthala (1943). The film was a major hit of its time. It ran for 104 weeks. After Shakuntala’s overwhelming success, Vasant Desai became a part of V. Shantaram’s Rajkamal Studio.
He composed music for 14 films in the 1940′s. Parvat Pe Apna Dera (1944), Subhadra (1946), Jivan Yatra (1946), Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani (1946), Matwala Shaayar Raam Joshi (1947), Uddhar (1949) were some of his popular films. By the end of 1940s, he was known for his melodious and touching music. He composed music for films made by V.Shantaram’s Rajkamal productions like Dr.Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani (1946), Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje (1955), Do Aankhen Barah Haath (1957). Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani is based on the real life story of Dr. Dwarakanath Kotnis, who did selfless service in China.
Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje (1955) was a film based on classical Kathak dance. Vasant Desai composed most of the music for this film in a very classical way. Nain Se Nain Naahi Milao sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Hemant Kumar is the most popular song from this film. Lyrics were composed by Hasrat Jaipuri. Gopi Krishna, the well known classical dancer played the lead role in this film.
Rajkamal Kalamandir’s Toofan Aur Diya (1956) had a variety of songs penned by Bharat Vyas and Hasrat Jaipuri…..
Two dance songs were sung by Shamshad Begum…..
All the solos by Lataji from this film were Meera bhajans…..
The song Aye Malik Tere Bande Hum, sung by Lata Mangeshkar from the film Do Aankhen Barah Haath is considered a gem. Vasantji’s relations with Shantaram detoriated in late 1950s after which they never worked together.
A typical toyseller’s song from the same film…..
A rain song…..
A sweet lullaby…..
A meaningful song…..
(My personal choice is Saiyan Jhooton Ka Bada Sartaj Nikla)
Mausi (1958) had a popular song composed by Vasantji….. Tim Tim Tim Taaron Ke Deep Jale, sung by Talat Mahmood and Lata Mangeshkar. This song’s tune was used by Ghantasala in his film Santi Nivasam (1960) for the song Come Come Come Kangaru Neekelane, sung by Jikki and himself.
Another song from Mausi…….
Do Behnen (1959) was a musical hit. It had Rajendra Kumar and Shyama in the lead-roles. Mukhda Dekhle Prani sung by Kavi Pradeep was the most popular song from this film. Other singers were Lata Mangeshkar and Mahendra kapoor. Lyrics were composed by Kavi Pradeep.
(My personal choice is Jhuk Jhuk Jhola Khaye, from this film)
Vijay Bhatt’s Goonj Uthi Shehnai (1959) was one of Vasantji’s exhibition of talent. All the songs by Lataji and Rafi sahab are some of the best songs of Indian film music. The film’s music was enriched with the rendition of Shehnai by Ustad Bismillah Khan. This was the only film he worked for. This film was the first hit for the legendary actor Rajendra Kumar. The lyrics were beautifully composed by Bharat Vyas. The songs are as follows:
He also composed for Pyar Ki Pyas (1961), which was a children’s film. This film contained songs of all aspects like patriotic, lullabies etc.
A multilingual patriotic song…..
The following lullaby is quite unexplainably beautiful (My personal choice)
Chanda Dhale Pankha Jhale – Geeta Dutt (This song appears twice in the film)
Chanda Dhale Pankha Jhale – Lata Mangeshkar (This song appears in the last part of the film)
(I personally recommend to see this film, follow this link
This is also available in parts on youtube)
Vasantji composed music for the great mythological film Sampoorna Ramayan (1961), directed by Babubhai Mistry. It had songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Manna Dey, Mohammad Rafi, Mahendra Kapoor and others. The songs are as follows:
Vasantji worked for Yaadein (1964), which had only one actor in performance ie. Sunil Dutt. This film mostly depended on its background music. It had only two songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar. The film was not a success, but won critical appraisal. Lyrics were composed by Anand Bakshi.
Ram Rajya (1967) was his last mythological film in 1960s. He worked with Bharat Vyas in this film. The songs are as follows:
Vasantji’s films with Hrishikesh Mukherjhee like Aashirwad (1968) and Guddi (1971) were a success. He made Ashok Kumar sing for himself (after a long period of time) in Aashirwaad. Songs from Aashirwaad like Rail Gaadi Chuk Chuk, Naani Ki Nao Chali by Ashok Kumar; Jhir Jhir Barse Sawani Ankhiyan, Ek Tha Bachpan by Lata Mangeshkar; Jeevan Se Lambe hai Bandhu by Manna Dey were considered a hit, especially the songs by Ashok Kumar. A few other songs from this film were sung by Ashok Kumar, Asha Bhonsle and Harindranath Chattopadhyay. Guddi was probably his last highest successful film. Vasantji introduced Vani Jairam in this film. Her songs from this film Bole Re Papihara and Hum Ko Mann Ki Shakti Dena were a hit. Bole Re Papihara is considered one of Vani Jairam’s and Vasant Desai’s best songs.
The following bhajan was composed by Vasantji for Guddi. It was not used in the film and was replaced by Aaja Re Pardesi from Madhumati (1958)
Later, in 1974, when Gulzar made Achaanak, which was a songless film, he called Vasant Desai for its music. The film has a great weightage for background music and Gulzar knew that Vasantji was the perfect man for the job. Vasantji did a great job as expected.
He introduced Dilraaj Kaur as a playback singer in the children’s film Rani Aur Laalpari (1975). It had a socio-fantasy background. He breathed his last on 22nd December, 1975. His last film Shaque (1976) was released after his death, the film’s music was completed by P.B.Agha.
His favourite poets were Bharat Vyas, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Kavi Pradeep, Gulzar and Pt. Narendra Sharma. His songs with Bharat Vyas in Goonj Uthi Shehnai, Sampoorna Ramayan, Pyar Ki Pyas were very successful.
Life is short, but Vasant Desai’s music lasts forever in our hearts.