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Ulhas Bapat: Ravindra Jain arranged all his songs personally

The santoor player spoke to Cinestaan.com about his innovative musical techniques and his professional relationship with composer Ravindra Jain on the latter's 73rd birth anniversary (28 February).

Photo courtesy: Pandit Ulhas Bapat

Sonal Pandya

Last night, Pandit Ulhas Bapat was honoured at the Mirchi Music Awards Marathi with the Outstanding Contribution to Music – Jury Recognition Award. For four decades, the classical musician has been active with his concerts, tuitions and film recordings. Of course, over the years, he has played in numerous film scores for different music composers from RD Burman to Ravindra Jain.

Bapat, who made his debut as a santoor player at the age of 25, began taking music lessons aged five. He learnt the tabla from Pandit Ramakant Mhapsekar and later received musical guidance from sarod player Zarin Daroowala Sharma and musicians Pandit KG Ginde and Pandit Wamanrao Sadolikar.

Music composer Ravindra Jain

He recalls working for Jain early on in his career with the background score for the film Sunayana (1979). Bapat stated, “According to me, he was the best composer. And he was not only a composer, but also a lyricist and a singer to some extent. The great thing is he used to arrange his songs personally. He was responsible from the first note to the last note. Ravindra Jain composed everything — obbligato [an instrumental part in music], interlude music, anything and each and everything required for a song was composed by him.”

Unlike other composers who relied on their assistants and arrangers to help them, Jain and Salil Chowdhury were two who arranged and composed their music themselves. Bapat called the senior composer a good friend who knew his strengths while playing, especially since he is the only santoor player who tunes in chromatic structure.

“Let me explain," he said. "Usually there are 12 notes, major and minor everything and if it is played continuously, it sounds like chromatic tuning. I am the only artiste who can tune a santoor in a chromatic way, so I can play any song, with any scale, without wasting time tuning. It is difficult because the character of the instrument is such that you just touch the string, and if it is the wrong note, the vibrations will last longer till they die out. Ravindra Jain really appreciated my technique.”

He gave the example of the song, ‘Dil Lena Khel Hai Dildar Ka’ from Zamaane Ko Dikhana Hai (1981). “The song starts in scale D and my music comes in scale C, but because I’m a chromatic tuner player, I could play both the sections,” he said. Bapat had also played on Jain’s Filmfare award-winning score on Raj Kapoor’s Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1985).

Besides mastering this difficult technique, Bapat also invented and holds a patent for a technique on the santoor. “In Indian classical music, we call it a meend, but normally it is just Western with slur, going from one note to the next note. I first used this meend technique in Angoor (1982) for the song ‘Hoton Pe Beeti Baat’. That was the first day when Punchamda [RD Burman] gave me the opportunity to use the meend technique and he was so happy. He shouted like anything, ‘Yeh ladka ne kya kamal kiya hai, santoor pe meend laya hai [This boy has done something extraordinary, he has performed the meend on the santoor].” Bapat said.

Burman loved new sounds and techniques from his crew. He encouraged them to push themselves. Bapat also used this meend technique on Burman’s 1987 private album Dil Padosi Hai, a collaboration with Asha Bhosle and Gulzar.

Bapat reckons that he might have worked with Jain on around 40 films, but since the 1970s he would have a daily recording of two to three songs so he is not quite sure how many total films in all languages he might have worked on. Despite his classical background, Bapat says he does not mind switching between films and concerts.

Bapat feels one “should be flexible” for both endeavours. “If you are sitting as a recording musician, your nature and playing should be different. If you are playing on the stage as a solo artist, your nature should be different, your approach to your music should be different,” he explained. In a classical concert, I am playing raag Malkauns or any other raag, for the last 40 years; when I go to a recording, a composer has already thought about the music and pieces and everything and I have to reproduce that within minimum time with maximum perfection. So it’s very difficult to play in a recording and I don’t want to criticize anybody, but those who don’t like to play in a recording is because they don’t know how to play, or they are not comfortable."