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Buried under the sands of time, the melodies of composer Bulo C Rani

On Bulo C Rani's birth centenary today, we remember the largely forgotten music composer whose songs, however, remain immortal.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Historically, changes in technology in cinema have created space for new talent to take centrestage and offered audiences something new. But at the same time, these changes have spelled doom for others who became redundant. This is perhaps most evident in film music, which has changed rapidly as new trends and sounds were preferred by audiences and the older maker of melodies had to step aside. One such person who faces relative obscurity today owing to changes in film sound is music composer Bulo C Rani.

Bulo C Rani was drawn to music at a young age and showed a keenness for singing. He happened to attend the recording of a song, 'Tu Kaunsi Badli Mein Mere Chand Hai Aaja' by Noorjehan, composed by Master Ghulam Haider for Khandaan (1942) in Lahore. That recording made a lasting impression on him as he was enraptured by the music and decided to pursue the art himself.

He came to Bombay at the behest of lyricist DN Madhok and became an assistant to the famous composer Khemchand Prakash at Ranjit Studios and assisted him on films like Dukh Sukh (1942), Chandni (1942), Tansen (1943) and Shahenshah Babar (1944). Khemchand Prakash also gave him an opportunity to sing for the film Guest (1942), where he rendered the song 'Ruthna Pyar Mei Karwat Ka Badal Jana'.

Rani also worked with music director Gyan Dutt on Shankar Parvati (1943). The following year, he got his break as a music director with the film Pagli Duniya (1944), directed by Aspi Irani. Most of the film’s songs were sung by the popular singer-actress Amirbai Karnataki. The same year, he composed the music for Caravan (1944), also directed by Aspi Irani. The songs of this film were sung mainly by Karnataki and Zohrabai Ambalewali.

Rani got his first hit with Chaturbhuj Doshi’s Moorti (1945), starring Khurshid and Motilal. Thereafter, he composed the music for Irani's Rajputani (1946), Akhtar Hussain's Anjuman (1948), Ramchandra Thakur's Jai Hanuman (1948) and Garibi (1949), and Raman Desai's Narad Muni (1949), amongst many others in a prolific decade, but it was his music for Kidar Sharma’s Jogan (1950) that brought him much appreciation.

Jogan starred Nargis as a female mendicant whose bhajans attract the atheist Vijay (Dilip Kumar). The bhajans by Meerabai, 'Ghoonghat Ke Pat Khol Re' and 'Mai To Giridhar Ke Ghar Jaoon', sung by Geeta Roy, were among the early hits of the singer's and the star's careers. The song 'Sundarta Ke Sabhi Shikar' by Talat Mehmood became very popular as well.

Incidentally, this was the time when Geeta Roy, later Geeta Dutt, had displaced some of the singing stalwarts to gain popularity, even as another newcomer, Lata Mangeshkar, had demonstrated her versatility in the blockbuster hits Barsaat (1949) and Mahal (1949) and was headed in the direction of becoming Hindi cinema's pre-eminent female playback singer.

Bulo C Rani’s films that followed include Wafa (1950), Pyar Ki Baten (1951), Baghdad (1952), Gul-Sanobar (1953), DN Madhok's Bilwamangal (1954), Shikar (1955), Veer Rajputani (1955) and Jeevan Saathi (1957). Of these, his mentor Madhok’s Bilwamangal, based on the life of the devotional poet and singer Surdas, is remembered for its songs, 'Panaghat Pe More Shyam' by CH Atma and 'Parwanon Se Preet Seekh Le' by Suraiya.

This was among Rani’s last memorable films. The tide had already turned, with music directors C Ramchandra, Shankar-Jaikishan, Naushad and OP Nayyar on the ascendant. They were experimenting with new sounds in film music, aided by advances in technology where multiple microphones of high quality and mixers could be used. Orchestras became larger, with varied instruments.

The changes were accompanied by a shift in the choice of vocals as well, with thinner female voices such as those of Noorjehan and Mangeshkar becoming more popular. The qawwali from Al-Hilal (1958), 'Humein Toh Loot Liya Milke Husnwalon Ne', sung by the lesser known Ismail Azad, marked one of Rani’s later hits. He ended his career in 1966.

In his book, Yesterday’s Melodies Today’s Memories, Manek Premchand wrote that Bulo C Rani started doing stage shows and took to teaching music to keep the home fires burning. At a personal level, some difficulties engulfed his family. Shattered by the many challenges that life had thrown at him, he was driven to despair and attempted to end his life. He was rushed to hospital but died on 24 May 1993, barely a fortnight after his 73rd birthday.

While some of his compositions are still remembered fondly today, Bulo C Rani, sadly, is largely forgotten. Here is another lovely number from Jogan, 'Jin Aankhon Ki Neend Haram Hui', sung by the peerless Shamshad Begum.