Remembering Legendary Composer Vasant Desai

I was eagerly awaiting this post. But when I started collecting facts for the post, I got drowned under flood of information. It’s really difficult to portray such an all rounder personality in a single post. He has worked not only for Hindi and Marathi films, but his contribution as a music director for Marathi musical plays (Sangeet Natak) is also important. He also composed background score for a few Hindi films. He never got his due. Though mainly focusing on his hindi film songs, I will try to highlight his other aspects as well.

Vasant Desai
Vasant Desai


Talent and commercial success do not always go hand in hand, is literally true for him. He was proficient in making Raag based tunes and it was his most powerful weapon. He has also used sounds from nature like, sounds of cow bells, rustling of leaves etc. He never believed in advertising himself and his songs used to speak for his talent. But to survive in the industry, many such compromises and politics, form a part of the career. Well! He wasn’t interested in such things.

After his separation from V Shantaram, he suffered a setback, but he never complained about Shantaram to anyone. In 1960s, more of his films were mythological or low budget, but he consistently proved himself by his quality work. He always had melody in his songs. He remained busy with Marathi films and Marathi Sangeet Natak, in 60s, along with other projects for children’s theatre.

He was born as Atmaram Desai on 9th June 1912, known popularly by his nickname, Vasant Desai. He came to Kolhapur as a as a teenager and joined Prabhat Film Company. He acted in some of the silent films, first one being, Khooni Khanjar in 1930 for Prabhat. Later, he also acted in Maya Machhindra, Amrit Manthan & Dharmatma. He also sang there, most notable was the opening song ‘Jai Jai Rajadhiraj’ from Ayodhyecha Raja, the first Marathi Talkie. He also assisted, composer Govindrao Tembe and learnt a lot too from him. His zeal for acting took him to play the lead role in Marathi film, Manoos (1939) where he successfully cleared the audition. But destiny had other plans! He was replaced by Shahu Modak. After this incident, he focused mainly on music and started training under Ustad Aalam Khan & Ustad Inayat Khan.
It is said that, in his early days, he composed for some movies, but remained uncredited. His first Hindi film as an independent composer was Wadia Movietone’s ‘Shobha’ in 1942. He left Prabhat and joined Rajkamal with V Shantaram. In 1943, the film, Shakuntala opened the doors of success for him. It was a huge musical hit and he became an important part of Rajkamal. He composed for Parbat Ke Apna Dera (1944), Subhadra (1946), Jeevan Yatra (1946), Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani (1946), Matwala Shair Ram Joshi (1947), Udhaar (1949) in 1940s. He had a long association with V Shantaram.

With V Shanataram

Dahej (1950), Sheeshmahal (1950), Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje (1955), Toofan Aur Diya (1956), Do Aankhen Barah Haath (1957), Mausi (1958), Ardhangini (1959), Goonj Uthi Shehnai (1959), School Master (1959), Sampurna Ramayan (1961), Yaadein (1964), Bharat Milap (1965), Ladki Sahyadri Ki (1966) , Ram Rajya (1967), Ashirwad (1968), Guddi (1971), Rani Aur Laal Pari (1975) were his other films.
While composing songs, he also composed background score for a few films, a couple of which were unique in their own terms. The first film, Sunil Dutt’s ‘Yaadein’ in 1964, which had only one actor and the other was Achanak (1974), which had no songs. For both the films, background music formed an important part , and he did his job brilliantly well. He also did background score for films, Zalzala, Ferry, Kabhi Andhera Kabhi Uajala.

He never compromised with the quality and content of the songs. He was always comfortable with the classical based songs and seldom composed, western style songs, ghazals or Qawwalis. Ashirwad features ‘Railgadi Railgadi’ by Ashok Kumar, which is perhaps Hindi film’s first ‘Rap song’. It also had other classical based songs, and a Lavani (by Leela Gandhi as dancer) that were appreciated by the audience.
He worked with majority of lyricists. His major associations were with Bharat Vyas, Hasrat Jaipuri & Majrooh. In 1960s, with Bharat Vyas he created some memorable songs for mythological films and social films as well. He introduced Vani Jayram in 1971 for the film Guddi, and Dilraj Kaur in 1975 for Rani Aur Laal Pari, as a playback singer.

His first official Marathi film was Lok Shahir RamJoshi in 1947. He composed a number of hits for Marathi films also! Amar Bhupali- 1951 (Sanga Mukunda Kuni Ha & Ghanshyam Sundara), Shyamchi Aai -1953 (Bharjari Ga Pitambar & Aai Mhanuni Koni), Kanchanganga- 1954, Molkarin- 1963 (Daiv Janile Kuni & Dev Jari Maj), Swayamvar Jhale Seeteche- 1964, , Chhota Jawan-1963 (Jinku Kinva Maru), Dhanya Te Santaji Dhanaji- 1968, etc.
His compositions were selected for The Cannes Festival twice. Firstly for Marathi Movie, Amar Bhupali in 1952, and then again in 1956 for a short film, Growing Coconuts by Fali Bilimoria.
His contribution in rejuvenating Marathi Sangeet Natak is also memorable. With the introduction of talkie films, the theatre suffered a setback. In 60s he composed for ‘Panditraj Jagannath’. He tried a different path, and composed the song, ‘Jay Gange Bhagirathi’ in three parts. It proved to be a major attraction of the play. Stalwarts like Prasad Savkar, Bhalchandra Pendharkar, Laxmi Shankar used to play the characters and it had not less than 31 songs. The result was a phenomenal success.
After its huge success, he again succeeded in ‘Jay Jay Gouri Shankar’. His other successful plays include, ‘Preeti Sangam’, ‘Dev Deenaghari Dhavala’. Let me share some of his popular Marathi Natya Sangeet with you. You can click on the link to listen to the songs.

Runanu bandhachya Jithun Padalya Gaathi  By Kumar Gandharv & Vani Jayram

Uthi Uthi Gopala by Kumar Gandharv

Jay Gange Bhagirathi by Prasad Savkar

Narayana Rama Ramna by Prasad Savkar

Aaj Apulya Pratham Preeticha by Jyotsna Mohile & Vishwanath Bagul
All his plays gathered huge audiences and he proved himself in his genre also, which has some traditional rules and Raags. His tried to compose other than conventional, while being within the format. His songs from the plays are still popular and I’m proud of his creation for the theatre.
He also composed for ballets (Nritya Natika) like Bhavna, Sant Sakhu, Shiv Darshan, Vishwa Darshan

His sudden, accidental death on 22nd December 1975, was a great shock for the film fraternity. He was crushed to death in a malfunctioning elevator. I always wonder why a kind man like him, was subjected to such a painful death? Whenever I enter an elevator, I remember him.

Today I present my favourite songs composed by him. I have arranged the songs in chronological order. Let’s start the melodious journey

1. Jeevan Ki Naav Na Dole – Shakuntala (1943) Jayashree / Lyrics – Deewan Sharar
This film can be considered as a Desai’s first big hit. It was his first film with Rajkamal under V Shantaram. It clearly shows typical 40s orchestration.Though Jayashree’s rendition is not flawless, the song retains the melody and sweetness. Not much is known about Deewan Sharar, though he worked for a several films with Rajkamal. While composing songs for the movie, he also sang ‘Chali Aashram Se Shakuntala’ which was the Bidai song. I could not get audio of the song, I am posting a link to the video jukebox. If it doesn’t open here, follow the link.

2. Pareshan Hoon Ki Kyon Meri – Parbat Pe Apna Dera (1944) Amirbai Karnataki / Lyrics – Deewan Sharar
The film deals with story of a blind woman. Her husband, once a believer in God, now has an extra marital affair and she throws him out. Then he loses his eyesight in a firecracker accident and that helps him restore his faith in God. Vanmala sings this ghazal traumatised because of her suffering.Amirbai has done full justice to this wonderful composition. Her voice lingers in mind for a long time. Though I’m not good at recognising instruments in a song, this song does appear to make use of western instruments. Desai was a strong follower of Indian classical music , but was open to all other options whenever useful and appropriate.

3. Nai Dulhan Nai Dulhan – Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani (1946) Jayashree / Lyrics – Deewan Sharar
Here Desai has used (very aptly so)traditional Chinese folk tune that is sung there during marriage. This song is a fun to watch, with its light hearted lyrics. Young Shantaram looks quite handsome and energetic.
It is said that he studied Chinese folk music for the movie and used it effectively and tactfully to support the Chinese environment. He also composed the background score for the movie. He was always a dedicated composer. He didn’t use classical Indian tunes here, which is of course appropriate for the film.

4. Ae Kale Badal Bol – Dahej (1950) Shamshad Begum & Chorus / Lyrics – Shams Lakhnavi
Though the main lead Jayashree has most of the songs in the films, Desai called Shamshad for this song. It’s a cheerful song with pleasant picturisation. It instantly takes us to rainy season as we see the rope swings tied on trees and girls enjoying there with a carefree attitude. (The lyrics don’t mention rains though). I kept on missing a heartbeat, when any two ropes come closer and pass away without collision. The swings move in a such a great order. We now, come across such a big backyard with so big, old trees only in books or may be in our dreams!
Jayashree again sang for him in this film & the song ‘Ambuva Ki Dali Pe’ was hugely popular. What I like the most about it, are flute pieces. Outstanding! I really do like Shamshad songs (the other being ‘Chudi Dheere Pehna Chudiwale’) more. And my list already had enough of Jayashree’s songs.

5. Mere Ae Dil Bata – Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje (1955) Lata Mangeshkar & Manna Dey / Lyrics – Hasrat Jaipuri
Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje is his most outstanding music score for V Shantaram. He always had a firm classical base for the songs. This film already has dance sequences and excellent performances by Gopi Krishna & Sandhya. He composed all the songs wonderfully including ‘Tandav’ and other classical based musical performances.
‘Nain So Nain’, ‘Suno Suno Ji More Rasiya’, ‘Saiyan Jao’, ‘Jo Tum Todo Piya’ and “Kaisi Yeh Mohabbat Ki Sazaa’ that resembles to Marathi Lavani, and to top it all title song
by Ustad Amir Khan. All so melodious, so classy. The song depicts a broken heart. She is blaming her heart for falling in love. The suffering she is going through is too
much for her. A beautiful composition in Raag Bhairavi.

6. Meri Chhoti Si Behen – Toofan Aur Diya (1956) Lata Mangeshkar & Geeta Dutt / Lyrics – Bharat Vyas
The film is about a heart touching story of brother-sister pair. How a lamp maintains its glory and light even in a stormy situations. The metaphor used to highlight, how the brother courageously maintains their dignity and honour even in crisis & misfortune. On a lighter note, the brother (played by Satish Vyas) is teasing his elder sister (Nanda) about her marriage and husband. He describes the way she would behave with him once with the in laws. A cheerful and cute song!

7. Ae Malik Tere Bande Hum – Do Aankhen Barah Haath (1957) Lata Mangeshkar & Chorus / Lyrics – Bharat Vyas
For me , this is his masterpiece. The song comes very late, almost to the end of the movie. There is no need to say anything about the theme of the movie. Vasant Desai again scores here! All excellent songs. The song comes as a prayer in the film, several times in male voice as well as in chorus voices. I take it as a theme song of the movie. All are praying for Babuji (V Shantaram) when he gets injured in a fight with a bull, to save lives of others. The song got extremely popular and is sung in some schools as an official prayer. No doubt it is indeed very well written and sung. Vasant Desai used Raag Bhiaravi here, a tune that touches our heart & soul. Undoubtedly one of his best songs.

8. Jeevan Mein Piya Tera Saath Rahe – Goonj Uthi Shehnai (1959) Lata Mangeshkar & Rafi / Lyrics – Bharat Vyas
Desai was so impressed with shuddh Hindi lyrics by Bharat Vyas, that he insisted on his lyrics for a social film as well. He was otherwise typecast for mythological movies and costume dramas. In this film again, all the songs are well composed with an excellent use of Shehnai. He insisted on Ustad Bismillah Khan to play shehnai for the songs. The film is based on a poor shehnai player’s life and Desai used Ustad’s rendition for recitals in the film and the songs. For excellent and apt use of Shehnai, we should listen ‘Teri Shehnai Bole ‘ & ‘Tere sur aur mere Geet’. But I’m sharing my favorite song.

9. Saiyan Pyara Hai Apna Milan – Do Behne (1959) Lata Mangeshkar / Lyrics – Pradeep
Do Behne is a story about twin sisters (played by Shyama) and has some really melodious songs. This one’s a soft romantic number, sung wonderfully by Lata. The film also has a another type of song, where Desai has used two extremely different tempos & styles to highlight the two sisters’ characters. He uses a Bhajan tune for one sister, and a western tune for the other, bubbly naughty sister. Both the slow and fast parts are well composed and merge easily into each other. I’m fond of one more song ‘Jhuk Jhuk Jhola Khaye’ from the movie. Very catchy and infectious tune with a nice rhythm.

10. Baar Baar Bagiya Mein – Sampurna Ramayan (1961) Asha Bhosle / Lyrics – Bharat Vyas
Could we have outstanding songs in a mythological movie? The answer is ‘Yes, of course’, if we have Bharat Vyas-Vasant Desai combo. All the songs from the movie are wonderful. Though, I like, ‘Badalon Barso Nayan Ki’ & ‘San Sanan Sanan’, this particular song appeals me more. Asha sings the songs in raag Chandrakauns(most probably). Shurpanakha, turning into a beautiful woman , (played by Helen) tries to seduce Shri Ram, and sings this adorable song. We are only young once and it should not be wasted. She describes the beauty of surrounding and asks him to enjoy it with her. Here’s the link for video song.

11. Sawan Ke Jhoole Pade – Pyar Ki Pyas (1961) Lata Mangeshkar & Talat / Lyrics – Bharat Vyas
A beautiful song. The couple appears to be apart and thinking of each other. She is pining for him and asking him to come enjoy rain with her. Vasant Desai has composed many rain songs, rain appears to be his topic for the songs. Talat also sings it well, but his shaky voice is hardly audible. Whether deliberately recorded soft or otherwise, no clue. His pitch of voice is so low, we always have to increase volume when his part comes on. Still, an enjoyable melodious sons.

12. Dekha Hai Sapna Koi – Yaadein (1964) Lata Mangeshkar / Lyrics – Anand Bakshi
This film was an experiment, as it had a single character on screen. Sunil Dutt alone acted in it, and Desai did background score and two songs only. This one’s my favourite. As the story moves forward, he starts realising the significance of his wife and daughter in his life. But she has already left him taking the daughter with her. He is all alone in the house with the thunder and pouring rains.
Desai’s background score was an important part of the movie and he took a lots of efforts in composing it.

13. Kalpana Ke Ghan Barsate – Amar Jyoti (1967) Lata Mangeshkar & Mahendra Kapoor / Lyrics – Bharat Vyas
My absolute favourite on the list. It has a certain soothing quality that reminds me of the song ‘Nain So Nain Nahi Milao’. An excellently sung song, with a beautiful lyrics
and a fabulous tune. No need to say anything , listen and enjoy!

14. Hum Ko Man Ki Shakti Dena – Guddi (1971) Vani Jayram & Chorus / Lyrics – Gulzar
Jaya Bhaduri’s debut film, so was Vani Jayaram’s, as a playback singer. Again a prayer in Raag Kedar, that is so famous and still sung in many schools in India.
It teaches us not to discriminate, always forgive others, always be on the path of truth, never to lie. Even if we are in a crisis, should not be afraid of evil and always be confident. The innocence in Vani’s voice is worth noticing. To compose such an eternal prayer is not an easy task. Of course, this wasn’t his first time to compose such a memorable prayer. Desai also made her sing ‘Bole Re Papihara’ which is again a beautiful rain song.

15. Megha Barasne Laga Hain – Shaque (1976) Asha Bhosle / Lyrics – Gulzar
The film released after his sudden demise. It had some wonderful songs including this song. Asha singing the song in a low pitch and a blissful ‘Thehrav’ in the tune,
makes it a delightful experience. The use of Sarangi and later Saxophone makes it more appealing. A slow paced composition in Raag, Jayant Malhar, but you never get bored of it.
The movie also has a club song by Bindu. Actually I was going to select that song here. Although a club song, there is no noisy orchestration, it’s a prose in poetry. She actually communicates with the audience, no singing lines. It’s difficult to compose and sing such song. But even if, he wasn’t a western oriented person at all, he manages to make Asha Bhosle say the lines without singing them in a tune. You can listen to it by clicking here.

I again wish Vasantrao on his 106th birthday.

Which song would you want to add?

9 Replies to “Remembering Legendary Composer Vasant Desai”

  1. Very good post . I also remember him everytime I step in a lift . I am sharing this post on facebook as usual .


  2. Great post, Anupji – and the end of your biography really shook me up! I had no idea that was how Vasant Desai died. That’s so tragic, and so frightening, too.

    You have listed some of my absolute favourite Vasant Desai songs – and you’ve introduced me to some more. Besides the ones you’ve listed, I also really like Umad-ghumadkar aayi re ghata, Keh do koi na kare yahaan pyaar and Pyaar mein milna.


    1. Thanks Madhuji,
      I really feel very bad for his death in such a horrible way. Can’t even think how painful that must have been!
      It’s an absolute truth that, I practically remember him each and every time I enter an elevator. . .


  3. वसंत देसाई प्रमाणे व्ही शांताराम यांची ही आठवण फार सुखदायक होती. अजोड आणि अवीट गोडी.


  4. Anup ji,
    Vasant Desai was one of the greatest Composers of India, according to me.
    You have paid a right tribute to his songs.
    Song No.7…” Aye maalik tere bande hum” was Prayer song in Pakistan schools, till 1965. This is not known to many people.( रुपेरी स्मरणयात्रा , The music of 1957, by Prof. Subhash Savarkar).


    1. Thanks Arunji for visiting and commenting.
      I had read about the song Ae Malik Tere Bande Hum in another book as well. But I wasn’t sure about it. So I didn’t include the info in the write up. Thanks for sharing it.


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