Ajit Merchant (15-8-1925 | 28-3-2011) belongs to that Hindi cinema club which has very talented but commercially not successful music directors who have their name in the roll of honours, on account of just a song or two from the few that they could get to compose in their career.
Ajit Merchant was born in (then) Bombay to a business community known as Kutchhi Bhatia. His father a criminal lawyer by profession, was a keen follower of classical music. An adolescent Ajit also would accompany his father to the classical music concerts. Young Ajit Merchant initially worked as a drama artist. Many of the stage personalities of those days were also associated with radio feature programmes. One such person was Chandravadan Chimanlal (C C) Mehta, who was an already established and respected name in the Gujarati stage circuit as a playwright and the director.
In around 1945, CC Mehta was finally rehearsing for his radio feature about south Gujarat based sailor community. Avinash Vyas was the music director for that radio feature. As required by the AIR rules of those days, the music director of the feature also had to remain present at the rehearsal. Unfortunately, Avinash Vyas was not available on that day. Since the programme was already notified in the next schedule, it had to be aired at the appointed time. One thing followed another, and the dice of fate rolled in favour of Ajit Merchant for that job. The two songs that he composed for that feature were liked by all and were well received. Later, when Ajit Merchant produced a Gujarati film on that very subject – Divadandi (1950) / The Lighthouse – he recorded one of the two songs in the voice of Meena Kapoor: Pandadi Si Hodi Dejo (Give me a leaf like boat)
Ajit Merchant soon started working as assistant to Ashok Ghosh, who was composing music for a film for Ranjit Movietone in those days. Soon he got his first independent assignment as music director for Refugee (1948) The film, however, did not succeed. Ajit Merchant also got an opportunity to compose music for a Gujarati film, Kariyawar (1948), – Dowry – which also was not a major success. Ultimately, Ajit Merchant’s career as music director of films remained confined to 8 B grade Hindi films and 9 Gujarati social films – of which one did not reach censor certification. Ajit Merchant still could carve place for himself in roll of honours on the strength of three songs –
Taari Aankh No Afini Taara Bol No Bandhani, Taar Roop Ni Punam No Paagal Hu Ekalo – (Indolented by your eyes, addicted by your speech, I am the only one madly in love with your beuty) – Divadandi (1950) – Lyrics: Venibhai Purohit
Ajit Merchant who had undertaken production of this film under the Neelam Films (named after his wife) was thrust upon one song for him to compose. It was not yet decided whether the song would be filmed the hero or not – ultimately filmed on the villain – and whether it would pass through the editor’s scissors too. Engrossed in these pressures his music mind was toying with two tunes at that time – drum beats of Rock Round The Clock – which too has inspired a legion of dance tunes later on – and the tune of Vasant Ritu Ali Ali (Chandidas, 1934 – Umashashi – Music: R C Boral – Lyrics: Agha Hashar Kashmiri) – for the song. The song was ultimately recorded in the voice of Dilip Dholakia. Raj Kapoor, who happened to be present at the recording, congratulated Ajit Merchant for the song and is believed to had said that tis song will be an immortal one. That prophecy has come so true. More than 60 years after the release, the song is still being remembered by each passing generation. He is even said to have used the base tune for initial lines of his song Mera Juta Hai Japani (Shree 420, 1955)
The song, too, has inspired many songs: Chanda Loriya Sunae (Naya Sansar, 1959 – Music: Chitragupt), Raat Ne Ghesu Bikarae (Sapera, 1961 – Music – Ajit Merchant); Haayi Hayiga Jabili (Velugu Needadu, 1961- Music – P Nageshwar Rao) ; Mera Naam Hai Chameli ( Raja Aur Rank, 1968- Music – Laxmikant Pyarelal)
Laagi Ram Bhajan Ni Lagani Laagi (getting to absorped with adoration of Ram) – Bahoorupi (1969) – Jagjit Singh – Lyrics: Venibhai Purohit
When Ajit Merchant presented a young turbaned Sikh to Minoo Katrak, the sound recordist who was highly respected for his sense of music, Minoo Katrak was not ready to try one more voice that Ajit Merchant had brought up. He was somehow convinced to listen to the young man’s voice on the microphone without any music support. The test did not last a few words. So pleased was Minoo Katrak with that voice that the song was immediately recorded with full orchestra and okayed at the first take.
That was maiden film song by Jagjit Singh. Jagjit Singh makes it a point to pay tribute to Ajit Merchant for this window that he had opened up. The song is also included in Jagjit Singh’s 2004 album, Muntazaar.
It so happens that the second song that Jagit Singh recorded for films is also composed by Ajit Merchant.
Ghanshyam Gupchup Gupchup Bhatake Bhatake, E Mana Ne Vaat Achanak Malati (Dark clouds keep wandering silently in the eyes, when the heart suddenly lands up on track) – Dharati Na Chhoru (1970) Jagjit Singh, Suman Kalyanput – Lyrics: Venubhai Purohit.
Ajit Merchant has very skilfully pitched Jagjit Singh on a high scale at the beginning of each stanza.
Roop Tumhara Aankho Se Pee Lu, Kahe Do Agar Tum Mar Ke Bhi Jee Lu – Sapera (1961) – Manna Dey – Lyrics: Indeevar
This is one song that has put Ajit Merchant’s name in roll of honours of Hindi film music. The song opens with a prelude of soft violins on the base rhythm support of guitar and then a few soft strings of violins keep company across the song, in the form of countermelody. The interlude music erupts with an ensemble of flutes in the lead. Manna Dey also goes into high scale in the first line to come down to the normal base tone in the second line. Overall, the song leaves you in the trance when its ends.
It was not only the Hindi film music world that dealt unfair treatment to Ajit Merchant. He had worked as music director at AIR for around 10 years. Fed up with petty politics, when he gave up that job, all his work was wiped out from the AIR library archives by his opponents. Gone with that was an invaluable treasure of some rare NFS that Ajit Merchant had recorded with a wide range of singers.
Theatre continued to give him work and acceptance. He has composed music for around 200-250 Marathi, Gujarati and Hindi plays. However, there is no established set up to record the soundtracks of the plays. So, his work again is lost with the passage of time.
If it were not for the internet, and the enterprising spirit of some of the ardent YT uploaders, all the songs that were composed by Ajit Merchant would have been consigned to the pages of historical archives like HFGK. Of some 50+ songs that he got to compose for his 8 Hindi films, about a third of the songs are still available for us to listen on YT. I have brought them up here.
Ujadi Hui Hai Ishq Ki Duniya Tere Bagair – Refugee (1948) – Sulochana Kadam – Lyrics: Panf=dit Fani
The song is set to typical vintage era style composition.
After, the first film, Ajit Merchant got his next call only in 1956.
Panchhi Gane Lage Prabhati, Aaya Sarad Savera, Jaag Sundari – Indra Leela (1956) – Lyrics: Saraswati Kumar Deepak
Ajit Merchant has moved with the times in his composition style. Here we get Mohammad Rafi in his basic elements, right from base scale beginning to the higher scale ending of the prelude couplet to the judicious variations to match the lyrics.
Sun Lo Jiya Ki Baat… Ho Piya Kar Lo Jiya Ki Baat – Indra Leela (1956) – Asha Bhosle – Lyrics: Saraswati Kumar Deepak
When surrounding environment is conducive to the tender feelings, it is time to exchange the sweet talks with each other. Asha Bhosle is quite playful in this gay mood song.
Koi Lakh Kare Chaturai, Karam Ka Lekha Mite Na Re Bhai – Chandi Pooja (1957) – Singer and Lyrics: Pradeepji
Almost al songs that Pradeepji had rendered in his time were resoundingly popular.
Ek Dharati Ka Rajkumar, Dekho Ji Chala Hai Hawa Pe Sawar – Chandi Pooja (1957) – Shamshad Begum – Lyrics: Pradeepji
I recall looking forward to listening this song on Radio Ceylon, in my pre=teen years in early’60s, along with the iconic children-story song of K L Saigal, Ek Raje Ka Beta Le Kar Udanewala Ghoda (President, 1938 – Music : R C Boral- Lyrics: Kidar Sharma). Listening to this song today is still so pleasant to the ears. Ajit Merchant has presented Shamshad Begum in her fill flow, at this relatively fag end of her career.
Ae Ji, O Ji Kaho, Badi Aji Ki Daravani Hai Raat, Jara Jagate Rahena – Chandi Pooja (1957) Mohammad Rafi, Shamshad Begum – Lyrics: Pradeepji
The song has been presented a playful repartee of small talk dialogues between the two love birds, while seemingly on a horse cart ride.
Ritu Raja Ne Teer Chalaya, Jiya Lalachaya….Sajaniya Aa – Ram Bhakt Vibishan (1958) – Sudha Malhotra – Lyrics: Saraswati Kumar Deepak
The season of Vasant is when the nature is at her full beauty. Wasps hum their love with eye toe contact with flowers, fairies merrily roam the skies. Under such compelling environment, our heroine enjoins her friends to lay a swing of flowers underneath the moon and weave the braid of the hair with flowers.
Raat Ne Ghesu Bikharaye, Mera Dil Mukjhe Tadpaye, Kisane Chhena Hai Mere Chand Ko – Sapera (1961) – Manna Dey, Suman Kalyanpur – Lyrics: Indeevar
In the second half of 50s, when Mohammad Rafi was expanding his reign as the first choice playback singers for the mainstream heroes, Manna Dey was frequently used as voice for the upcoming talent, particularly for the duets by the not-from-the-first-raw music directors. Most of these duets remain etched in the memories of the Hindi film lover generation of those times.
Ajit Merchant has used a variation of his famous ‘Tari Ankh No Afini’ tune here.
Bairi Chhed Na Aise Raag Dil Mein Jaag Uthe Aag – Sapera (1961) – Suman Kalyanpur – Lyrics: Indeevar
Ajit Merchant has based snake charmer tunes for the song. He has created that musical effect by innovating the use of flutes and other instruments..
Main Bhi Hu Majboor Sajan Dil Bhi Hai Majboor – Challenge (1964) – Mukesh, Asha Bhosle – Lyrics: Prem Dhawan
Set to Mukesh’s natural range for such pensively romantic songs, Ajit Merchants whets his appetite for creativity by higher-scale violin ensemble play in the interludes.
Badale Re Badle Re Rang Badle Zamana Kai, Hai Mohabbat Wahi Ji Wahi – Challenge (1964) – Lata Mangeshkar – Lyrics: Prem Dhawan
Ajit Merchant’s touch can be seen the way Badle Re repeats thirce before the initial lyrics come into play. He then uses these very Badle Re melodiously in chorus form in higher scales, supported by brief pieces of flutes in the counter melody. One song hads so much of variety so creatively stuffed !
Mohabbat Ne Kiya Mujh Ko Badnam YuN Zamane Ne…. Main Ho Gai Badnam Tere Liye – Challenge (1964) – Asha Bhosle – Lyrics: Prem Dhawan
The opening notes of harmonium foretell that the song is mujra dance, which is further validated as Asha Bhosle sets the tone in the prelude couplet. But Ajit Merchant cannot be easily confined to a given template. The main song comes as a soft complain in the voice of Asha Bhosle. However, the intensity of the feelings is reflected in a higher scale rendition of interlude orchestration pieces and the opening of stanza by Asha Bhosle.
Qatil Hai Teri Har Ada, Har Dil Hai Tujh Pe Fida, Rahi Bhale Apni Manzil Bhule Dekh Ke Chahera Tera – Lady Killer (1968) – Mukesh – Lyrics: Indeevar
Hindi crime thriller movies mandatorily have villains and his cohorts operating their search operation on the dance floor, the dancer or her camouflaged lead male actor – who is easily identified by the audience – throw a catchy song, lyrics of which have very clear message that except villain everyone do get. Music directors and lyricists have invariably come up with songs that have kept the audience glued to the seats. Ajit Merchant’s adaptability to the film situation is evidenced at every stage of the song.
Chacha Ne Chachi Ko Chandi Ki Chamchi Se Chutney Chatai – Lady Killer (1968) – Manna Dey, Krishan Kalle – Lyrics: Indeevar
Indeevar has very craftily woven repeated rhyming of word Ch in each word of the opening line. Ajit Merchant has set the throw of each of that word in the similar mischievous style. By weaving in the song in western dance style, he has given enough elbow room to the director to create smoke screen to build the environment for showing a back-stage sinister plot being played. At the end, the director gives a Hitchcock-style jolt of showing a murder being executed when the audience is engrossed in the mood of the song.
Auro Ka Chahera Paon Tera…. Diwana Hai Sara Gaon Tera – Lady Killer (1968) – Mahendra Kapoor – Lyrics: Indeevar
Ajit Merchant has skillfully roped in Mahendra Kapoor for a standard sulking-pacifying play acting song..
Even with just a third of the songs available, we get a reasonable glance at the wide range of variety of singers, song styles, song composition and orchestration that Ajit Merchant has been able to commandeer. If it were not either because of the insidious tweak of the destiny or perhaps his own lesser love for film music in comparison to that for the theatre, we would have had more songs under Ajit Merchant’s baton, from the films that may have succeeded at the box office and hence may have been available little more generously.
Sources credit: Acknowledgement –
- Sketch – Young Ajit Merchant – Urvish Kothari’s post: અજિત મર્ચંટની વિદાયઃ ભીની આંખે છેલ્લી સલામ
- The background of process of composition of Taari Ank No Afini – Biren Kothari’s post તારી આંખનો અફીણી’: સર્જનની સફર
- Background story of recording of Laagir Ram Bhajan Ni Lagani Laagi – Biren Kothari’s article, ‘દીવાદાંડી સમા સંગીતકાર અજિત મર્ચંટ in the Gujarati Magazine ‘Aha Zindagi’
Originally posted on Songs of Yore as : Remembering Ajit Merchant