Vanraj Bhatia

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A brief biography

May 8, 2021: The Times of India

Vanraj Bhatia’s music deepened the content of the art house cinema in the 1970s and cheerfully cocked a snook at the omnibus, 150-piece orchestra of the mainstream Hindi cinema. Although steeped in western classical music, Bhatia was only too willing to dip into Indian folk and traditional melodies to underscore a film’s narrative. The lingering, feather-soft flute which laces several key scenes in ‘Manthan’ or the melancholy notes in ‘Tamas’, the much-acclaimed television show based on Partition, are a testimony to Bhatia’s range and style, said connoisseurs.

In a career spanning nearly four decades, the immensely talented composer teamed up with ace film makers such as Shyam Benegal, Kumar Shahani, Aparna Sen and Govind Nihalani. Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar, Yesudas, Arati Ankalikar-Tikekar and Preeti Sagar have sung under Bhatia’s baton.

Bhatia’s ouvre included cinema, ad-campaigns, television and theatre. He scored over 6,500 jingles, including the iconic Liril ditty. After he bagged ‘Ankur’, Shyam Benegal’s debutante film in 1974, Bhatia sealed a formidable partnership with the renowned film maker, rustling up, it is said, a tally of 16 films, including Nishant, Bhumika, Manthan, Sardari Begum, Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda and Mandi.

‘Tumhare Bina Jee Naa Lage Ghar Mein’, the lilting, laidback number from Bhumika, rendered by Preeti Sagar, poignantly evokes the sepiatinged black-n-white era in which the film is set. ‘Mero gaam katha paarey’, from Manthan, had won the heart of Prince Charles during his visit to India, it is said. The song has since been adopted by the Amul milk cooperative, whose success saga the film chronicles, as its anthem.

Sublime and unadulterated by commercial considerations, Bhatia’s music offered fresh interpretation of characters caught in the flux of life in contemporary India, said experts.

Bhatia also scored music for 36, Chowringhee Lane, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, Junoon, Kalyug, Saza-e-Maut, Pestonji, Hip Hip Hurray, Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho, Tarang, Droh-Kaal, Messy Sahab, Susman, Antarnaad, Mammo and Naseem, among many others.

Bhatia’s background score-only Hindi films include Ajooba, Bekhudi, Beta, Chamatkar, Ghatak, Pardesi, Chameli and Damini. He also wrote the background score for The Householder, a Merchant-Ivory film. Bhatia wrote the opening lines of television serials such as Khandan, Tamas, Wagle Ki Duniya, Naqab and Lifeline.

Bhatia won the national award for best music direction for Tamas (1988). The Sangeet Natak Akademi award came in 1989. For his contribution to cinema he was awarded Padma Shree in 2012.

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