Vasant Desai spent his childhood in Kokan. He moved to Kolhapur and worked at Prabhat Studios, doing any and every work that came his way. His career began there. At the Deval Club, he was fortunate to imbibe from the performances of exquisite singers like Ustad Alladiya Khan and Manji Khan. The movie Ayodhyecha Raja begins with the naandi, a musical worship to God that is performed at dramas. Vasant Desai sang this naandi. Hence, it can be rightly said that the era of talkies began with Vasant Desai’s voice. In the beginning, he sang for many Hindi films.
He played the part of the driver in Sant Dnyaneshwar. He gave all kinds of sounds like that of a bullock cart, different birds etc. He worked under the likes of Govindrao Tembe, Master Krishnarao and Keshavrao Bhole, the music directors at Prabhat. Later he worked at Rajkamal Studios with V Shantaram.
He independently composed music for the first time for the Hindi film Shakuntala, starring the popular actress Jayashree. The song Jeevan ki naav na dole featured on Jayashree broke all records and the film became a hit.
He composed catchy music for the first tamasha-oriented film Ramjoshi and for Amar Bhupali, the film on poet Honaji Bala’s life. Both the films were successful and music had a big part to play in their success. The song Ghanashyaam sundara composed for the film Amar Bhupali is memorable.
For the film, Jhanak jhanak payal baaje, he invited many classical singers and musicians like Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Pandit Samataprasad, Sudarshan, Pandit Abdul Halim Jafar, Gopikrishna and Mridang player Ramdas at Rajkamal studios to study their art and get their inputs for the classical music in the film. He travelled across the country to study the unique musical instruments played in different regions. This film was a runaway success. Another feather in his cap was the soulful music he composed for the film Shyamchi Aai produced by Acharya Atre in 1956. He composed music to the extremely sentimental and emotional poem Aai, written by Poet Yeshwant. There were six songs in the movie. The music composed by Desai gave a genuine feel of an authentic Marathi rural setting, which greatly contributed to the runaway success of the film.
He composed the music for around twenty Marathi films. From 1942 to 1976, he gave excellent music for around forty-six movies. The song Manuskichya shattrusange yuddh amuche suru, Jinku kinva maru from the film Chotta Javan and the songs Dev jari mazha and daiva janile kuni from Molkarin are extremely popular. The music for the songs in Iye Marathichiye nagritil was apt.
Vasant Desai received many awards and honours. In 1967, he was awarded the Padmashri at the hands of Dr Radhakrishnan. He enacted roles in some films too. He also sang excellently for a few Hindi and Marathi films. From 1960 to 1975, he reinstated musical plays and composed music for them. He gave music for thirteen short films. He started a unique experiment of composing simple, easy tunes for Marathi poems in children’s textbooks. Some of these poems are Ya baai ya, Devaa tuze kiti, Anandi anand gade. He composed many classical music based songs. He brought many stalwarts from the classical music world into the film industry. His greatest contribution was bringing together the school students of Maharashtra for group singing and choruses known as Ek sur, Ek taal. He taught patriotic and socially relevant inspirational songs through this medium to thousands of students. Encouraged by Pandit Nehru, the Government of Maharashtra made this venture successful.Be it composing classical music based songs, or using Indian instruments, Desai’s contribution to the field of film music is immense. Labels: Vasant Desai