A pall of gloom set in when I heard that Pt. Ulhas Bapat was no more. The man who played the santoor in each and every of R. D. Burman’s recordings from the movie, ‘Ghar’ in 1978 to ‘1942 – A Love Story’ in 1994, it surely was a quirk of fate that he should leave us on the same date that R. D. Burman left us.
Ulhas ji himself always had a sense of humour about him. Even when speaking about how long he worked for RD, he used to say with a twinkle in his eye – “Well, I played for Pancham da from 1978 to 1942.”
He was a unique Santoor player, who tuned his instrument chromatically unlike many others who tune it as per the notes in the Raga. He also had a keen sense of melody and was comfortable with both – light music and raaga sangeet.
Right from my song – “Bai Ya Pavasana” that I recorded in 1997 to my first movie ‘Krishnakatchi Meera’ the film Balgandharva in 2011, whenever I used the Santoor in my songs, it was ALWAYS Pt. Ulhas Bapat.
I have two very heartwarming memories of the great maestro.
I was still an upcoming composer when I was doing an album called Gaganzhula. I had composed a song which was a tribute to R.D. Burman. When Kamlesh Bhadkamkar, who was arranging the song called him to say that there were three songs to be played, Ulhas ji said, “I have a recording for a Hindi film song, so I can spare only an hour.” We thought that we could amend our requirement to only one song and agreed to this.
When finally he heard the song and played the parts in it, the one hour was up. While having a cup of tea, he asked me to play the other songs. When he heard ‘Chandane Valale Kushivar’, a ghazal I had composed for Suresh Wadkar ji, he turned to me and asked – “Did you want me to play in this too?” I nodded. He went out of the recording room and appeared shortly and announced –
“I have cancelled my Hindi film recording” (Which incidentally was for the busiest music composer of that time and meant that he’d have to forego a bigger paycheck) “I would want to play this song!”
The second memory was when he played in Marathi Abhimaangeet. After he played the main interlude in the song, he said – “I want to contribute more than this to this amazing effort. Make an instrumental version of this song.” And this was how the instrumental version of Marathi Abhimaangeet was born.
It is amazing how in spite of the tragedy of death, musicians always leave back on happy, harmonious, melodious memories behind. I bow in great reverence to Ulhas ji and the wonderful musical memories he left me with.