Vanraj Bhatia, Composer to India’s New Age Cinema, Dies at 93

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Veteran composer Vanraj Bhatia, who provided the soundtrack to India’s new age cinema movement of the 1970s and 1980s, has died in Mumbai. He was 93 and is understood to have been in poor health for some time.

Born in Bombay, as the metropolis was known as then, in 1927, Bhatia studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and at the Conservatoire de Paris in the 1950s.

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Upon his return to India, Bhatia enjoyed a successful career as a composer for advertising commercials through the 1960s. During this time, he also composed scores for several documentaries.

Bhatia debuted as a composer for feature films with “Ankur” (1974) directed by Shyam Benegal, a pioneer of India’s New Wave cinema movement, an independent alternative to mainstream commercial cinema. The pair formed a fruitful partnership and worked together on a total of 16 films including “Nishant” (1975), “Manthan” (1976), “Bhumika” (1977), “Kondura” (1978), “Junoon” (1978), “Kalyug” (1981), “Mandi” (1983) and “Trikaal” (1985).

Other prominent films from the New Wave movement composed by Bhatia include Aparna Sen’s “36 Chowringhee Lane” (1981), Kundan Shah’s “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983), Prakash Jha’s “Hip Hip Hurray” (1984), Saeed Mirza’s “Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho” (1984), Kumar Shahani’s “Tarang” (1984), Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s “Khamosh” (1985) and Vijaya Mehta’s “Pestonjee” (1988).

Bhatia won India’s National Film Award for best music for Govind Nihalani’s television film “Tamas” (1988). He also had a flourishing career in composing for television serials including “Khandaan” (1985), “Yatra” (1986), “Bharat Ek Khoj” (1988) and “Wagle Ki Duniya” (1988).

He continued working intermittently in the 1990s and 2000s and his last film credit was “Dhaad” (2018).

Bhatia also composed for theater and was known for his creative partnership with Indian theater doyen Ebrahim Alkazi. The composer was also adept in Western and Indian classical music and recorded several albums.

Musician, filmmaker and actor Farhan Akhtar tweeted: “RIP #VanrajBhatia .. apart from the many other brilliant musical works he created, I vividly remember the theme of ‘Tamas’ that started with a shriek so filled with anguish, it could send a chill up anyone’s spine and break anyone’s heart.”

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