Raju Bharatan was a multi-talented journalist and prolific writer on Indian cricket and Bollywood films and music. He retired as Assistant Editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India (after more than four decades) and was also with an Indian film weekly newspaper, Screen. Columnist for The Hindu and Sportstar, he also wrote a very popular column on film nostalgia for Mid-Day. Son of A.S. Bharatan, the first General Manager of PTI, Raju began his career as a sports journalist when he was a teenager, by commentating on radio for India’s tour of England back in 1952. Soon, he became one of the more recognised names in radio commentary.
Known for his encyclopaedic and voluminous knowledge of the history of cricket, his undiluted love for cricket led to him writing his first book, Rivals In The Sun (1952), based on the first series that he covered. He also wrote Indian Cricket: The Vital Phase (1977), analysing the changing nature of the Indian game. During his long tenure with the Weekly, he produced two cricket specials which hit all-time high circulations of 4.05 lakh and 3.8 lakh.
He also directed The Victory Story (1974), the first full-length cricket documentary for Films Division, which chronicled the first-ever maiden series victory of the Indian cricket team over England during the tour of 1971 and ran to packed houses across the country on its release. Bharatan also possessed in-depth knowledge of cinema, a passion he shared with his late film journalist wife, Girija Rajendran. He wrote a number of books on Hindi film music personalities, with whom he had a close association during his career.
Raju’s deep knowledge of film music and its structures is one of the highlights of his book, Naushadnama: The Life and Music of Naushad, which was published in 2013. He comes through not only as an observer and chronicler of Naushad but also his trusted friend and confidante. He describes Naushad as ‘The Last Mughal’. He depicts the world of film music of the time, which, like a typical Mughal court, was full of intense rivalries, jealousies, ego clashes, intrigues, deceptions, betrayals and ruthless executions.
His other film books include the highly controversial, perhaps scandalous and blunt Lata Mangeshkar – A Biography (1995); A Journey Down Melody Lane (2009), and Asha Bhosle- A Musical Biography (2016) ).
On the flip side, followers of old film music had problems with Bharatan’s omnipresence, and his key role in history. Often his credibility was questioned and worse still charged with propagating many of the ‘lies’ circulating about film music personalities.
Two generations however, still remember and respect his writing on cricket and films. His books were meticulously researched and fact checked even though he had personal first-hand knowledge of many of the events described in his books. His writing style was lively and easy to read. I knew him as the master of the perpendicular ‘I’, as he generally spoke more about himself and remember his fun with the English language when he gave voice to numerous cricket matches, bringing them to the common man’s radio. A gem, among his commentaries… e.g. this Ian Redpath… his path is really red!’
A man who wore many hats, Bharatan at 17 years, was also the originator of the ‘Sunday Cryptic’ crossword in The Times of India, where he set over 5,000 crosswords. He also watched history unfold, and retained a keen interest in politics. He interviewed Ramkrishna Hegde, Morarji Desai and Atal Bihari Vajpayee for the Weekly.
In his personal life also, his sober demeanor belied a sense of humour and a love of pulling the legs of those whom he knew. Generous with his time, he appeared on radio and TV interviews with gusto.
Raju Bharatan passed away on 7 February 2020 following a prolonged illness. He was 86.