Millennium Post

Salil Chowdhury: A Matchless Composer

A man of many hues, Salil Chowdhury was a poet, short story writer, choir conductor, and a great composer, writes Sharad Dutt.

It was a chance meeting with Salil da at the Press Club of India, New Delhi, in 1980. A couple of friends were engaged in a discussion about the film music and its composers. When it came to Salil da's music, I took over the reins. His music was discussed at great length from his debut film Do Bigha Zameen to Madhumati.
Suddenly someone tapped my shoulder. When I looked up it was a stranger with a friendly smile. "You have been talking about Salil da's music. Would you like to meet him?" he asked me politely.
"Love to", was my instant reaction.
"Salil da is sitting right behind you," he informed.
Indeed, it was Salil da, savouring his drink. A gentleman asked me, "Why don't you join us?" Salil da made me feel welcome with a warm handshake. I was face to face with a unique composer.
As I settled down, came the poser, "How come you know so much about my music?"
"I am an ardent fan of old film music and as much your admirer. Your music has always exhilarated me."
This chance meeting metamorphosed into a friendship that lasted for over a decade. During several meetings with him, I would explore the world of his heartrending music. A man of many hues, Salil da was a poet, short story writer, choir conductor, and composer.
Born on November 19, 1925, in village Chingripotha, 24 Pargana, Calcutta, in a music-inclined family, Salil da's father Gyanendra Nath Choudhary was a doctor in the tea estates in Assam. Fond of Western classical music, he had impressive albums of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin, besides Bengali and Assamese folk music. Needless to say, Salil da imbibed his love for music from these collections. While visiting his father he was fascinated by folk music of Assam that he used later in his films so creatively.
His love for literature and fine arts drew him to Indian People Theatre Association, popularly known as IPTA. He penned plays, stories, and songs for IPTA, which were highly appreciated, given the choral effect in these songs that lent a magical touch. At the behest of his friends, Salil da made a foray into Bengali Cinema, and thus, his career as a music composer was launched. Once he was ailing and advised complete bed rest for a few days. From his room he would watch the rickshaw pullers from the window, who assembled in a street below to discuss their problems and get nostalgic about their native places where they belonged. This is when Salil da was inspired to write a story, 'Rikshawala', in Bangla. Bimal Roy, the legendary filmmaker, liked it so much that he wished to film it, and asked him to compose music at the recommendation of his colleagues Hrishikesh Mukherjee, film editor, and Nabendu Ghose, the eminent author and screenplay writer. This is how Do Bigha Zameen came into being, that was also the maiden release of Bimal Roy Productions.
With his debut film, Salil da made a mark in Bollywood, fully employing his symphony and folk music as the background score. In the song, 'Dharti kahe pukar ke,' he used the Russian Red Army marching tune in the beginning. And 'Hariyala sawan dhol bajata aaya' was inspired form his IPTA song, 'Uru taaka tak ta dhina,' in Bangla, that Shailendra wrote in Hindi brilliantly. He used poorbi folk in 'Ghazab tori duniya ho morey Rama'. And who can forget the immortal lullaby, 'Aaja re nindiya tu akhiyan mein', picturised on Meena Kumari in guest appearance.
Again in Hiren Choudhary's Biraj Bahu (1954) based on Sarat Babu's novel and directed by Bimal Roy, Salil da showcased his versatility by composing, 'Mera man bhoola bhoola kahe doley'; Suno Sita ki kahani; the bidaai geet, 'Jaa re dulhaniya ja'; and made use of a Bangla folk in the voice of Nirmalendu Choudhary, 'Manjhi re le chal naiya'; and a devotional kirtan song in Hemant kumar's voice, 'Jhoom Jhoom Manmohan re'.
Bimal Roy and Salil da were back in the film, Naukri in 1954. Salil da used a Nepali folk song which a servant in his father's house used to hum, 'Bola oonda na bolne karte hazoor,' which was sung by Kishore Kumar as 'Chhota sa ghar hoga badlon ki chhaon mein'.
In 1955, two films of Salil da were released, Amanat and Tangewali. Once again Salil Da used the Assamese style in 'Jab tosey mili akhiyan'. Geeta Dutt's 'Baanki adayein dekhna ji dekhna', and another duet, 'Re moorakh tu kya janey, in the voice of Manna Dey and Asha were highly appreciated. In Tangewali, Salil da composed a lilting horse hoof trot-based melody, 'Halke halke chalo sanwarey pyaar ki mast hawaon mein'. Another duet by Mohammad Rafi and Lata, 'Tere naino ne jadoo kiya,' in Punjabi boliyan style, and in 'Main lut gayi duniya walon' he used the famous Punjabi Heer style. He also composed music in Aawaz, wherein a lilting tune in Talat Mehmood and Lata's voice, 'Dil deewana dil mastana maney na,' became very popular. He also composed a number in Maharastraian Lavani style sung by Lata, 'Dhitang dhitang boley.'
In Pariwar produced by Bimal Roy and directed by his assistant Asit Sen, Salil da's music was outstanding, as evident in two duets in Carnatic Hans Dhwani Raga, 'Jaa tosey nahin bolun kanahiya,' and 'Jhir jhir jhir jhir badarwa barsey, o re kaley kaley.' But the most popular song of the film was, 'Kuein mein doob ke mar jaana, yaar tum shaadi mat karna,' sung and enacted by Kishore Kumar in a special guest appearance.
In 1956, Raj Kapoor produced his classic, Jaagte Raho, but he gave preference to Salil da over Shankar Jaikishen, RK's favourite music director. Salil da rendered rare gems in this film: 'Zindagi Khawab Hai' picturised on veteran actor Motilal and he composed a Punjabi Bhangra number, 'Ainvey duniya devey duhai', but the number which stood out was, 'Jago Mohan payare,' in Raga Bhairavi (Lata), picturised on Nargis, her last film for RK Films. In the entire film, Salil da used symphony style as the background score. Unfortunately, the film could not make any mark at the box office.
Bimal Roy's Apradhi Kaun (1957) had a rock-n-roll number, 'Phir wahi dard hai, phir wahi hai gam'. The same year in 'Ek Gaon Ki Kahani,' Salil da gave some memorable horse hoof trot numbers, 'Raat ne kya kya khawab dikhaye' and 'Jhoomey re jhoomey'. Salil da had the privilege of working with the trinity of Bollywood of that era. Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, and Dev Anand. In 1958, Bimal Roy produced and directed his blockbuster Madhumati. The story was written by Ritwik Ghatak and the cast comprised Dilip Kumar, Vyjayantimala, Pran and Johnny Walker. Here Salil da was at his very best with all-time great haunting melodies. 'Aaja re pardesi,' 'Ghadi ghadi mera dil dhadke'; 'Suhana safar aur ye mausam haseen'; 'Tootey huey khawabon ney'; and a light number, 'Jangal mein mor nacha'. A duet based on Hungarian and Czech folk, 'Dil tadap tadap ke keh raha hai'. Salil da also composed a beautiful mujra song in Mubarak Begum's voice, 'Hum haal-e-dil sunayenge'. He did full justice to Kumaoni folk in 'Chad gayo paapi bichhua'. Madhumati won numerous Filmfare awards including one for its musical score. During the shooting of Madhumati, Dilip Kumar coaxed Hrishikesh Mukherjee to direct a film. Taking heed, Hrishikesh Mukherjee directed his maiden film, Musafir. Dilip Kumar not only acted in the film but sang a song in his own voice with Lata, 'Laagi nahin chhutey Rama.' This is the only song that the thespian Dilip Kumar ever sang in his career. The other popular song of the film sung and enacted by Kishore Kumar was 'Munna bada pyara ammi ka dulara'.
Bimal Roy was always in a comfort zone with Salil da. After the grand success of Madhumati they did four films together, Parakh, Usne Kaha Tha, Kabuliwala and Prem Patra. Music was very much an integral component of these films and music aficionados have not forgotten those melodious melodies. In Kabuliwala Salil da used Bhatiyali folk of Bengal, 'Ganga aaye kahan se', in two other songs he used Afghani music, 'Aye merey pyaarey watan', and 'O saba kahna merey dildar se'. And a children's song in a dream sequence, 'Kabuliwala aaya'.
In the 1960s, Salil da gave music in some films, which didn't fare too well at box office but still remembered for its songs. Hrishikesh Mukherjee's favourite opera style Mem Didi had 'Raaton ko jab neend ud jaaye' that was also Salil da's favourite. In Chhaya, Salil da used his Western music background fully and composed two versions, sad and glad, based on Mozart's 41 symphony in Talat Mehmood voice, 'Itna na mujhse tu pyaar badha'. In Pinjre Ke Panchhi, written and directed by Salil da himself, he composed an enchanting number, 'Manzil ki khoj mein kitni sadiyan'. In Maya, 'Koi soney ke dilwala', 'Zindagi kya hai sun meri jaan', 'Jaa re jaa ud ja re panchhi', and evergreen duet, 'Tasveer teri dil mein jis din se uttari hai', had a distinct touch of Salil da's compositions.
Two successful films of Salil da were Jhoola and Chaand Aur Suraj. In the 70s, Salil da was back in the saddle with Anand, Mere Apne, Anna Data, Anokha Daan, Mere Bhaiya, Anokha Milan, Rajnigandha and Chhoti Si Mulaqat. Anand's numbers, 'Maine tere liye hi saat rang ke sapne buney,' 'Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye', 'Zindagi kaisi hai paheli', 'Na jiya laage na' based on his non-filmy song, 'Mano laagey na' became all-time hits. In Rajnigandha, 'Rajnigandha phool tumhare' by Lata, and 'Kai baar yun bhi dekha hai' won Mukesh a National Award for best singing. In Chhoti Si Mulaqat, 'Na jaane kyun hota hai zindagi se pyaar', and a duet, 'Janeman Janeman' were all chartbusters. Another specialty of Salil da was his background score in several films, including Kanoon, Anokhi Raat, Mausam, Achanak, and Kala Pathar. He also composed the background music of last four reels of Bimal Roy's Devdas when SD Burman became unwell.
But Salil da was disillusioned with Bombay after giving music in 62 Hindi films. He left for Calcutta, where he built a State of Art Sound Studio, kept on experimenting with his orchestral compositions, and even survived the brain clot surgery. Recovering at home, one fine day he was listening to his daughter Aantra along with his wife Sabita Choudhary. Suddenly a deadly infection took over and he was moved to a nursing home in Alipore. A specialist was called from Bombay, but it was too late, and death stilled the great musician on September 5, 1995.
A soulful musical genius in not amongst us, but his memory will always linger in the hearts of music lovers with scores of melodies he left behind.
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