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Pankaj Mullick: The Phenomenal Maestro of Music

Pankaj Mullick: The Phenomenal  Maestro of Music
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The year was 1905. The partition of Bengal had engulfed the states in an unprecedented political turbulence, ushering in an era of intellectual fermentation and cultural activism, spurred by the rising tide of nationalism. This very year saw the birth of Pankaj Kumar Mullick on May 10, 1905 in a Vaishnavite middle class family of Calcutta (Kolkata). There was barely any musical atmosphere at home to inspire a young Pankaj, but he had this inexplicable urge to sing in his formative years, as he sat through the nightlong performances during Durga Puja. In one such programme, Pankaj heard the renowned music teacher and great exponent of classical music Durgadas Bandopadhyay. At the request of the assembled gathering, Pankaj also sang in the master's presence. Bandopadhyay was so enthralled by his rendition that he instantly offered to train a promising Pankaj, having seen his tremendous potential as a singer. During his training, he also studied for his matriculation simultaneously and sought admission in Bangabasi College. But he had to leave his studies due to compelling economic problems and undertook petty jobs to support the family.

There was barely any musical atmosphere at home to inspire a young Pankaj, but he had this inexplicable urge to sing in his formative years, as he sat through the nightlong performances during Durga Puja. In one such programme, Pankaj heard the renowned music teacher and great exponent of classical music Durgadas Bandopadhyay. At the request of the assembled gathering, Pankaj also sang in the master's presence. Bandopadhyay was so enthralled by his rendition that he instantly offered to train a promising Pankaj, having seen his tremendous potential as a singer. During his training, he also studied for his matriculation simultaneously and sought admission in Bangabasi College. But he had to leave his studies due to compelling economic problems and undertook petty jobs to support the family.

One day he came across a poem by his favourite poet Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. 'Jokhon porbe na mor payer chinho' enchanted him to the extent that he composed a musical version of this poem and started singing it. Later on, when Pankaj got to know that this very poem had been composed and sung by Gurudev himself, he also listened to the record, and naturally felt ecstatic that his composition was identical to that of Gurudev. This was his incipient introduction to Rabindra Sangeet, an incidental brush that changed the course of Pankaj's life. He was still learning classical music and also tappa style from his mentor Bandopadhyay, but he started musically tuning and rendering Gurudev's poems by singing in public functions as well. One such composition, 'Diner sheshe, ghoomer sheshe,' he sang very frequently.

Gurudev was very stringent about the fact that his poetry should be sung with purity. The aspiring singers were asked to sing in his presence and only after seeking his approval they could sing in public. When it reached Gurudev that Pankaj was singing one of his compositions, 'Diner sheshe,' without his approval, he was surprised that he had not composed it yet, though these verses were very dear to Gurudev. Pankaj was summoned before Tagore and asked to sing in his presence. Pankaj was naturally quite nervous when he sang 'Diner sheshe' in the courtyard of Gurudev's mansion. Just as the song was over, Pankaj ran away. Tagore was amazed by his singing prowess and didn't object to his singing and composing his poems. When Pankaj came to know about Gurudev's reaction he felt exhorted and inspired to sing Rabindra Sangeet as his life's sole mission. Classical music seemed to take a backseat now. One of Pankaj's friend saw his passion and suggested that if he wished to learn Rabindra Sangeet in its pristine form, he should approach Dinendranath Tagore, who had grasp over Rabindra Sangeet.

Tagore was amazed by his singing prowess and didn't object to his singing and composing his poems. When Pankaj came to know about Gurudev's reaction he felt exhorted and inspired to sing Rabindra Sangeet as his life's sole mission. Classical music seemed to take a backseat now. One of Pankaj's friend saw his passion and suggested that if he wished to learn Rabindra Sangeet in its pristine form, he should approach Dinendranath Tagore, who had grasp over Rabindra Sangeet.

Dinendranath Tagore was the grandson of Gurudev's elder brother Dwijendranath Tagore and son of Dwijendranath Tagore. After listening to Pankaj he gladly accepted him as his disciple. Under his tutelage young Pankaj learnt the finer nuances of Rabindra Sangeet. He taught him the first song from Gurudev's most celebrated work, 'Gitanjali'. He taught Pankaj the importance of verbal sequence and stressed that verses should never be overtaken by music. And that the spirit of lyrics was of supreme importance.

Pankaj always acknowledged that Durga Das Bandopadhyay and Dinendranath Tagore were solely responsible for shaping his career. As Pankaj started gaining popularity in the city and garnered a huge fan following, Dr Ramaswami Iyengar, a physician by profession with a keen ear for music was his ardent admirer. He had heard Pankaj on several occasions. One day he told Pankaj, "You sing so well, why don't you sing on radio, too? I know a lot of people there."

Pankaj was overwhelmed by his offer. Indian Broadcasting Company had started broadcasting in Calcutta on August 26 of 1927. In September Dr Iyengar took Pankaj to the radio station and introduced him to the Programme Director Nripen Majumdar. Quite impressed with his voice, he asked Pankaj to sing for them. And Pankaj sang two songs penned by Gurudev. This historic stint with radio lasted for more than five decades. His production of the musical feature, 'Mahishasur Mardini', in 1932, was repeatedly broadcasted for years to come, with constant requests for an encore. The production of the first radio play on Calcutta Radio is also credited to him. Pankaj was equally responsible for popularising Rabindra Sangeet on radio. During his radio days, he came into close contact with Rai Chand Boral.

In 1929 this duo was approached by BN Sircar to compose for his silent films, Chor Kanta and Chasher Meye. During the era of silent films, music was given live from the pit dug near the screen. Later in 1931 Sircar founded his New Theatres Studio and asked Boral and Pankaj to join its music department. Pankaj was co-composer of Boral in Dena Paona, the first talkie in Bangla that year. Pankaj had assisted Boral in most of the films and some of the credited compositions of Boral in Puran Bhagat and Chandidas were actually composed by Pankaj.

It was PC Barua, who while directing Rooplekha, felt that though the music director of film was Boral, Pankaj's contribution was no less. Later on when Barua directed Mukti he gave independent charge to Pankaj to score the music. There is an interesting story about this film. When Barua was narrating the story of this yet to be titled film to Pankaj Babu, he started humming 'Diner sheshe, ghoomer deshe'. Barua heard this and asked Pankaj Babu that he would like to use this rendition in his film. Pankaj Babu told Barua, "Though I have composed this poem and sung it in concerts, we would require the permission of Gurudev to use it in the film."
Barua sent Pankaj Babu to Gurudev, and after listening the entire story, he not only gave permission for 'Diner sheshe', but even two more songs for the film. He also suggested the title Mukti for the film. It was the very first time that Rabindra Sangeet was used in a feature film. These three songs of Gurudev became instant hits after the film was released in 1935.

Pankaj gave memorable music for the New Theatres films. KL Saigal was his great favourite. Saigal sang his great songs composed by Pankaj – 'Duniya rang rangeeli baba' in Dharti Mata; 'Kisne ye khel rachaya' in Dushman; 'Karun kya aas niras bhayee' and 'Prem mein hai jeevan jokhon' in Zindagi; 'Mein kya janu kya jadoo hai' and 'So ja Rajkumari'; 'Do naina matware' and 'Chhupo na chhupo O pyari sajaniya' in Meri Behan, and famous ghazal, 'Ae qative-e-taqdir mujhe itna bata de'. Pankaj also recorded this ghazal in his voice but Saigal's version was retained in the film.

Pankaj was a trained classical singer, yet he didn't hesitate in using western style and instruments in his compositions. This could be seen in his songs of film Doctor ('Aaiee bahar aaj aaiee bahar' and 'Jag mein chale pawan ki chaal'), wherein he also introduced the hoof trot in this song. Years later, Naushad used hoof trot in a song in film Deedar ('Bachpan ke din bhula na dena') and so did OP Nayyar in Naya Daur ('Maang ke saath tumhara maine maang liya sansar'). Pankaj composed, sang and acted in very successful films produced by New Theatres. His film Nartaki directed by Debki Bose had very melodious compositions sung by him, as 'Madh bhari rut jawan hai', 'Ye kaun aaj aaya savere savere' and 'Prem ka naat jhootha' were great hits of that time. In film Yatrik he recited Sanskrit verses from poet Kalidasa's Kumar Sambhav in his own voice. Pankaj's private songs in Bangla and Hindi were as popular as his film numbers.

Pankaj loved Calcutta and was always loyal to the city. He was approached by many Bombay producers to compose for their films. He politely told them that he would record the music only in Calcutta and stuck to his resolution recording music for just two Hindi films, Kasturi and Zalzala in New Theatres without going to Bombay. For Pankaj music was his life and soul. Conferred Padma Shri and Dadasaheb Phalke Award for his commendable contribution to music, an era ended with the sad demise of Pankaj Mullick in Feburary of 1978. But it is the magic of his phenomenal music that even after 40 years of his passing away, Pankaj continues to mesmerize millions of music lovers.
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