In Retrospect

Anil Biswas: The Revolutionary

I was 10, when I heard the song, 'Seeney mein sulgatey hain armaan, ankhon me udasi chayyi hai'. At that age I couldn't comprehend the meaning of the song, nor could I ask somebody. In those days, it was inappropriate for a ankhon me udasi chayyi hai'. At that age I couldn't comprehend the meaning of the song, nor could I ask somebody. In those days, it was inappropriate for a armaan, ankhon me udasi chayyi hai'. At that age I couldn't comprehend the meaning of the song, nor could I ask somebody. In those days, it was inappropriate for a hain armaan, ankhon me udasi chayyi hai'. At that age I couldn't comprehend the meaning of the song, nor could I ask somebody. In those days, it was inappropriate for a middle class kid to have interest in film songs. I was innocently oblivious of how all of it was composed. But I found the music and the song so enchanting that I would croon it every day. There was a song that really captivated me, 'Jeevan hai madhuban, tu isme phool khila'.
After some years, in my teens I was amazed to find that most of my favourite songs barring a few by Khemchand Prakash and Ghulam Haider, had been composed by Anil Biswas. His mesmerising music made him my hero. Now, when I look back, I find that it was not only my generation, but the one before and after was as fascinated by his music.
Now even after 80 years, his music has not lost its charm. Right from its inception, Hindi film music had technique but it was Biswas who gave it form that was to be recognised later. He was passionate about the Indian-ness of his music, and yet had conviction to experiment with different styles of sounds. After completing my studies I joined the News Services Division of AIR but wasn't aware that Biswas had left Bombay and became Director of National Orchestra of Akashvani.
Later, when I joined Doordarshan, to my absolute surprise I found that the room adjacent to mine belonged to Biswas. Often I saw him carrying tapes around. I had this feeling that he was always in a hurry. Many years later he told me, "You were absolutely correct in reading me. From my childhood I had this restlessness within me to finish off things quickly. That was why it never took me much time in composing music. Many a time, just when I would touch harmonium, the tune was ready. Some tunes would appear like a flash in the mind while I was on my way to the studio."
I met him first in 1976 for a Doordarshan Programme on the death of singer Mukesh and ever since the latter reminded me of Anil Da. Since then we met regularly but I always had this feeling that the meeting remained incomplete. The more we met, the more I began to believe that something was sapping him from within but he was not ready to share his pain with anyone. He would only say, "From early childhood I got inflicted by music and am still paying the price."
Anil Biswas was born on July 7, 1914 at Barisal in East Bengal (now in Bangladesh) in a lower middle class family and brought up in tough times. He could sing by the age of four and started playing tabla, too. He acted in stage plays and sang in music concerts along with seasoned artistes. He composed his own songs surprised the audience at these concerts.
By the time he was studying for his matriculation, patriotism had taken over boys of his age who then got associated with a revolutionary party and this simple lad with a musical bent ended up making and throwing bombs. As a result, his studies were interrupted and he went to jail six times during this period.
He escaped in disguise to Calcutta in 1930. He was in bad shape but knew no one in Calcutta except his friend Pannalal Ghosh, the famed flute player who married Biswas's sister. He stayed with them for four days and left as he didn't deem it appropriate. He started his life once again in Calcutta washing dishes in a roadside hotel. A magician, Manoranjan Sircar, frequently came here for meals, one day he heard him singing. Impressed, he asked Anil to accompany him to a music concert at the residence of Rai Bahadur Aghornath, a senior government official and a music exponent. Among other invitees were Kavi Jitendranath Bagchi and JN Ghosh, the owner of Megaphone Gramophone Company. Sircar told them about Biswa's singing skills and he was asked to perform. He sang Shayama Sangeet got asked by Rai Bahadur to stay there and teach his grandchildren. Every night he'd sing religious songs to him but soon got tired of this routine and left.
Being chased by the police he landed in Sonagachchi and met Neehar who acted in Rangmahal Theatre on weekends. She introduced Biswas to Nitai Motilal (owner of Rang Mahal) where he did some ghost writing and composed music for Motilal for forty rupees a month. During this period Biswas met Kazi Nazrul Islam, the legendary poet-writer who was working for Gramophone Company of India. He was impressed by Biswas's talent and encouraged him. Biswas became popular in Calcutta and in a chance meeting, Hiren Ghosh, offered him to accompany him to Bombay for 150 rupees a month. In 1934, Ghosh and Biswas landed in Bombay and joined Kumar Movietones of BM Vyas. Biswas brought four Goan instrumentalists with him who could read musical notations, since he was drawn to elements of Western music and used them in his compositions. But soon there was a rift between Vyas and Biswas. Jobless for sometime, Biswas was picked up by Eastern Art Company and asked to compose a song for the film, Bharat ki Beti. He composed 'Tere poojan ko Bhagwan, bana man mandir alishan', and the song acquired the status of a national song. With Dharam ki Devi, he became an independent music director. Other films of Biswas in Eastern Art were Pratima, Prem Bandhan and Sher ka Panja. During this time Biswas came close to Ram S Drayani of Eastern Art who became his godfather.
Biswas composed music for 18 films independently. Noticed immensely, he was approached by Sagar Movietone to compose two songs for Manmohan in 1936 and one of the songs, 'Tum hi ne mujh ko prem sikhaya' became very popular. As there was no playback singing at that time, actors found it difficult to sing. But Biswas's specialty was that he could judge their vocal range and compose songs accordingly. In Jagirdar he made Motilal and Maya Banerjee sing, 'Nadi kinare baith ke aao, khel me jee behlao'. For Sagar Movietones Biswas composed music for 11 films.
Biswas did many experiments while composing music in these films and some of these are remembered even today. Zohrabai Ambale Wali sang her maiden song, 'Piya ghar nahin mohey dar laage' in Gromophone Singer. Biswas used a twelve-piece orchestra for the first time in the film Dynamite. In Ali Baba, he composed a tune based on Arabic music in the song, 'Hum aur tum aur ye khushi'.
Sagar Movietone and film city became National Studios. For Biswas and Mehboob Khan this was a golden period.
Biswas composed music for all the films of National Studios and Mehboob Khan directed his classics, Aurat Behan and Roti. Biswas's music broke all the previous records. His compositions for Aurat were a treat for audience.
Four duets included 'Bol bol re ban ke panchhi bol' and 'Tum rooth gayee'. Again in Behan in 1941 he excelled, 'Hawa basant ki dol rahi' and 'Nahin khatey hain bhaiyya mere paan'. The combination of Mehboob Khan and Biswas gave another super hit Roti in 1942. The highlight of the film was Biswas's personal favourite, a song picturised on Sitara, 'Sajna saanjh bhai'.
After the closure of National Studios Biswas got many offers but opted for Bombay Talkies. Mehboob Khan didn't seem to like it and hence they never worked again. But Biswas created history there. Kismat in 1943 broke all records by running for three years in Calcutta. Songs of Kismat, 'Badal dheerey dheerey aa', 'Ghar ghar mein diwali hai', the revolutionary in Biswas was seen in the all-time great patriotic song, 'Door hato aye duniya walo, Hindustan hamara hai'. Biswas did four more films with Bombay Talkies consisting Hamari Baat and Jwar Bhata, Dilip Kumar's debut film. It's song, 'Saanjh ki bela' became very popular.
Again in Milan (1946), the magic of Biswas was seen in numbers, 'Ghoon Ghoon Ghoon bole bhanwara' and 'Suhani betia jaye'. In 1945 Biswas scored music for Pehli Nazar in which he re-launched singer Mukesh with 'Dil jalta hai to Jalne de'. By now studio system was taken over by star system. Biswas was a rockstar of film music. In following years, he directed music of 45 films. His best musical score was in Anokha Pyaar. In Arzoo (1950) he gave break to Talat Mehmood with 'Aye dil mujhe aisi jagah le chal'. Biswas enjoyed working with Khwaja Ahmed Abbas and did four films together.
Biswas captured the flavour of wherever he went, in his music – a classical tillana from South, 'Nadir dheen tana de re na' (Lata); Marathi folk, 'Rimjhim barse paani' (Meena Kapoor-Manna Dey) and another classic, 'Rasiya re man basiya re' (Meena Kapoor). Multistarrer Chaar Dil Chaar Raahen had a powerful theme of untouchability but got a lukewarm response from the audience. The redeeming factor was music by Biswas.
Some films of Biswas worth mentioning are Sohrab Modi's Waaris (1954) in which Biswas experimented with Rabindra Sangeet in its song, Rahi matwale, in two versions sung by Talat and Suraiya. Anguli Maal produced by Thai Information Service, had a most memorable number, Buddham sharnam gachhami (Manna Dey). In the 1963 release, Sautela Bhai, Biswas gave memorable numbers like 'Ab laagi nahi chhute Rama' (Lata-Meena Kapoor)
Besides composing memorable compositions of Akashvani Vadya Vrinda he gave music for television serials and composed Sai Bhajans. Whatsoever Biswas did was par excellence. I had the privilege of a 30-year long association with music maestro Anil Biswas. And it culminated in his biography, 'Ritu Aye Ritu Jaye', that I wrote in his lifetime.
But the saddest moment of my life was when I received the gold medal from late President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam in Vigyan Bhawan, for this book (best writing on Indian Cinema) in 2003.
The maestro had passed away on May 31, the same year.
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