Remembering an epochal genius

If one person ever deserved credit for giving us an inseparable part of Hindi Films, the USP, the single differentiating feature from all other movie classes all over the world, it would be the legendary genius, Anil Biswas who was singularly responsible for defining Hindi Film Music as we understand (and expect it to be) today. Little wonder that everyone, composers, audience, singers, critics alike consider him to be the Grandad of Film Music in so many ways, explaining his moniker: Bhishmapitamah.

Anil Biswas, better known as Anilda among his fans, actually debuted in Bollywood in 1934. He didn’t quite make a huge splash on entry, rather he was taken notice of slowly with hits like Aaj himalay ki choti se fir hum ne lalkara hai. I remember the amazingly sweet Dheere dheere aare badal, mera bulbul so raha hai, shorgul na macha Ashok Kumar singing for himself (it isn’t possible to ever forget that Dadamoni was a singing star in the first part of his extraordinarily long in career. This song is from the early 40s, from Kismet and I remember the cute acting by Dadamoni and Mumtaz Shanti from the movie, it was shown on DD Mumbai in the early 70s).

The man has a huge number of achievements to his credit. If one were a composer & if one had composed something like this amazingly sweet composition from Aaram with a very suave looking Premnath on the piano lending the instrumental backup to Madhubala, I suppose the composer would feel pretty chuffed about it, and for a reason : a piano has never sounded more impressive as an integral part of the composition in Bollywood.

But Anilda went on to compose Aa mohobbat ki basti basayenge hum (what a wonderful heartening Latadidi and Kishoreda duet, this one is from Fareb, with Kishoreda still under the Saigal influence) & then Tumhare bulane ko ji chahata hai (One of the best ever sung by Latadidi, undoubtedly).

Anilda gave a break and a boost to many a singer in his long career. Two of the best voices closest to my heart – Mukesh and Talat Mahmood were introduced by Anil Biswas. When a dhoti clad, sad Dilip Kumar walks up the steps and mouths the immortal Ae dil mujhe aisi jagah le chal, it is well nigh difficult to imagine that this amazing song is the first effort of the collaboration of Talat Mahmood with Anilda from Arzoo. Anilda got the very best out of Talat in another movie, Tarana . Talat with Latadidi in the soul searing duet Seene mein sulagate hai armaan is pure magic, witchcraft, a balm for the soul. Nain mile nain hue baware from Tarana is such a beautiful, soft duet between Talat Mahmood and Latadidi. I loved the rather muted romance between Dilip saab and Madhubala in the song. To me Talat’s amazing singing had a big contribution to the amazing commercial success of this film.

Talat met Anilda for his first trial for a film song , he had at this early stage a monster hit , a nonfilmy song that is remembered to this day, Tasveer teri dil mera bahela na sakegi . The song is not just amazingly melodious, it is remembered to this day. Talat, a really handsome young man had come wanting to be a singing star in Hindi films. Anilda listened to his velvet voice & told him to give a serious thought to just turning a singer. As Talat turned up for the audition for the first song for Arzoo, Anilda was happy to have him, approving his voice and asked him to come the very next day for the recording. When Talat reappeared the next day, his voice was entirely different. The slight vibration in the voice had disappeared. Anilda was very angry. “Aise kyun ga rahe ho ?”, he asked Talat, “Where is the tremolo in your voice?”. Talat said that he had purposefully kept out the quiver as people told him that that was a major drawback in his voice. Anilda was upset & asked him to sing his way, not to try to sing like someone else. Talat took the advice and I for one, am so happy he did. We got a unique singer whose voice perhaps conveys pathos better than anyone else. The result is the immortal song from Arzoo: Ae dil mujhe aisi jagah le chal

Mukesh was introduced to the audience by Anilda in his debut song Dil jalata hai to jalane de. Mukesh, a relation of the famous actor Motilal, and who had been spotted by Motilal singing in a family function in Delhi, had been brought to Mumbai by Motilal. He took diction and music lessons and like every singer of the time (gender neutral statement) was hugely influenced by K L Saigal’s singing. Anilda insisted Mukesh sing the song over the objections and staunch opposition of the producer of Pehli Nazar. Apparently Mukesh did not turn up in time for the recording of this song. Anilda found him sleeping & got angry, but then Mukesh immediately got up & recorded the song without much fuss and further ado, which truly changed his destiny. .
Amongst the ladies, Latadidi was always Anilda’s first choice (as with many composers of the era). He composed a number of brilliant pieces for Latadidi which would always make it into her top twenty songs.

Anil Biswas did not confine himself to just a few playback singers once he made them. He got the all time great Door papiha bola, raat aadhi rah gayi and the amazing duet Raahi matwale for him. The first one is certainly one of her best solos with Anilda’s magic, the latter is such a sweet duet.

Anilda gave us the 12 piece Indian Instrumental Orchestra, something no one had thought of till then.

Geniuses like Anil Biswas are seldom born, maybe one every century. Today’s music directors who specialise in plagiarising songs (upto the notation sheets) from all across the globe, cannot understand the true worth of the genius.

There were so many songs by the big man that I love, it was exceedingly difficult to restrict my choice to stick to the time

1. Dil Jalta Hai To Jalne De, from Pahli Nazar, I thought was the right way to start to pay homage to this legendary composer. It undoubtedly is one of the best raag based compositions in Hindi Movies. No other song showcases Anil Biswas’s role in creating Mukesh better. Mukesh was a struggling man at the beginning of his career. He actually started life as an actor – singer, having been brought to Mumbai, by Motilal, who was related to Mukesh. Motilal took him to his close friend, Anil Biswas, & requested him to try out the young boy. Anil Biswas was duly impressed with Mukesh’s singing ability, and suggested that in Motilal’s forthcoming film, Pahli Nazar, the boy could be given a chance. The producer of the film, (Mazhar Khan) didn’t take kindly to the prospect of his film being ruined by the new , as yet unknown singer. Motilal then insisted he would sing his own songs. Anil Biswas, who knew Motilal’s singing (he had sung for him earlier) told him in his inimitable style, “You leave it I’ll sing this one.”

That would have been the end of Mukesh’s career – at least for the time being. Disappointed, he lamented to his friends, “what would happen to the singers if music directors started singing their own songs.” This reached Anil Biswas, who took an indulgent view of the young boy’s sorrow & persuaded Mazhar Khan to let him try out Mukesh. Thus, it was decided to give Dil jalta hai to him. The rest is history. Anil Biswas composed about 24 songs for Mukesh & would then always be known as the ‘Maker of Mukesh.’

Dil Jalta hai is based on the eternally favourite, very melodious Raag Darbari Kanada. A truly outstanding composition presented the Saigal-esque voice of Mukesh in such an enchanting way that as the story goes, after KL Saigal heard it, he remarked, “I don’t remember having sung this song”! This song became Mukesh’s first notable hit song, so much so that the singer even mentioned it as his ‘First ever’ song in his last public performance in The US & it also proved to be the last song he ever sang, as he expired soon after that program, far away from Home in a Detroit hotel.

Anilda said, “Mukesh was like my God-son. I had used the Saigal in his voice in Dil Jalta Hai but then I told him that if he wanted to make a name for himself he had to develop his own vocal identity. He could just not be a Saigal’s shadow.” Anilda then assisted him in creating that original identity by making him sing many memorable songs.

2. Seene Mein Sulagte Hain Armaan is a truly immortal song penned by Prem Dhawan (Anilda’s favourite lyricist and personal friend ), and sung soulfully by Talat Mehmood & Lata Mangeshkar. Anil Biswas apparently composed the tune of this song in all of 15 minutes while driving a car. There is also a rumour that the lyrics had been bought by Prem Dhawan from Sahir Ludhianvi for Rs 5 , as Sahir was in desperate need of money. Prem Dhawan was always underrated although he was multitalented; he was a composer, lyricist & a choreographer & also acted in a few films.

This song was picturized on Dilip Kumar & Madhubala in Tarana which was their first film together.

Interestingly the song is a sad song but Anil Biswas used the major scale & showed the amazing innovation in his use of three different tunes for the three Antaras. Only a genius like Anil Biswas could even think of pulling that off. Madan Mohan later on tried the same in many songs in the late 60s. If we look at this song technically, the song has a feeling of Raga Yaman Kalyan. To me this is undoubtedly one of the greatest duets of Bollywood. Everything is perfect; the lyrics, music, singing & picturization on two of the most remembered actors.

3.Shukriya Shukriya Ae Pyar Tere from the film Aaram must be one of the earliest ghazals created in Bollywood movies. Anil Biswas composed a trademark silken tune for Talat Mahmood which was even picturised on him while playing a harmonium, clearly introduced into the movie as a special appearance. This very song brought Talat Mehmood into the limelight and brought him fame. This song must be regarded as one of the few realistically picturised party songs of Bollywood.

The lyrics are by Rajinder Krishan and not by Anilda’s usual Prem Dhawan. The gentle and unique tremolo in Talat Mahmood’s singing voice was an unusual feature and did not find immediate or wide acceptance among Hindi film music directors of the time. It was Anil Biswas who saw the allure/ uniqueness in this tremolo & asked Talat to not just keep it, but also embrace it. The result was Talat’s first hit, ‘Ae Dil Mujhe Aisi Jaga Le Chal’.

4. Zamaane ka dastoor hai ye purana is an amazing Mukesh duet with Lata Mangeshkar, from Lajawaab and has lyrics by Prem Dhawan.

Anil Biswas scored a duet with two of his favourite singers that dwells with raag Kukubh Bilawal, an unusual raag, in that it is an Audav- Sampoorna raag. This raag is sung across a few gharanas & interpreted differently by the maestros. The movie has an unusual casting: David Abraham, Kuldeep Kaur, Prem Dhawan (himself), Pran, Rehana and Iftekhar. An amazingly melodious and truly unforgettable duet.

5. Na Dir Deem… I saw this movie in the 70s on DD Mumbai on the Sunday evening movie shows. It is from Pardesi which is unusually a Co Production between India and the (then) USSR. Pardesi was a Hindi-Russian movie., may have actually been shot in monochrome and colour has been added later. I remember this song for the absolutely delightful classical dance by Padmini. Padmini was one of the Travancore sisters and possessed great dancing skills. Based on a very melodious Gaud Sarang, Anilda has given this song a distinctly South Indian flavour.

It is truly a gem of a song from Anil Biswas, who had great command over Hindustani classical music and was undoubtedly one of the early mentors of Lata Mangeshkar in her early years in the film industry.

6. Raahi matwale… is to me a classic song from Waaris sung by Talat Mehmood & Suraiya on screen as well as off the screen.
The lyrics by Qamar Jalalabadi have been rendered beautifully by the two. The song has three versions in the film. The far reaching influence of the noted litterateur, Tagore’s Rabindra Sangeet is clearly seen. It is originally a Holi festival song based on Basanta ritu in Bibhas – Baul which was written by Tagore himself. Anilda’s song draws heavily from Ore grihobashi. He converted this Tagore song , into a train song, the tempo matching that of a running train.
The opening beats convey the movement of the train, which is beautifully done by Anilda using the violins and viola to give the feel of the train’s movement even if one doesn’t watch the visuals. The way Suraiya steps into the song towards the end is unique. Talat’s effortless singing to that point is virtually brought to nought.

7. Ja Mai Tose Nahi Bolu: is the single song that showcases so many of Anilda’s unique skills. His USP. It has beautiful lyrics by Shailendra, and figured as a song in Sautela Bhai. The song has a Raagmala (effortless switching between various raags)

This song can be taken as a perfect example of the depiction of the ragamala as well as the classical dexterity in its composition by the great music director, Anil Biswas set in Raga Adana, digressing into Raga Kafi at times. Composed in the bol bandish thumri style, this song is definitely one of the most challenging ones (albeit very melodious to listen ) to make, and even more difficult to sing. It will severely test the most learned and accomplished of singers.

Anil Biswas is rightly known as the Bheeshma Pitaamah or the patriarch of Hindi Film Music and a founder of the Lata Era alongside Ghulam Haider and Khemchand Prakash. He has had a major, undoubted contribution to changing a very Noor Jehan-esque Latadidi from her initial days of struggle to “The Lata Mangeshkar” that we know so well. Latadidi has also often acknowledged his role as a mentor who taught her numerous playback and microphone techniques. She has repeatedly talked about the song as well as Anilda’s personal contribution to her skills.
The mellifluous association between Anilda and Latadidi was at its peak in late ‘40s and the early ‘50s.
This composition is one which demands an indepth knowledge as well as skill in Hindustani Classical Music. With alaaps, taans and gamaks sprinkled all across, the song is composed primarily in raag Adana in thumri style. The orchestration comprises very few basic instruments (after all Anilda is the progenitor of the Raagmala) : the sarangi, tabla and the harmonium. Aalaaps, taans, murkis and khatkaas are liberally sprayed randomly all over make up for the sparse orchestral landscape. The song is challenging in all its aspects  and is easily one of the best compositions by Anilda and one of the best classical numbers ever to be sung in Hindi films. A very melodious song to listen to, and hugely difficult to sing. Only a Latadidi could not just agree to attempting it, but also pull it off with panache. Anil Biswas was definitely a pioneer in so many ways in the world of film music.

8. Kuch Aur Zamana Kehta Hai is perhaps the last film song Anil Biswas composed for Meena Kapoor, his wife of many decades.
Singing many soulful songs, Meena Kapoor’s songs were primarily equipped with melody of voice & her ability to change pitch along with a clear diction & variety. This song is a wonderful ghazal, based on the Raag Gaud Sarang. Unlike most other members of the Sarang family of ragas, Gaud Sarang is unusually assigned to the Kalyan thaat rather than the usual Kafi. This song is from a unique movie Chhoti Chhoti Batein, the movie was produced and directed by Motilal, he unfortunately took very ill after the movie was shot (after lots of unforeseen delays) and the rest of the production facilities were actually completed by Mukeshji, who of course was related to him. The movie has Nadira as the female lead, one of the few such roles that came her way. The sensitive and well made movie won a National Award but flopped at the box office. A casual observer might well mistake Meenaji for Geeta Dutt in this song.

9. Ae Jaan-e-jigar dil mein samaane aa ja… is the amazing Mukesh Solo from Aaram. Premnath beating up the piano, reflecting his inner turmoil as he sees Madhubala (looking absolutely ravishing in a black sari with her enchanting twisted smile) pose for a portrait by the artist Dev Anand (what better way to win over a woman’s heart than paint her portrait or sing a ballad or two to her). An amazing song that I felt sad at leaving out, and was happy that it was introduced by Kiran Misraji as we were left with a couple of minutes at the end of my selection.

Anil Biswas was so successful and so highly respected as ‘the Bhishma Pitamah’ of Hindi Film Music, that most people forgot he was also a good singer. While composing music for Lajawaab, the story goes… Mukesh found out that Anilda had 3 songs in the film and he had only one. He jocularly said to him that if “he as composer is going to sing, where will the singers go?”

Anil Biswas realised this and from then onwards decided to reduce singing to only 1 song per film. Thus in Do Raha he had one song , in Mehmaan he had one and in Mahatma Kabir also he had just one song. It was only for Sautela Bhai that he sang two songs. Anil Biswas once said that his mother was instinctively musically inclined and that he had learnt to sing from her, virtually naturally, without formal training. No wonder he could sing at the age of five onwards and could play the tabla by the age of six. By his teens he was already a famous singer. At the age of 17, he was composing music and singing for plays in the Bangla Theatre . At the Megaphone Recording Co. he came in contact with Kazi Nazrul Islam, the famous poet. In the pre World War II years, Anil Biswas actually rendered a song in Mehboob Khan’s film Watan based on a tune composed by Nazrul Islam himself.
In the earlier part of his career he used to sing more often and had a deep understanding of pure classical music as well as Thumri, Ghazal and folk music. He also penned a Bangla song which Manna Dey composed and sang! He also had a thorough knowledge of Urdu. He wrote books on Bangla Ghazals and wrote an English book on the same subject. His understanding of Thumri was so thorough that he could demonstrate multiple different interpretations of the Mukhda through his skilled and legendary composition.
Even though Anil Biswas had sung almost 50 songs, barely roughly 20 songs may be available for listening.

It is easy to understood why Anil Biswas sang his own songs initially. Playback singing was in its infancy and the singers were also exploring their way through the technical traps. Therefore a composer who could sing was better able to express his compositions more adequately and effectively.

The amazing creations that Anilda left behind in the first part of his career will always be remembered. He will also be remembered for his walking away from the murky rough and tumble of Bollywood for good, he became Director of the National orchestra at AIR, he also became a Professor at the JNU. An amazingly creative genius who has left such a huge legacy and like the original Pitamaha Bheeshma, Anil da walked away while he was effectively the ruler.

Hope you liked my selection. I loved making this, the sixth of the series on AIR FM Gold with the gracious and generous Kiran Misra ji. I look forward to doing the next one, on yet another great composer from even earlier than Anilda’s era.

By abchandorkar

Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, Pune, India

16 replies on “Remembering an epochal genius”

Superb aspect is to bring alive the contribution of Anilda ,as perhaps in this fast moving world he is already forgotten . Lilting music and great songs and very well bought out …

Liked by 1 person

What a feast to the ears SIRJI🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽
How well you research and come out with brilliant colours👍👍👍
This part of the post will help new comers to understand golden era so well… I feel👍
Unfortunately people don’t know much!!!
As usual your song selection is just fantastic!!
Waiting for your next program 🙏🏽

Liked by 1 person

Khajana. com. It would have been extremely difficult for you to select , as you rightly said Anilda’s contribution is difficult to wrap in one program . You will definitely need more programms . You have also mentioned minute details about recordings , unknown to many including myself. Really superb efforts.🙏

Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s