Romantic songs Salil Chowdhury

The dance of desire…

Today is the 93rd birth anniversary of the best known singer in the land and arguably one of the most recognized voices on the planet. It is just over 7 months since she succumbed to the malevolence of the Chinese Virus which killed millions of unsuspecting innocent humans on the planet. No punishment for that evil country will be harsh enough for this one cynical and cruel act of bioterrorism used as a means to establish hegemony. The current economic meltdown in that corrupt country bears testimony of just how fragile they really were.

She was born exactly 3 months after my father and less than a week after her relation, the great vocalist and composer Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki. With her father’s extremely unfortunate and tragic death when just 41 when she was not yet 13, she was made the unlikely bread earner of the family in the summer of ’42. To be fair to her, it was a tough struggle which she bore with an unusual amount of strength and the steel of character helped her tide over the torrid times. Of the tens of thousands of songs she rendered in virtually all Indian languages (and some non Indian ones as well) choosing a few hundred would be a daunting task, at best.

I’ve chosen this one song off the top of my head, for no particular reason, really.

The movie was based on a story by Chandradhar Sharma Guleri ( which was published in 1915 in the magazine Saraswati) and was directed by Moni Bhattacharjee and had Sunil Dutt and Nanda in the lead. I remember the movie for Nanda (who had a sad and similarly difficult life story as Lata Mangeshkar with her father , the marathi actor Master Vinayak dying early) and the amazing musical score by my most favourite composer, the unquestionable genius, Salil Chowdhury who conjured one of his best scores. The movie was Moni Bhattacharjee‘s directorial debut, he had been Bimal Roy’s assistant director for iconic films like Madhumati and Do Bigha Zameen. Bimalda was large hearted enough to actually produce the film for his deputy under his banner Bimal Roy productions.

The short story of the same name was critically acclaimed for the “perfection of technique, characterization and effect”.

However, the film had a “none too smooth takeoff” and did not do well at the box office.

This was the debut film of actress, Indrani Mukherjee. Nandu (Sunil Dutt) lives in poverty in a small town with his widowed mother and falls in love with a local girl, Kamli (Nanda). He wants to marry her.

When Nandu’s mother goes to meet Kamli’s uncle, she is humiliated because of their poverty. Nandu decides to join the army in the hope that her uncle will then consider him a suitable groom and it will lift them out of poverty. But when he returns, he finds Kamli is all set to marry someone else. Back in his army unit, he is shocked to find that his superior officer, Ram Singh, is Kamli’s husband. Disappointed with his fate, he is a bit nonplussed.

War now breaks out and he has to join his unit. But before going to war, Kamli makes him promise that he would protect her husband, which he does. When Ram Singh asks a dying Nandu why he risked his life to save him, his last words are, “Usne Kaha Tha”, giving the raison d’être, hence the name of the story and the film.

A story of Latadidi’s life too, in a way when she gave up her life to bring up, nurture and protect her loved ones from the warring world.

Just can’t forget the sweet, unique voice of the Bharatratna Latadidi (no better claimant to the title than the lady) who has achieved immortality through her enormous treasure trove of musical legacy.

Lullabies Salil Chowdhury

An invitation to Somnus

Today, 5th September, is celebrated in our country as Teacher’s Day, in deference to the great philosopher and teacher, the former Vice Chancellor of the iconic and prestigious Banaras Hindu University, Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnayya (the latter was changed to Radhakrishnan).

Today also marks the transition of one of the greatest (& my most favourite) composers to make Bollywood music his chosen area of activity, Salil Chowdhury. Salilda has given me so much joy over the decades with his uber melodious compositions, gave my soul succour, nourishment and solace, it is well nigh impossible to be fair to the genius of the man in a few hundred or even a few thousand words.

Salil Chowdhury passed away this day 27 years ago and was a true polymath: an equally skilled songwriter, composer, lyricist, writer, and poet who predominantly composed for Bengali, Hindi, and Malayalam films (he actually composed music for films in 13 languages) . This includes over 75 Hindi films, 41 Bengali films, around 27 Malayalam films, and a few Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Gujarati, Odia and Assamese films. His mastery of his oeuvre was a source of admiration and envy in the industry. He was himself proficient in several musical instruments, including flute, the piccolo, the piano, and especially the esraj. He was also extremely famous for his inspirational and original poetry in Bangla.

With so many hundreds of glittering gems to choose from, I am truly spoilt for choice. For today I will dedicate the blog to one unique form of song that’s so typically Indian.

Hypnos was the son of Nyx (Night) and the twin brother of Thanatos (Death). He is also the Greek God of Sleep. Somnus is his Roman ( Latin) equivalent. Using music to induce sleep is a widespread habit especially amongst the mothers of young children. It has been refined in Indian folklore and music, employing several calming, soporific raags of the night. Lullabies don’t come close to this unique form. Listen to this insanely treacly sweet composition from an extremely famous movie, Do Beegha Zameen. Bimal Roy, arguably THE most accomplished filmmaker who was a one man institution in the early days of Bollywood and who trained and gave us several gifted filmmakers including Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Sampooran Singh Kalra ( aka Gulzar) made this outstanding piece, a classic in every sense of filmmaking. He was apparently inspired by the Italian neorealist movies and made Do Bigha Zameen 5 years after watching Vittorio De Sica‘s Bicycle Thieves.

Like most of Bimal Roy’s movies, the boundary between art and commercial cinema is purposefully kept ill-defined and he undoubtedly created an outstanding movie that is still viewed as a benchmark. It is viewed as a lesson in filmmaking ever since.

Do Bigha Zameen was based on a Gurudev Ravindra Thakur short story Dui Bigha Zami and won awards by the sackful : An All India Certificate of Merit for Best Feature Film, it then became the first film to win the Filmfare Best Movie Award and the first Indian film to win the International Prize at the Cannes Film Festival after Indian Independence ( Neecha Nagar had won the Palme d’Or in 1946) . It also won the Social Progress Award at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

Indiatimes Movies ranked the movie amongst the Top 25 Must See Bollywood Films. (I would include it in my personal top 10 must see films)

The film was also released in China and in USSR – and met, (unsurprisingly) much acclaim and success.

The film also marks Meena Kumari‘s maiden guest appearance in her 33-year-long career. The lead pair is my favourite actor of all time, Balraj Sahni and Nirupa Roy. Meena Kumari turns up virtually for just this song.

Meena Kumari looks truly captivating in the song which has amazing, soulful lyrics by Shailendra.

आजा री आ निंदिया तू आ

आजा री आ निंदिया तू आ
आजा री आ निंदिया तू आ
झिलमिल सितारों से उतर
आँखों में आ सपने सजा
आजा री आ निंदिया तू आ

सोई कली सोया चमन
पीपल तले सोई हवा
सब रंग गए इक रंग में
तूने ये क्या जादू किया आ
आजा री आ निंदिया तू आ

संसार की रानी है तू
राजा है मेरा लाडला
दुनिया है मेरी गोद में
पूरा हुआ सपना मेरा
आजा री आ निंदिया तू आ
आजा री आ निंदिया तू आ

Salilda sadly died a couple of months short of his 72nd birthday. A man who didn’t market himself, didn’t buy awards , didn’t produce truckloads of trashy music, but produced lustrous gems of a rare quality that remain eternally appealing. Look no further than this one loree made 7 decades ago.

Stay safe, folks, stay happy and I will stay busy with numerous Salilda melodies through the day.

Lata Mangeshkar Mohammad Rafi Romantic Duets Salil Chowdhury

Manna from heaven….

I am in awe and utterly and completely bowled over by the durability of the great music of the golden period of Bollywood.

The musical scores from movies that are more than six-seven decades old are easily remembered. Very few of the movies released in the last decade would have any recall to their music. Most are forgotten by the time you step out of the theater (or switch off your TV set or device). Which was the last movie you went and saw purely for the music. Of course a variety of reasons exist. In the 50s and 60s there was no TV in most of the country. Delhi DD (when it began it’s telecast had a very limited footprint and few hours of telecast) was just a beginning and really no competition to the (by then) more than half a century old Bollywood. The sole radio broadcasting medium : AIR played a huge role in popularizing Bollywood films and their music. Personal ownership of turntables (to replay the music at home) was extremely limited and Cassettes/CDs never existed. As a result people went into the movie theaters as one of the primary modes of entertainment. Despite all the very pertinent factors, it is undeniable that the composers of the golden era attached far greater importance to the basics: great poetry, melody, and great vocals.

Let me just simplify it: there was more music and less noise. As a result everyone (except Cacofonix) loves the music of the era.

Unquestionable stalwarts of this era would always include Salil Chowdhury. Look at this amazing melody.

The movie is Maya, made by Rajkumari Kashyap and directed by D D Kashyap. Made a year before another of Dev Anand’s superhit Asli-Naqli ( with Sadhana and directed by the great Hrishida), it had Dev Anand and the heavy lidded doe eyed beauty, Mala Sinha as the lead pair. Amazingly both movies had an identical central theme. An only son (& heir) of a very rich and powerful family is disillusioned with the life of plenty and of comfort, and in a reenactment of Prince Siddharth quitting the Royal Palace to rediscover himself, stays with the poorer folks to discover humanity exists outside the palaces of the rich. Impressed, he promptly falls head over heels with the vivacious beauty of Mala Sinha,as did hundreds of millions of Indians (gender insensitive) aided and enticed by the beautiful monochrome photography and the heavenly music. With the first notes of the Bansuri after the single line of the mukhda by Lata Mangeshkar, one is smitten. The wonderful poetry by Majrooh Sultanpuri was a great asset, too. The noisy sickulars must remember that this hakim-turned-shayar had been jailed by Nehru for the poet’s criticism of the whimsical rose lover (word not just limited to mean the flower). He had emerged stronger in his convictions from jail and wrote beautifully and with renewed élan after his release.

How is it ever possible to forget such an addictive and truly eternal melody through many of which the maestro, Salilda truly achieved immortality?

Just can’t have enough of such songs, these are kept encrypted in the far recesses of my mind , secure and incorruptible. They are brought out off and on to calm my mind and induce the soporific sensation of the most delicious and desirable peace.

Stay healthy and happy folks, I am far happier with these than the crass cacophony of Yo Yo, Badshah and other trash that will never enter my mindspace, thanks to their being consistently divorced from melody

Humorous Songs Salil Chowdhury

Going up in smoke…

Of all the big singers in Bollywood history, undoubtedly He had to sing the most songs for humorous actors and for funny situations. That itself was amusing and surprising, because he had arguably the most complete vocal range to sing everything from Classical music to rock. Manna Dey, the undercelebrated star of Bollywood music had to suffer the consequences of being at the right place but at the wrong time. Had he been born a decade earlier (or even later), he would undoubtedly have met more success and well deserved fame. As things happened, he was unable to forge enduring partnerships with either composers and/or leading actors for much of his career which never assumed the dominant position he ought to have.

Why and when did he get equated with funny actors in Bollywood I don’t really know. But he did and has sung a number of very memorable songs for Mehmood. Many of them were famous thumris and the way they’ve been adapted to the film situation is amazing.

Take a look at this song:

The movie Apradhi Kaun was directed by Asit Sen, the man who gave Bollywood so many memorable gems, like Mamta, Anokhi Raat, Khamoshi, Safar and Annadata. He got to direct a movie of a totally different genre in the late 50s, produced by the legendary Bimal Roy. Apradhi Kaun? was a story based on a wealthy man who is suspected of murder getting killed himself. Now all of a sudden everyone in the household becomes a suspect. A private detective assigned with the task of unravelling the conundrum goes and – in true Bollywood style- falls in love with one of the suspects. That bit was copied in Bharat Kumar’s Gumnaam as well. The latter was virtually a plot copied from an Agatha Christie murder mystery And then were none (earlier called Ten Little Ni*gers & the title changed to let the US sales go through without raising a furore for the N word). Asit babu enrolled Salil Chowdhury to compose the music. The movie is an engrossing murder mystery and has the detective, Abhi Bhattacharya fall in love with the buxom, heavy lidded beauty, Mala Sinha (who wouldn’t?) To me the best role in the movie is by Gajanan Jagirdar. He portrays two of the three brothers: Shrinath and the crippled Dinanath. The amazing manner in which he pulls off the double role has to be seen to be believed: everything is different- the body language, voice, expressions, mannerisms. An unbelievable performance that increased my respect for the big man manifold. He was a famous actor/director from the Prabhat Films days and successfully transited from Marathi to Hindi films.

Salil Chowdhury was himself a protégé and a discovery of Bimal Roy. He got to score for many projects by Bimalda. (Burmanda got the others). This movie has a wonderful song sung by Manna Dey. The lyrics are by Majrooh Sultanpuri. The one song by Asha Bhosle is filmed in a nightclub with the dancer wearing an off-the-shoulder dress that must’ve raised a few eyebrows at the time.

This one is picturized on Dhumal, of all the people. Manna Dey once said about this song: “Once I recorded a song for Salilda. It was going to be picturized on a person smoking ganja. Salilda asked me to give some expression to create the effect that a ganja addict was singing the song. I obeyed him and coughed in a typical manner that a ganja smoker would at the beginning of the song”  . Amazing attention to detail coming from the music director.

The visuals of this drug fuelled trip are amazing. The hallucinations must’ve taken some creative innovation to pull off. Amazingly the same voice (Manna Dey) is used for both male actors (Dhumal and Paul Mahendra) used in the song. At the end Paul Mahendra transforms into Lillian the sensual dancer from the nightclub thanks to the stuff the servants have been smoking.

Have a wonderful day and week ahead, folks. The skies are overcast and I do hope it pours today. Stay safe and happy.

Introspective melodies Salil Chowdhury

Test of character

Mukesh, the singer of soul, came (aided and supported by his relation Motilal, who was a leading man of the time) to Mumbai from Delhi with dreams of wanting to be a singer- actor. He was much more handsome than many of the leading men of the time and did make a debut as a leading man while not yet 20, thanks to Motilal’s connections, but found his place in the pantheon of stars as a singer with unique tonal quality. His first hit song clearly shows the influence the Superstar of the time, Kundanlal Saigal had on all the singers (gender insensitive statement, even Latadidi publicly acknowledged it and said she tried to copy his singing style) and amazingly the great KLS said of Dil Jalta Hai to jalne de, “I don’t remember having sung this song”, an honour and acknowledgement of quality that cannot be bettered.

Mukesh became great friends with the RK Films clique: Raj Kapoor, Shailendra, Hasrat, Shankar Jaikishan. Together they gave lots of great melodies to Bollywood. Raj Kapoor always considered Mukesh to be his soulmate and vocal doppelganger.

However, I do feel some of Mukesh’s most outstanding and unforgettable songs came in conjunction with the great Salilda: my favourite composer who will definitely be the one if I’ve to choose only one to take along on a desert island and would be the composer whose songs I would like to hear in my last moments .

Rajnigandha, Anand, Annadata. Just 3 films I would cite to illustrate this point. Annadata was a movie made by L B Lachchman and directed by Asit Sen (the director and the fat jolly actor in movies like Anand shared the same name) and had Anil Dhawan and Jaya Bhaduri in the lead. Salil Chowdhury wrote a divine score that is a glittering jewel in his crown. Easily one of the best scores by the genius. Listen to this song sung by Mukesh, with lyrics by Yogesh Gaur.

The way Mukesh turns the voice up a couple of notches at the end of Hamare, is goosebumps time. The interludes are typically stamped with Salilda’s signature. Salilda had once said “I want to create a style that will transcend borders, a genre that will be emphatic and polished but never predictable.” In achieving that objective, he certainly succeeded marvellously. Raj Kapoor described him as a genius who could play everything from tabla to sarod and piano to piccolo. Latadidi has said “Over the course of my life, I have worked with more than a hundred music directors. Of these, perhaps only ten understood both music and the cinema. And of these ten, Salil was the foremost. Salil Chowdhury’s melodies were different from those of the others. Sometimes, he would spend days on end without food or sleep in critical examination of one of his compositions, before deciding for himself how the tune should be developed. His songs were always the most difficult to sing.”

Annadata is a movie where the wealthy Om Prakash (one of my favourite actors in Bollywood), disillusioned by his rich relatives, who are only after his wealth and don’t care for him, goes away from the life of riches incognito and is given shelter by a poor family. (Jaya Bhaduri). He even fakes his own death to find out about their true feelings and happily discovers They Care and stays with them ever after.

Annadata has this amazing song sung by Kishore Kumar (Guzar Jaye Din) that uses Scale Progression as a method. A totally out of the box composition, that Salilda insisted Kishoreda sing, because he was convinced only Kishoreda could do at least 90% justice and credibility. Kishoreda was foxed and actually took 18 retakes to deliver the final cut. Kishoreda envisaged the scene by sitting on a bench as if riding a bicycle to get into the mood and sang the song after knowing how it was to be filmed. He told Salilda “I am passing through nightmares where your tunes are running after me”

Of this song, Salilda thought the world of Mukesh and said of the singer “Almost each song I composed to capitalise on this timbre was an instant draw- each word from his lips was a pearl.”

Yogesh (Gaur)’s lyrics are touching and earthy.

नैन हमारे साँझ सकारे
देखे लाखो सपने
सच यह कही
होंगे या नहीं
कोई जाने न
कोई जाने न यहाँ

चलते रहे डगर पे
ग़म की जिनके वास्ते
चलते रहे दिलो को
अजनबी से रास्ते
सदियों से छाये
यह जो सपनो के साये
सच यह कही
होंगे या नहीं
कोई जाने न
कोई जाने न यहाँ

मैं यह काहे दुखी
ना हो दुखों से हार के
मैं यह काहे दुखी
ना हो दुखों से हार के

लिखते रहे जो आँसुओ
से गीत प्यार के
गीत वह चाहे रोये कोई
हंस के गए
सच यह कही
होंगे या नहीं
कोई जाने न
कोई जाने न यहाँ

सुनते रहे बहरो की
जो रोज आहाते
सुनते रहे बहरो की
जो रोज आहाते
चुनते रहे लबों पे हम
तोह मुस्कुराहट
दिल में दबाये लाखो
अरमान जो हाय
सच यह कही
होंगे या नहीं
कोई जाने न
कोई जाने न यहाँ.

Stay safe, folks, as the overcast skies and humidity point to possible rains later today. Mentally I am already into my weekend.

Human Tales Mukesh Salil Chowdhury

It happened one night….

Very few films have been made with such a temporally taut and telescoped script. The movie in Hindi, one of the most celebrated products to come out of RK Films, was actually made in two languages: Bangla (Ek Din Raatre) & Hindi ( as Jaagte Raho). Based on a story by the left leaning Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, it deals with the happenings of one night when a country bumpkin who has come to the city in search of a better life, meanders into a large housing complex in search of water, is mistaken for a thief, turning his life (& also those of the denizens of the urban abodes) upside down. His discovery of the seamy sides of lives of apparently respectable people changes the perspective for him (& for the audience). A wonderful, slick, straightforward storyline, narrated effectively. It had a wonderful musical score by the genius Salil Chowdhury. This is a wonderful song filmed on Motilal who was an amazing actor of the black and white film era.

The song in the Bangla version was sung by my favourite singer and an undercelebrated maestro, Manna Dey, Ei Duniya Shobi Hoi, and picturized on Chhabi Biswas, a very big name in Bangla films of the era. There is an extremely interesting metaphorical interaction between the fugitive Raj Kapoor and a young Daisy Irani towards the end of the movie. Nargis is seen in a cameo at the end singing Jaago Mohan Pyaare ( changed to Jaago Mohan Pritam in Bangla), & would mark her last on-screen appearance with Raj Kapoor. A very symbolic slaking of his thirst at her hands.

The film was a huge popular and critical success, directed by Amit Maitra and Sombhu Mitra, it’s leftist ideals appealed in particular to the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc, (as with many of Raj Kapoor films) & it won (albeit in a shortened version) the Crystal Globe at the Karlovy Vary film festival in Czechoslovakia. It was a massive hit in the USSR, collecting nearly $10 million in box office collections in that country alone. (Equivalent to ₹ 600 Crores in today’s terms). Great lyrics by Shailendra and fabulous lensmanship by Radhu Karmakar make this movie a must-watch delight to the senses.

Have a great day ahead, folks. Take care as the summer recedes.

Love songs Salil Chowdhury Talat Mahmood

A rare melody

The reality of typecasting in Bollywood left actors (& actresses) stuck in a particular type of role. This restrictive classification extended to singers as well, most notably exemplified by Talat Mahmood. The man’s amazing voice was somehow thought to be ideally suited to depict pathos, at the exclusion of all other emotions. This happened to Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari as well.  But the actors did get some opportunities to break the shackles and free themselves of the unkind and unnecessary binds. Talat Mahmood got this chance a bit more infrequently, but when it did happen, he made capital out of it. Look at this amazing melody from an early 60s movie, Chhaya.

Produced by the giant of Chennai, A V Meiyappan, it was directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee and had the interesting pairing of Sunil Dutt and Asha Parekh in the lead with Nazir Hussain and Nirupa Roy in significant roles.  Salil Chowdhury, the unquestionable genius, wielded the composer’s baton very effectively and composed an exquisite collection of melodies that makes Chhaya a greater musical treat to be cherished than its narrative or the visual satiation, albeit these being handled by true stalwarts, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, and Jaywant Pathare, respectively. That’s something in itself, but then that’s Salilda for you. (Sholil-daa if you’re Bangla, for it is nothing short of sacrilegious to call him Salil-da)

An extremely joyous song that showcases the unique skill of monochrome photography capturing the beauteous and appropriately coy Asha Parekh blushing by a coconut palm trunk while Sunil Dutt makes a futile attempt at hiding behind nearby trees, embracing himself smiling his trademark, chubby cheeked, goofy smile. A fascinating play of light and shadows that is best seen in black and white, not HD Colour, I am afraid. One very rare truly happy song from Talat without the eternal, everpresent underbelly of pain and suffering.

Have a wonderful weekend, folks. The song will reverberate inside my head all day long. Stay safe , happy and healthy.