Salil Chowdhury – much more than a Hindi-Bengali film music composer

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Illustration: Manisha Yadav

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New Delhi: The history of Hindi cinema is dotted with memorable music composers, from venerable Naushad to Burmese father and son, Madan Mohan, OP Nayyar, Hemant Kumar, Shankar-Jaikishen, Kalyanji-Anandji, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Roshan and many more. . And then there was Salil Chowdhury – not just a quintessential musician, but also a staunch writer, poet, stage personality and leftist.

‘Salil da’, born November 19, 1925 in the village of Gazipur in Bengal (modern district of South 24 Parganas), spent his childhood in the tea gardens of Assam, listening to the collection of Western classical music from his doctor father . This formation, combined with the Bengali and Assamese folk music that surrounded him, imbued him with a style that was not only different from his legendary contemporaries, but also quite distinctive.

On the occasion of his 26th death anniversary, ThePrint looks back on the long and distinguished career of this multi-talented artist.


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A politician

Salil Chowdhury was a young man emerging from the world when Bengal was hit by the infamous famine of 1943. This period shaped the politics of his life, drawing him towards Communist ideology and, in particular, the Association. of the Indian People’s Theater (IPTA). He wrote street plays and songs to be played for the inhabitants of the villages and neighborhoods.

He once said in an interview: “I have been active in the student movements since childhood. I also joined the farmers’ movement at 24 Parganas near Calcutta and wrote songs for them. About five million people lost their lives in the terrible tragedy that struck Bengal in 1944, which I witnessed with my own eyes. This is why I joined the movement and the IPTA. In the meantime, I lived underground, in the Sunderbans, for two years, and even then I continued to compose and write songs for the movement.

His career in cinema began in 1949 with the Bengali film Poribortan, and he was quickly considered a rising star in the industry, with successes like Pasher bari (which was later remade into the Hindi film Padosan) and Barjatri.

Salil da’s entry into Hindi cinema was unintentional. He recalled in the same interview quoted above: “I was writing a script for a Bengali film about a farmer whose land is being forcibly torn away, and he emigrates to Calcutta to earn money, and there he is. forced to pull a rickshaw. Hrishikesh Mukherjee liked this script very much, then he told Bimal da (Bimal Roy) about it. Bimal da wanted to make a movie in Hindi, and therefore Make Bigha Zameen (1953) was born.

He also composed the music for the all-time classic film, marking the first of his 75 Hindi film soundtrack compositions. He has also given music for 45 Bengali films and 26 Malayalam films, in addition to at least 10 other languages.


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Musical styles

Salil Chowdhury was one of the early proponents of East-West fusion in Indian cinema, and would experiment not only in terms of melodies but also instrumental arrangement.

He was one of the pioneers in introducing folk forms into Hindi film music on the one hand (Dayya re chadh gayo paapi bichhua from the 1958 film Madhumati) and Western classical music, such as Mozart’s 40th Symphony (Itna na mujhse tu pyaar badha from 1961 Chhaya) the other. Another song from Madhumati, ‘Dil tadap tadap ke‘, would have been based on a Hungarian folk tune.

‘O sajna barkha bahaar aayi‘, a composition based on the classic, is often considered one of Lata Mangeshkar’s greatest performances, and Salil da’s melody is one of the main reasons for this.

‘Aye simple pyaare watan‘, the moving song by Manna Dey from Kabuliwala, has Arab-Afghan tones, while the music of Kishore Kumar’s cult comedy Half Ticket not only featured western styles but also a unique duo – Aake seedhi lagi. Unique because the female and male parts are sung by Kishore himself in different voices.

In the 1970s, Salil Chowdhury provided more amazing music for Hrishikesh Mukherjee Anand, Gulzar’s first film Simple Apne, and Basu Chatterjee Rajnigandha and Chhoti Si Baat, among others. Each of these soundtracks is considered a classic in its own right. He also scored Yash Chopra’s Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Kala patthar (1979).

Salil da has left an indelible mark on the minds of fans of all languages, with songs of love, happiness, sadness and longing. And fans still sing his tunes to this day.


Read also : 5 songs and 5 moods to remember Khayyam, the versatile Bollywood composer


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