By: Souvik Chatterji
Master of Law from Warwick University, Coventry,UK
Master of Law from Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA.
Salil Chowdhury, noted poet, musician, lyricist, thinker is one of the most renowned intellectuals who had glorified the Silver Screen (both Bollywood and Bengali Cinema) with his stories, poetry, lyrics, dynamic musical compositions in the 50s, 60s and 70s. He was a member of the IPTA, an organisation which has been an instrument of public awareness during the pre-independence and post-independence period. Salil Chowdhury’s story was picturised under the title Do Bigha Zameen, in 1953, depicting the struggle of a farmer of a village in coming to urbanised city of Kolkata and earning his livelihood as a rickshaw-puller, which had brought national and international awards for the story, direction of Bimal Roy and other categories.
The poetic and literary skills of Salil Chowdhury had synchronised with his east-west blend of music in most of his creations. Best example can be “Ujjal Ek Jhak Paira” sung by Classical Bengali singer, Sandhya Mukherjee. It was written by Bengali poet, describing the flight of pigeons and Salil Chowdhury composed the upward and downward movement of the song in the same lines as the pigeons fly in air. The literary society in Bengal were flabbergasted with the composition of Salil Chowdhury with the translation of famous poetry titled “Runner” (postman) written by Sukanta Bhattacharya, the way the movement in music changed with the moods of the postman delivering mails on road. Other landmark musical creations of Salil Chowdhury include “Palkir Gaan” written by famous Bengali poet Satyendranath Dutta and sung by Hemanta Mukherjee.
While bringing in revolution with words and music in Bengali modern songs Salil Chowdhury went to Bombay with his treasure of knowledge. Very interestingly the song “apni kahani” in Do Bigha Zameen, 1953, sung by Manna Dey had been based on Russian processions. While using Mukesh in a number of songs in Raj Kapoor’s Jagte Raho, 1956 and DilipKumar’s Madhumati, 1958, Salil Chowdhury acknowledged the versatile talent of Mohammad Rafi, the man with the golden voice. Salil Chowdhury created a Choir Group in Bombay, where Rafi, Lata were all members.
Probably Madhumati, showed the range of music composition of Salil Chowdhury, where he got an opportunity to blend the flavour of music in the hilly regions. The songs for Rafi included “Jangal Me mor Nacha kisi ne na dekha” for Johnny Walker. But Salil Chowdhury reserved the best song in the tragic andaz for Rafi titled “tute hue khwabon ne”. The pathos in the role of Dilip Kumar was depicted by the serene performance of Rafi.
Salil Chowdhury also used Rafi in the film Maya. The song “Tasvir teri dilme” which was a duet song with Lata Mangeshkar was very big hit. The other song of Mohammad Rafi included “Koi sone ka dilwala” which was also successful. Rafi was used in the film Musafir, 1957, where his songs along with Dilipkumar’s own song “lagi naahi chute rama, chahe jiya jae” showed the tragedy of Dilipkumar who had provided his immortal performance as a poor wretched violin player, who could not marry Usha Kiran, but played the violin for a handicapped child, not knowing his son, and dying at the end of the film. It was the beginning of journey in film direction of Director Hrishikesh Mukherjee.
Salil Chowdhury also used Rafi in the song “insaan ki zindagi hai” from the film Jhoola, 1962. There was also a chorus song of Rafi and Lata, “aag pani me lagi”. There was a song “dil tarpe tarpe” for Rafi in the film Poonam ki raat, 1965, and “tumhe dilse chaha” in the film Chand Aur Suraj, 1965. Besides Rafi was given an Afghani song “ho ya qurban” in the film Kabuliwala, 1961, in which Manna Dey’s song “ai mere pyare watan” was also a big hit.
In the 1970s, Salil Chowdhury reduced composition of film music in hindi films, as he was busy with Bengali films and Bengali modern songs. Even then Manna Dey’s song “Zindagi kasi hai paheli” in the film Anand, 1970 shows his class in composing chorus songs. Even Mukesh’s song “Kahi Door Jab din dhal Jaye” was well acclaimed by musical pandits in India.
At the same time Salil Chowdhury had encouraged new talents in Bombay and allowed noted Bengali singers to flourish in the all India arena, examples include Shyamal Mitra in the song “Ek aye ek jaye” in the film Musafir, 1957. He also composed songs for Dijen Mukherjee, Subir Sen and other singers for Bollywood films. In Bengali films like Ganga, 1960, Kinugoalar Goli, 1964, Lal Pathor, 1964, Marjina Abdulla, 1976, Salil Chowdhury’s music amazed the listeners with folk songs and westernised tunes. Besides his basic compositions for Monobendra Mukherjee, “Ami parini bujhite parini”, Dhanonjoy Bhattacharya, “Jhanana Jhanana Baje”, Krishna Ganguly’s “Dakhina Batashe Mono keno Kande”, Sandhya Mukherjee’s “Srabon Ajhor jhore”, shows his control over Hindustani classical compositions.
It is difficult to highlight the contribution of Salil Chowdhury in a short article, because he had created immense number of immortal poetry, prose, songs, music in Bengali, Hindi, Malayalam films in a span of 50 years. But his admiration for Rafi is evident in the rich compositions. So Rafi’s archive should be adorned with Salil Chowdhury’s compositions to mark their fair relationship.
 Salil Chowdhury received Filmfare award for best music in the film Madhumati in 1958.
 Salil Chowdhury’s Assistants like Probir Majumdar, Anol Chatterjee, Abhijit Banerjee, became legendary Music Directors in Bengali Modern Music in later years.
 My father, Chitta Ranjan Chatterji, Ex-chief Public Prosecutor, Bankshall Court, Kolkata, had interviewed Abhijit Banerjee, renowned Music Director who had composed Bengali modern songs like “muktojharar neiko konya neiko motir haar”, “jodi amake dekho tumi udashi” for Manobendra Mukherjee, who said Salil Choudhury’s most of the creations are based on scientific, logical justifications of lyrics and tunes, which only a small section of the listeners understand, giving example of song “dhitang dhitang bole” which was based on Caribbean Calypso.
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