Sep 25, 2023
Sep 25, 2023
As we entered the second half of the twentieth century my interest in films had to be relegated to the backburner, as I focused on the imminent university examinations for my BSc. It was a watershed in my scholastic timeline, and I was determined to do well. I hadn’t done as well as I had wished in the High School and Intermediate Science examinations. Much had been expected of me as I was a class topper through middle and high school. My second brother AVR Murty had blazed a trail by becoming the first student in our school’s 35-year-old history to secure a first division (60% or more marks) with a distinction (75% or more marks) in mathematics. There seemed to be no reason why I shouldn’t do as well if not better. In the event, I missed the first division by three marks and distinctions in three subjects by a total of seven marks. At the age of thirteen, I was, perhaps, over-confident, unmindful of the need for an extra effort. In I Sc, my performance was affected by the poor faculty in the college as well as conditions at home. It was, therefore, important to overcome these deficiencies and do my very best. When the examinations were over, we siblings moved to Raipur where my father was posted and awaited our results.
Mohan and I would make a beeline for the bookstall in Raipur railway station, where the indulgent stall manager allowed us to search for our results in the newspaper received from Nagpur by the incoming Bombay Howrah mail. Mohan passed in the first division topping his class and thus qualified for direct admission to second year in Government Engineering College Jabalpur. Soon afterwards, the newspaper published my results. I got a first division and was among the top ten in Nagpur University. Our success called for a family celebration. My father, usually undemonstrative in his affection and restrained in his response to our academic achievements, broke the pattern and led us to see a movie, riding a Tonga to the cinema hall showing the latest film. The film was DD Kashyap’s Aaram, starring Dev Anand, Madhubala, and Premnath, supported by Durga Khote and Manmohan Krishna. Anil Biswas was the music director. Like most of the creations of DD Kashyap it was a very ordinary film. At the same time, it had several distinguishing features.
Around this time the country was flooded with a toy called the yoyo. It is supposed to be of ancient origin. There is even an old Rajasthani painting of circa 1770 showing a woman playing with a yoyo. In 1950 it became a nationwide craze. Small, portable, cheap, and easy to handle, it became an indispensable acquisition for everyone, across age, gender or social status. They were sold on street corners, at traffic lights, in bazaars, melas and near cinema halls. People played with them while sitting or standing, walking, talking, or singing. The craze disappeared as it had come. Today, if you ask for a yoyo in a toy shop, the chances are that he has never heard of it. In Aaram, DD Kashyap tried to capture the craze of the times by featuring a song on the toy with Manmohan Krishna in his own voice.
The second point of interest was a dance by a visiting Spanish dancer called Leonara Maria with music composed by Anil Biswas.
The third and most talked about highlight was the maiden screen appearance of Talat Mehmood. He appeared as himself at a party in the movie to sing one of his gems.
Like most young men and women who thronged to Bombay filmdom, including Anil Biswas and Mukesh, Talat wanted to be an actor. He had acted in a few Bengali films earlier, but he was known basically as a singer both in Calcutta, where he sang several songs under the name of Tapan Kumar, and in Bombay. This short screen exposure did not land Talat any roles. His first break as an actor came in 1953 in AR Kardar’s Dil-e-Nadan. Between 1953 and 1958 he acted in 8 other films, but the public craved his voice, not his acting.
When Talat Mehmood met Anil Biswas for a chance in Hindi films the music director assumed that the handsome young man before him was seeking a lead in one of the films his company Variety Pictures was producing. Since casting was in the hands of his wife Ashalata Biswas, he asked the suppliant to approach her. When asked by a friend why he had sent away Tapan Kumar, Anil Biswas was surprised. He had not realised that Talat and Tapan were the same person. When Talat returned, Anil Biswas sensed that Talat’s voice had a different timbre compared to other singers of the time. His velvety voice had a unique tremolo that put him on a special pedestal. He asked him to return the next day for an audition. While preparing for the audition, Talat seems to have been influenced by his friends to hide the tremolo. So, when he sang without it in the audition, Anil Biswas was shocked. He convinced the nervous Talat that the tremor in his voice was an asset he should be proud of. His first song with Anil Biswas for Arzoo (1948) Ae dil mujhe aisi jagah le chal became an all-time hit.
Anil Biswas was known as the Bhishma Pitamah of Hindi film music. Hailing from Barisal, now in Bangladesh, he joined the revolutionaries against British rule at an early age and had to flee to Calcutta to escape arrest. Calcutta was then the hub of culture in music, theatre and cinema. From his childhood, Anil displayed considerable musical talent, becoming an accomplished tabla player in his early teens. In Calcutta. Anil found work in Rangmahal theatre as an actor, singer, and assistant music director and became an accomplished singer and composer for plays. He also worked as a singer, lyricist and composer, with the Hindustan Recording Company, where he came to know singers Kundan Lal Saigal and Sachin Dev Burman, and music directors RC Boral, Timir Baran, Pankaj Mallick and Kamal Dasgupta. He made his way to Bombay 1934, when playback singing was making its entry into Indian cinema. He acted and sang in a few films before becoming assistant to music director Ashok Ghosh in Sagar Movietone Company.
In Bombay, he came in touch with several Punjabi Muslim music directors who ruled the field in Hindi cinema and learnt a lot from them. Zande Khan, Hafiz Khan, Feroze Nizami, Ghulam Haider and Khurshid Anwar were among the most influential music directors in Hindi films. Film songs composed by most of them followed the opera style prevalent in stage shows. While imbibing the best from these maestros, Anil Biswas realised that cinema had a much wider reach and, with touring talkies traveling into remote villages, had much deeper penetration across the country. That he was right is proved by what I recalled in my first post of this series,
“When we visited my grandmother's village Lakshmi Narasu Peta in the summer of 1944, one of the girls told my mother proudly that she had learnt a Hindi song and when asked, sang Chhor bulbul Chho rahahai and so on, as we siblings giggled uncontrollably.”
Anil Biswas felt that film songs needed to be simpler and easier to hum even for those untrained in music. He set the format for film songs that is still in vogue today. The song begins with a short musical intro, or a verse recited ad lib, followed by the opening lines (mukhda) containing the refrain. An interlude follows setting the key for the first stanza (anthara) which ends with the refrain. The next interlude is generally a repeat of the first but several music directors, including Anil Biswas himself, felt free to alter it to suit the situation, singer’s needs etc. returning to the required key for the second stanza. Over the years, film music has seen many changes, but the basic format innovated by Anil Biswas still holds good. Anil Biswas was well versed in different forms of Hindustani music and from Barisal he brought the flavours of Bengali folk music, keertans and Rabindra Sangeet. He melded them to create memorable film songs. He was the first to assemble twelve Indian and Western musical instruments to form an orchestra and the first to introduce whistling in a film song with Dheere dheere aare badal from Kismet (1943).
Anil Biswas got very interested in ghazals and their origin. He learnt Urdu, asked everyone around him for information and did his own research to come up with a book on ghazals in Bengali entitled Ghozler Rong, which included translation of several well-known ghazals. For Hindi films he composed many memorable ghazals. One of my favourites is this Talat Mehmood number from Doraha (1952).
This is one of the early compositions of Sahir Ludhianvi for Hindi films. Sahir had moved to Bombay in 1949 looking for an opening in Hindi films. He was already a poet of repute with radical views, but his very eminence stood in the way of his getting an assignment, as most producers felt he was too good a poet to write songs for the masses. Lyricist Prem Dhawan was among those who helped him in these hard times. In a show aired by All India Radio, Anil Biswas recalled that Prem Dhawan gave him a lyric and after Anil found it suitable, told him that it was composed by Sahir Ludhianvi. Anil Biswas says that this was Sahir’s entry into Hindi films. I am attaching the link to the broadcast in which the maestro talks about ghazals and Sahir Ludhianvi.
Sangeet Sarita Shrinkhla Rasikeshu By Anil Biswas Part 17
This is at variance with the general belief, based on other sources, that Dev Anand introduced Sahir to SD Burman and the latter converted Sahir’s ghazal composed for Baazi (1951) into a cabaret song Tadbir se bigdi hui taqdir bana le. Of course, it is possible that Muhabbat Tark ki maine was recorded earlier but the production of Doraha was delayed.
As summer vacation came to an end my brother Jagan Mohan prepared to go to Jabalpur to join the Engineering College. He would have to stay in the college hostel. The cost for his college fees, hostel fees and miscellaneous expenses would put a severe strain on my father’s finances. He could not afford to send me for post-graduation simultaneously and told me to cool my heels at home for a year. Soon afterwards my father was transferred to Venkatnagar, a railway station on the Bilaspur Katni section of Bengal Nagpur Railway.
There was no cinema hall in Venkatnagar or in any of the towns nearby. Occasionally, I would hear the latest film songs played on loud speakers in marriage pandals. Sometimes I would travel to Bilaspur to get essential provisions and would avail myself of the opportunity to browse through magazines in the railway book stall. During Diwali and Christmas holidays my brothers would join us in Venkatnagar and update me with the latest news about films and film songs. The most popular films of 1951 were also musical bonanzas. I saw most of them in reruns, except a few that were still running, when I returned to Nagpur in 1952. My brother Jagan Mohan, fanatic Dilip Kumar follower that he was, raved about Deedar and sang its songs, Bachpan ke din bhula na dena, Hue hum jinke liye barbaad and others with gusto. He was also fond of songs from Hum log, particularly Chhun chhun baje payal and Chali jaa chali jaa. Each of the top ten films of the year 1951 had some distinction or another. More about that in my next.
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More by : Ramarao Annavarapu
For the very different image I had of you, this was such a beautiful revelation. It has been a long time since I read some of your stuff. My father was also an avid movie watcher but his interest did not beyond that.
Will try and keep track of more such gems from you.
|Very interesting and feel wonder how he is able to remember such details also|
|Excellent.tremondous depth of knowledge.really enjoyed it.|
|Very intresting.Took me to my own childhood.|
|Very nice, interesting|