“Pagol hawa…ki amar moton tumio haariye gele…”
Lyrics of human protest and social consciousness came in as an awakening in the pre-Independence era of the 1940s. The architect? Salil Chowdhury. He was the master of music of a generation.
Those familiar with only some of his haunting compositions for Bollywood in his later years, will not know this. But Salil Chowdhury, with one of his first compositions Gaayer Bodhu, which he composed at the age of 20, brought about a whole new wave in Bengali Music. Songs like Runner, Abak Prithibi, and Bicharpati – all poems of Sukanta Bhattacharya — turned very popular with the Bengal crowd when a young Salilda, as he came to be known as, arrived at Kolkata joining IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) and started composing songs for the Communist Party of India.
A pivotal event occurred sometime later during a period of his life. He wrote a Bengali story called Rikshawalla. At that time, he probably didn’t know what fortune had in store for him. Known as a brilliant poet, playwright, writer, composer and musician, Salilda made his music direction debut in Do Beegha Zameen (1953) – a film master director Bimal Roy had made due to his inspiration from the all-time classic The Bicycle Thief. Fact is Salilda had moved to Bombay to adapt Rikshawalla and Do Beegha Zameen fell in his platter. From then on, till he breathed his last, he revolutionised music in the whole of India with his exceptional lyrics and tune.
Seeing our architect move about effortlessly between music and literature, Narayan Gangopadhyay, the famous Bengali writer once said: “If Salil became a full time writer, we would lose him as a composer and lose his wonderful songs, but we hope that Salil doesn’t stop writing.”
Madhumati (1958), again a film by Bimal Roy, was another of Salil Chowdhury’s milestones. His music won him the Best Music Director at the 6th National Film Awards.
Since Do Bigha Zameen, Salilda has composed for over 75 Hindi films, around 26 Malayalam films, and several Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Gujarati, and Assamese movies. He was also an accomplished composer, and was proficient in several musical instruments, including the flute, the piano, and the esraj.
There’s probably no end to what he did for the Bollywood film industry. Leading singing maestros and big names like Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle, Hemanta Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar all have sung to his brilliant tunes.
His music has the essence to soothe every sad heart, to transform lives and to change mindsets. Shyamal Barani Ogo Kanya, the Bengali superhit that arguably was Salilda‘s best music, found its greatest rendition in the voice of Dwijen Mukhopadhyay. Perhaps known to everyone as Na jaane kyun, it was Pagol Hawa, first sung by Jotileshwar Mukherjee, that touched hearts.
Probably the song that can be called as the Holy Grail of Awakening in the post-Independence era is undoubtedly O Alor Pothojatri. The backdrop was the 1943 Bengal famine when millions were dying of starvation.
“O aalor pathajatree e je raatri ekhaane themo naa
(Traveller to the light, you cannot stop in the night)
Aahaa buk bhenge bhenge pathe dhele shonito kanaa
(They have burst their hearts and stained the way with blood)
Kato jug dhore dhore karechhe taaraa soorjo rachanaa…”
(For generations they have moulded the sun…)
Sung together by the legends of that time, namely Debabrata Biswas, Suchitra Mitra and Dwijen Mukhpadhyay, the music remains immortal in the ardent hearts ofIndia. But the later version sung by another group of legends Manna Dey, Sabita Chowdhury and chorus also remains ever-popular and outstanding.
Then Poth harabo bolei ebar, immortalised by Hemanta Kumar Mukhopadhyay, remains etched in our lives.
There are hundreds of worthy mentions, how he affected the entire country with the variety of his music and lyrics.
“Music will always be dismantling and recreating itself, and assuming new forms in reaction to the times. To fail to do so would be to become fossilized. But in my push to go forward I must never forget that my heritage is also my inspiration.” Salil Chowdhury famously said once.
The Man is no more. Let us relive his words and strengthen our souls.