100 YEARS OF HINDI CINEMA
The centenary year of Hindi films is being observed and all attention has rightly been showered on Raja Harishchandra made by Dada Sahib Phalke 100 years ago. The talkies came in the 1930s. And then came music. No matter how great, how memorable was the music composed by other centers of film production-Bombay, Pune, Lahore there was no doubt that it was Calcutta that shone as the brightest star in the firmament of Hindi film music. If Calcutta shrunk into a mere regional centre from a giant national producer of great Hindi films, there could be many reasons in which I am not going today. Suffice it to say that since Calcutta took the lead, I begin by talking about the contribution of this great movie-production centre of the country. And, as chance would have it, last week fell the birthday of one (Pankaj Mullick) and death anniversary of another (Talat Mahmood), both of whom started their careers in Calcutta and later became the singing idols of the nation.
And I wish to begin with Pankaj Mullick because it was on May 10 that the electronic media celebrated his birthday-his 107th birthday. He was born in 1905. He was a composer, musician, audio innovator, singer, music director, and teacher and apart- time actor. Such a big and hit combination was not seen either before him or after him, though Kishore Kumar did possess the qualities of a singer, music director and actor. He ranks among the greatest cultural icons of Bengal. How could TV serials, media comments, newspaper articles forget him?
Pankaj Mullick and Rabindra Sangeet go hand in hand. He came in contact with Dinendranath Tagore, Tagore’s grand-nephew. He got an opportunity to be the composer, music arranger for many of the Gurudev’s songs there by developing a lifelong passion for Rabindrasangeet. Tagore himself grew fond of the young man and soon Pankaj Mullick became recognized as one of the finest exponents of Tagore’s songs. He was the first person to use the tabla as an accompaniment in these songs.
Pankaj made his first recording at the age of eighteen with the Vielophone Company in 1926. The song was Nemecche Aaj Prothom Badal. In 1927, when India Broadcasting Corporation, the forerunner of All India Radio (AIR) was launched, Pankaj Mullick along with Rai Chand Boral were among the first employees to join the company. His association with AIR lasted for over four decades and produced the music-teaching program Sangeet Shikshar Ashar (1929-1976). The program was instrumental in popularizing Rabindrasangeet for generations. Mahidshashura Mardini, which was aired first in 1932, was a joint creation of Pankaj Mullick, Bani Kumar and Birendra Krishna Bhadra. The program, a musical evocation of the goddess Durga, used to be broadcast live on the crack of dawn on the auspicious day of Mahaaya (the first day of Devipaksha - the fortnight that includes Durga Puja).Top singers like Angurbala, Sandhya Mukherjee, Hemanta Mukherjee, Dwen Mukherjee and others considered it to be a privilege to be invited to sing for this prestigious program. Mahishashura Mardini, is flow a part of the Bengali identity and cultural ethos. The recorded version which is aired even to this day is still listened to by millions. AIR Allahabad relays ii year after year and even non Bengalis like me take sheer delight in listening to the unsurpassable devotional magic which is the highlight of the presentation. Pankaj Mullick began as a conductor and music arranger for the orchestra at the Chitra cinema hail that played live ‘mood’ music during the screening of two silent films Chashar Meye (he also had a walk-in part in this film) and Chorkanta. Both films released in 1931, were produced by International Film Craft, the company floated by Birendra Nath Sircar in order to judge the prospects of the movie business.
Later in the same year when Sircar formally launched the now legendary New Theatres, Parikajbabu was an obvious choice to join the galaxy of talents that gathered under its aegis. Dana Paona (1932), the first film produced by New Theatres was also the first Bengali ‘talkie’.
Pankaj Mullick along with Rai Chand Boral composed music for this ground-breaking film. The following year 1933 he made his debut as an independent music director for a Hindi/Urdu fiImYahudi Ka Ladki, a New Theatres costume drama directed by Premankur Atorthi. Pankajbabu was one of the first music-arrangers and orchestra conductors to extensively use western musical forms and instruments like the piano and the accordion in composing music for Indian films. His non-film song, ‘Pran chahe nain na chahe’ is a rare example of how he harnessed western instruments to heighten the appeal of his songs. The imaginative use of background music to emphasize the mood, action and tempo of the film scenes was one of Pankaj Mullick’s great contributions to music in Indian cinema.
In 1935 Punkaj Mullick composed music for the New Theatres production Bhagyachakra (1935) -- Dhoop Chhaon in Hindi. This film directed by Nitin Bose is generally considered the first film to introduce playback singing in India though rival studio Bombay Talkies also claimed to have invented playback. And Saraswati Devi was supposed to have lent her voice to screen characters in films like ‘Achchut Kanya’ before this, songs in Indian movies was sung live on-camera by the performers. But the rehearsals took so much energy out of the performers that their singing went haywire during the actual shoot! Faced with this problem Nitin Bose, Madhu Bose, the sound recordist, Pankajbabu and RC Boral with the help of certain Mr. Demming (a visiting audio-engineer from Hollywood), came up with an innovation - they recorded the song beforehand and asked the performers to give lip- movement during the real shooting. Thus history was made. The song in Bengali was Mora Pulak Jacchi and its Hindi version was Main Khush Hona Chahun. Parul Ghosh (sister of Anil Biswas) and Umashashi were the female voices in the chorus.
Pankaj Mullick and RC Boral continued their collaboration and the duo composed music for some of the most memorable films - many of these had Bengali and Hindi/Urdu versions - such as Hem Chandra’s Krorepati/ The Millionaire (1936), Nitin Bose’s Didi/ President (1937), PC Barua’s Grihadaha/ ManziI (1936), Maya (1936), both Hindi & Bengali, In Manzil, PC Barua’s Mukti (1937) Pankaj Mullick make his debut not only as an independent music-director but also as an actor. He had a small role playing the character of an impoverished philosopher singer. The Bengali version was the first film to use Rabindrasngeet in its soundtrack. Pankaj Mullick thus became the first person outside the Tagore family to compose music for one of Tagore’s works. He managed to get the poet’s permission to set his verse Shesh Kheya to music and the outcome was the magical Diner Sheshe
Ghumer Deshe- a song that is still on the bestsellers list in Bengali music charts even today! It is said that Tagore himself gave the film its title. Sharabi Socha Na Kar, a song rendered by Pankajbabu in the Hindu/ Urdu version of the film which was popular all over the country. He next appeared as an elderly singer in the Hindi version of Kapil Kundala (1939) and adoption of the best selling novel by Bankam Chattopadhyaya directed by Phani Mazumdar. He composed and sang the unforgettable Piya Milan Ko Jaana, undoubtedly his most well-known song in Hindi. The next highlight of Pankajbabu’s career was Debaki Bose’s musical extravaganza Nartaki (1940) where he sang the evergreen hits Ye Kaun Aaj Aaya Sweral, Madbhari Rut Jawan Hai and Prem Ka Nata Chhuta in his rich, sonorous vibrato.
In 1941 came a super-hit of the actor-singer --Daktar/Doctor. In this reformist melodrama directed by Subodh Mitra, Pankaj Mullick played the character of Amarnath, the liberal-minded son of a rich family who chooses to become a doctor in an impoverished village to combat a highly dreaded disease of cholera. Pankaj was excellent as the idealist Amarnath the Hindi version of Doctor had him singing the hit songs Mahak Rahi Phulwari, Kab Tak Nirash Ki, Aaj Apni Mehnaton Ka and Guzar Gaya Woh Zamana. During the Second World War and its aftermath New Theatres went into decline and many of its luminaries went to Mumbai in search of better prospects. In 1944, he composed music for Men Bahen and this film he had Saigal singing some of his best ever songs Ae Qatib-e-Taqdir Mujhe Itnaa Bata De, Do Naina Matware, Chhupo Na Chhupo Na and Hae kis but ki muhabat mein giraftaar hue’. Pankaj also worked for some Mumbai productions among which were the Dev Anand -Geeta Bali starrer Zalzala (1952), an adaptation of Tagore’s novel Char Adhaya and Kastoori (1954), a film by Gyan Mukherjee. In Kolkata, Pankaj worked as the music director in films like Meenakshi (1942), Kashinath (1943), Dul Purush (1945), Nurse Didi/Nurse Sissy (1947), Ramer Sumati (1947), Pratibad (1948), Rupkatha/ Roop Kahini (1950), Mahaprashthaner Pathey (1952), Banahansi (1953), Nabin Yatral Yatrik (1952), Raikamal(1955), Chitrangada (1955), Louha-Kapat (1957) and Ahwaft (1961). His last film as music director was Janhabi’ Jarrina Bigoli Karuna in 1972. Dui Purush (1945) won him the Bengal Film Journalists Association (BFJA) award for the best music director. Pankaj Mullick was also a music scholar and theoretician and he wrote several books on Indian classical music. He also recorded the definitive version of the Indian national anthem Jana Gana Mana in deference to late Prime Minister Jawahanlal Nehru’s wishes. He was also an Honorary Advisor to the Folk Entertainment Division of the Government of West Bengal and is said to be one of the persons responsible for giving the go-ahead for Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (1955) to be funded by the government. Yat1k (1952) and Raikarnal (1955) won Pankaj the President’s Award for the best film music. He was honoured with the Padrnashree in 1970 and the Dada Saheb Phaike Award for his ground-breaking contributions in Indian cinema in 1973. A commemorative postage stamp honouring Pankaj Mulhck was issued by the Department of Posts, Govt. of India on me occasion his birth centenary. Pankaj Mullick’s autobiography is titled Aamar Yug Aamar Gaan. When he died on 19th February 1978, there was widespread gloom. Lata Mangeshkar said he had met her once at the Nagpur Railway station and told her that he was contemplating to compose songs for her. Alas, that was not to be. But in her tribute in the ‘Shardhanjaii’ album, she sang his great numbers-’Yeh raaten ye mausam ye hasna hasana’ and ‘Piya Milan ko jana’. Lata sang them beautifully too. And the impression one got was that a devotee was reciting a hymn to her God.
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