Meeting with Anil Biswas
Finally the workload has eased off for me to be able to write the
long delayed report of my meeting with Anil Biswas. Because of
the delay I might not remember a lot of the details. All that I
remember later will be mailed later. I've also mailed a copy of
the report to Atul Gupta, who was with me at the meeting, so that
he could make additions/corrections.
Once again thanks to Malini for getting Anil Biswas' phone number
that started off the whole thing. I called him up to set up an
appointment and he agreed to meet me on the 10th of Nov. On
reaching Delhi I called him up and he remembered the appointment
(and surprisingly my name) but he mentioned it was Diwali and he
had guests etc and so it would be impossible to meet me. I asked
him about the 11th and he said at most he could give me 15
minutes as he would be busy on 11th as well. And here was the
worse part. He said he won't tell me to leave after 15 minutes
and I should leave on my own. He specified 9:30 AM as the time.
It sounded great. 15 min. was better than nothing. It however
meant that I had to stay one more day in Delhi. The IA flight to
Raipur had been cancelled and I had other things to do so I
decided to stay one more day.
For my part I had prepared by reading articles by Vish and Ashok
and listening to all of his songs that I could get hold of. I had
a list of questions of my own and those of others. Snehal had
mailed me a list of about 50 questions. And there was a gift -
the commemorative cassette on "Rare classical songs from films"
from the RMIMmeet in the west coast. Thanks to Chetan for mailing
me the cassette despite the short notice. Besides making a nice
gift it also gave me an opportunity to talk about RMIM and the
following he has in it. I went to his place with Atul, ex-
colleague, friend, RJGK partner and my host in Delhi.
Enough of peripheral stuff and onto the main topic. I had noted
the address wrong leading to a delay of about 15 min in reaching
his place. In a way my time was over! In any case after running
around in south ex for a while I was there standing in front of
the great man.
Despite his age (82 years) he is still in fine form. His voice is
clear and crisp. He remarked that I had already run out of my
time and he let us in. He regretted he couldn't give us more time
as he was involved in too many things. We introduced ourselves
and talked in brief about RMIM, the websites, email discussions
and the following and regard we have for him in RMIM. He is aware
of the internet etc so it wasn't difficult explaining all that.
He seems fully in touch with the present and leads an active
life. Having demonstrated to him that I represent a number of
RMIMers and that we are fairly knowledgable about his music (my
homework came in handy) I retreated into the background and let
him reminisce. This approach was somewhat forced as I had run out
of my time and any hopes of an extended conversation rested on
talking on topics that interested him. Thus I dropped the question
and answer idea and it was more of a chat where he was doing
most of the talking. I was dropping in topics whenever I had the
chance to. Fortunately after a while he got animated enough and
the meeting lasted about an hour and a half and at the end he
regretted he couldn't give us more time. Following are some of
notes from the meeting in no particular order. I'll add more info
when I remember it. Some of the notes are my paraphrasing of what
he told me or my inferences from what he talked. Sorry for the
disconnected narrative. Also due to the delay some of the
details are hazy and added to it a deterioration in my skills in
framing even simple sentences.
- He mentioned that he was the seniormost person alive in the
music industry. He felt that at 82 he may not have much time
left so he wants to share all the memories. (This was while talking
about his memoirs to be published soon and repeated a number
of times while talking of fans meeting him etc).
- I started off in Hindi and he has a faint Bangla accent. When
it was clear that he's more comfortable in English I switched
over to English. His English is very good. As mentioned earlier
his voice is very good, clear and crisp. You can see that he was
a singer once.
- In the beginning I mentioned that in addition to his excellent
music we regard him highly for his pioneering work in the industry
(such as the first orchestra, first playback etc) and also
being the mentor of several MDs and singers. I hoped he would
talk about the mentoring but he simply nodded to it and didn't
add to it. Since it wasn't a question and answer format I didn't
push further. He did reminisce about the "pioneering part". In
that context he also talked of his close friendship with SD Burman
and Sehgal. Those days he was the composer and SDB and KLS
were singers. Those days Meena Kapoor was a small girl and used
to play in Sehgal's lap. That suggests AB's acquintance with
Meena Kapoor was earlier than we thought.
- He is in touch with what's happening around both in contemporary
music as well as with personalities from the past. Also he
hasn't been really forgotton. He has people meeting him and he
goes to lots of events/functions as the chief guest etc. He leads
a fairly active life and he mentioned he has a fairly hectic
schedule. Both he and Meena Kapoor no longer sing, Meena Kapoor
stopped only recently. He has a very clear memory of his
films/songs and the music of that era and he corrected me a couple
of times. I guess one reason he stays in Delhi (despite the
pollution etc) is because he still leads an active life. He mentioned
that he doesn't spend the winters in Delhi as he can't
stand the cold.
- Meena Kapoor was out with some relatives (AFAIR) so we couldn't
- Probably the most important info I got was about his
autobiography/memoirs that is going to be published soon. I mentioned
about Vish's articles and his interest in a biography and
asked him if any such thing has been published. He then talked
about the book being written by Sharad Dutt. It isn't really an
autobiography - he said "I can't dare to do that. In an autobiography
you have to be truthful about everything you did and I
can't report everything honestly". The words aren't exactly his.
He mentioned it'll be in an "as told to" format. He mentioned
that there have already been about 40 sessions and the author is
compiling the info from the 40 odd tapes. He mentioned that some
more sessions are needed and that keeps him very busy. Details of
the book: Author: Sharad Dutt, Publisher: Saaransh - owned by Mr.
Mohan Gupta. Title: "Ritu aaye, ritu jaaye". A Manna song I
think in one of his films. He mentioned he alongwith Manna Dey
was invited to a function somewhere in Maharashtra (Pune?) and
some schoolchildren sang this song on stage in what was a moving
Sharad Dutt is also the producer/director of some serial in doordarshan.
He is a big fan of Anilda and Hindi music. Anilda mentioned
that Sharad Dutt corrects him whenever something he mentions
is wrong or reminds him if he cannot remember a name/song
etc. So we should expect a fairly exhaustive and in-depth book.
Atul said he'll try to get in touch with Sharad Dutt and find out
- Anilda is a mild-mannered and an intense man. He mentioned that
he leads a simple life. He mentioned that he doesn't worry too
much and think ill of others and that is one of the reasons he's
in good health even today. He mentioned he had an operation on
his lungs(?) and has some other minor problems.
- Looking at his house and the location (South Extension II) it's
clear that he's doing well. The living room was neat and mostly
empty except for a sofa set, two paintings and a clock. Which
reminds me - he was looking at the clock every now and then. When
he went in for a short while, Atul mentioned that maybe he wanted
us to leave as he might have other things to do. When he was back
I mentioned that and told him that though I very much wanted to
talk to him for hours but I didn't want him from other things. He
said he could spend some more time with us and he would let us
know when it was time.
- That was a relief. I mentioned I had some questions and started
off with the on Rafi. Why did he have so few songs with Rafi? I
mentioned the films as Heer, Sanskaar and Beqasoor, the list
courtesy Snehal. He corrected me saying that as far as he
remembers it's only Heer. The Rafi songs in Beqasoor are by
Hansraj Behl. (the Beqasoor CD credits a Rafi/GM Durrani duet to
AB). As for not using Rafi he said it was simply because he
didn't suit his style.
- While on this I asked him about his work with other MD's like
Beqasoor with Hansraj Behl. While on this I used the term "Co-
MD". He felt very strongly about that and said he never co-MDed
with any MD like SJ combination etc. There were two instances he
said of his having shared a film with another MD, one each with
HB and CR. In both the cases he left the film midway because of
differences with the producer and the other MD took over. The
only case of partnership with somebody was in the case of Pardesi
with the MD on the Russian side, who had been an assistant of
Tchaikovsky (sp?) or something like that. While on that he mentioned
his only sources of inspiration have been Indian classical
music and folk music of India. He mentioned that early on in his
career he had toured India and learned a lot about folk music. He
added he hadn't even remotely copied from anybody in India or
- I mentioned I like his songs with Suraiya in Gajre, Jeet, Do
sitare, waris etc a lot. He talked about Suraiya and said though
she's a reclusive person she makes it a point to meet him whenever
he's in Bombay.
- I mentioned it must have been great working Qazi Nazrul Islam
and asked him if he had any met Gurudev Tagore. He didn't talk
much about Qazi Nazrul but he talked about his relationship with
Tagore. He mentioned that he was fortunate to have touched
Gurudev's feet and being blessed by him. He mentioned that he had
composed music for Gurudev's work in a format that wasn't done
earlier (here he used some terms and references in classical
music that I did not understand and do not remember). Gurudev
was very pleased with his work, thought highly of him and underlined
some of the lines from Anilda's work. Anilda mentioned that
a copy of that would be used in the inside cover of the book to
- I asked him about his work after leaving Hindi films. He said
though "Choti choti baatein" was released in 1965, work was
completed in 1963 and that was the year he joined AIR and shifted
to Delhi. In addition to Hum Log he mentioned two other serials
Baisakhi and "Phir wohi talaash" by Lekh Tandon. He said there
were some more but that he left many of those serials midway
because of interference from the producers.
- He mentioned that he keeps getting a lot of fan mail both from
India and abroad and requests for autographed photograph. I added
that this was great because it was inspite of HMV not releasing
most of his songs and that we fans can only access most of his
songs by recording from friends or video cassettes. He regretted
that HMV had most of Hindi film music heritage and was letting it
die. He said RPG and others' nowadays are interested in crores
and old and rare music has no place in their scheme of things. I
mentioned that prescence of Sanjeev Kohli might help things. He
informed me that because of what Sanjeev was doing he has been
banished to London to an ineffective position. He mentioned the
first thing SK did on joining HMV was release the CD titled
"Evergreen Anil Biswas" and mailed him a complimentary copy.
Anilda is also in touch with many others like Harminder Singh
"Hamraaz" and recently released a volume of the "Geet Kosh" at a
- I told him about the RMIM meets and our meeting with Pt. Batish.
He said "Oh S.D Batish! Do you know that I discovered him!"
He went on to discuss the "Laadli" song. He didn't know Pt. SDB
was in the US. I updated him briefly about Pt. SDB and the institute.
Anilda mentioned he had been in the US sometime back and
had been in LA among other places. He said he would be willing to
come of the US if there would be a musical
function/event/competetion etc and if he were invited. More on
- He mentioned that he was the guest in the final of "TVS Sa re
ga ma". It is to be telecast sometime in April. He was very
impressed with the one he judged the winner (someone named Sanjeev,
could it be Sanjeev Rambhadran?). The show was specially
recorded in Delhi (instead of Bombay) so as to have Anilda.
While on that he said he was very much impressed with singing
talent available nowadays. He mentioned that in his days (I guess
he meant early days) film industry wasn't considered respectable
and he had to make do with the likes of Amirbai and Shamshad
Begum. He said if he had access to talent as is available today
he could have produced much better music.
- You might have noticed that there isn't that much of info in
the report so far, not many specific answers. One reason is that
Anilda spent a significant part of the chat talking in an
abstract and philosophical manner, talking less about specifics
and looking back at the bigger picture. While all that he said
was great stuff it is difficult to report and is best to listen
to him in his own words. My big regret is that I didn't record
the conversation. On hindsight I feel he would have agreed to it.
- He talked at length about his contribution but mostly in general
terms. He mentioned that people like Naushad, OPN etc have
called him their gurus. He mentioned that in a function where
lots of legends of Marathi music had assembled, legends like
Sudhir Phadke, Datta G (who he mentioned gave Lata her first
song) etc while on stage referred to him as their guru.
- While on OPN he called O.P. Nayyar the "Proudest man in the
industry". He said "Lata didn't sing for him and despite that
look what he achieved." I wish Vish was there. He felt OPN calling
him his guru is an honour for him as their styles are very
That's pretty much what I remember at the moment. Both I and Atul
had a photograph taken with him and before leaving touched his
feet and took his blessings. He again regretted that he couldn't
give us more time. There was too much left unasked and undiscussed
but I guess that was to expected in such a short meeting
with someone who has contributed so much to Hindi film music.
For those interested in writing to him or asking him questions
his address is K 11-12, South extension II, New Delhi.
One thing he alluded to repeatedly was that he would come to the
US if he was invited for some function/event etc. Wouldn't it be
great to have the great man with us for a few days? And it
wouldn't be all that expensive. Most people I've talked to feel
it's unpractical. I hope not. There are so many functions organized
all around the year by Indian organizations and Anilda is
fairly well known so I feel something might come through.
Stranger things have happened.
During the chat I voiced Vish's opinion that "Raahi" was his best
and most original effort. He agreed with that and fondly remembered
some of the songs including the holi song "Holi khele nandlala"
and the sequence when the English girl get coloured. I
mentioned about about the extensive collection of his music that
Vish and others have. I also referred to some rare photographs. I
talked about the one where many great MD's have assembled at
Anilda's place and also the one where Lata was in Anilda's
kitchen. He remembered the latter and mentioned that in that picture
he was cooking during the lunch time. He mentioned that Lata
had been through tough times and used to have lunch at his place
in her early days. He also talked about "Anokha pyaar" and how
Lata had recorded some songs for the LP versions and Meena Kapoor
for the film version. I mentioned that the CD has both versions.
He mentioned that he was the head of the Music DIrectors Association
till he left the industry.
Overall he was modest about his achievements and that was one
reason I couldn't get much specific info about his music. I would
speak highly about his achievement or some aspect of his music
and he really wouldn't respond to it. But he spoke with great
pride of what the other MD's thought of him. I guess praise from
one's peers is the highest honor for an artist.
There have been some encouraging responses to the idea of inviting
Anil Biswas to the US. Let me elaborate on what was discussed.
It all came up when I referred that his fans would love
to meet him and to that he said he would come to the US if he
were invited. Wouldn't it be great to have Anilda with us for a
few days. Here is a man who been active in the industry for about
3 decades (mid 30's to mid 60's), did a lot of pioneering work,
been mentor to a number of great MD's and singers and above all
gave us great music. In addition he is very articulate and has a
vivid memory of those days. And he's among a few of the musical
legends we have left.
One possibility I envision (however impractical it may be) is
that of a grand RMIM meet (of RMIMers from all over US) spanning
more than a day with Anil Biswas as the chief guest. It could be
preferably in a long weekend. The main expense is plane tickets
for two. I hope it's not dismissed as "irrational exuberance" :)