By: Sanjeev & Armeen Ramabhadran
While much has been written and said about the late Anil Biswas’ music, he carries a special place in our lives as both my wife Armeen and I have had the chance to spend some time with and perform for him. Hence, what follows are some assorted recollections of the time we spent with him.
Armeen had grown up with Anil-da’s music and had played a major role in a 1997 Baroda performance of Anil-da’s compositions (at which Anil-da himself presided). While Anil-da was no doubt a gracious and appreciative chief guest, he was also a highly attentive listener. The next day, along with his praise for her renditions, Armeen received some specific suggestions from him on breath control and other finer points, which reflected Anil-da’s active involvement in the program. Armeen was deeply touched by this gesture, as others of similar stature might not have seen the need to take such pains with a youngster like her. It is not uncommon for other prominent musicians to settle for giving their blessings and volunteering the oft-heard “keep practicing” motto, or other vague advice.
In my case, before appearing on TVS Sa Re Ga Ma in 1996, I knew little about Anil-da or his work aside from his seniority, his fondness for Lata Mangeshkar and Talat Mahmood (and some famous compositions for them), and his well-developed classical side (as evidenced by his “raag-mala” in the film Hamdard).
Throughout the episode judged by Anil-da, I had a difficult time gauging his response. After my first song, as he inquired pointedly whether I knew the “raag” of the song and further about my musical background. When I requested to re-sing my second song after my throat went dry (and the entire production crew agreed), Anil-da simply said, “No need I already heard what I wanted to.” Having heard that he had not cared much musically for Mohammed Rafi, I wondered whether some trace of Rafi-sahab (whom I so admire) had crept into my renditions and displeased him. Somehow convinced that he was not happy with me, I was stupefied (and of course delighted) when he announced “undoubtedly, the boy from the States” as the winner that day.
I came to know later that he appreciated my singing as “to the point.” In response to his question, I indicated that while I had some formal training, I had learned a good bit by listening Anil-da promptly emphasized that I should continue doing so, that I was on the right track, Having expected the usual “you-youngsters-aren’t-dedicated-enough” and “learn-minimum-ten-years-with-an-ustaad” response from someone of his age and stature, I found his take very refreshing and heartening.
He had recounted many incidents, including the well-known story of Talat Mahmood and “Ae Dil Mujhe Aisi Jagah Le Chal” during this episode. He took his time to elaborate, particularly where Talat-sahab was concerned. While the audience and cast were certainly happy to hear him speak, his long-windedness prompted a good-natured post-episode protest session from his wife Meena Kapoor, including “his last name should be Bakwas, not Biswas.” Spousal privilege :-)
On the question of Mohammed Rafi, he simply stated that Rafi-sahab was not quite the fit for his type of compositions, a position to which Armeen and I can never quite reconcile ourselves. In Baroda, Anil-da mentioned that on one occasion, a song originally recorded by Rafi-sahab had to be re-recorded by another singer. In spite of this, Rafi-sahab apparently had no grudges or qualms about coming to record another song for Anil-da at a later date. According to Anil-da, he was deeply touched by this part of Rafi-sahab’s nature.
Since that time, I have become far better acquainted with his multi-faceted repertoire and musical taste. Given his admiration of R.D. Burman, it completely makes sense now that two songs he requested me to sing during Sa Re Ga Ma (which I unfortunately did not know well enough at the time) were “Raina Beeti Jaaye” and “Beeti Na Bitaayi Raina”.
During a subsequent Sa Re Ga Ma session, Anil-da was present during the finals of a children’s schedule. Having been offered a seat in the front row, Anil-da almost literally dragged Armeen and me along and sat us down on either side of him! We really felt like a little part of him belonged to us.
We exchanged some correspondence with Anil-da after that when I got the opportunity to sing the aforementioned Hamdard song before Manna Dey (Armeen had sung this for Anil-da himself in Baroda), the excitement led us to write him a letter, to which he graciously responded. Given his health when we met him, we almost assumed Anil-da had many more years left. It was our fond hope that we would spend more time with him during a future trip to India, as we had many questions to ask him. Sadly, it was not to be, but we feel fortunate to have shared even this much with such a musical giant.