By: Sultan Arshad
It is our national characteristic to use superlatives for people when they are gone. We are also in the habit of distributing freely titles like king of acting or queen of histronies which in most of the cases are quite undeserving.
In respect, however, of Composer Anil Biswas, who was to become a non agenarian in a little over a month when he passed away, in Delhi, on 31st May 2003, one could use any number of adjectives and there would still be room for some more.
AnilDa or just Dada, as he was both reverently and lovingly address or referred to by his admirers, was truly a genius. And this he proved very early in his carreer through various successful experimentatios. It was he who alongwith two of his seniors R.C.Boral and Pankaj Mullick could be attributed to have revelutionised the film music and orchestration.
Instead of following the theatrical style of compositions, as their other contemporaries were then practicing, these three introduced simple and humable melodies which ushered in a new era in film music. Maestro Naushaad, himself a giant of a composer, has said it many a time that it was Anil Biswas who inspired him and his contemporaries a great deal in so far as the use of melody and counter melody in film songs and back ground score was concerned.
Born in a small town, Barisaal, East Bengal (now Bangladesh), Anil (breez in Sanskrit) Biswaas like most Bengalis developed a passion for music, in his case for singing, when he was hardly four or five years of age. The initial inspiration came from his mother who used to sing bhajans during her morning pooja sessions. Paying little attention to studies, the youngster started taking lessons in vocal classical music as well as in playing the tabla. He mastered both by the time he was in his early teens. Inspite of being emersed in music, Anil Biswas was not indifferent to the political turmoil the subcontinent, particularly Bengal was going through. By then Quit India Movement led by the communist party had gained momentum. Like most of his fellow Bengali youth, Anil too got drawn to it and joined the Party. As a result of active particpation in subversive activities against the British colonial government he became a wanted man for them. In order to avoid arrest and as advised by the Party seniors, he ran away to Calcutta (now Kolkata), the city which was the hub of all kinds of activities, including the cultural ones. After remaining under ground for some months he decided to shun politics and instead pursue a carreer in music. In the meantime he got acquainted with Qazi Nazrul Islam the revolutionary poet. Qazi, having developed a liking for the young man who not only possessed a melodious voice but could also write as well as compos versos, helped Anil Biswas join the Rang Mahal Theatre as a singer musician actor. One thing led to another and after sometime Anil Biswas managed to get a job as a singer composer, at the prestigious Hindustan Recording Company (HRC) where singer K.L. Saigal and maestro S.D.Burman were his senior collegues.
The stint with HRC however turned out to be a brief one. Not satisified with the working environment and unable to tolerate the constant discouraging attitude of some senior composers, Anil Biswas quit the job and left for Bombay (now Mumbai).
Film director Hiren Bose who knew him from Calcutta, assigned Anil Biswas to score music for Eastern Arts Dharam ki Devi, which he (Bose) was to direct. Besides composing tunes Anil Biswas also sang his debut song (Kuchh bhi nahin bharosa duniya hai aani jaani) for this movie and it was pitcurised on him too.
It was almost two years and 11 films (in seven of which he shared the honours with other composers) later that Anil Biswas was called upon to join Sagar Movietone to compose music for Jaagirdaar which Mehboobb Khan was to direct. The collaboration of Biswas and Khan brought rich dividends and Jaagirdaar released in 1937, turned out to be the first commercially successful movie for its composer. They continued to work together and between 1938-42 gave eight more hits; Gramaphone Singer, Hum Tum Aur Woh, Watan, Ek Hi Raasta, Ali Baaba (also made in Punjabi), Aurat (the original version of Mother India) and Roti.
By 1940 Anil Biswas had undisputedly emerged as one of the most creative and dependable melody makers. And having got his talent acknowledged in the face of competition with such accompalished composers as his fellow Bengali seniors; R.C.Boral and Pankaj Mullick, Master Ghulam Haider of Punjab and Khemchand Prakash of Rajasthaan was certainly no mean achievement.
The high point in Anil Biswas already successful carreer came with Bombay Talkies Ashok Kumar Mumtaz Shanti starrer Kismat, released in 1943. The film broke all previous box office records by running in a single theatre in Calcutta for over three years and which maintained for 30 years till Sholay was released in 1975, for the status of being the biggest grosser in Indian cinema. Almost each song of Kismat was a street hit. May it be the patriotic Aaj himalay ki choti se/ Ameer Baai and chorus, the wistful. Papiha re morey piya se kahiyo ja/ Paarul Ghosh, the devotional Abb tere siwa kaun mera Krishn Kanhaiya/ Ameer Baai or the extremely melodious lullaby Dheere dheere aa re baadal / Arun Kumar and Ameer Baai, they were hummed and sung at every nook and corner of the subcontinent. Anil Biswas however did not rest on the laurals he received for his score in Kismat but went on to scale greater heights in the year to come.The list of his exceedingly popular and / or melodious composition in subsequent films would spread over several columns.
One could therefore cite here the example of the very selected ones:
Very few people are aware of the fact that Vividh Bharati the commercial service of All India Radio ( AIR ) , when launched in the sixties, commenced its transmission with a song ( Naach re mayura ) composed in raag Megh Malhaar by none other than Anil Biswas who had by then said good bye to films and Bombay and joined AIR , Dehli station, as Producer Light Music. The song was rendered by one of his favourite singers Mannadey. The other two male singers he was very partial towards and whom he groomed and helped furthering their carreers were Mukesh and Talat Mehmood.
Among the female singers his top favourite was of course Lata Mangeshkar followed by Meena Kapoor whom he married in the fifties after his divorce from actress Ashalata. Though an admirer of Noor Jehan too, Anil Biswas could incidentially never get to use the Melody Queens vocals for any of his tunes. Similar remained the situation vis a vis his friend, the legendary singer K.L.Saigal. Among the other Pakistani singers he admired the voice quality of Mehdi Hasan and Nayyara Noor.
In a carreer spanning 30 years (1935-45), Anil Biswas scored music for 93 movies, in 15 of which he shared the credit with other composers, particularly during the initial years of his carreer. Among his films, two (Chaand and Jaasoos) remained incomplete and four were produced by the Govt of India stablilished Childrens Film Society. Anil Biswas also held the distinction of scoring background music for the first songless Indian movie, Khawaja Ahmad Abbas Munna (1954).
Anil Da was not just an extra ordinary melody maker, he was an exceptionally humane person too. While posted in Bombay from 1987 to 96, as Manager PIA, I was fortunate to have got several opportunities to not just meet him but also watch him interacting with his admirers. Anil Da and his wife, former singer, Meenaji (Kapoor) lived in Delhi. They would visit Bombay every year and spend the period Nov-Jan there to avoid the severe winter of the Indian Capital. It was on one such visit that they agreed to stay with me. It was a true honour and a previlage and an heart warming experience for me to have the wonderful couple as my guests for a month.
Almost every evening when we sat together and chated, a new facet of Anil Das personality would be revealed to him. How a Bengali whose academic carreer was interrupted even before he could pass the high school, acquired tremendous knowledge on various subjects. It was through his association with renowned lyricts like Allama Aarzoo Luckhnavi, Dr. Safdar Aah and Pandit Narendra Sharma that Anil Da learnt to appreciate the Urdu / Hindi literature, specially the poetry. Faiz Ahmad Faiz was also one of his dear friends and they would spend many an evening together whenever the great poet visited Delhi. Anil Da would sing his verses while Faiz Saheb would just smile appreciatively.
Anil Da is physically no more but his immortal melodies and pleasant memories are a treasure which no one can snatch from me.