From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
# RMIM Archives.
# Subject: Anil Biswas
# Posted by: ADhareshwar@worldbank.org (Ashok)
# Source: Cinema Vision
# Author: Anil Biswas
Cinema Vision India was a quarterly journal started by Siddharth Kak in 1982, which proclaimed itself to be ``India's first professional Cinema quarterly.'' It lasted three years. The quality of articles was very uneven and often it printed articles that had already appeared else-where. It is, nevertheless, a good source for many insightful accounts. In its brief life span, it did devote a couple of issues to music in films. Over a period of time, I propose to post articles from these issues on RMIM.
The first two articles I am posting are related; they are both about Anil Biswas. The first is by way of a brief autobiographical piece, as written up by an interviewer, and the second is written by a friend of his from the days of his imprisonment. Both are from a 1983 issue, called "Mortal Men: Immortal Melodies". The name comes from a function organized by the journal in 1982 in Bombay as a tribute to the pioneer- ing music directors, lyricists, and singers.
My Journey into The World Of Music
[The article first appeared in `Madhuri', Dec. 29, 1967 and is attributed to Dr. Shyam Parmar. It was reprinted in `Saurabh' annual issue 1977. This version appeared in `Cinema Vision India', Vol. II, No. II, 1983, pp. 57-59. As you will see, various anachronisms are there. For example, Mukesh is referred to as 'late', but the reference to East Pakistan has been left unchanged. There is also a break in the narrative flow in a few places; I wonder if textual matter has been lost across versions.]
I was born on the 7th of July, 1914, at Barisal which is now in East Pakistan. Whenever I think of my childhood I naturally remember my mother. Ours was a very poor family and during this difficult time my mother encouraged my artistic leanings. My mother was musically inclined by nature.
It seems I could sing when I was four years old. People have seen me playing the tabla when I was five or six years old, and at ten, I could act well. Those days I would take part in dramas. When I was older I was often requested to sing at music concerts -- and I would sing where seasoned artists would perform. I composed my own songs, and the listeners would be surprised to hear my new songs at these concerts.
At this time, I was in the Matric class. A wave of patriotism swept the country and there was not a single boy of my age in Bengal who was not willing to sacrifice his life for his coun- try. My desire to see my country attain freedom was responsible for my becoming associated with a revolutionary party.
But it was because of this association that I had to face many difficulties, and a simple boy like me ended up making and throwing bombs! There were the usual results which go along with such a life-- my studies were interrupted. I went to jail six times during my childhood. My friends in jail were Niren Ghosh, a communist member of the Rajya Sabha, and the Principal of the Shastriya degree college in Bina (M.P.), Satyavrata Ghosh. Many of my friends died in jail.
During this period, I escaped in disguise to Calcutta from Barisal. The year was 1930. My father had passed away. I left home with five rupees in my pocket. I bought a ticket for 17 paise and came by steamer to Jokati and from there to Hullarhat. There I stayed on the veranda of the local post office for three days. I got a job as a coolie-cum-servant and managed to reach Khulna, from where I travelled to Calcutta by train. I was in bad shape. I knew nobody in Calcutta except my childhood friend Pannalal Ghosh. Panna was shocked to see me. His elder sister took charge of the situation and asked me to stay in her house. I stayed only four days with Panna's brother-in- law, Lalit Chandra Roy.I started life once again in Calcutta. I start ed washing dishes in a hotel. At the same time I kept looking out for other jobs. A magician called Manoranjan Sarkar used to come for his meals to this hotel and I became friendly with him. One day he heard me singing to myself and asked me to accompany him to a music concert. We went to the residence of Rai Bahadur Agornath, a big officer in the Education Department, who was an exponent of music.
There were many other people there, among them Kavi Jeetendranath Bagchi and J.N. Ghosh, who was the owner of the Megaphone Gramophone Company. Sarkar told them I could sing well. On being asked to sing, I at once prayed to numerous devataas and started singing shyama sangeet in a clear, unsophisticated voice. My song was appreciated by all the elders there.
When I look back today, I feel it was that day I gained the knack to guage the mood of a mehfil! I ate a good meal after many days. Rai Bahadur Agornath asked me to stay at his place and teach his grandchildren.
Every night I had to sing religious songs for him. However, I soon got tired of this pattern of life. I did not like being a guest--and being served good food all the time. I left after eight days as I got a job to teach music to the daughter of Dr. Pasupati Mitra for five rupees a month.
I was soon to realize the consequences of being a member of a revolutionary party. One day the police came to look for me at Pannalal Ghosh's brother-in-law's house. They also came to the residence of Advocate Mahendra Ghosh where I was staying and teaching his six children. I was arrested and sent to Elisium Row jail.
I suffered for four months--the beating was, of course, a routine affair. The police could not find any evidence against me. Their treatment of me was so strange that it became difficult to distinguish between friends and enemies. Suddenly, they would turn violent against me.
When I was released, I was asked by the police to become a spy and give information about freedom fighters. As I was jobless, I agreed and gave them false information; however, this could not go on for very long. I could not fool them.
Those days, Kazi Nazrul Islam used to work in the Megaphone Gramophone Company as a lyricist and music director. It is because of his efforts that thumris and ghazals influenced Bengali music. This influence opened the way to experiments which were applauded by Rabindranath Tagore too.
I approached Kazida for a job as the police had found out that I was a `fake spy' and I had no other means of livelihood. I had been influenced by Kazida right from childhood. Inspite of his encouragement, I found it difficult to come up. In the same Company, there was somebody who prevented my records from becoming popular. I learnt ghazals from Manju Sahib who was happy about my singing. However, these records never saw the light of day. This is a very sad fact.
At this time, Nitayi Motilal, who was related to Baval Rajvansh, heard my songs. Nitayida was one of the good music directors associated with Rangmanch. He gave me a job with the Rang Mahal theatre. Even today this theatre is in existence. In the fories, it had a revolving stage! Shri Satu Sen was the director of the plays. While working as assistant director to Nitayida, I composed music for quite a few dramas. I sang, danced, and acted in the plays. You will be surprised to hear that my salary was only Rs. 40 a month. While at the Gramophone Company, I was paid five rupees for the lyrics and five for composing the music. I worked for three years at the Rang Mahal. This was the time I learnt the proper use of music and how to reach the people with it.
My life in Calcutta was to undergo a change. I was becoming popular. One day I happened to meet the film director Hiren Bose. Hirenda showed an interest in me and asked me whether I would like to work in films. He made it very clear that if I was, I would have to leave Calcutta. Till today I don't know why I was ready to, because I was staying comfortably there. I did not spend too much time thinking about it, and agreed. The year was 1934. I remember Hirenda agreed to pay me Rs. 150 a month.
In Bombay, I signed a contract with Kumar Movietone. I brought four instrumentalists with me from Calcutta--all four could read musical notations well. The foundations of my belief in the importance of the orchestra were laid then. In many of my compositions, I have made good use of orchestra music. Right from then I have been attracted to the use of elements of Western music which I felt were akin to the spirit of Indian music, and I used them unhesitatingly in my compositions. I did this so my music would have a wider impact. Whatever songs I composed at this time, I used instrumental music very effectively. It's true that before coming to Bombay, many of my Bengali songs had already become very popular. I was very involved in my work and I valued my self-respect.
One day, I quarreled with V.M. Vyas of Kumar Movietone and this resulted in my being jobless again. In the difficult days that followed, I did any kind of work. I persistently went round the film companies. Finally I landed a job with Eastern Art Company.
Shri Premankur Athorthy who produced `Yahudi Ki Ladki' in 1933 and Shri Daryani heard my music. I composed the song ``tere poojan ko bhagwaan bana man mandir alishan'' for the film `Bharat Ki Beti,' 1935. I gained popular recognition because of this song. The songs for `Bal Hatya' and `Khoon-i-nahak' were composed around the same time. `Dharam Ki Devi' was made under the banner of Eastern Arts with Sardar Akhtar and Kumar who had become famous in New Theatres' productions--in this film, for the first time my name appeared independently on the silver screen!
I composed music for many films at Eastern Arts--'Pratima', `Prem Murti', `Sher Ka Panja' in 1936 and `Bulldog' and `Gentleman Daku' in 1937. I got established in the film industry. I benefited as a Bengali--at that time, because New Theatres was very prominent in the film industry, every Bengali was considered an artist!
In 1936 I got my first big break. I joined Sagar Movietone and their `Jagirdar', 1937, made my music popular all over India. After this film, Mehboob and I worked as a team.
At this time, Hiren Bose thought of making `Maha Geet', an experimental film. This was the story of a scientist who attempts to recall the voices of dead people from Infinite Space. In this film, playback singing was introduced for the first time in the Bombay film industry.
I also formed an orchestra of 12 musicians. Such a large orchestra was considered extraordinary by the film industry.
I feel the years from 1937 to 1940 were vital years for the Indian film industry. Ranjit began to invite music experts from Calcutta. Bombay Talkies had been established. Other companies sprang up--a kind of competitveness emerged, which was very necessary. New techniques were being explored.
I often think of the problems we had composing songs. The same song had to be picturized on different sets. At outdoor shootings it was very difficult to maintain the correct pitch and rhythm of the voice. When I felt like, I often sang in my films. However, I stopped singing when one of the singers told me that he would be jobless if I sang myself!
I was very fond of make-up. One day I enacted the role of a blind singer. You will not believe me, but the orchestra, the camera, and the microphone had to walk with me along the road as I sang!
Just as I became famous, I began to think of resigning from Sagar Movietone. On Shri Chimanlal Desai's insistence, I stayed on till 1939. Later, Sagar Movietone and Film City amalgamated and became National Studio.
My favourites till today are the songs from `Vatan (1938)', `Ek Hi Rasta 1939)', `Alibaba (1940)', `Bahen (1941)', and `Roti (1942)'. Sometimes when I am alone I recall the tunes of ``kyoN ham ne diya dil'' (sung by Sitara, lyrics by Wajahat Mirza, from `Vatan') and ``kahe karta der baraati'' (sung by Anil Biswas and chorus, lyrics by Dr. Safdar Aah, from `Aurat'.)
In 1942, I joined Bombay Talkies. The songs from `Basant' became very popular. I composed the music and the late Pannalal Ghosh supervised the orchestra. `Kismet' ran for three years in Calcutta at the Roxy. Every song in the film was a hit.
I composed many songs for Bombay Talkies. Even today I'm proud of films like `Hamari Baat (1943)', `Char Ankhen (1944)', `Jwar Bhata (1944)', and `Milan (1946)'. The late Mukesh shot to fame with `Pehli Nazar (1945)'--it was not a Bombay Talkies production--and with ``dil jalta hai to jalne de'' (`Aan'*). Lata Mangeshkar is the discovery of all three of us-- Ghulam Haider, Khemchand Prakash, and myself.
* Note from Ashok: No idea what is meant here!
In 1947 I left Bombay Talkies. India attained independence--and I too decided to become independent. I could try out new ideas; I decided to compose music for films of my choice.
I do know how many films I have composed music for (**). By 1952 I began to feel film music had passed from the hands of artists with experience to those of business-minded people. To try and save the situation, I produced five films myself-- but public taste had deteriorated and I was bitterly disappointed with the state we'd been reduced to.
** Note: Don't know why this sentence is here!
I think a great deal about Indian film music. From 1952 to 1957 I went abroad four times and my horizons widened further. I have travelled to many countries. Once with a cultural organization, once with a peace mission; the third time was in 1957 to compose music for the Indo-Russian production, `Pardesi'.
These trips abroad made me realize that our music directors, in comparison to those of other countries, have less sense of responsibility. We need expansion and experimentaton in the field of musical instruments. By using instruments of a certain standard, we can obtain better sound range and tone colour. Some we may have to borrow from the West--but the musical ideas must be our own. The use of quality instruments will open up a range of possiblilities for the orchestra. As far as film music is concerned, we have all the necessary material--but it must be put to good use.
In conclusion, I will add that I have borrowed many tunes from folk music. And as to whether the credit for the use of Rabindra Sangeet and classical music in Hindi films should to me or not--I don't spend time thinking about it.