RMIM Archive Article "225".
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
# RMIM Archives..
# Subject: Anil Biswas - some questions
# Posted by: Kalyan Kolachala
# Author: Vish Krishnan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
Good deal. I am sure you will have enough challenges using up
the time at your disposal in the most interesting, enlightening,
optimal value-add, entertaining etc etc way. Let me try and make
it a little worse for you by adding a million of my own ques-
About 18 months back, I had started writing about the little big
man of Indian music, but now that has become one of several aban-
doned projects. Be that as it may, even as Ashish Rajadhyaksha
and Co have documented the master's work, their approach has been
somewhat high level.
The following is just a very quick summary of what I can remember
sitting here at work on what is turning out to be a rather slow
Monday. Let us see how this evolves. The items herein are some-
what triggered by my own curiosities about an age gone by. So,
onto a quick summary.
Anil Biswas (that is the real name) was born on July 7 1914 in
the little town of Barisal (now in Bangladesh). Father (Jagadish
Chandra Biswas) was probably a government employee, not very high
profile. The youngster showed tremendous talent at the tender
age of 4. It was his mother's idea to put him through serious
musical training. Don't know about his gurus, but the classical
and folk influence in his work is clear. I won't belabour that
point. Like SO many of our Hindi movie composers, the master was
an accomplished tabla player (Dattaram, Sailesh Mukherji, SD Bat-
ish, Vasant Desai??) and singer. Hardly a single neighbourhood
music show went by without featuring the youngster's talents.
Through his childhood and early teen years, the little man worked
with amateur theatre groups - and freedom fighters. It is no
longer on record how many times he went to jail or how many tor-
tures he was subjected to.
After his father died (1930??), the teenager came over to what is
now India. It was probably a steamer ride up the Poddo (Padma).
With probably less than Rs. 5 in his pocket (a rather princely
sum in those days, I imagine, but still ..), the 16-year old
parked himself at the Hullaarhaat Post Office, slept on the floor
of the Post Office hall, worked as a coolie, earned enough money
to buy himself a ticket to Calcutta, and then one day, landed up
at Pannalal Ghosh's house. Would he not remember that? This is
not at all unlike Naushad Ali's description of sleeping out on
the streets of Dadar (Bombay).
Now why did he actually leave Barisal? Was it a family situation?
I am not suggesting you ask these questions, but I will remain
curious. And where was sister Parul at this time? Back in Bar-
isal? Was it his involvement with the freedom movement that
forced him to disappear?
Now, was Pannalal Ghosh's family known to the Biswas's ? Or was
it just another one of these chance findings? At any rate, I am
convinced that Anil Da and Dr. Ghosh (how old was he then?) hit
it off well. A few years later, the flutemeister would realize
his ambition for doing movie music, and this emaciated but reso-
lute 16-year old would play a part in it.
More than a 1000 miles away, Ardeshir Irani was getting ready to
make history with AALAM AARA. He had unknowingly retained as an
extra, among a horde of other non-entities, a little village
runaway from Billimoria, Gujarat. I am sure regional affilia-
tions had played a part here, but when Irani was putting out his
quota of silents like MEWAAR NO MAWAALI (1927), he did not see
20-year old Ramjaankhaan Mehboob Khaan to be of any consequence
to the movie industry, or to anything else for that matter. But
things were to change, slowly. Irani disappeared from the scene,
slowly and gracefully. Several of his students moved on into
talkie studios chiefly Sagar Movietone (and another one whose
name I cannot recall). Mehboob Khan tagged along, this time for
more than bit parts. He had his eyes set on more glorious pur-
In 1930, a 16-year old Anil Biswas got his first assignment wait-
ing tables (probably not even that - bus boy was more the likely
job) at some local "mishti" and chaa stall. It was here that he
met a magician who was well connected into the Dept of Education
(some Rai Bahadur Agornath ???), and through that contact, found
himself a slot in the concert circuit. I can just see him hold-
ing the listeners spellbound. What kind of singing was that?
Bengali folk? Rabindra Sangeet? Nazrul Geet? After all, here is
where Anil Da also met Kazi Nazrul Islam, and that connection got
him Rs. 5 on a piecemeal basis for lyrics and music. The
employer: the Megaphone Company of Calcutta. Wouldn't it be fun
to just sit there and listen to Anil Da talk about those times
and those grand people!
Soon thereafter, Anil Da became a full-time employee of Rangmahal
theatre where he was IT. He became identified with singing, lyr-
ics, music, orchestration, acting, dialogues - all of it. That
is how he spent 1931-34. Perhaps his dream job it was. Worth
Even with its proximity to New Theatres', the Rangmahal stint
offered no documented opportunity for Anil Da to work with his
Tollygunge neighbours. Or did it? It almost seems as though the
two were independently working on similar projects. Orchestra-
tion was Pankaj Mullick's favourite research area, and Anil Da is
credited with the creation of what may regarded as the first true
Indian orchestra (12 pieces ? Grand !). One would have liked to
have at least one KL Saigal song composed by Anil Da. Once he
came away to Bombay, the New Theatres' world became a bit dis-
In the end, it was moviemaker Hiren Bose (how does he connect
into the New Theatres scheme?) who urged the 20 year old to move
on to Bombay, and get a real job! All credit to visionary finan-
cier Ram Daryani whose Eastern Art productions became the next
stop for this phenomenon from Barisal. I think the song "tere
poojan ko bhagwaan banaa man mandir aalishaan" was the one that
propelled the singer/composer into headlines. Movie: BHAARAT KI
BETI. Probably a Ram Daryani production - not sure. Does Anil
Da have a recording of it? Will he sing it just once? Just for
old times' sake?
At this time, Sagar Movietone was fading away (again, I don't
have the chronology right), and was due for a merger with
National Studios, an upcoming group of studio employers. Ram
Daryani, money-man and talent scout, was very highly respected
for his discerning eye. He was also very well connected.
And all of a sudden, Anil Biswas was working for a major produc-
tion studio (National/ Sagar) under the watchful and supportive
tutelage of Ashok Ghosh and Pransukh Nayak, the composer duo that
was to National/Sagar what Tembe/Bhole/Phulambrikar were to
Kolharpur Cinetone and Prabhat, and what
Mullick/Boral/Bhattacharya were to New Theatres.
A hard-working and violently ambitious Mehboob Khan was also on
the payroll assisting directors and others on and off-stage.
So now we have assistant composer and handy-man Anil Biswas work-
ing not far away from assistant director and handy-man Mehboob
Khan, both motivated by the exact same goal in abstraction. Some
day, they would be at the helm of things. Perhaps Anil Da's goal
had a gentle, well-rounded sophistication to it, and by contrast,
perhaps Mehboob's brash and uncouth ambition unflinchingly
stepped on others as necessary. What did the two have in common?
What drew them and kept them together? What in heaven's name?
Anil Da must have adored the "mawaali", a term he affectionately
directed at Mehboob every time the director addressed him as
"bangaali". Otherwise, how does one explain this friendship and
one of the strongest professional associations known in the his-
tory of Indian cinema?
Now I don't remember this very well. The first couple of movies
were the work of Ashok Ghosh and Mr Nayak (Manmohan?? etc), but
Anil Da's first headline venture was (someone help me here) DHARM
KI DEVI??? Something like that. And not too long thereafter,
Mehboob came along with his first solo assignment (was that Man-
mohan?). The interesting movie here is JAAGIRDAAR, the first
Mehboob movie to feature Anil Da's music. And off they went.
Together, Anil Da and Mehboob launched some big names. Suren-
dranath (BA LLB) was all at sea with Bombay cinema, and they gave
him every opportunity to build a nest. Others, perhaps not top-
notch singers, but still making an impact, were Bibbo, Manju,
Arun Kumar, Wahidan Bai (Nimmi's mother), Jyoti (Wahidan's sister
who later started her own studio called Jyoti Pictures) and a
host of names not shown here, all thrived under this sanguine
partnership that was still a good 4-5 years away from summary
termination. What were those days like?
The best was yet to come. Other, much better performers, like
Sardar Akhtar (later Mehboob Khan's wife), a beautiful star
Nalini Jaywant by name, Akhtaribai Faizabaadi (later Begum
Akhtar) perhaps all sang their first movie song for the same
partnership. Wasn't this the Golden Era! Does it get better?
Where have the likes of AURAT, ROTI and BAHEN gone?
In 1941-42, freelancers' disease caught the Bombay movie industry
in its grip. A few other events took place too. National was
shaky, Devika Rani was losing interest in things Indian, and
Saraswati Devi was packing her bags (leaving a few job opportuni-
ties open at the risk-ridden Bombay Talkie), Mehboob would simply
not work any longer for anyone but himself, and Master Haider had
already defined the Hindi movie song for us. Competition was at
its height, and the fundamental recipe for box-office successes
tacitly accepted music as its key ingredient. Playback singing
was on. Suraiyya made sure of that.
Mehboob asked the bangaali to join him in his new production ven-
ture (Mehboob Studios), and was shocked at the answer. Anil Da
(politely, I am sure) declined. Why? At any rate, the master
movie director was slighted, and never raised the question again.
He struggled to find his musical base through NAJMA, TAQDEER, and
HUMAAYUN. He had to go through Rafique Ghaznavi and Ghulam
Haider to get to his nirvana.
For Anil Da, it was now Bombay Talkie. He is probably less shy
now about who really did the music for BASANT, a movie credited
to brother-in-law Pannalal Ghosh. Great movie, great songs. In
particular, did 9-year old Mumtaz Jehan Begum know at that time
that she was not going to be a singer after all? Who composed
and conducted those 2 beautiful songs for BASANT? Later, did
Madhu Bala ever discuss the BASANT items with Anil Da? Those 2
songs are a collector's item now.
KISMAT is unparallelled in the history of box-office cinema. How
does the maestro remember Amirbai Karnataki?
And all along, was he watching the Ghulam Haider revolution? Did
he ever have an opportunity to work with Noorjehan? When was the
first time he heard about, and heard this diminutive rage called
Lata Dinanath Mangeshkar?
Here is where the master turned truly freelance. Although he did
a few more movies with Bombay Talkie (JWAAR BHAATA, MILAN aka
NAUKAA DOOBI, a Tagore story), he was now available to the indus-
try at large. PEHLI NAZAR is one example of a musical success
outside the Bombay Talkie scheme (I am not sure who the produc-
tion company is).
Also interesting is the musical work he has done with Ashalata
Biswas, his first wife. How many songs has she sung? I know
there is at least one duet with Lata.
I guess it was just another normal day with nature doing its
thing when Bikram Kapoor, a character actor from the Bombay
Talkie group, went to visit Ninu Majumdar (a strong composer who
was also assitant to Anil Da) took his daughter Meena Kapoor
along, and that was that.
Where and how did the two meet?
When and how did he meet Lata Mangeshkar? What did he teach her,
and in turn, what kind of inspiration did she become for his
music? What, in his opinion, are his best Lata songs? And about
Asha, she did dominate one of his movies (SANSKAAR??). Was that
The post-1948 Lata age, while never well-enough documented, is at
least discussed a lot. But what is not discussed much is the
maestro's partnership with K.A. Abbas, starting with RAAHI. My
list of favourites puts RAAHI way up on top (if not at the top).
In fact, I would suggest that it is distinctly more honest than
MADHUMATI in its Assamiya presentation. Other than Hemant, Lata
and Meena Kapoor, is it not Ira Majumdar and then Anil Da himself
singing? I suppose Ira Majumdar is related to assistant music
director Ninu Majumdar. I am also sure Meena Kapoor will
remember "chaand so gayaa, taare so gaye", a most wonderful lul-
laby, with nostalgic affection.
Then there is the songless MUNNA, and yet again, PARDESI. Know-
ing fully well that Anil Da did not have an opportunity to work
with Noorjehan, it is all the more fortuitous that when the
melody queen returned to India for the 2-day concert event at
Bombay's Shanmukhananda Hall (Feb 10/11 1982), Meena Kapoor was
one of the guest singers. A good friend of mine was at the hall,
and according to him, while Lata brought the ceiling down with
"aayega aane waala" and Noorjehan took care of the rest by her
latter-day singing of JUGNU and ANMOL GHADI, it was Meena
Kapoor's "rasiyaa re man basiyaa re" that brought tears to the
discerning listener's eyes. If she is there, you have to ask her
about that. These were the gems of the KA Abbas-Anil Biswas
partnership. And finally, CHAAR DIL CHAAR RAAHEIN had her sing-
ing the savagely sophisticated "kabhi to sudh letaa jaa". Even
Meena Kumari, normally choreographically challenged, comes alive
with Meena Kapoor's singing.
Through the '50s, the master had his share of box-office head-
lines. It is so easy to get non-mainstream with people like Anil
Da. But even the better knowns e.g. TARAANA, AARZOO, AARAAM etc
were great music providers.
How many movies did he do under the pen-name "Haribhai"? Then he
has some partnerships - Chitalkar and Hansraj Behl come to mind.
In general, which composers stand out in his mind as great music
makers? And how can I resist asking about his view of Sir Salil
Chowdhury's work? Did they ever collaborate on any project?
ANGULIMAAL is way up there too. Whatever happened to Meena
Kapoor's "moray chanchal nainaa", one of two times the maestro
adapted Rabindra Sangeet for Hindi movie purposes? Are there
others? This one is better known to Rabindra Sangeet listeners
as "madhu gandhe bharaa...". The other one, as I recall, is
"raahi matwaale". Which brings us to all sorts of questions
about Suraiyya, and her work in GAJRE, JEET, WAARIS all from the
previous couple of decades.
Has he adapted any of Kazi Nazrul Islam's work? I don't recall
anything offhand, but SD Burman borrowed quite a bit ("ghaayal
hiraniyaa", "main albeli" (BUZDIL), "jaane kyaa toone kahi" etc)
as did Sir Salil ("roj akeli aaye"). Of all Hindi movie com-
posers, Anil Da was probably the closest to the great poet and
And what about Bengali movies? It is not entirely surprising,
but even so, how did it come to be that he drifted almost com-
pletely away from Bengali cinema? Perhaps there were less than 5
in his Bengali repertoire. Even that many? We should probably
The 10 odd movies in the '60s were ALL remarkable, without excep-
tion. I shouldn't say ALL. Haven't ever heard any songs from
HUMEIN KHELNE DO or RAJU AUR GANGAARAAM. But LUCKY NUMBER, THE
RETURN OF MR SUPERMAN and one other all had wonderful music and
singing (particularly by Meena Kapoor). Even here, as the Lata-
featured movies like SAUTELA BHAI and CHHOTI CHHOTI BAATEIN
became more popular (not by much though), Anil Da's other entries
for the '60s were lost, hopefully not forever.
It has been more than 30 years since he left Bombay cinema. He
was quite busy until the mid-'80s. I don't believe his work has
been well documented. Any non-film releases ? Meena Kapoor has
surely got some cassettes out. And what about his work with the
Indian Films Division, or Doordarshan (besides HUM LOG)?
In July 1994, it was announced that the maestro would be awarded
the Lata Mangeshkar award for the year. He must have come down
to Indore in December the same year. Perhaps Meena Kapoor was up
there on stage at the Rabindra Naatya Graha. Perhaps she sang.
The grandmaster laid the foundation of orchestration in Indian
movies, mentored an entire generation of master composers, helped
guide Lata's voice into the dulcet tone that one uses to define
good singing, and God alone knows what else.
Have a great time.