RMIM Archive Article "128".
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
# RMIM Archives..
# Subject: Salil Chowdhury - an obituary
# Posted by: email@example.com (Sambit Basu)
# Author: Sambit Basu
# Source: various
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
Salil Chowdhury - an obituary
Salil Chowdhury, as a musical personality, is my favourite.
The informations for this article were gathered over a period of
about 10 years. It's not possible for me to acknowledge to all
the sources, because I don't have their copies and I don't
remember them explicitly. But of late, two articles gave me some
1. Bangla Gana-sangeet-er dhara - Sudhir Chakrabarty 2. An
article by Manab Mitra on Salil Chowdhury (Thanks to Sudipto
Chottopadhyay for providing me with a copy of the article).
Salil Chowdhury was born on 19th November, 1923 in a village
called Sonarpur in Bengal. His father was a doctor by profession
but was very much into music. Salil's elder brother Nikhil
Chowdhury had his own orchestra name "Milan Parishad". Also,
Salil's family had a good collection of gramophone records of
Western Symphonies. Salil Chowdhury was brought up in this musi-
Salil spent a part of his early life in North East India's moun-
tainous state of Assam, where he gathered his appreciation for
folks (one may recall here that the tune of the song "chhota sa
ghar hoga" sung by Kishore Kumar or its Bengali version "ak je
chhilo raja" sung by Antara Chowdhury was an improvisation of a
Nepalese folk tune). Also he spent a good number of his formative
years in rural bengal where, apart from going deep into Bengali
folk music, he polished himself as an accomplished flutist.
Salil Chowdhury came to Calcutta for his College studies. That
was a time of extreme political unrest. On one way it was the In-
dian National Congress led anti-British movement, and on the oth-
er the left-oriented anti-fascist movement. And the international
arena was clouded heavily by the on-going second World War. The
platform for the left-oriented intellectuals for their anti-
fascist activities was the Indian People's Theater Association or
IPTA. Salil joined IPTA as a flute player.
In IPTA he directly came in contact with Binoy Ray, Sudhi
Pradhan, Jyotirindra Moitra and indirectly with Ravishankar et
al. This is the time when Salil started maturing as a profession-
al musician and a social commentator. IPTA movement gave rise to
a new genre of Bengali songs called "Gana-Sangeet" or "People's
Slowly Salil started writing and composing songs for IPTA. In
that he was influenced by Binoy Ray, Jyotirindra Moitra, Hemanga
Biswas et al. But very soon he created his own niche and became
one of the musical stalwarts of IPTA. His penetration in leftist
intellectual and cultural circle was by no means easy. According
to Salil himself, IPTA was very reluctant in recognizing Salil's
talent; but eventually they had to acknowledge his genius because
of the pressure of people's demand.
During the later days Salil became very lonely in IPTA. There was
a major difference of opinion about the form of his songs within
IPTA, Hemanga Biswas being the main critic of Salil's songs. Then
the communist party directed Salil to "pass" his songs through a
committee before he makes them public. And Salil revolted. He was
tagged as "anti-party", "US-spy" and he quit IPTA. By that time
Salil's mentors also virtually had left IPTA.
Salil went on writing and composing Bengali modern songs, which
he had been doing since his association with IPTA. Even he quit
IPTA, he continued to write and compose "socially committed"
songs along with the mainstream modern songs. During his IPTA
days, Salil and Hemanta Mukhopadhaya made a good combination, and
now this combination started producing long-lasting modern songs.
About this time Salil got an offer from Bombay movie industry,
primarily as a music director, but also as a story and screenplay
writer. There also Salil, very soon, made his own niche among the
well known composers like Anil Biswas, Naushad, Sachin Dev Bur-
man, Madan Mohan, Shankar Jaykishan.
Madhumati was a big bang in hindi film-music industry. And after
that he continued producing good numbers for next 20-odd years.
But in Hindi film music Salil never became the number one com-
poser. He was always considered as a very good composer who com-
poses off-bit music. Among the performers he was known as a ex-
tremely knowledgeable perfectionist who composes highly difficult
Salil's Bombay music-life turned out to be very educating for him
and for Bengali music. During this period two major things hap-
pened - Salil's extensive experimentation with music arrangement
and orchestration and his musical association with Lata Mangesh-
Although he was always fascinated with the scope of proper
orchestration for Bengali songs, he didn't get chances to meet
people who actually had some first hand experience of arranging a
big orchestral piece. Also Bengali music never had enough money
to afford whatever instrument Salil wanted to use and experiment
with. Bombay gave him that opportunity.
During these days Salil was accused of plagiarism and rightly so.
He lifted tunes from Mozart's symphony, from Hungarian martial
song, from Nepalese folk song, from Tagore's song and even from
"Happy Birthday to You" for a Bengali song. He surely put lot of
originality in those, but the truth remains that a plagiarism is
During his Bombay stay another major work Salil did was to form
Bombay Choir with the help of Ruma Ganguly (Guha Thakurata).
Salil has been often referred to as the father of Indian choral
music. Composing the choral part of a song was always his forte
and point scored over other prime music directors - be it in the
form of the main melody or as the vocal refrain.
Parallelly Salil went on composing Bengali songs, and probably
during this time he contributed more to the Bengali music than
any other musical personality of post-Tagore era.
During this time he composed "Surer jhorna" - first Indian song
to use harmonized singing, "Ujjal ak jhNaak payra" accompanied by
an orchestral prelude resembling highly sophisticated Western
symphony, "Amay dubaili re, bhasaili re" (for film "Ganga") -
resembling a real bhatiyali (Bengal's boatmen's song), but used
Piano as the background instrument, "Ichchha kore porandaare
gaamchha diya" (from the same film) with a touch a rural humor,
"Jhanana jhanana baaje" - based on raga Kalavati, and the list
In 1970s Salil returned to Calcutta, primarily because Bombay
film industry took a sharp turn from the days of Naushad, SD Bur-
man, Salil Chowdhury when the changed public taste forced Salil
to retire from Hindi film music.
Salil Chowdhury came back to Calcutta with a project of starting
a new sound studio. He founded Center for Music Research - CMR
with a studio named Sound On Sound. He devoted last 15 years of
his life to experiment with sound recording, and its application
on music and occasionally composing Bengali songs. But any signi-
ficant achievement in the field of sound recording compared to
his achievements in music composition is yet to be heard.
He wished to write a full-length opera in Bengali. Of late he
composed music for a film named "Vivekananda". Just before his
death, Hrishikesh Mukherjee decided to make a film (or may be a
television serial) based on Salil's story named "Dressing Table",
for which he agreed to manage the music. The project remains un-
finished as of today.
Salil Chowdhury died in September, 1995 in Calcutta. Arguably
Bengal's greatest composer after Rabindranath Tagore and Dwijen-
dralal Ray died when the Hindi Film music is in the hand of un-
trained mediocre and Bengali music...