Home away from home for music greats
Legendary figures of Hindi film music have always found occasions to keep in touch with Bangalore, a city characterised by great love for Hindi songs and a readiness to embrace an outsider.
MANNA DEY, one of the golden voices of Hindi cinema of yesteryears is a much pursued chief guest at music and cultural programmes in Bangalore today. Dey has been living in the City with his daughter's family at Hennur-Banaswadi layout for sometime now.
The welcome accorded to Manna Dey is illustrative of the cosmopolitanism of the average Bangalorean. It is part of the ethos of the City, and today's generation of Bangaloreans is only the legatee of the catholicism displayed by those of the past. Such an outlook was certainly not introduced by the influx of migrants or the brood of rich executives in the MNCs and the corporate world for whom Bangalore is often a transit camp.
Seventy years ago, Mysore, if not Bangalore, had saluted the music of another illustrious name from Manna Dey's family, Krishnachandra Dey, the blind singer, who had the distinction of acting in a good number of classic films in Hindi and Bengali. K.C. Dey, as he was better known, was the uncle of Manna Dey. He was treated to the hospitality of the royalty of Mysore. He gave recitals at the Mysore Palace, before Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar, along with another famed classical singer from Bengal, Indubala. The Mysore Durbar had extended its patronage to Hindustani music, and had on its employ, Gohar Jan, a musician who had made a name. Among those to give recitals at the Mysore Palace were the legendary Ustad Fayyaz Khan of Lahore, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan (father of Hirabai Barodekar), and Lakshmibai of Baroda, court musician of Maharaja Sayyaji Rao Gaekwad III. But there is no record of K.C. Dey singing in Bangalore.
K.C. Dey (1900-64) was one of the leading musicians of Bengal cinema, particularly the New Theatres' of Kolkata, in an era dominated by stalwarts such as Kundanlal Saigal and Pankaj Kumar Mullick. It was K.C. Dey who influenced Manna Dey to take to music. Otherwise he would have ended up as a barrister, which his chartered accountant father wanted him to be. Among the films to which K.C. Dey rendered his voice of rich timbre were Puran Bhagat, original Devadas (in Hindi and Bengali, directed by Pramatesh Barua), Vidyapathi, Dhartimatha, and Bhagyachakra. His song "Jao Jao Aye Mere Sadhu" from the New Theatres' film Puran Bhagat (1933), with hardly any orchestra, except perhaps the harmonium and the cymbals, still enthrals music lovers who prefer the pristine film music of old to the high decibel sing-song which is the only film music today's children know of. Raghav R. Menon, in his eulogy, K.L.Saigal: The Pilgrim of the Swara, had written of K.C. Dey and his music: "Then there was the blind Krishna Chandra Dey with a voice whose strength and power shivered the wireless sets and issued out of the gramophones of the Thirties like the call of a conch shell at vespers."
However, it was Pankaj Mullick (1904-78) who was a greater draw in Bangalore and Mysore. It was 1943 and the Second World War was raging. Though putting up with the privations of the War, Bangaloreans were immensely drawn to the cinema and music. A musical evening was organised by some citizens, and the singer chosen was not a Kannadiga or even from South India. He was from distant Bengal (united), and the then monarch of film and light classical music, Pankaj Kumar Mullick. The one who presided over the musical extravaganza was the dynamic Minister of princely Mysore, M.A. Sreenivasan. Those were the days two civil servants were being appointed as ministers along with as many politicians as part of a constitutional reform (based on K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar Committee report) introduced in 1941, when Sir N. Madhava Rau succeeded Sir Mirza Ismail as Dewan. The word minister had little currency in Mysore State prior to 1941. Sreenivasan passed away in 1997 as a centenarian. The Mullick programme held that day at the Sir Puttannachetty Town Hall had been advertised as "Musical performance by the celebrated Panjak Mullick in the distinguished presence of the Honourable Minister for Food and Civil Supplies M.A. Sreenivasan". Pankaj Mullick was at the height of his glory as a singer and music director in those days of rich talent and variety in Indian film music.
Mullick, who was one of the music directors of New Theatres', with Raichand Boral, Timir Baran, and Kamal Dasgupta, sang at the Sir Puttannachetty Town Hall before an overflowing and appreciative audience.
Two of his better known films, Nartaki, and Doctor (both released by New Theatres in 1940 and 1941), were still being shown in the cinemas all over the country. In the latter, Mullick had a unique role as actor, singer, and music director, along with singing stars Bharati, Ila Ghosh, and Jyothiprakash. Nartaki starred danseuse Leela Desai.
Mullick sent the Bangalore audience into raptures rendering with his velvet voice those melodies which still haunt the discerning listener: "Sundar Nari Pritam Pyari" from Manzil (1936), "Sharabi Soch Na Kar", Mukti (1937), "Piya Milan Ko Jana", Kapal Kundala (1939), "Yeh Kaun Aaj Aaya" and "Madhbari Rut Jawani Hai" from Nartaki, and those from the Doctor song parade "Mahak Rahi Phulwari", "Kab Tak Nirash Ki", "Aaj Apni Mehnaton Ka", and "Guzar Gaya Woh Zamana". With his clear vibrato and rich tone, Mullick also rendered Rabindra Sangeet, kirtans, adhunik, geet and baul music. He later visited Mysore and stayed as a guest of Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar.
A still from Dhartimata (1937) , K.C. Dey (right) is seen with K.L. Saigal and Umashashi.
There is no hyperbole while saying Pankaj Mullick, Saigal, Kanan Devi, and even Ashok Kumar (with his easy and casual approach to singing in Bombay Talkies hits such as Jhoola, Bandhan, and Kismet), had a large following among filmgoers in Karnataka.
People were charmed by their music. The song from Manzil, mentioned earlier, which was also sung by Saigal, was the favourite of wandering minstrels in Mysore State even in the Forties.
Pankaj Mullick was to sing in Bangalore once more in 1953, and that time at the Glass House in Lalbagh. By then he had withdrawn from singing in films and was more involved in Rabindra Sangeet. But the songs he had directed for the New Theatres' film Yatrik (1951), to the lilting melody of Dhananjay Bhattacharya, Biren Pal, and Binutha Chakravarthy, were on everyone's lips.
It was not unusual for film artistes from other States and languages to be invited by student bodies and others of Bangalore and Mysore in the Thirties and Forties.
The rebel star Shantha Apte (who had assaulted with a stick film journalist Baburao Patel, editor of Filmindia, for a scurrilous writing) had been given a reception at the West End Hotel in the City in 1938. But she disappointed the Bangalore and Mysore audiences as she could not sing her famous songs from films Amarjyoti, Duniya Na Mane, or Gopalakrishna, as she was on a contract with Prabhat Film Co.
Leela Desai had been invited by the students of the Intermediate College in 1941. Bangalore had the distinction of holding festivals of films made by New Theatres' and Prabhat Film Co.
The now defunct Mayura Film Society had organised a New Theatres' Film festival in December 1971, and it had been inaugurated by one of the standard-bearers of the New Theatres' movement in Indian cinema, director Nitin Bose. He turned emotional when his film President (1938) starring Saigal, Kamalesh Kumari, and Leela Desai was screened at Plaza cinema. The towering V. Shantharam was there to inaugurate the Prabhat Film Festival held at Alankar (now replaced by a crowded shopping arcade). "Nostalgia", a festival of old films had been held here in September 1977, and those who attended it from outside included the pioneer music director, Raichand Boral, and singer actor, Karan Dewan, known for his roles opposite Swarnalatha in Rathan, and with Nargis in Dalsukh Pancholi's Lahore (1949), a tribute to the city on the banks of the Ravi, from where he had been driven out at the time of partition. Boral had, in an interview to this correspondent, noted that it was he, and not Pankaj Mullick, who introduced K.L. Saigal to films.
It is no wonder Bangalore has today welcomed to its midst Manna Dey. How one wished the other cities and States reciprocate the same with regard to the leaders of Kannada cinema.
The older generation had applauded the virtuosity of artistes from all over the country without expecting the same from people of other regions.
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