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`Suhana safar' with Salilda

A musical tribute was paid to prolific composer Salil Chowdhury on his 79th birth anniversary

Remembering dad: Antara, daughter of Salil Chowdhury, at the Music Academy show — Pic. by S. R. Raghunathan

FUSION MUSIC. It may be a new age term. But this is a genre that has been tried and tested successfully long, long ago. By film composers such as S.D. Burman, C. Ramachandra and Ilaiyaraja. More so in the case of Salil Chowdhury, who has melded a Western classical symphony with a Pauli geet from Bengal or made a song in three part harmony with ease. And what's more, he was as comfortable composing in Hindi and Bengali as he was in Tamil, Telugu or Gujarati.

Inspired by Mozart

Salilda, as he was universally known, is best remembered for such numbers as "Itna na mujhse", inspired by Mozart's 40th Symphony, and the Malayalam classic "Kadalinakara ponure" from "Chemeen."

Why so much interest in Salilda suddenly, one would wonder. Well, November 19 was his 79th birth anniversary and the Salil Chowdhury Foundation of Music decided to celebrate the day with the best possible tribute - put together an evening of music titled "Suhana Safar" at the Music Academy.

Despite the usual glitches (parking denied inside the venue, the event starting late), it was, indeed, a "Suhana Safar" for the audience. To lend significance to the show was the presence of maestro Ilaiyaraja, director Balu Mahendra and danseuse Padma Subrahmanyam. Salilda's wife Sabita, daughter Antara and son Sanjoy added that personal touch.

Each one of them had an interesting tale to relate about Salilda. For Ilaiyaraja, he was "an inspiration. In the early days, I played guitar in many of Salilda's compositions. I have imbibed a lot from him." Lamenting on the half empty hall, the maestro aptly commented, "The hall may not be full, but the heart is."

Balu Mahendra recalled working with the music composer for his Malayalam film "Nellu" and "Azhiyatha Kolangal". In his words, "Salilda, an emotional man, was the first music director I met who knew what it took to compose music for cinema. In the last 25 years, there's not been a single session where Ilaiyaraja and I have not spoken of his genius."

Acknowledging Salilda as her "first guru in music," Padma Subrahmanyam painted the picture of a man filled with joie de vivre.

And Sabita spoke of how Kishore Kumar was upset when he heard that Salil Chowdhury wanted to listen to his voice first before writing something for him.

Speeches done, a Kathak recital by sisters Lata and Gita to three Salil Chowdhury tunes followed.

Evergreen compositions

Finally, it was time for the much-awaited music. As one singer after another took the stage to croon the compositions, the full extent of Salilda's talent and range came to the fore. In fact, there were several songs that made you sit up and exclaim, "I didn't know that was a Salil composition!" Like "Tasveer teri dil mein" or the Pauli geet inspired "Ganga gaye kahan" from "Kabuliwala."

Who can forget the romantic "O Sajna, Barka Bahar" ("Parak"), "Baag mein kali kili bagiya" ("Chaand aur Sooraj") or the sweet "Na jaane kyon hota hai" from "Choti Si Baat"?

The poet-composer-lyricist was synonymous with "Madhumathi" and "Anand", his biggest hits.

Practically every song in the Dilip Kumar-Vyjayanthimala starrer is hummed even today. Be it the peppy "Dil tadap tadap ke" or the sober "Mein tho kabse kadi is paar", the songs have not lost their gloss.

The same can be said of the numbers from "Anand" ("Kahin door jab din", "O maine tere liye he saat rang ke" and "Naa, jiya laage ne" which singer Sujatha admitted she was scared to sing).

Of course, the way each number is sung makes a big difference, especially since the singers have to compete with the likes of Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi, Hemant Kumar, Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhonsle. To give them their due, most of the performers that night put their best foot forward and came out quite successful. For the record, the line of singers included Sujatha, Srinivas, Unni Menon, Karthik, Vijay Yesudas, Shalini, Mathangi, Ganesh (who calls himself the `ghost of Kishore Kumar'), Surojit Guha, Kalyani, Anand, Dinesh and Sujit.

Pacy Bengali song

The highpoint was the pacy Bengali song which Sabita and Antara sang. Originally a three-part harmony, the song became a two-part one as Salil's other daughter could not be present.

Wonder why a bio of the composer had to be read out towards the end of the programme? It would have made more sense to have done it at the beginning. In fact, it provided many in the audience an excuse to walk out.

Did you know?

Salil Chowdhury composed jingles for Lipton Tea, Hamam Soap and Dulaaler Taal Mishri (palm sugar)? Incidentally, the Hindi, Gujarati and Marathi versions of the Hamam Soap ad were sung by Geeta Dutt.

He has also composed a public-interest song on malaria, advising villagers to take Paludrin.

Salilda translated the lyrics of nearly 10 Beatles songs into Bengali and recorded them. His wife Sabita and daughters Antara and Sanchari sang them. However, they were never released.


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