Putting rights issues through the looking glass. Not seeking answers, just some food for thought to see whether things could be any different!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Purity vs.Popularity: A tribute to Salil Choudhuri and his pure music

Years ago, at a quiz contest, where I was a part of the audience, a song was played in the audio round and the question was.."Name the composer of this song?".
Now, I have grown up listening to this abovementioned composer as my father is a huge fan of his music. No one could answer the question and the stupid quiz master did not throw it open to the audience as I was dying to answer this question as the song and the composer were my favourites. When he finally gave out the right answer and it was the great Salil Choudhuri (the song was Bidroho), a participant asked, "Who the hell is he?"
I was shell shocked that someone did not know who Salil Choudhuri is and has no clue about his music. But this is not an isolated case because there are many like him.
To my mind, he was a pure musician and one of the greatest talents in Indian music who did not receive his due. Many still associate him with modern Bengali music even when he brought so much variety and freshness to popular Hindi film music.
Not only was he a self taught musician, he was a complete one. He wrote, composed and arranged his music and most importantly, he had the sensitivity and intellectual leanings of an artist.
He had a deep understanding of Western classical music which reflects strongly in his compositions but he did not blindly copy these styles into his own. He experimented with his musical influences and created his own style of music, which was based on melody and not noise.
He had very strong political leanings which led him to join IPTA in the 1940s and compose music for their plays. These songs had a mass appeal (Gana Sangeet, as we call them) yet they were so powerful and heartwrenching.
In the 1950s, he started composing for films. He started with Do Bigha Zameen and then composed for nearly 75 Hindi films. He did not limit himself to Hindi and Bengali but composed in various other regional languages like Assamese, Telegu, Kannada, Gujarati, Marathi, Malayalam etc.
We talk about fusion music these days and almost anything qualifies as fusion music. But Salil Choudhuri pioneered this trend in Hindi cinema but unfortunately he is not credited for the same.
His music was not bikao, to use a very crass Hindi word. He never compromised on his instincts as a composer and did not sell his soul to the demands of the music market. May be thats why, he is not remembered as one of the music greats in India..because he was original, his art was pure!
Those who have heard "Kono ek gayer bodhu" or "Runner" or "Sei Meye" in Bengali will swear by his versatility and those who have heard "Kahi door jab dil dhal jaaye" or "Dil tadap ke" or " Ae mere pyaare watan" in Hindi will understand how soulful his music is.
In fact, one of the funniest songs that I remember was "Aake seedhi lagi dil pe"from the movie Half Ticket which was sung by Kishore Kumar in both male and female voices. I laugh each time I hear that song while being amazed by the musical inprovisation. Only Salil Choudhuri would have taken that risk and Kishore Kumar would have sung the song!
The idea of this post is not to suggest that other musicians of that time were not good but that Salil Choudhuri was ten leagues above them. He was unique and did not strive for popularity but excellence and had all the signs of a true genius. As Arthur Koestler famously said, "The principal mark of genius is not perfection but originality, the opening of new frontiers."
As to what inspired this post..a lazy Saturday afternoon, a beautiful Salil Choudhuri song and the painful feeling of passing off mediocrity as art in our times!