In a series of academic and analytical, scholastic and searching write ups on movies and music related “BLog” (“Bollywood के लोग”), I make an unobtrusive and unpretentious beginning with Raichand Boral, the ‘Father of Indian Film Music’ or ‘Bhishma Pitamah of Film Music’. An epithet bestowed upon him, in all humility, by none other than Anil Biswas, a wizard himself and, arguably, a more successful contemporary of R C Boral. Down the decades, the title has come to be identified with Boral alone without any counter claim, dispute or protest as is generally the case with such coveted and distinguished honours.
I must have heard the name of R C Boral in the “Purani Filmon Ka Sangeet” broadcast in Radio Ceylon (7.30 am to 8.00 am), listening to which I grew up only to get addicted to it. As most staunch followers of Radio Ceylon are aware, the last song of the programme is always a K L Saigal song (as a mark of respect to the great singer, the tradition continues till date even after 70 years of his passing away). Only the names of the composers, like the songs, vary. And, Boral’s name crosses my mind as the uppermost composer who first tapped and ‘touched gold’ (Kundan) and whose several timeless tunes were tackled touchingly by the ‘golden’ voiced Saigal!
R C Boral became a more familiar and familial name with the birth of MI (implying Manohar Iyer or My) brain child: Keep Alive in August 1997 (more about the duo in “About MI ~ KA“) and the various musical tributes presented from time to time under the banner. That’s when I got to know about the ‘Bo~real’ contribution to film music and, in particular, the Golden Era of Hindi Film Music.
A greater insight of the maestro and his musical works was elicited through the live events of Keep Alive titled “Sau Saal of Cinema” to commemorate the Centenary of Indian Cinema as well as the more recent Manohar Monologues on the Talkie Films of the nascent 30s. Incidentally, Manohar Monologues is an offspring of Keep Alive through which the life and career, songs and scenes of a particular legend spring up on the wide celluloid screen and which are interspersed with MI pedagogic as well as penetrating ‘Monologues’ !
Threshold of Tuneful Times
R C Boral was born on 19 October, 1903 in Calcutta in an affluent, cultured and musical family. He was the youngest of the three sons of Lalchand Boral, who himself was a big patron of classical music and an accomplished Dhrupad singer and Pakhawaj player.
As a child, Boral would attend religiously the musical sessions and soirees organised by his father. The farsighted father noticed the sparks of a genius in the making and arranged for the best tutors to train his talented son. Boral learned the basic rudiments of classical music from Ustad Mushtaq Hussain Khan of Rampur-Sahaswan Gharana; the ancient form of classical music Dhrupad-Dhamar from Pandit Vishwanath Rao; Tabla from Ustad Masid Khan (not to be mistaken with the renowned Sarangi player by the same name); and Sarod from Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan of the famous Bangash Gharana. Incidentally, Hafiz Ali Khan was the father of the renowned Sarod player Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and grandfather of Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan. Clearly, he was at the threshold of the tuneful times ahead!
At a very young age, Boral was awarded the ‘Saraswati Mahamandal Award’ for his consummate Tabla playing at a musical conference in Lucknow. In 1927, the Indian Broadcasting Company, Calcutta (IBC later on came to be known as All India Radio) was established and Boral, barely 24 then, headed the music department of IBC and produced music programmes for it.
Boral was not the complacent type but nurtured bigger dreams. Backed by the rich legacy of music inherited from his father as well as his exceptional musical groundings and accomplishments, he was all set to break new grounds. He was fortunate to get the right break as a composer in B N Circar’s now iconic film studio “New Theatres” where he saw his talent blossom and mature.
Sarkar of all he Surveys
Birendranath Sircar, a civil engineer by profession, was supervising the construction of a theatre in Calcutta and then decided to build one for himself. That initiated him to film production and he floated “New Theatres” in February 1931. With an eye and ear for spotting talent, he went scouting for the best talents from all over the country. And, R C Boral, like K L Saigal, K C Dey, Pankaj Mullick, Timir Baran, Debki Bose, Nitin Bose, P C Barua and many others, was among the select, privileged few to be inducted by Circar in “New Theatres” and designated as an in-house composer.
Boral initially gave music for and conducted the orchestra of two ‘silent’ films made in Bengali viz. “Chorkanta” and Chasher Meye (both 1931). He also gave music for the first Bengali talkie film “Dena Paona” (1931) which was produced by “New Theatres”. Incidentally, Uma Shashi who later made it big in films of “New Theatres”, started as an ‘extra’ in a crowd scene in the film. The silent start paved way for a jubilant journey!
Boral composed music for the first three Hindi films of “New Theatres”: “Mohabbat Ke Aansoo”, “Subah Ka Sitara” and “Zinda Laash” (all released in 1932). Not much is known of these films or the songs. However, the failure of these films proved a blessing to both Circar and his sangeetkar. Circar, a man of conviction and vision, felt the need to break free from the formula ridden films churned out by him and others to create a niche for himself. He devised a strategy for “New Theatres” and started making films revolving around the Bengali social milieu or life style or with subjects adapted from contemporary Bengali literature and works of renowned writers like Bankimchandra Chatterji, Rabindranath Tagore, Saratchandra Chatterji and others.
Interestingly, many of the high standard literary adaptations and socially relevant, thought provoking films made by “New Theatres” like: “Chandidas”, “Dhoop Chhaon”, “Jawani Ki Reet”, “Karodpati”, “Puran Bhagat”, “President”, “Rajrani Meera”, “Street Singer”, “Vidyapati” and “Lagan” had exemplary music by R C Boral. Incidentally, while the Hindi version of “Devdas” had music by Timir Baran, the music of the Bengali version “Debdas” was by R C Boral.
Scenes from “Chandidas” (K L Saigal ~ Uma Shashi), “Dhoop Chhaon” (K C Dey ~ Uma Shashi), “Puran Bhagat” (Kumar ~ Anwari), “President” (K L Saigal ~ Leela Desai), “Street Singer” (K L Saigal ~ Kanan Devi) and “Vidyapati” (K C Dey ~ Kanan Devi) respectively are given below:
Boral’s compositions are tunefully traditional and transcendental, seeped in Indian melody and based on classical and folk music. Because of the literary themes of the films, the influence of theatre and temple music was quite strong and the singing style of the singers made it more perceptible. As such, musically as well as lyrically, his songs were entwined with religious and romantic elements and emotions. The classicality of his tunes, clubbed with his own consummate Tabla playing, inspired him to set his compositions to intricate and, at times, unpredictable rhythm structure and patterns.
Boral seemed to have a fascination for long prelude overtures where prominent instruments like the harmonium, violin, flute, clarinet, sarangi or esraj were played in staccato style and set the tone and temper of the songs; a few songs that come to mind: Mast pawan shaakhen lehraayin (Haar Jeet ~ the prelude music is more than half the duration of the full song), Ek bangala bane nyaara (President), Hatt gayi lo kaali ghata (Lagan), Jagat mein prem hi prem bhara hai (Karodpati), Kaun mann lubhaaya (Jawani Ki Reet), Prem ki naiyya chali (Dhoop Chhaon) to name a few. Among the later year composers, O P Nayyar, by his own confession, was inspired greatly by the music style of “New Theatres” and R C Boral and Pankaj Mullick, in particular.
Boral composed light hearted songs too like Jo naukri dilaade B A banaanewale (a duet with Pahari Sanyal in Karodpati) and Ek Raja ka beta lekar udnewala ghoda (President) but they were far and few. The latter had a long prelude music and heard in a subdued tone with Saigal’s narrative style of rendering super imposed on it. With multi tracks recording facilities unheard of and unavailable in those days, it must have been quite a formidable task timing and recording the narrative voice-over with the navigating prelude music. Must say, it was accomplished by sheer practice and, never the least, by their competence and capabilities.
Boral’s compositions found vocal expression through high caliber actor-singers like K L Saigal, Kanan Devi, K C Dey, Pankaj Mullick, Pahadi Sanyal, Uma Shashi in the high standard films.
With the success of these films and relatively greater popularity of the songs, Boral came to have an edge over his talented contemporaries (most of them now forgotten names): Govindrao Tembe of Prabhat, Pransukh Nayak of Imperial, S P Rane of Sagar Movietone, Nagardas Nayak and Vrijlal Varma of Madan Theatres, Ustad Zandekhan of Ranjit Movietone to name a few. It was only from mid 30s that he had competition from wizards like Anil Biswas, Saraswati Devi, Master Krishnarao. Even then, it would not be wrong to say that musically the films and songs of “New Theatres” dominated the entire 30s; in other words, the songs of R C Boral and Pankaj Mullick had relatively larger acceptance and greater admiration, both then and now!
The Mentor and the Muse
Among his many pioneering efforts and discoveries, R C Boral is credited for discovering a ‘sensational singing star’ of the pre independence era. The grapevine goes: during one of his halts for a packet of cigarettes in a posh locality in Calcutta, Boral heard a young man ‘sing’ casually some lines from a song. The voice caught his attention and he was spellbound by his ‘singing’. Probably, in a hurry to get back home, he left without making any enquiry about the ‘street singer’. But the visage and the voice stayed back with him. And sooner, the unknown singer was to become the muse of the maestro!
The next morning, Boral found his classical musician friend Harishchandra Bali (H C Bali) from Jullundhar conversing with a young man in his apartments. Incidentally, Bali often stayed with Boral during his visits to Calcutta and apparently, during that particular visit, he had got along the young man who too hailed from the same place as him. Bali introduced him to Boral as an aspiring singer and made him sing. On hearing a few notes, Boral recollected instantly the voice he had heard the previous day; the ‘two’ voices sounded similar; the stranger also began to seem familiar now!
A conversation struck between the two. Boral asked a few questions to the singer and, impressed by his confident and spontaneous answers, Boral arranged for a formal audition in the studio of “New Theatres”. Needless to mention, the singer passed the audition and also got appointed as actor-singer of the company at a monthly salary of Rs. 200. The rest is history. The sensational ‘street singer’, the proud ‘discovery’ of Boral was none other than K L Saigal who went on to become the muse of the maestro and the most successful singing star of the pre-independence era.
There’s another version which says that B N Circar had met Saigal in November 1930 (even before establishing “New Theatres”) at his film distributor friend Kazi’s betrothal ceremony in which R C Boral and Nitin Bose too were present. He had heard Saigal there and then signed him immediately on a monthly salary of Rs. 130. Some contradictions!
What is significant is R C Boral was the first composer to record the legendary K L Saigal in films. After his three initial flops mentioned above, all starring Saigal, Boral shot to prominence with the score of “Puran Bhagat” which starred K C Dey (uncle of singer Manna Dey), M Kumar (of Zindabad ae mohabbat zindabad fame) and Anwari (wife of music director Rafiq Ghaznavi and grandmother of singer-actress Salma Agha of “Nikaah” fame).
So obsessed was Boral with the voice of Saigal that he recorded as many as four classical bhajans in his voice. Saigal had no acting role in the film as per the script but, much against the wishes of the film’s director Debaki Bose, Boral ensured that the songs were picturised on Saigal as a passer by singing. The songs became a nation- wide rage making Saigal a household name. Again, to the displeasure of P C Barua, the director of Devdas (Hindi and Bengali), Boral recorded songs in the voice of Saigal for the Bengali version though Saigal didn’t act in it. And his Bengali diction was perfect to a fault!
The melodic melding of the mentor and muse gave birth to all time classics like: Avsar beeto jaat praani, Radhe rani de daaro (both in Thumri style), Bhajun main to bhaav se, Hori ho brij raj dulaare (also in Thumri style), Tadpat beete din rayn, Jeevan been madhur na baaje, Ik bangala bane nyaara (inspired from Ghulam Haider’s non film song in the form of a ‘naat‘ – Asrab ko jaanewale, mera salaam leja) and Babul mora naihar chhooto jaaye (again stylised as a Thumri). The last mentioned song has been rendered by several other singers ranging from Kesarbai Kerkar, Rasoolan Bai, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Bhimsen Joshi, Kishori Amonkar to Ajay Chakravarty, Padma Talwalkar, Jagjit Singh, Alisha Chinai …. but the elegy remains identified till date with the one and only K L Saigal under the baton of Boral!
The original song was written by Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Awadh, when he was banished by the Britishers from Lucknow, the city he ruled passionately and ruined perfunctorily. Boral recreated the traditional Thumri in raag Bhairavi for the film “Street Singer”. And, the song with its metaphorical reference to the bidaai or farewell of a bride from her babul‘s (father) home remains an outstanding achievement of film music of the nascent 30s.
The Doyen’s Devi
Besides Saigal, other artistes who blossomed under the baton of Boral include great names like Kanan Devi, K C Dey, Uma Shashi (not to be mistaken with the singer-comedienne Uma Devi alias Tuntun), Pahadi Sanyal (who played the father of Sharmila Tagore in “Aradhana”), Asit Baran. Some of the timeless classics of Kanan Devi under Boral include: Dole hriday ki naiyya (Vidyapati), Loot liyo mann dheer (Jawani Ki Reet), Sanwariya prem ki bansi bajaayi, Lachmi moorat daras dikha and Preetam se preet nibhaaungi (Street Singer) besides, of course, her evergreen songs in “Hospital” and “Nurse” under the baton of Kamal Das Gupta.
The Guru and the Guided
Pankaj Mullick, the other immensely talented in house composer-singer of New Theatres, started his career as an assistant to R C Boral and revered him as his ‘Guru”. Boral and Mullick also gave music jointly in a number of films and in the credit titles of these films, the latter’s name appeared second and in smaller font which spoke highly about his reverence for his ‘Guru’. Pankaj Mullick sang his first Hindi film song Sundar naari preetam pyaari, also the first song in praise of feminine grace and gaiety (penned by Arzoo Lucknowi) from the film “Manzil” (1936), under Boral’s music.
As a composer, R C Boral is credited for introducing the playback or pre-recorded singing technique with “Dhoop Chhaon” (1935) and its Bengali version “Bhagyachakra” both directed by Nitin Bose. In fact, the latter, along with his sound engineer brother Mukul Bose, were the technically driven creative men behind the ‘experiment’ necessitated by some technical difficulty which cropped up while filming a song. The song Main khush hona chaahun, khush ho na sakoon by Parul Ghosh, Suprova Circar and Harimati was the first triplet song and was picturised as a ‘stage performance’ song.
A year before in 1934, he pioneered the use of background music score in “Chandidas”, the first successful film of “New Theatres” and Boral. The film had the first popular romantic duet Prem nagar mein banaaungi ghar main in Bengal’s Kirtan style. The song Ik bangala bane nyaara from President, voicing the dream of every man, is also in the same style. Incidentally, Boral can be credited for evolving and perpetuating the Bengal school of thought in Hindi film music and with remarkable success.
Yet another pioneering effort of Boral was the liberal use of string instruments like violin, sitar, mandolin and sarangi. Along with Pankaj Mullick, he also introduced western instruments like the organ, piano and cello and created symphony form of music in the films made by New Theatres. It is said that his impressive 30-piece orchestra had consummate ‘musicians’ like Pankaj Mullick, Khemchand Prakash, Pannalal Ghosh, Jaidev all of whom went on to become legends in their own way. Boral also experimented oscillating between the oriental and occidental musical idioms which was emulated by several composers in the years to come. In “New Theatres”, Boral drew a monthly salary of Rs. 1,200 making him the highest paid music director of the 30s.
Boral also experimented combining Bengal’s folk forms with Hindustani music and traditional ragas which was sooner developed and propagated by maestros like Pankaj Mullick, Timir Baran, Anil Biswas, Saraswati Devi, Khemchand Prakash, Naushad, S D Burman, Ravi Shankar and many others. Credit goes to him for blending the khayal, thumri, dadra, kirtan, bhajan, kabigaan form of singing with popular forms of film music and adapting the ghazal style into light classical music.
Boral’s conviction in his compositions and the courage to innovate are to be lauded. He started on a blank canvas, had no bench mark or precedent to fall back and no quality films (at least the initial films of New Theatres were not) to inspire him. Yet, he had the courage to venture into a territory hitherto unknown and unexplored. He became a torch bearer composer and others followed him. Not surprisingly, a doyen like Anil Biswas rightly acknowledged R C Boral as the “Bhishma Pitamah of Hindi Film Music”. All said and done, he didn’t get the credit he deserved.
There were no professional recording studios with the needed facilities for song recording. Boral (and his contemporaries) recorded the songs in open and secluded places, gardens or grounds in the serenity of the night after human life and movement had come to a virtual halt. Boral recorded the singers and musicians with one single microphone and under severe constraints as the mikes were quite primitive and of low fidelity sound. He paved the way for the others to carry forward the tradition and trend set by him.
Boral’s Bow Out
Boral’s most creative phase lay between two historical and political milestones viz. the World Economic Crisis and Great Depression of 1929 and the beginning of World War II in September 1939. War had its own impact on the studios and prestigious studios like Prabhat and New Theatres virtually became defunct in the early 40s and artistes, disoriented and jobless.
In the 40s, Boral gave music in films of “New Theatres” like “Haar Jeet”, “Lagan”, “Saugandh”, “Wapas”, “Wasiyatnama”. Only songs from “Lagan”, rendered by Saigal and Kanan Devi, attained popularity; the others were relatively less heard and totally forgotten. Clearly, Boral had lost his magic touch of the 30s. Other “New Theatres” films for which Boral composed music include a few notable ones like “Hamrahi” and “Anjangarh” both directed by Bimal Roy who started his career as a cameraman in New Theatres. The former had Jana gana mana written by Rabindranath Tagore and sung in chorus much before it became the National Anthem. These two films and “Pehla Aadmi” were all directed by him prior to forming his own banner in the 50s.
There was mass scale exodus of talent to the Bombay film industry which attracted the best talents available with lucrative offers. Actors like Prithviraj Kapoor, Jagdish Sethi, Pahadi Sanyal and Saigal, directors like Nitin Bose and Debki Bose and composers like Timir Baran and R C Boral all shifted base to Bombay and started working in outside banners.
Boral’s Bombay Bout
Some of the noteworthy Bombay films for which Boral composed music include: Prakash Pictures’ “Chaitanya Mahaprabhu” (1953) starring Bharat Bhushan in the title role and Nitin Bose’s “Dard-e-Dil” (1953). His last Hindi film was “Swami Vivekananda” released along with “Amar Saigal” in 1955. Boral’s compositions in these films were embellished by the vocal resonance of the next generation of singers like Asha Bhosle, Hemant Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi and Talat Mahmood.
Boral also gave music for a few Bengali films including the National Award winner “Sagar Sangamey” (1959) directed by Debki Bose. He retired from film music the following year.
Awards ~ Accolades
R C Boral was the recipient of prestigious awards like the Sangeet Natak Academy Award in 1978 and the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1979, almost ten years after it was instituted. By then, rather even much before, he was a name unforgivably forgotten by the music fraternity which once hailed him as the ‘Father of Indian Film Music’.
As a consolation, his name and songs continue to resonate regularly with great nostalgia in the Radio Ceylon “Purani Filmon ka Sangeet” and, intermittently, in the Keep Alive events! In fact, the curtains of the very LAST event of Keep Alive opened with the Boral ballad Prem nagar mein banaaungi ghar main.
A full fifty years after he made his music debut in 1931, the Bhairavi of all Bhairavis viz. Babul mora naihar chhooto hi jaaye reverberated when Boral left the world unsung on 25 November, 1981 at the age of 78.
All Time Hits of R C Boral
|Anjangarh||Sansar ke aadhar daya humpe||Pankaj Mullick-Utpala Sen|
|Chandidas||Tadpat beete din rayn||K L Saigal|
|Chandidas||Prem nagar mein banaaungi ghar||K L Saigal-Uma Shashi|
|Dard-e-dil||Na to din hi din wo rahe||Lata Mangeshkar|
|Dhoop Chhaon||Andhe ki laathi tu hi hai||K L Saigal|
|Dhoop Chhaon||Baba mann ki ankhen khol||K C Dey|
|Dhoop Chhaon||Teri gathri mein laaga chor||K C Dey|
|Haar Jeet||Mast pawan shaakhen lehrayen||Pahadi Sanyal-Kanan Devi|
|Jawani Ki Reet||Loot liyo mann dheer||Kanan Devi|
|Karodpati||Jag mein prem hi prem bhara hai||K L Saigal|
|Karodpati||Jo naukri dila de||K L Saigal|
|Lagan||Kaahe ko raadh machaai||K L Saigal|
|Manzil||Sundar naari preetam pyaari||Pankaj Mullick|
|Mukti||Na jaane kya hai dil ka raaz||Kanan Devi|
|Puran Bhagat||Jao jao o mere saadho||K C Dey|
|Puran Bhagat||Radhe rani de daaro||K L Saigal|
|President||Ek bangala bane nyaara||K L Saigal|
|President||Ek raja ka beta||K L Saigal|
|Street Singer||Babul mora||K L Saigal|
|Street Singer||Jeevan been madhur na baaje||K L Saigal|
|Street Singer||Lachmi moorat daras dikha||Kanan Devi|
|Street Singer||Preetam se preet nibhaungi||Kanan Devi|
|Street Singer||Sanwariya prem ki bansi bajaayi||K L Saigal-Kanan Devi|
|Swami Vivekananda||Choor karo abhimaan ko mere||Talat Mahmood|
|Vidyapati||Dole hriday ki naiyya||Kanan Devi|
Manohar ‘Mohabbat’ Iyer
Note: Please feel free to quote, share or use MI writings in part or whole as you deem but I would appreciate it if you will duly acknowledge me and credit MI humble and painstaking efforts. You are also requested to bring to MI notice any apparent factual discrepancies which will be rectified to make the articles more authoritative and definitive for music lovers particularly students and scholars, researchers and writers who depend on them for their academic purpose.
Filmography of R C Boral
Mohabbat Ke Aansoo, Subah Ka Sitara, Zinda Laash
Pooran Bhagat, Rajrani Meera
Chandidas, Mohabbat ki Kasauti
Dhoop Chhaon, Inquilab
Karodpati, Manzil, Maya
Anath Ashram, President, Vidyapati
Abhagin, Street Singer
Sapera, Jawani ki Reet
Shree Chaitanya Mahaprabhu