Anil Biswas: The Classy Centenarian of the Masses

44 years – Manohar Iyer with Anil Biswas
Zindagi khwab hai, tha hamen bhi pata,   ज़िंदगी ख़्वाब है, था हमें भी पता,
Par hamen zindagi se bahut pyar tha. पर हमें ज़िंदगी से बहुत प्यार था.
Chandd din ka basera hamara yahan,    चंद दिन का बसेरा था हमारा यहां,
Ham bhi mehmaan thhe, ghar to us paar tha. हम भी मेहमान थे, घर तो उस पार था.
Hamsafar ek din to bichhadna hi tha, हमसफर एक दिन तो बिछड़ना ही था,
Alvida alvida alvida alvida!!   अलविदा, अलविदा, अलविदा, अलविदा!!

The swan song of legendary maestro Anil Biswas from his last film “Chhoti Chhoti Baaten” (1965) sums up the chhoti chhoti baaten of his illustrious career as well as the incalculable philosophy of his life and life in general. A few years before the release of the film, Anil Da (as he was fondly called) took voluntary retirement from Mumbai, movies and music and settled down quietly in New Delhi with his singer-wife Meena Kapoor. He had his own valid reasons for that. And, after four decades of living in self imposed exile, he shed his mortal coil, bid alvida (adieu) to his admirers and left for his heavenly abode on the fateful day of 31st May 2003.

MI had the privilege of a close association with the unassuming and ingenuous genius for about four years from July 1999 when he graced the Keep Alive concert in his honour to celebrate his 85th birthday. Fond memories live on of the long hours spent with the genius either at his palatial residence in New Delhi or at the Pali Hill Hotel, Mumbai where he unwinded for three months every year to escape the biting winter of Delhi; over the annual Sankaranti soiree organised by Shri Anant Sapre and his wife Usha Tai, a lovable elderly Maharashtrian couple at their cozy place in Vile Parle East or during the programme or at the domestic airport, Mumbai! At each of these places and in the available time, I bombarded him with several questions with a child like curiosity. And, he was gracious enough to share a lot of heart warming and emotionally uplifting memories of his hardships and humble beginnings, his successful phase with Sagar Movietone and Bombay Talkies, his ‘love – hate’ relationship with Mehboob Khan, his penchant for musical experimentation and innovations, his love for Urdu poetry et al. 

गुज़रा हुआ उलफ़त का ज़माना याद करके रोयेंगे,
अपनी कहानी अपना फ़साना याद करके रोयेंगे।

‘Biswas’ Budding

Anil Biswas was born on July 7, 1914 in Barisal (now in Bangladesh). Incidentally, it was on July 7, 1999 when I first spoke to him and wished him on his 85th birthday and invited him personally for the event organised in his honour. The spade work for his coming to and stay in Bombay had already been done by Shri Sapre on my behalf even though he didn’t know me personally and had not attended a single Keep Alive event. A gesture for which I remain indebted to him forever!

From the tender age of five, Anil Biswas grew fond of singing, his mother being his main inspiration, though he never had any formal training. As a child, he played the Tabla, did small roles in dramas and dabbled in composing. In his growing up years, he sang his own compositions at music concerts where seasoned artistes would perform and would surprise everyone. Clearly, the latent talent was still in its budding stage and waiting to blossom!

कुछ शरमाते हुए और कुछ सहम सहम,
नये रास्ते पे रखा आज मैंने पहला क़दम।

Teens in Turbulent Times

In those days of turbulent political situation, it was difficult for the youth of the nation to dissociate themselves from politics and political activities. Like many of his age, Anil Biswas too joined a revolutionary party, participated in the freedom movement activities, indulged in making and throwing bombs and was even incarcerated several times; by his own confession he was jailed about six times! All these activities interrupted his studies and the results. While many of his friends died in jail, he was lucky enough to survive and see the dawn of the country’s independence.

His involvement in the freedom movement was to inspire him later to come up with something that would stir the youth to revolt against the British regime. Following the Quit India call given in the early 40s, Anil Biswas, aided by Kavi Pradeep’s revolutionary patriotic parables Door hato ae duniyawaalo Hindustan hamara hai (Bombay Talkies’ Ashok Kumar-Mumtaz Shanti starrer Kismat -1943), literally brought about a nation wide awakening, the effect of which continues to resonate even today.

The song was written and composed keeping in mind the tension and turbulence around and incorporated cleverly in the film without any situation. The spirited tune and orchestration, rebellious and rousing lyrics and animated rendering created a tremendous impact in the minds of the young and old alike. Each time the song appeared on the screen, the crowd cheered up and demanded it to be shown again. The song contributed significantly to the sensational success of the film which ranks among some of the all time biggest box office hits.

Coming back to his growing up years, after completing matriculation, with just five rupees in his pocket, he ran away from Barisal and landed up in Calcutta in disguise. This was sometime in 1930 when he was a teenager bubbling with life and enthusiasm. En route, he worked as a coolie and slept in the verandah of the local post office in Hullarhat. In Calcutta, he met his childhood friend Pannalal Ghosh (who later went on to become a renowned flute maestro and who also married Parul (Ghosh), the younger singer-sister of Anil Biswas). While staying with his flautist friend, the young Biswas finally got a job in a restaurant where he did all kinds of odd jobs for survival like cleaning the tables and washing dishes. I remember Anil Da mention that after the day’s heavy work, he and the other boys would get together and sing to kill the drudgery till the late hours of the night. And a new dawn smiled at him.

आयी भोर सुहानी, भोर सुहानी आयी,
आयी भोर सुहानी आयी;
जागी आशा और मुसकायी।

‘Master’ Musician

A chance meeting with the famous magician Manoranjan Circar, who frequently visited the joint, helped Anil Biswas nurture his musical pursuits. Impressed with his singing ability, Circar used his contacts and got him the job of a music master to teach the two grand children of Rai Bahadur Agornath, Inspector General of Schools, Bengal. A few more students enthused; a few more struggle ensued!  

Finally, at the recommendation of Kazi Nazrul Islam, the famous Bengali poet, writer, musician and revolutionary, Anil Biswas got the job of a trainer in the Megaphone Company. There he recorded a private song Arzoo hai dam mein jab tak dam rahe which caught the attention of film maker Hiren Bose. The latter brought Biswas to Bombay in 1934 and gave him his first break as a composer in Eastern Arts’ “Dharam Ki Devi” (1935) directed by Bose himself. However, it was the devotional song Tere poojan ko bhagwan sung by Rattan bai from “Bharat Ki Beti” (1935) which became immensely popular and set the ball rolling. Unfortunately, neither the print of the film nor the original song is available.

From Barisal to Bombay, the journey was arduous, adventurous and awe inspiring. His determination brought him to his destination called Bombay, the Mecca of Indian Cinema!

चाहे कितनी कठिन डगर हो, हम कदम बढ़ाते जायेंगे,
कदम बढ़ाते, हंसते गाते, धूम मचाते जायेंगे।

Sagar Saga

A sea change swept him after his brief stint as a composer with Eastern Arts and Kumar Movietone. In 1936, Anil Biswas joined Sagar Movietone (though the logo shows Sagar Production), a company formed by Chimanlal Desai and Dr. Ambalal Patel. There were other composers like Anupam Ghatak and Pransukh Naik associated with the company. But, the music of Anil Biswas in a wide variety of films became more popular, notable among them being those directed by Mehboob Khan.

Midas Men

Mehboob Khan directed Sagar’s film “Manmohan” (1936), a thinly disguised rehash of New Theatres’ “Devdas”. This was his third film as a director and Anil Biswas was designated as a ‘music arranger’ (the film’s main composer was Ashok Ghosh). The two struck a chord with each other instantly and formed a successful combination in the ensuing films of Sagar like “Jagirdar”, “Watan”, “Hum Tum Aur Woh”, “Ek Hi Raasta”, “Alibaba” and in the films of the newly formed National Studios like “Aurat” (which was remade as “Mother India” in the mid-50s by Mehboob himself), “Behan” and “Roti”. The maestro had found his mascot in Mehboob!

तेरा हाथ हाथ में आ गया, के चराग़ राह में जल गये,
मुझे सहल हो गयी मंज़िलें, के हवा के रुख भी बदल गये।

Incidentally, Mehboob started his career as an ‘extra’ in the silent films of Ardeshir Irani and did minor roles in the films of Sagar Movietone before he went on to become a director ‘extraordinaire’. Sagar was taken over by the Fazalbhoys in 1940 and merged with their Film City and General Films company to become National Studios. Anil Biswas gave music in films of both Sagar and the restructured company.

The Anil Biswas ~ Mehboob combination was a much talked about team. Each of their films was musically and cinematically different from the other. The two shared a unique love-hate relationship; Mehboob would have his own fascinations as well as reservations and the two often ended up with ‘artistic arguments and friendly fights’! With a gleam in his eyes, Anil Da mentioned that when they ‘argued and fought’, he would call Mehboob endearingly ‘Mawali‘ and the latter would retort quickly ‘Bangali‘. But finally, the mating of minds and melding of musings of the two men with midas touch was to yield memorable results for Sagar.

Songs from the above mentioned films were a delight, even a rage once, like: Tumne mujhko prem sikhaaya (Manmohan), Pujari more mandir mein aao and Nadi kinare baithke aao (Jagirdar), Hum aur tum aur ye khushi (Alibaba), Kaahe karta der baraati and Uth sajni khol dwaare (Aurat), Woh hans rahe hain aah kiye jaa raha hoon main (Roti) and many more. Sadly, they now remain buried under the sands of time or just adorn the dust filled shelves of a few vintage music lovers.

Besides the Mehboob directed films, noteworthy scores of Anil Biswas were heard in the now forgotten films like “300 Days and After”, “Comrades”, “Dynamite”, “Gramophone Singer”, “Kokila”, “Mahageet”, “Postman” (all of Sagar) in the 30s and “Aasra”, “Apna Paraya”, “Ghareeb” and “Jawani” (of National Studios) in the early 40s. One finds it difficult to associate the name of a thinking composer like him with films having ‘weird’ English titles. But, even in such films he gave music without discriminating and often prided in his compositions and the  scope such films offered for experimentation and innovations.

The film “300 Days and After” had an interesting story of a rich man (played by Motilal) who takes up a challenge with his doctor friend that he would go on a world tour without carrying any money and would survive for 300 days! Keeping in mind the character of Motilal and his limitations as a singer, Anil Biswas recorded two light hearted songs: Ghar apna ye kursi apni, apna sab samaan and Ik tum na hui to kya hua. In the same film, he recorded two semi classical based songs: Sundar hoon sakhi (in Khamaj) and Matt neer baha (in Bhairavi) in the voice of Bibbo.

The film “Comrades” had a complete chorus backed song Woh chamak chamakkar taare based on a carnatic raag (probably Aarabhi) and a duet in kirtan style Aan base pardes sajanwa based on Kaafi raag by Surendra and Bibbo.

Again in “Dynamite“, he composed in Kirwani raag a dulcet duet O jaadugar matwale by Surendra and Bibbo and a fun song Bijli si bijli si chamke ho which has shades of Rabindra Sangeet (in the beginning) and Thumri (in the second stanza) with lot of rhythm variations. The song was sung by Surendra.

The film “Postman” had a ghazal in the traditional style in the voice of Akbar Khan: Haunsla aashiq ko chaahiye dil lagaane ke liye based on Des raag.

Songs from these films are as remote as reality and as distant as dream. Not many of them became popular too. They have been enumerated just to give a glimpse of his variety and versatility even in these ‘weird’ films. Relatively, the songs of “Gramophone Singer” were more popular viz. Kaahe akela dolat baadal and Ek chhota sa mandir banaayenge both in the voice of Surendra, the star singer of Sagar.

Mentor and the Muse

Surendra, a qualified handsome young man who could also sing, was introduced by the partners of Sagar as an answer to New Theatres’ K L Saigal. Not surprisingly, Surendra’s debut song Birha ki aag lagi more mann mein from “Deccan Queen” (1936) was a recognisable imitation of Saigal’s Baalam aaye baso more mann mein from “Devdas”. The film had music by Pransukh Nayak. In the same year, he was cast in “Manmohan” in a role similar to Saigal’s doomed and disillusioned Devdas! As mentioned before, it was a film with which Anil Biswas was associated as the “Music Arranger”.

The Sagars tried desperately to create another Saigal in Bombay and Surendra too seemed to enjoy initially the glorious comparison. But sooner, with the mentoring of Anil Biswas, he came out of the Saigal syndrome and carved a distinct identity for himself. He sang over forty songs under the baton of his mentor which now remain as distant as a dream and as remote as a reality! 

Sagar Movietone too is a name forgotten now and, at best, is remembered through its ‘creations’ viz. Anil Biswas, Mehboob and Surendra. A strange case of where the ‘creations’ became bigger and greater than the ‘creator’. There was an artistic, creative, musical and emotional bonding between the three. In fact, there was an unwritten agreement between Anil Biswas and Mehboob that they would move and work together after the closure of the restructured National Studios. But destiny had different plans. And, Biswas found himself in a dilemma when he got an offer from Bombay Talkies!

कुछ और ज़माना कहता है, कुछ और है ज़िद मेरे दिल की,
मैं बात ज़माने की मानूं, या बात सुनूं अपने दिल की?

Biswas Tunes ~ Bombay Talk(ie)s

World War II erupted in the late 30s and had its own impact on the studios. Some of the prestigious studios like Prabhat, New Theatres, the newly formed National Studios virtually became defunct in the early 40s or closed down. While still in a contract with National Studios (which eventually closed down in 1942), Anil Biswas was invited by the new bosses of Bombay Talkies to fill the vacuum created by Saraswati Devi who had left the company soon after the death of its founder, Himanshu Rai.

On one hand, Mehboob was upset at his friend ‘ditching and shifting loyalty’ and on the other hand, grapevine goes that there was an initial resistance on the part of some artistes of Bombay Talkies to the induction of Anil Biswas. Amidst a lot of uncertainty and under severe stress he joined the company. But, even under the uncongenial atmosphere, his creativity did not let him down; with renewed faith in himself, he came up with melodious scores in films like: “Basant” (though the music of the film was credited to Pannalal Ghosh as Biswas was still under contract with National Studios; the film also marked Madhubala’s debut as a child artiste), “Hamaari Baat” (which had Raj Kapoor and Suraiya in cameo roles), “Jwar Bhata” (Dilip Kumar’s first film as a hero), “Char Ankhen”, “Milan” and, never the least, “Kismat”. Fame and fortune smiled at him once again!

राही मतवाले, तू छेड़ एक बार, मन का सितार,
जाने कब चोरी चोरी आई है बहार, छेड़ मन का सितार।

Kismat Konnection

Undoubtedly, the biggest commercial and musical hit of Anil Biswas was “Kismat” (1943). The film had an incredible run of more than three years in a single theater in Calcutta, a record broken after forty years by Ramesh Sipply’s “Sholay” in 1975. For the record, “Kismat” was inspired by the noir films of Hollywood and pioneered the ‘lost and found’ formula in Hindi films. Ashok Kumar played the role of a petty criminal and became the first actor to play an anti-hero.

As mentioned before, the patriotic song Door hato ae duniyawalo, Hindustan hamara hai penned by Kavi Pradeep had a major contribution in the spectacular success of the film. Other songs which gained popularity were: Ab tere siva kaun mera krishna kanhaiyya, Ae duniya bataa…. Ghar ghar mein diwali hai, Dheere dheere aa re baadal, Papiha re. The liveliest of them Dheere dheere aa re baadal is a sweet, romantic lullaby sung by Ashok Kumar and Amirbai (there is a solo version too of Amirbai).

Generally, a lullaby is of not more than ten to twelve lines. But, this one was an unusually long one written deliberately by Pradeep in an odd meter necessitating a complex rhythm pattern not suited for lullabies, only to deter and discourage Biswas from joining Bombay Talkies. But, a genius that he was, his nuanced composition brought out the multi hued emotions of the lyrics: romance and romp, bonhomie and blissful bewilderment interspersed with some whistling and spoken lines all to the utter surprise of his adversaries who were all set to prevent him from entering their fold.

कहदो के मोहब्बत से न टकराये ज़माना,
आसान नहीं प्यार के दीपक को बुझाना।

Ashok Kumar went on to say that the long, unwinding song, with all its intricate notes and nuances, was the most difficult song of his career. In those days, songs were recorded twice: one for the film soundtrack and the other for the long play disc. He was not confident of recording the song again in perfect sur and requested Anil Biswas to record it in the voice of Arun Kumar, a distant cousin of his for the disc.The song worked wonders for him too; he went on to sing more songs like Saanjh ki bela panchhi akela (Jwar Bhata) and Bistar bichha diya hai tere ghar ke saamne (Hamaari Baat) which became very popular.

Similarly, the song Ghar ghar mein diwali hai was written with the same end, with over 50 lines and in the same meter as in opera singing. Once again, he rose up to the challenge thrown in and composed the song in three parts with different melody thereby breaking the monotony and maintaining the essence and emotion of the song. It was sung by Amirbai and is ranked as one of her best songs. Accepting challenges (musically or otherwise), breaking away from the norms, experimenting and innovating was what he loved and relished. Thanks to his detractors, he succeeded! 

शुक्रिया ऐ प्यार तेरा, शुक्रिया,
दिल को कितना ख़ूबसूरत ग़म दिया;
शुक्रिया ऐ प्यार तेरा, शुक्रिया।

‘Voices’ of the Wizard

The compositions of Anil Biswas in the films of Sagar, National Studios and Bombay Talkies were predominantly in the voices of Akhtari Faizabadi (Begum Akhtar), Amirbai Karnataki, Arun Kumar, Ashok Kumar, Ashraf Khan, Bibbo, Husn Bano, Jyoti, Maya Bannerji, Parul Ghosh, Sitara Devi, Surendra and Wahidan. Getting Begum Akhtar (she had yet to acquire the legendary status then) from Faizabad to sing (after a long debate between the ‘Mawali‘ and ‘Bangali‘ on the choice of singer between Sardar Akhtar and Akhtari Faizabad) was an unforgettable experience for Anil Da and finally, he recorded as many as six ghazals in her voice for the film “Roti”. Sadly, due to some conflict between the producers and Mehboob, about four of them were deleted from the film. She played an important role too in the film with an unusual name ‘Darling’ not befitting her stature!

Anil Biswas himself was a good singer and sang a number of songs; the folk based Bhai hum pardesi log (Ek Hi Raasta), Kaahe karta der baraati. More angna mein laaga, Jamuna tat shyam khele holi and other songs sung by him in “Aurat” were a big rage. But, the mumber of songs heard in his voice after mid 40s was relatively much less; songs like Hamen maar chala ye khayal ye gham (Arzoo) and Naache re gori dingu (Lajawab) were among the popular ones.

There’s a reason for that. Singer Mukesh, at the beginning of his career, approached Anil Biswas and lamented that if composers like him sang their songs, what would happen to the aspiring singers? Anil Da saw a point in that and he promised to record him soon. And, as promised he summoned the singer to sing Dil jalta hai to jalne de which turned out to be the break through song of Mukesh.

Mentor and the Melody Queen

Melody continued to be the hallmark of the music of Anil Biswas even in the post independence era. And a singing phenomenon like Lata Mangeshkar came as a boon to all the composers then. Her boundless vocal reach, range and resonance liberated them from the creative limitations or restrictions placed by many of the singing stars of the earlier period. Anil Biswas, Ghulam Haider and Khemchand Prakash were the men and mentors who noticed the sparks in the young singer and gave a great thrust to her budding career. Ghulam Haider migrated to Pakistan after partition and died in 1952 and Khemchand Prakash too died early in 1950. As a result, not many songs of the Lata Mangeshkar could be heard under their baton. Anil Biswas alone can be called her true mentor.

With all the mentoring and monitoring she received from Anil Biswas, she unfailingly put her heart and soul into every individualistic creation and every intricate demand of the great wizard as exemplified by the timeless classic gems in films like “Anokha Pyar”, “Gajre”, “Girls School”, “Jeet”, “Ladli”, “Arzoo”, “Beqasoor”, “Lajawab”, “Araam”, “Tarana”, “Badi Bahu”, “Do Raha”, “Akash”, “Fareb”, “Hamdard”, “Mehmaan”, “Raahi”, “Maan”, “Naaz”, “Heer”, “Jalti Nishani”,  “Char Dil Char Raahen”, “Sautela Bhai”, “Chhoti Chhoti Baaten”.  Unfortunately, most of these films were not commercially successful. In all, he recorded about 110 songs in her ethereal voice and many of them rank among some of her career best. If she was a Gift of Divinity to him (and others), he too was Godsend to her!

तुम्हारे बुलाने को जी चाहता है,
मुक़द्दर बनाने को जी चाहता है।

A list of 30 all time classic song gems (with due respect to many other gems which don’t find a place in the list) from the oeuvre of Anil Biswas ~ Lata Mangeshkar combination is given below:

Film Song
Anokha Pyar Yaad rakhna chaand taaro
Anokha Pyar Ik dil ka lagaana baaqi tha
Anokha Pyar Mere liye woh gham-e-intzaar chhod gaye
Gajre Baras baras badli bhi bikhar gayi
Girls School Tumhi kaho mera mann kyon rahe udaas nahin
Jeet Mast pawan hai chanchal dhaara
Ladli Tumhare bulaane ko jee chaahta hai
Arzoo Kahan tak hum uthaayen gham
Beqasoor Aayi bhor suhani
Beqasoor Matwale nainonwale ke main waari waari jaaun
Lajawab Zamaane ka dastoor hai ye purana (with Mukesh)
Araam Mann mein kisiki preet basaale
Araam Ujdi re mere pyar ki duniya
Badi Bahu Badli teri nazar to nazaare badal gaye
Tarana Beimaan tore nainva nindiya na aaye
Tarana Woh din kahan gaye bataa
Tarana Seene mein sulagte hain armaan (with Talat Mahmood)
Do Raha Loota ha zamaane ne, qismat ne rulaaya hai
Akash So gayi chandni, jaag uthi bekali
Fareb Raat gungunaati hai
Fareb Aa mohabbat ki basti basaayenge hum (with Kishore Kumar)
Hamdard Ritu aaye ritu jaaye sakhi ri (with Manna Dey)
Raahi Ik pal ruk jaana
Mehmaan Ankhon mein chitchor samaaye
Maan Mere pyar mein tujhe kya mila
Naaz Katati hai ab to zindagi marne ke intzaar mein
Jalti Nishani Rooth ke tum to chal diye
Char Dil Char Raahen Intzaar aur abhi, aur abhi, aur abhi
Sautela Bhai Jaa main tose naahin bolun
Chhoti Chhoti Baaten Zindagi ka ajab fasana hai (with Mukesh)

Meena’s Master

Around the time he was creatively peaking with Lata Mangeshkar, another up coming singer was vying and eyeing for his attention. The singer was Meena Kapoor with whom he soon got involved emotionally which resulted in his separating from his actress-wife Ashalata. Before the split, the couple produced four films: “Ladli” (1949), “Lajawab” (1950), “Badi Bahu” (1951), “Hamdard” (1953) under the banner Variety Pictures.

Meena Kapoor was gifted singer and had a voice similar to that of Geeta Dutt. Anil Biswas did his best to promote her through songs like Ek chhoti si chingari (Ladli), Jab kaari badariya chhayegi (Lajawab), Mann ka panchhi (Mehmaan), Rasiya re mann basiya re and Rimjhim barse paani (Pardesi), Kachchi hai umariya (Char Dil Char Raahen) and Kuch aur zamana kehta hai (Chhoti Chhoti Baaten). But her career didn’t take off. When he left Bombay, she too settled down with him in Delhi and remained his soul mate till the last.  

मेरे सुख दुख का संसार तेरे दो नैनन में,
इक़रार कभी इनकार तेरे दो नैनन में।

Maestro and the Male Order

In the otherwise Lata dominated films, among the male singers, Anil Biswas alternated between the voices of Manna Dey, Mukesh and Talat Mahmood:

Manna Dey (Ek do dilon ka kaafila, Tera haath haath mein aa gaya, Tore naina raseele kateele, Ritu aaye ritu jaaye sakhi ri (with Lata Mangeshkar), Aas ne kitne deep jalaaye, Jheeni jheeni re bheeni chadariya). Anil Biswas tried to tap the romance in the otherwise ‘dry’ voice of Manna Dey (as felt by some big composers) and recorded romantic songs in the film “Hamdard”.  Despite the popularity of the songs, Manna Dey got labelled as a singer suited for other genres of songs except romantic.

Mukesh (Dil Jalta hai, Jeevan sapna toot gaya, Ae jaan-e-jigar dil mein samaane aaja, Dambhar ka tha daur khushi ka, Zindagi khwab hai and duets like: Ab yaad na kar bhool ae dil, Zamaane ka dastoor hai ye purana, Pyar ki raah par kya bhatakne ka darr, Kaahe nainon mein kajra bharo, Zindagi ka ajab fasana hai with Lata Mangeshkar).

Talat Mahmood (Ae dil mujhe aisi jagah le chal, Ek main hoon ek meri bekasi ki shaam hai, Shukriya ae pyar tera, Mohabbat tarq ki maine, Tera khayal dil se mitaaya nahin abhi, Raahi matwale, Jeevan hai madhuban and duets like: Seene mein sulagte hain armaan, Nain mile nain hue baawre, Mukh se na bolun with Lata Mangeshkar). Anil Biswas had a special niche for him in his heart and he almost placed his voice on the visage of Dilip Kumar in films like “Arzoo” and “Tarana”. The tremor or vibrato in the voice of Talat Mahmood, his Achilles Hill, went on to become his ‘strong point’, thanks to the conviction and vision of Anil Biswas to whom the singer remained indebted life long.

Kishore Kumar was heard fleetingly in the recordings of Anil Biswas. Despite the few numbers he sang for the maestro, he ranked Husn bhi hai udaas udaas sung by him in “Fareb” (1953) among his all time Top Ten favourite songs. The film had two more Kishore classics: Mere sukh dukh ka sansaar tere do nainan mein and Aa mohabbat ki basaayenge hum (a romantic duet with Lata Mangeshkar).

Mohammed Rafi was not much of a favourite with the composers from East and West Bengal with the exception of S D Burman. Among them, Anil Biswas probably recorded the least number of songs in his voice. The punjabiyat in Rafi’s rendering didn’t blend with the Bengali ‘sweetness and roundness’ manifest in the maestro’s compositions. Anil Da mentioned that in an interview he said, “Rafi is not a singer for my kind of songs” which the crafty interviewer conveniently edited as “Rafi is not a singer” and stirred up a controversy. Since then, Anil Biswas was quite wary of giving any interviews.

Incidentally, songs of “Do Raha” (Mohabbat tarq ki maine, Tera khayal dil se mitaaya nahin abhi and Dil mein basaake meet banaake) were originally sung by Mohammed Rafi but were recorded again in the voice of Talat Mahmood. The reason being Rafi’s voice ‘didn’t suit the foreign returned character’ of the hero which required a certain ‘refined accent’! I am not too sure of this but remember vaguely something mentioned to this extent. However, as warranted by the theme of the film “Heer”, Rafi rendered two songs based on Punjab folk: Le jaa uski duaayen jo tera ho na saka and Allah teri khair kare. 

‘Dha~wan’ and Only

The oeuvre of Anil Biswas’ melodious gems were illumined by the poignant and pensive poetry of prolific poets like Indra, Narendra Sharma, Pradeep, Dr. Safdar Aah, Zia Sarhadi, Behzad Lucknowi, Arzoo Lucknowi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Qamar Jalalabadi, Rajinder Krishan, Sahir Ludhianvi, Shailendra and, not the least, Prem Dhawan who wrote the maximum number of songs for him. Incidentally, in the pre independence era, Zia Sarhadi wrote the maximum for the maestro in films of Sagar.

Introductions and Innovations

Credit goes to Anil Biswas for introducing singers like Zohrabai (in Gramophone Singer) and the famous Kathak danseuse Sitara (in Watan) and for bringing to limelight singers like Akhtari Bai Faizabadi and Ashraf Khan (in Roti), Surendra (with Tumne mujhko prem sikhaya and Pujari more mandir mein aao), Mukesh (with Dil jalta hai) and Talat Mahmood (with Ae dil mujhe aisi jagah le chal and Ek main hoon ek meri bekasi ki shaam hai). Credit also goes to him for mentoring Lata Mangeshkar and bringing her out of the shadow of Noorjahan who was her idol. In a published article in Filmfare of January 1958, she goes on record to recount that Anil Biswas taught her voice culture and modulation, articulation and enunciation of words, breath control, techniques of maintaining consistency or level of voice at high and low notes in her formative years.

He introduced instruments like the trumpet and mandolin in Watan (1938); made extensive use of the saxophone (played by his immensely talented assistant Ramsingh whom he gave full freedom to display his talent); introduced the waltz rhythm (its Indian equivalent Dadra) in the song Hum aur tum aur ye khushi from “Alibaba” (1940). He also innovated by incorporating dialogues in the song Tumne mujhko prem sikhaya from “Manmohan” (1936) to enhance the appeal of the song and the successful experiment set a new trend.

Credit goes to Anil Biswas for successfully laying the foundation of orchestra in film music. As a matter of fact, when he came to Bombay, he had come with four trained musicians who could read and write musical notations. He formed a 12 piece orchestra for an experimental film Mahageet (1937) which was considered extraordinary for its time. He also introduced playback singing for the first time in the Bombay film industry.

Bounds of Biswas

There was no limit to the reach and range of his compositions. They were raga-based or based on the rich folk music of Bengal and other Eastern Regions or had shades of Rabindra Sangeet and Nazruli Sangeet. He relied greatly upon Indian instruments like the flute and tabla. But, contrary to the general belief, he was also fond of western instruments and western rhythm and incorporated liberally the western elements in his songs. The predominance of saxophone as counter, prelude, interlude or filler music in a wide ensemble songs bears ample testimony to this.

Credit goes to him for composing the first ragamalika, the song Ritu aaye ritu jaaye (sung by Manna Dey and Lata Mangeshkar in “Hamdard”) set to four different ragas viz. Goud Sarang, Goud Malhar, Jogiya and Bahar. This became an inspiration for other ragamalikas like Kuhu kuhu bole koyalia (Suvarna Sundari), Hum gavanva na jaibe ho (Mamta), Ek ritu aaye ek ritu jaaye (Sau Saal Baad), Nayi ri lagan aur meethi batiyan (Alaap).

Besides the Bengal folk and other forms like Baul and Bhatiali, he was also fond of the folk songs of other regions like Assam, Bihar, Goa, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Tamil Nadu to name a few and brought their flavour in songs like Kaahe karta der baraati, More angna mein laaga and others (Aurat), Mera naram karajwa dol gaya and Aayi bahar aayi, aayi bahar (Arzoo), Naache re gori dingu (Lajawab), Ik raat ki ye preet (Faraar), Le jaa apni duaayen (Heer), Rimjhim barse paani (Pardesi), Kachchi hai umariya (Char Dil Char Raahen), Aayi aayi basanti bela (Angulimal), Kaah karun aah jiya moh gayi re (Sautela Bhai) to name a few.

Ghazals Galore

Though a Bengali, Anil Biswas was fond of Urdu poetry and ghazals formed a major part of his oeuvre. Even in the pre independence era, when the ghazal in films was not a popular genre, he recorded classics like Haunsla aashiq ko chaahiye dil lagaane ke liye (Akbar Khan in Postman), Mujhko meri khabar sunaa jaate and Woh dil ke jisko khuda par na etbaar aaye (Surendra in Gramophone Singer), Woh hans rahe hain aah kiye jaa raha hoon main and Phir fasl-e-bahaar aayi (Akhtari Faizabadi in Roti), Mujhko jeene ka bahaana mil gaya hai (Surendra in Ghareeb), Nazaare hue hain ishaare hue hain (Surendra in Jawani), Dil jalta hai to jalne de (Mukesh in Pehli Nazar).

Other lyrically elevating ghazals of the post independence era include Mere liye woh gham-e-intzaar chhod gaye and Ek dil ka lagaana baaqi tha (Anokha Pyar), Tumhare bulaane ko ji chaahta hai (Ladli),  Ae dil mujhe aisi jagah le chal (Arzoo), Zamaane ka dastoor hai ye purana (Lajawab), Badli teri nazar to nazaare badal gaye (Badi Bahu), Seene mein sulagte hain armaan (Tarana), Loota hai zamaane ne and Tera khayal dil se mitaaya nahin abhi (Do Raha), Tera haath haath mein aa gaya (Hamdard), Door hote nahin jo dil mein raha karte hain (Waris), Roothke tum to chal diye (Jalti Nishani) to mention a few. As a matter of fact, he also brought out a book on ghazals in Bengali.

Aura of Anil Biswas

Because of the classic blend of divergent musical traditions viz. his mastery in classical music, folk music, Rabindra Sangeet and Nazruli Sangeet, his fascination for western music and western instruments, his profound knowledge and understanding of Urdu poetry and sher-o-shairi, his penchant for experimentation and innovations, his compositions had a unique aura and appeal to them. Unfortunately, his style of music was on the wane by mid 50s and his aura, on the decline.

He made use of the ragas in his compositions according to the lyrics written to a situation, the situation itself and at times, even the time when the situation occurred. For instance, the lyrics of the four part song Ritu aaye ritu jaaye sakhi ri in the form of ragamalika inspired him to glide through four different and appropriate ragas viz. Goud Malhar, Goud Sarang, Jogiya and Bahar. The four ragas used are in perfect sync with the lyrics and symbolic of the variant hues and shades of the four seasons viz. summer, monsoon, autumn and spring respectively. Similarly, in the timeless ‘timed’ classic Intzaar aur abhi, aur abhi, aur abhi, three appropriate ragas viz. Yaman (an evening raga), Bihag (a midnight raga) and Bhairav (a morning raga) have been used to highlight and enhance the ‘timed’ emotions as indicated by the opening words or phrase viz. ‘Saanjh’ ki laali sulag sulagkar, ‘Rayn’ bhai bojhal ankhiyan mein and ‘Bhor’ bhayi par koyi na aaya in each couplet.

Even within a song, he treated a particular word melodically by using a meend or murki or even changed the raga to give expression to that single word or phrase. For instance, in songs like Door papiha bola (Gajre), Mast pawan hai chanchal dhaara, mann ki naiyya dol na jaaye (Jeet), Tumhi kaho mera mann kyon rahe udaas nahin (Girls School), Jaana na dil se door (Arzoo), the words ‘Door‘, ‘Dol‘, ‘Udaas‘ have been treated differently to give expression to them and convey the right emotion and mood.

The change in raga can be seen in songs like Bol papeehe bol re (Tarana) and So gayi chandni (Akash). In the former, the raga suddenly changes to Bhairav when the word ‘Bhor‘ is sung in the line Meri kaali kaali raaton mein, koyi leke aaya bhor. Similarly, in the second song, the raga changes to Bahar when the word ‘Baharen‘ is sung in the lines Door tak mere dil ki pukaren gayin, Phir na lauti kuch aisi baharen gayin. Also the word ‘gayin‘ in the first line is stretched melodically to give the feeling of ‘distance’ and ‘detachment’. This composing art and craft of the genius galore in umpteen number of songs which now remain as a few connoisseur’s delight!

Later years composers hailed Anil Biswas as the “Bhishma Pitamaha” of Hindi film music though, in all humility, he conferred the epithet to his senior R C Boral for his pioneering efforts and inventions and innovations. Anil Biswas not only took the “inventions and innovations” forward but took them to unprecedented heights with immense original contributions of his own. Besides, he spawned a host of other music directors much like Bhishma of the Mahabharata who moulded the Pandava and Kaurava stalwarts. Anil Da is truly, therefore, the “Bhishma Pitamaha” of Hindi film music industry!

It is unfortunate that the calibre and contribution of a maestro like Anil Biswas was never recognised in his life time and rewarded properly in this country. The prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke award is being given away liberally year after year to a number of film and music personalities including some with lesser contribution. But a pioneer, a wizard, a legend like Anil Biswas was always over looked for reasons best known only to the ‘almighty’ award panel! In the matter of accolades and awards, not really lucky!

हम ऐसी क़िस्मत को क्या करें,
ये जो इक दिन हंसाये, इक दिन रुलाये।

In an illustrious career spanning three decades, Anil Biswas cast his melodious incantations and achieved name and fame as a composer par excellence. However, in the post independence era, most of his films failed commercially and, by mid 50s, his style of music was also on the wane and gradually, he too was on his way out. He was signed to give music for Bharat Bhushan’s “Basant Bahar” a film on classical music and is believed to have even composed two or three songs for the film. But at the insistence of the distributors, he was replaced by the more successful and saleable duo Shankar-Jaikishan; the reason being his music was outdated and didn’t have the popular appeal and also, with most of his films flopping, he was no more in the commercial reckoning!

It is indeed disheartening to note that the box office success of a film is often used as a yardstick to measure the popularity of the songs and the success of the music director. Obviously, Anil Biswas had lost his box office clout in the 50s. The music scenario was also changing rapidly and he did not submit to the change and move with the trend. He would often say, “Only the dead fish swim with the current” and when he found himself a ‘misfit’ in the changing scenario, he retired gracefully and settled down in Delhi with his soul mate Meena Kapoor.

घर यहां बसाने थे, हम घर ही छोड़ चले।
आ मोहब्बत की बस्ती बसायेंगे हम,
इस ज़मीन से अलग, असमानों से दूर।

After shifting base to Delhi in the mid-60s, Anil Biswas joined the AIR as Director of Akashvani Vadhyavrunda (Orchestra) and served there up to 1975. During his 10 year stint with the AIR, he composed music and conducted the orchestra of several ballets, children’s films, documentaries and short films like “Sangam”, “Videshini”, “Pratiksha”, “Priya”, “Preyasi”, “Anand Dhwani”, “Indu Aur Sindhu”, “Raahi Akela”, “Jeevan Yamuna”, “Vasavadatta” and many others. He also composed the title track of the first mega serial “Humlog” which became very popular and also a track welcoming the new millennium. Special mention must also be made of the most popular tune of the inspirational song Mann mein hai vishwas, poora hai vishvas, hum honge kaamyab ek din.

Though he distanced himself from Mumbai and the film music scene, he kept himself preoccupied with his musical interests and experiments, Urdu poetry and graced music programmes and felicitations organised in his honour.

To mark the 85th birthday of Anil Biswas, a musical felicitation was organised by Keep Alive in July 1999. Both he and Meena Kapoor specially flew down from Delhi and graced the occasion with their august melodious presence.

Again, in August 2003, soon after his passing away, Keep Alive organized a tribute in his fond memory which was graced by Meena Kapoor, his daughter Shikha Vohra and sons Utpal Biswas and Amit Biswas (all three from his first actress-wife Ashalata).

What is still vivid of the first event is the animated spirit with which Anil Da voluntarily joined the singers in the timeless revolutionary anthem Door hato  door hatoHindustan hamara hai amidst wild applause.

He made a brief speech and, probably keeping in mind his advancing age, he concluded it with a pithy couplet in which he compared his life to the flickering flame of a lamp in a poor man’s dilapidated house :

कुछ अपना पता हैफ़ नहीं चलता है,
है शाम-ए-फ़ना करीब, दिन ढलता है;
कोहरे के धुंधल में जैसे मुफ़लिस के दीये,
हस्ती का चाराग़ बस यूं ही जलता है।

A few months before he passed away, Anil Da suffered from severe congestion of the lungs and started losing ‘Biswas’ in life. And on the wee hours of the fateful day of May 31, 2003, he bid adieu to his admirers and left behind a rich legacy of his ever lilting and ever resonant tuneful treasures for us to keep his melodious memories alive.

ऐ दिल मुझे ऐसी जगह ले चल जहां कोई न हो,
अपना पराया मेहरबां नामेहरबां कोई न हो।

Years have passed one after the other, but Dada:

तेरा ख़याल दिल से मिटाया नहीं अभी,
बेदर्द मैंने तुझको भुलाया नहीं अभी।

Manohar ‘Mohabbat’ Iyer

Anil Biswas: Filmography

1935              Dharam ki Devi

1936              Dukhiyari, Prem Bandhan, Sher Ka Panja (all three with Zande Khan)

1937              Gentleman Daku, Insaaf, Jagirdar, Kokila, Mahageet

1938             Dynamite, Gramophone Singer, Hum Tum aur Woh, Postman, 300 Days and After, Watan

1939             Comrades, Ek Hi Raasta

1940             Alibaba, Aurat, Pooja

1941              Aasra, Behan, Nai Roshni

1942             Apna Paraya, Jawani, Roti, Vijay

1943             Hamari Baat, Kismat

1944             Char Ankhen, Jwar Bhata

1945             Pehli Nazar

1946             Milan

1947             Bhookh

1948             Anokha Pyar, Gajre, Veena

1949             Girls School, Jeet, Ladli

1950             Arzoo, Beqasoor, Lajawab

1951              Araam, Badi Bahu, Do Sitare, Tarana

1952             Do Raha

1953             Akash, Fareb, Hamdard, Jalianwala Bagh, Mehmaan, Rahi

1954             Maan, Mahatma Kabir, Naaz, Waris

1955             Faraar

1956             Heer, Paisa Hi Paisa

1957              Abhimaan, Jalti Nishani, Pardesi

1958             Sanskar

1959             Char Dil Char Raahen

1960             Angulimal, Return of Superman

1961              Lucky Number

1962             Hamen Khelne Do, Sautela Bhai

1965             Chhoti Chhoti Baaten


Manohar Iyer

The author Manohar Iyer

Manohar Iyer breathes, eats, drinks, sleeps, walks and talks nothing but music. Through his brain-child Keep Alive and the recent offsprings thereof, he has been striving to resurrect the Golden Era of Hindi Films and Film Music and perpetuate the great cinematic and musical works of the legendary filmmakers, maestros. lyricists, singers, actors and others. For more details, kindly see 'About Us'.


  1. Awesome article Sir, I was knowing a very little about great composer shri Anil Biswas jee before reading the article. Through your article you have shared the info which is difficult to get from any other source available online. You have expressed unknown facts of the maestro in a very much interesting and laudable way. Thanks for writing which has never been shared and which should never be missed but treasured. Million salutes to your efforts, dedication and knowledge you possess.

  2. Dear Manohar
    Such details about the life and works of Anil Biswas made fantastic reading. I wonder from where you gathered so much details about the wonderful man and other stalwarts associated with Bisws .
    Kudos to your writing Manohar.

  3. First comprehensive biography available on the forgotten master of hindi film music & songs. Excellent compilation of historical facts . Very good work of reference for future generations.

    1. Thank you very much. I have a lot more to cover. But I was afraid of the length. Several friends and well wishers who are more into blog writing advised me to write in segments, in installments, more of personal interface, etc. I was in a kashmakash; with due respects to them, I went by my heart as always!
      I was dissuaded by many when I started Keep Alive twenty years back. Who would want to listen to the songs distant and remote and about the maestros, forgotten! Today, musical events galore all over the city and even other parts of the country. There again, I went by my heart!

      मेरी हर बात मेरे दिल से ही निकलती है,
      लब तलक आते आते ये नहीं बदलती है।

      Thanks again. Stay tuned.

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