Zindagi kaisi hai paheli hayee
Kabhi to hasaye, kabhi ye rulaye…
I said goodbye to my dad with this song. When bidding adieu to Rajesh Khanna, I recalled his film Anand (1971). And the memory of this perfect blend of poetry and philosophy was almost canned because Hrishikesh Mukherjee had run out of funds and didn’t have the money to shoot it.
“Baba (dad) convinced Hrishi uncle to keep it, telling him that he only had to place a camera on Juhu beach to follow Kaka as he raced down, clutching some balloons that would float away. How much could that cost?” reminisces Salil Chowdhury’s composer son Sanjay, adding that Amitabh Bachchan got to play Babumoshai because of his baba. “His screen-test wasn’t impressive, but baba saw a spark and insisted that if Amitabh wasn’t cast, he wouldn’t compose the music.”
Earlier, Lata Mangeshkar had told Salilda that she would never sing for a Bimal Roy production again, after being told that Madhumati’s (1958) producer-director had asked him to change the tune of ‘Aaja re pardesi’ or give him another song. When Bimalda heard about her threat, he agreed to retain the song and its original ‘sur’. It’s a cult classic today.
Mix and match
“You remember the piece of background music playing in Jagte Raho (1956), when on-the-run Raj Kapoor finally gets the water he’s been thirsting for?” asks Sanjay’s wife Sabita, humming the tune at her home at Kolkata. “Two years later in Madhumati, he used the same tune in ‘Aaja re pardesi’. For him both playback and background score was equally important.”
As a child I’d be put to sleep with ‘Aa ja re nindiya’. When C Ramchandra heard the song, he told Salilda, “Our lullabies wake up children, yours put them to sleep, actually.”
Yes, Salilda had a way with kiddy ditties, whether it was the Do Bigha Zameen (1953) lullaby or Kabuliwala’s (1957) nostalgic ‘Ae mere pyaare watan’. “For the latter he muted the sitar and the sarod to replicate the sound of the Kabuli rabab,” says Sabitadi, bringing back memories of Mini and her Afghani friend.
Mini and her Minoo
Salilda’s own daughter Mini wasn’t born then, but grew up singing his songs to her dolls. At seven, Antara made her playback debut in Minoo (1977), with a solo song ‘Kali re’, a duet with Manna De ‘Teri galiyon mein’ and one with Asha Bhosle ‘Dheere dheere, haule se’.
A year later, at V Balsara’s urging, she released a Bengali children’s album on Durga Puja with superhit songs like ‘Ayere chute aaye’, ‘Bulbul pakhi’ and ‘Ek je chilo machi’ that I croon to my daughter today. “And I still sing during Durga Puja,” she laughs.
Writing this column has been a ‘suhana safar’ (beautiful journey) like his Madhumati song. I’m told during a recce in Khandala that from a hillock, Salilda once watched some shepherds herd a pack of goats with jingling bells. That scene, complete with their ‘Phurrrr…!’, was transported on celluloid.
When inspiration struck…
Sanjay recalls another Bimal Roy film, Parakh (1960), and another trip to Khandala with lyricist Shailendra. “Baba and he were sitting under a tree waiting for inspiration. It struck in the evening, when a flower dropped on Shailendraji’s shoulder and he murmured, ‘Mila hai kisi ka jhumka’, Baba immediately infused melody into his thread of thought and a song was born.”
Sanjay shared his birthday — November 19 —with his baba and remembers that he loved to be gifted pens. “He would take the day off, call all his musicians and singers over and feed them the goodies he had been cooking all day before eating himself. On his 60th birthday we were wondering how to put 60 candles on the cake, when he put a 60 watt bulb on a lamp and told us to let it burn through the evening,” smiles Sanjay, who on his 89th birth anniversary tomorrow would like to dedicate Anand’s ‘Maine tere liye hi saat rang ke sapne chune’ to his baba.
Antara will remember him with a bunch of rajnigandhas, his favourite flower, and her favourite song, ‘Rajnigandha phool tumhare, mahke yun hi jeevan mein’.
Salilda is gone but the fragrance of his melodies lives on…