In an interview a month ago, Pandit Ravi Shankar talked about his Bollywood connections and how Sir Richard Attenborough had hurt him. As I go down memory lane, I fondly remember those days at 41, Pali Hill in the late 1940s. I and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan were regular visitors to the Anand residence.
There were Chetan and Uma Anand, a young and shy Dev Anand, Guru Dutt, KA Abbas and SD Burman. We had many musical get-togethers. Based on our association from IPTA, Chetan kept his promise of giving me a break as a music director. He introduced me as a composer in his directional debut Neechanagar in 1946.
It was a challenge for me to compose for India’s first anti-imperialist film. Chetan had profound knowledge of music and it was easy to work with an imaginative director like him. I remember the climax sequence where I played the sitar along with the bamboo flute and used the organ in counters.
The music was very effective along with the dialectical montages. Chetan hugged me crying in joy, “Robu, fantastic”. I also played the sitar along with Ali Akbar Khan’s sarod and Pannalal Ghosh’s flute for Chetan’s Aandhiyan in 1952.
My association with the dynamic KA Abbas was equally fruitful when I scored music for his Dharti Ke Lal in 1946. The film did not require songs yet Abbas used them imaginatively. My teaming with Satyajit Ray for the Apu Trilogy from 1955 was the greatest thing to have happened to me in film composing career. I also scored for Ray’s satire Paraspathar.
Ray was in total command from day one. He was very knowledgeable of Indian classical as well as western classical music. Never did Ray allow me to go overboard. For an intense sequence of Aparajito, he asked me to use a sitar counter which conveyed pathos yet was not morbid. I played three tunes for him and he chose the second one. Ray always spoke less and conveyed everything he wanted through his piercing, meaningful looks.
My scores for Anuradha and Godaan were appreciated though they were not great hits. Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi gave divinity to my creations. A lot of confusion remains about my criticism of the usage of the sitar counter in the song O Sajna Barkha Bahar Ayi. I never meant to demean Salil Chowdhury’s talent.
Initially, I felt the sitar counter was not required. But SD Burman and Madan Mohan correctly pointed out to me that the effect was great. I withdrew my criticism.
It hurt me a lot when a director of Sir Richard Attenborough’s calibre used my entire score in Gandhi and later replaced it with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. My question is why did he have to do this when we could have sorted it out amicably.
When I scored for Meerabai, I was moved by Gulzar’s poetry and was determined to deliver my best. Scoring for Mrinal Sen’s Genesis was also an interesting experience for me. He did not behave like an autocrat but politely requested me to move out of the traditional form of IPTA music. I obliged him and he was satisfied.
I am certainly not a composer like Salil Chowdhury, SD Burman, Madan Mohan or Shanker Jaikishan. I know my limits well and am always inspired to compose serene, thought-provoking film music.
(As told to Ranjan Das Gupta)