Hindi film music luminary who ‘slapped’ Mukesh and Roshan to achieve success

New Delhi: Among the pioneers of Hindi film music and playback singing, he is now largely forgotten given the last film featuring his music came six decades back.

However, Anil Biswas had a more significant legacy in giving a break to, or grooming, several future legendary singers and music directors, including ‘inspiring’ at least two disheartened aspirants with a hard slap!

As the story goes, Mukesh, who was finding the rendition of his first playback song somewhat heavy going, skipped the recording and took solace in a bar. Biswas tracked him down there and tried to bring him back to sobriety.

However, he lost his cool when a sobbing Mukesh said he could not evoke the necessary pain for the song. At this, he received a resounding slap from the composer, who said this should be enough impetus.

Mukesh went on to create magic with this song – “Dil jalta hai” (“Pehli Nazar”, 1945).

Music composer Roshan, then new in the film industry, received the same treatment. He was present at the recording of a song for the composer’s “Arzoo” (1950) and Biswas recalled that he heard someone behind him crying and turned around to find it was Roshan.

Asked the reason, the newcomer admitted that he would never be able to create such music. Biswas tried to calm him down, patting his back and assuring him that he would do fine. However, when Roshan would not stop sobbing, he slapped him asking him how he would succeed in the industry with such a defeatist attitude.

He noted with pride that Roshan kept his faith.

Coincidentally, the birthdays of both Mukesh (July 22) and Roshan (July 14) fall near Biswas, born on this day (July 7) in 1914 in Barisal of the then Bengal Presidency.

And then, his slaps seem to have contributed to not only their success, but of their succeeding generations too. Mukesh’s son Nitin was a singer and his grandson is Neil Nitin, while Roshan’s sons Rakesh became an actor and Rajesh a music composer, and the former’s son is Hrithik Roshan.

Biwas also introduced Talat Mehmood into film singing, convincing him that the quaver in his voice would not be a hindrance but a boon for the composers. He also schooled Lata Mangeshkar, then at the onset of her career, in breathing techniques at the mike – an assistance she always gratefully acknowledged.

But beyond his mentorship, Anil Biswas played a major role in the development of film music, given he was active in Bombay from 1934 – after a short stint in Calcutta where he worked along with K.L. Saigal and S.D. Burman and impressed Kazi Nazrul Islam with his rendition of his poetry – and debuted as a music composer in 1935, when he was just 21.

To him goes the credit of introducing Bhatiyali music of boatmen, which he heard in his childhood, into Indian film music, as well as orchestral and chloral music in a unique blend of Indian folk and Western classical. He also organised the first Indian orchestra of twelve pieces.

And then, Biswas is also responsible for the stirring strains of the first cinematic anti-colonial song – “Door hato duniya waalon, Hindustan hamara hai” from “Kismet” (1943), written by the redoubtable Kavi Pradeep.

It is still not clear how the British censors cleared it just on the filmmakers’ contention that the lyrics referred to the Axis powers – “Shuru huya hai jang tumhara jaag utho Hindustaani/Tum na kisi ke aage jhukna jarman ho yaa jaapaani…”

During screenings, reels were rewound on public demand to play the song over and over again.

It was no surprise that he was linked with this patriotic effort, given that Biswas, from his teenage years, was involved in the freedom struggle and had undergone several spells of imprisonment, which affected his studies.

He recalled that he was about to enter college when he learned the police were after him. This led him to flee to Calcutta in disguise, where, he even stayed in the red-light area to evade arrest.

In his three-decade career (1935-65), Biswas gave entrancing music, which retained a focus on melody over beats, for some 70 to 80 films for various filmmakers and studios as he preferred to do what he liked.

By the early 1960s, he recognised his music was no longer in vogue and chose to leave the industry. He shifted to Delhi, where he headed the AIR’s orchestra and composed music for some Doordarshan programmes, especially “Humlog”.

Before his demise in 2023, he was a judge on the TV music show “SaReGaMa” and remained unfazed as competitors sang every composer’s songs except his, despite gems like “Seene mein sulagte hai armaan”, “Ae dil mujhe aisi jagah le chal”, and “Raahi matwaale”.

(Vikas Datta can be contacted at vikas.d@ians.in)


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