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10 Most Favourite Salil Chowdhury Songs: Indian Melodies, Western Harmonies

November 19, 2015 | By

‘Choosing just ten favourite Hindi songs of music director or singer from a plethora of songs that have given me immense pleasure over the years is probably a Sisyphean endeavour.’
Prolific writer-blogger Anuradha Warrier picks 10 favourite Hindi songs from the oeuvre of a master who had the ability to weave magic with melody, A tribute to Salil Chowdhury.

Salil Chowdhury

Salilda is a man of whom the term ‘Renaissance Man’ fits to a T. (Pic courtesy: Internet)

November 19th is the 93rd birth anniversary of a Colossus of the Indian music world. Salil Chowdhury. His contributions to the world of music (and not just film music) are vast; and his death, twenty years ago, left a vacuum that will not soon be filled.

Choosing just ten favourite Hindi songs of music director or singer from a plethora of songs that have given me immense pleasure over the years is probably a Sisyphean endeavour. To choose to do so, from the oeuvre of a master who had the ability to weave magic with melody, is beyond audacious.

Salilda is a man of whom the term ‘Renaissance Man’ fits to a T. That he was a music director par excellence is beyond doubt; however, he was also writer, dramatist, lyricist, script-writer, played multiple instruments, and was possibly one of the few Indian music directors who arranged his compositions himself. He was a very active member of the IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) as were numerous others with leftist sympathies who became prominent in the film industry. He firmly believed that he wouldn’t have become who he was if it hadn’t been for the IPTA.

Salilda had written a short story called Rickshawala, which was being made in Hindi as Do Bigha Zameen by Bimal Roy. In exchange for the script, Salilda wanted to compose the film’s music. (He had composed the music for the original.) And so began his tryst with Hindi filmdom.

My husband had introduced me to a Salilda site a few years ago – www.salilda.com, a site that is a labour of love, and the result of much hard work on Gautam Choudhary’s part. A site where every one of Salilda’s songs that was ever recorded is available, indexed and cross-indexed to the last note. Cross-indexed, because, Salilda used many of his tunes in different languages at different times. And this is from Gautam’s site:

Talat Mahmood and Salil Chowdhury.

Talat Mahmood and Salil Chowdhury.

His phenomenal flair for instruments prompted even an expert like Jaikishen to refer to him as a ‘The Genius’. Raj Kapoor once said, ‘He can play almost any instrument he lays his hands on, from the tabla to the sarod, from the piano to the piccolo.’ He was in fact a composer’s composer, because unlike his market-driven counterparts, he never really set prose to music. To him, the melody was sacrosanct and had to precede the words. The situation could then be adapted.

His music has given me much joy over the years, and it is inevitably to his music that I turn when I need some solace. Many of his songs seem very simple at first listening, and then, when you hear others trying to sing them (no, not me, I can’t sing for toffee), you realise how complicated his tunes really were.

When he heard of Salilda’s death, music director Naushad commented: ‘He was the composer of composers; with his death, one of the seven notes of music has been lost.’ And Lata Mangeshkar who sang some of Salilda’s most complicated songs with seemingly little effort, had this to say in an interview: “Over the course of my life I have worked with over a hundred music directors. Of these, perhaps only ten understood both music and cinema. And of these ten, Salilda was the foremost.”* 

Salilda died twenty years ago, but he will always remain alive through his music. His compositions will endure, and his legacy will continue as long as music and music lovers remain.

This is a very subjective list and in no way encompasses all my favourites, much less the ‘best’ of Salil Choudhary’s compositions. And these songs that I have chosen need not even necessarily be his best in terms of music. Because unless Salilda was himself choosing what he considered his ‘best’, I think any such choice would hardly be objective. In any case, even my ‘favourite’ Salilda songs change continually, because I tend to like different songs at different times. (I could make ten ‘My Favourite’ lists of Salilda’s songs and still have songs left over for more!)

However, these ten songs have always been perennial favourites.

Zindagi kaisi hai paheli haayeAnand (1971)
Yogesh / Manna Dey

Four songs. Two written by Yogesh (the other was Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye), two by Gulzar (Maine tere liye and Naa, jiya laage na). All of them beautiful.

Anand, the journey of a man who knew he had a very short time to live.

Anand, the journey of a man who knew he had a very short time to live.

The single Manna Dey solo in the film, which depicted  and was making the most of the time he had left, was originally meant to be used as a background song during the credits.

According to IMDB, it was Rajesh Khanna who persuaded director Hrishikesh Mukherjee to use it as a song in the film. And the lyrics are as philosophical as Anand’s (Rajesh Khanna in the titular role) attitude, which is as light as the balloons he lets soar into the sky. Juxtaposed with the distress that Dr Bhaskar (a.k.a Babu Moshai / Amitabh Bachchan) and Renu (Sumita Sanyal) are unable to hide, the song made more of an impact than otherwise.

Raaton ke saaye ghane Annadata (1972)
Yogesh / Lata Mangeshkar

jaua

Raaton ke saaye ghane is one of Jaya Bhaduri’s best numbers.

Jaya Bhaduri once said that heroines felt successful only when Lata Mangeshkar sung for them on-screen. She should know. Raaton ke saaye ghane is one of her best numbers, a very complicated tune that only Lata (amongst the female vocalists in Hindi films) could have done justice to.

Lata Mangeshkar, in her heyday, could never have gone besur if they had paid her to do so, but the Malayalam version of this song by Yesudas is, in my opinion, equally good. My husband veers towards the opinion that the Yesudas version is a tad better. One of the other songs in this film (Guzar jaye din din din) saw Kishore Kumar need multiple takes before he could get it right. He is reputed to have had nightmares about the tune.

Ae mere pyaare watan Kabuliwala (1966)
Prem Dhawan / Manna Dey

Kabuliwala

Its soft melody and evocative lyrics call out to something deep within me.

What can I say? My choice of songs varies from day to day, from time to time, and I rarely say that a particular song is my favourite Hindi song ever. But I have noticed that this song is always there amongst my favourites – in the background, its soft melody and evocative lyrics calling to something deep within me.

In a film that boasted of the heavy-with-pathos Ganga aaye kahaan se in Hemant Kumar’s voice (Salilda once said of Hemant Kumar that if God could sing, it would be in Hemant Kumar’s voice.) and Mohammed Rafi’s Ho ya qurbaan… o saaba kehna mere dildaar ko, Mannada’s mellifluous number stood out, both for its simple yet meaningful lyrics and the minimal instrumentation which allowed Mannada’s voice to soar with an immigrant’s yearning for the motherland. Salilda used the rabab to great effect.

Na jaane kyunChhoti Si Baat (1975)
Yogesh / Lata Mangeshkar

She is friendly, but is she in love?

She is friendly, but is she in love?

A young woman, Prabha (Vidya Sinha), who is unsure of her feelings for her shy suitor, Arun (Amol Palekar). He is always tongue-tied in her presence, and it doesn’t help that she has a very street-smart colleague. She is friendly, but is she in love? She doesn’t know herself, and Nagesh (Asrani) is so much the better suitor.

Until Arun, disillusioned in his inability to say something, anything, to Prabha, leaves to get some much-needed help. And absence does make the heart grow fonder. Prabha is beginning to miss Arun, and to think about him at inconvenient times. Yogesh’s lyrics were so apt to the situation, and Lata’s voice ebbed and soared with effortless ease.

Woh ik nigaah kya mili Half-Ticket (1962)
Shailendra / Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar

Salilda's musical score reflected the film's zaniness.

Salilda’s musical score reflected the film’s zaniness.

Based on the Hollywood film ‘You Are Never Too Young’ Half Ticket had Kishore Kumar at his nonsensical best (or worst, depending on which way you look at it), and Salilda’s musical score reflected the film’s zaniness. This was the film that had Cheel cheel chillaake, Aankh seedhi lagi (which had Kishore sing both male and female parts), the romantic Chand raat tum ho saath amongst others. Vijay urf Munna (Kishore Kumar) is running away from home but has no money to buy a ticket. So, of course, he dresses himself up as a child, so he can buy a half-ticket (so obvious, no?).

On the way, he runs into Raja Babu (Pran), who, on the run from the police, plants a diamond in Munna’s pocket. Now, he is on the run from Raja who is on the run from the police, but wants his diamond back. In one of the many episodes of escaping Raja’s clutches, he tumbles into a stage show – and begs the dancer (Helen in a special appearance) to help him – in verse. She responds, also in verse, and they have an impromptu jugalbandi. Salilda, confident as he was in Lata’s ability to climb the notes made her sound almost operatic in this song – touching the impossible high notes with ease. It is difficult to make out where the instrumentation stops and her voice begins – her voice is that true and clear.

Itna na mujhse tu pyaar badha Chhaya (1961)
Rajinder Krishan / Talat Mahmood and Lata Mangeshkar

Salilda was said to have copied Mozart's 40th symphony.

Salilda was said to have copied Mozart’s 40th symphony.

A simple love story by Hrishikesh Mukherjee between a rich girl Sarita (Asha Parekh) and a poor(er) boy Arun (Sunil Dutt); she adores his alter-ego (‘Raahee’), a poet, without knowing anything else about him; he is the tutor who is teaching her to write better. And they fall in love. A relationship that her wealthy father denounces. Add an aunt who wants Sarita to marry *her* nephew, and you have crisis no.1.

Arun retreats in no good order, and the lovers are parted until the circumstances of Sarita’s birth is raised – she is illegitimate. So, who is she? Salilda was said to have copied Mozart’s 40th symphony, but if you listen closely, the inspiration is only there in the beginning notes (and it truly is an inspiration, not a note-by-note copy), and the melody soon veers away into classic Salil. The slower (sad) solo version by Talat is beautiful too.

Zindagi khwaab hai Jagte Raho (1956)
Shailendra / Mukesh

Salil Choudhary's music takes the narrative forward.

Salil Choudhary’s music takes the narrative forward.

The film was a masterpiece and a tribute to the sort of producer that Raj Kapoor was. Remade from its original Bengali by directors Amit and Shambhu Mitra, Raj Kapoor acted as the villager who comes to the city in search of employment. Thirsty, unacquainted with anyone, the man begins a search for some water. His experiences overnight as he looks to quench his thirst make for an entrancing allegorical fable.

Salil Choudhary’s music takes the narrative forward; one of the films’ best scenes has Raj Kapoor sharing his food with a street dog just as a very drunk Motilal appears on the scene. Being drunk has obviously not taken his ability to sing away, even though he can hardly walk. So comes an outpouring of very cynical philosophy, which probably also stands in for the philosophy of city life: Life’s a dream; and in a dream, what is truth? Jagte Raho was famous for two other things: it was the last film which Nargis would do for the RK banner; a shorter version of this film won the first prize at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

O sajna, barkha bahaar aayi Parakh (1960)
Shailendra / Lata Mangeshkar

It's idyllic, but there is life.

It’s idyllic, but there is life.

The soft Mere man ke diye, the frothy, happy Mila hai kisi ka jhumka were all part of a score that added to the charm of Bimal Roy’s vignettes of village life. It’s idyllic, but there is life, and covert vices and hidden virtues all the same, and a bequest brings it all roiling to the surface.

Suddenly, every influential man in the village is turning over a new leaf – the moneylender forgoes his interest, the doctor treats his poorer patients without charging fees, and the village postmaster watches bemusedly from the sidelines. And the Zamindar wishes to marry the young and beautiful daughter (Sadhana) of the postmaster; only, she is in love with the village schoolmaster, and is enjoying the rain, its cheery pitter-patter echoing the beating of her heart.

Koi hota jisko apna Mere Apne (1971)
Gulzar / Kishore Kumar

Everyone is waiting for someone to call their own.

Everyone is waiting for someone to call their own.

Meena Kumari’s last film, though Pakeezah was considered her swansong. This Gulzar-directed film had Meena Kumari in one of the strongest roles of her career – as the widowed Anandi, who is brought to the city by her nephew so she can serve as an unpaid ayah.

As she comes to a realisation of the truth, she finds that her nephew has no place for her either in his home or hearth. Self-respect intact, she moves out and fends for herself in a broken-down old shanty in a neighbourhood where two rival street gangs of unemployed youth are staking claim to their turf. Shyam (Vinod Khanna) later confides in her that he had lost the woman he loved (Yogita Bali). Everyone is waiting for someone to call their own. Will they find that love and companionship?

Toote hue khwabon ne Madhumati (1958)
Shailendra / Mohammed Rafi

Another Bimal Roy film where the master auteur digresses from his usual scripts. It’s a whimsical fable, an ancient tale of reincarnation with a vengeful ghost, and a love that transcends death.

 It's a whimsical fable, an ancient tale of reincarnation.

Madhumati is a whimsical fable, an ancient tale of reincarnation.

Set amongst the misty mountains, Madhumati narrates the tale of Madhumati (Vyjayanthimala) and Anand (Dilip Kumar), two lovers who cut through the barriers of class and caste and are happy together. Enter a villain in the form of the local zamindar, Ugranarain (Pran), who is Anand’s employer and has an eye for a pretty face. And now his gaze has fallen on Madhumati. A concocted errand, a treacherous drunk, a concerned girl and a lecherous villain all combine to bring Madhumati to a summary end. Only, this is just the beginning.

Bimalda used shadows and light to accentuate the suspense, and Shailendra’s meaningful lyrics set the mood. But the tour de force was Salilda’s magical score which moved between the haunting Aaja re pardesi to the foot-tapping Chad gayo paapi bichchua; from the happy-to-be-alive-ness of Suhana safar to the drunken Jungal mein mor naacha; from the vibrant Zulmi sang aankh ladi to the gravely portentous Hum haale-e-dil sunaayenge; from the eagerness of Ghadi ghadi mora dil dhadke to the sweetly romantic Dil tadap tadap. What melodies!

I have barely scraped the tip of the iceberg with this post. These are just a handful of his songs from Hindi films. Apart from his vast output for Hindi films, there is a whole treasure trove that he composed in Malayalam, using the voices of the incomparable Yesudas and S. Janaki amongst many others including Talat Mahmood and Mannadey. Not to mention the many other languages he composed in – Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Assamese, Marathi and Oriya. He was also very good at composing background music. Very few people know that while Bimal Roy’s Devdas was scored by Sachin Dev Burman, Salilda composed its background music. Uncredited, because that was the relationship between peers in those days.

This month sees his birth anniversary. To the man whose melodies have given me, is giving me, countless hours of listening pleasure – may you continue to compose many more melodies wherever you are.

This article was originally published on Conversations Over Chai.

More to read

‘She is Capable of Delivering Anything a Music Maker Can Think Of’: Salil Chowdhury Speaks About Lata Mangeshkar

Tere Mere Sapne Ab Ek Rang Hain – Eternal Melodies of SD Burman-Rafi

Madan Mohan: The Composer of the Classes

‘The Music Director Knows which Voice would do Full Justice to his Composition’ – In Conversation with Hemant Kumar

The Pathbreaking Non-conformist – The Music of RD Burman

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Anuradha Warrier is an editor by profession, a writer by inclination, and is passionate about books, music and films, all of which she writes about on her blog, Conversations over Chai.
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11 thoughts on “10 Most Favourite Salil Chowdhury Songs: Indian Melodies, Western Harmonies

  • Jitu

    Oh wow! So many favorites up there. Here’s my list:

    1. Anand Songs – All
    2. Madhumati – Almost all songs
    3. Koi hota jisko apna
    4. Kai baar yun hi dekha hai – Rajnigandha
    5. Jaaneman jaaneman, Naa jaane kyun – Choti si baat
    6. itna na mujhse tu pyaar badhaa – Don’t know the movie name

    1. Anuradha Warrier Post author

      Thank you, Jitu. Itna na mujhse tu pyaar badha is from Chhaya. I think there were many films of Salilda’s of which you could say that you liked ‘all songs’. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  • Jitu

    My problem is, I just remember songs and recognize voices. Music director, director, lyricist… in sab maamlon mein mera GK zero hai. I have to take help from Wikipedia if it is anyone but Gulzar and Pancham. Confidence ke saath sirf Gulzar ke gaane pehchaan sakto hoon. Aur kisi lyricist yaa Music Director ke nahin.

    Madhumati and Anand are exceptions. Inn movies ke cassettes hua karte the ghar pe. So I know. 🙂 I think Pancham daa ke bhii… sirf popular numbers pehchaan sakti hoon. That’s about it. Baaki… kisi aur ke nahin. Uske aage.. wikipedia zindabaad! 😀 😀

    So an article like these are often… good reminders. 🙂

    1. Anuradha Warrier Post author

      Jitu, I used to be like that – I knew the film and the singer. Music director? Who is that? Lyricist? Eh? 🙂 But now, usually, knowing who composed it, who wrote the lyrics, etc., has become very important to me. 🙂

  • Jitu

    Oh, Hi Anuradha,

    To begin with… Am sorry. I had misread your name as Antara and replied in my hodgepodge Hindi/English mixed style, the way I talk to Antara. My bad. Just realized, I was speaking to someone else.

    Even your article reminded me of Antara’s style of writing. 🙂 🙂 Which is why I posted my first comment without any preliminaries or even a ‘Hi’.

    This morning as well as now, I am commenting at an ungodly hours, so failed to register that you have included the movie Chaaya in your list. I swear I had read right past and did not notice. Am a dolt at times. Thanks for the help with the movie name. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Nice article. 🙂 Made me go on a listening binge. 😛 😀 😀 Spent the better part of the morning listening to Madhumati and Anand songs, sparing a few moments for ‘Kai baar yun hi dekha hai’

    Is it just me or Did Salil Da have Mukesh Sing a lot of his songs?? Let’s see…

    Anand – All songs Mukesh
    Madhumati… Suhana Safar and Dil Tadap Tadap – Mukesh
    Kai baar yun hi dekha hai…. Mukesh
    Choti si baat – I think Mukesh( Correct me if I am wrong)

    That’s a lot of Mukhesh songs. Funny I never saw a correlation before.

    Never the less, nice reading this article and listening to Salil Da songs today. Thanks for the list. 🙂

    Regards,
    Jitu

    1. Anuradha Warrier Post author

      No worries. Antara/Anu, we are different, yet the same. 🙂

      Yes, Salilda did use Mukesh a lot. Hemant and he were Salilda’s preferred singers in Hindi. Even in Chhoti si Baat, though Jaaneman jaaneman was sung by Yesudas, who Salilda referred to as the complete singer.

  • Antara

    Jitu,

    If this article by Anu reminded me of you… I would accept this as a big medal with all humility. Thanks much, buddy!

    I am a great admirer of Anu’s writings… I do keep dropping by her golden blog time and again… golden I say because of the gold nuggets of music and movies and perspectives that lie strewn about in it.

    This article made me hum along with the songs as I was embedding the videos… There were two writeups that day on Salil da… this one and the interview of Salil da… both fantastic, both enjoyable, both offering new insights… Had a great time putting them online.

    All thanks to Anu for this lovely piece, for responding sportingly to my request for a special on Salil da. His music is everlasting…ever enriching.

    Loved the little exchange both of you had above in this thread… mazaa aa gaya 🙂

  • Jas

    Agreed on everything except that Mozart bit.
    That really was a blatant plagiarising of the 40th Symphony.
    I love Salilda to bits but would never call that an inspired piece. That was just Mozart and nothing else.

    1. SSW

      To plagiarize means to pass off someone else’s work as one’s own.
      Salilda has always said that the melody of the mukhda of “Itna na” is based on the main melody of the first movement of Mozart’s 40th symphony. However the rest of the song including the instrumental interludes is not based on the 40th and even the mukhda has variations. Actually even the mukhda is not identical to the 40th symphony, it is in a different key and while Mozart’s melody played by the first violins moves along in triplets, Salilda modifies the inital measures themselves using quarters. There are other variations especially how the second line starts but to say that two melodic measures make up the whole song or even the first movement of the symphony is an insult to both Salilda and Mozart.

  • JIshnu Bhattacharya

    Raaton ke Saaye Ghane is one of the toughest note but its Bengali version which was composed little bit earlier and sung by Sandhya Mukherjee is also awesome.

    Also Naine Hamare by Mukesh ji is very good but its Bengali version by Sandhya Mukherjee “Guru Guru Guru Megh goroje” was outstanding.

    Kai Baar yunhi dekha hai is one of the best songs of Mukesh Ji but its Bengali version “Ami cholte cholte theme gechi” by Pintu Bhattacharya has a different rendition.
    Also its Tamil version it is a duet song forgive me by exactly the lyrics of Tamil version but it was sung By S. P Balasubramanium and P Susheela which was excellent.

    1. Anu Warrier

      Yes, I have been privileged to listen to the Bengali (and even Malayalam) versions of some of these songs. I think they were outstanding in those languages as well. Of course, subjective preferences rule as to which language version one likes better.

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