Luminary Profile

Anil Biswas

Anil Biswas was without doubt one of the greatest but most underrated Music Directors in Indian Cinema.

He was born on July 7th, 1914 in Barisal, now in Bangladesh. Being a talented tabla player, he worked initially in amateur theatre as a child singer. His student days saw him becoming a political activist, going to jail repeatedly as he associated himself with terrorist insurgency movements in Bengal.

Anil Biswas received early musical assignments from Kazi Nazrul Islam at the Megaphone Gramophone Company. Followed several Calcutta Theatre Stage Productions notably at the Rangmahal Theatre where he scored the music and did some acting as well. He then moved to Bombay in 1934 where he was first employed at the Eastern art Syndicate. Anil Biswas’ first film as composer was Dharam Ki Devi (1935). He then joined Sagar Movietone – helping its star Surendra become a singing star – and then its successor National studio from 1940-1942 wherein he gave the music for three outstanding Mehboob Khan films – Aurat (1940), Bahen (1941) and Roti (1942). His recitative prose songs in the last mentioned film helped give the film its parable dimension and came close to an indigenous Brechtian mode. He then shifted to Bombay Talkies where he worked from 1942-46.

His biggest success at Bombay Talkies was Kismet, coming the following year in 1943. The film itself was a tremendous success running for over three years at Calcutta. A lost and found crime drama, one of the major reasons for its success was Anilda’s evergreen musical score. By now trained singers were entering the Film Industry giving Music Directors opportunities to try out newer sounds. The songs in Kismet be it the patriotic Door Hato O Duniyawalon Hindustan Humara Hai or the sad Ghar Ghar Mein Diwali or the soothing lullaby Dheere Dheere Aa sees Anilda make splendid use of Amirbai Karnataki’s full throated voice. Some other films that Anilda gave music for at Bombay Talkies include Dilip Kumar’s maiden film Jwar Bhata (1944) and his third film, Milan (1946).

Ani Biswas’s best-known compositions are among the most effective film adaptations of theatrical music with 12 piece orchestras and full-blooded choral effects. In fact Anil Biswas’s contribution to film music is multi-faceted. Beyond all the musical masterpieces that Anilda composed, he was also responsible for being the man behind such voices as Surendranath, Parul Ghosh (his sister married to renowned flutist Pannalal Ghosh), Sitara Devi, Mukesh, Talat Mahmood besides monitoring Lata Mangeshkar’s early career. It was Anilda who taught Lata and other singers the techniques of breath control while singing and putting emphasis on syllables that came on the beat of the song. It was Anilda who not only discovered Mukesh but encouraged him to come out of being a KL Saigal clone and it was he who insisted that Talat keep the tremor in his voice which other composers saw as a flaw. As it was, it was this quiver in his voice that made Talat the unique singer he was. This is best illustrated in two outstanding songs among many others that he sang under Anilda’s Baton – Ae Dil Mujhe Aisi Jagah Le Chal (Arzoo (1950)) and Seene Mein Sulagten Hain Armaan (with Lata from Tarana (1951)). It is also said that Anilda was responsible for the basic structure of film songs that we know today and was a pioneer in using the counter melody and the use of Raag Mala.

After his stint with Bombay Talkies, Anilda freelanced and his work in the 1950s include music for films by Filmistan (Heer (1956)), Mahesh Kaul (Abhimaan (1957)Sautela Bhai (1962)) and KA Abbas (Rahi (1952)Munna (1954)Pardesi (1957) and Char Dil Char Rahen (1959)).

Feeling disillusioned with the changing trends and the tragic end of his younger brother and elder son in the year 1961, Anilda shifted base to Delhi. He took charge as Chief Producer (Sugam Sangeet) at AIR, Delhi on 1st March 1963 and served upto June 1975 (though with a break in between). He was also vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University for 2 years. In between he did the odd film like Mahesh Kaul’s Sautela Bhai before retiring with Motilal’s Chhoti Chhoti Baaten in 1965. The film although failing at the box office is still remembered for his singer wife Meena Kapoor’s wonderful rendering of Kuchh Aur Zamana Kehta Hai. Incidentally, Anilda’s one grouse with the Film Industry was that it never gave Meena Kapoor (Rasiya re – Pardesi) her due. He always used to say that here was a voice with base, huskiness, sweetness and sex! But the Film Industry just didn’t know how to use it!

Anilda later scored the music for Doordarshan’s pioneering TV series Hum Log (1984) and a number of documentaries for Films Division.

Some of Anilda’s other prominent films include Gramophone Singer (1938), Anokha Pyar (1948), Jeet (1949), Aaram (1951), Humdard (1953), Waaris (1954) Farar (1955) and Angulimala (1960).

On the personal side, Anil Biswas was married to actress of the 1930s and 40s, Ashalata, who later turned producer, and after their divorce in the mid 1950s, he married Meena Kapoor in 1959. His grand-daughter, Paromita Vohra, is a prominent filmmaker in India today, particularly in the field of non-fiction filmmaking.

Anilda passed away in Delhi on May 31st, 2003.

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