Interview of Salilda by Dr. Chadrasekhar Rao of Dubai in 1992


I was born in Assam in 1925. My father, who was a doctor, had   an enormous collection   of both Indian and Western classical music,  so the works of Beethoven, Mozart and the  like were familiar to me  right from childhood. Like my father,   my elder brother was  a good musician and classical singer, but more actively so.  he had formed an orchestra   called Milan   Parishad, was a   versatile instrumentalist,  and had played for many silent films.
Being always  in this environment  of music, I couldn't help being similarly influenced!

As I grew up, I began  to write as well, and churned out many patriotic  songs in Bengali and   Hindi, during the days of our   freedom struggle. These songs  are popular even to this day. However,   my brother was equally firm that my education should not  be neglected. Thus, I took my BA in English, and subsequently did my MA in Bengali.


Hrishikesh Mukherji had always  been a good friend, right from our very early days in Calcutta, where he and Mrinal Sen  worked as laboratory assistants  at New Theatres. At that time Bimal Roy was looking for a script for his next venture. I was introduced to him by Hrishikesh, and later
the  script was approved. When Bimal said that negotiations were underway with Anil Biswas to compose
the music, Hrishikesh was quick  to point out that music was, in fact, my  forte! Bimal appeared  sceptical about entrusting a rank newcomer with the script as well as the music  for what   was to be  his maiden production venture. Fortunately for me, an informal  evening had already  been organised where I  sang and played on the harmonium, and  this convinced Bimal that I was good
enough! Thus, I made my debut with "Do Bigha Zameen".


You've asked me why I have done so many background music scores for the songless  films that crop up from time to time. This requires a certain  degree of skill in timing the length of the footage with  the duration of the piece to be recorded. I had established some sort of reputation for  this soon after I had begun composing regularly in Bombay.

I remember once there  was a knock on my door at about 2 am and  I found Bimal  Roy, Hrishikesh and S.D. Burman standing on my  doorstep, the latter wearing a worried expression. Sachinda  had been signed up for Bimal's"Devdas", but  apparently Bimal had  not been happy with his  background music for the climactic reels of  the film. So, at  short notice early the  next morning, I was compelled to compose  and record four reel's worth  of musicfor the ending of "Devdas", uncredited, as our relationships were very cordial.


Although I had a firm  grounding in classical music, I was, and am of  the opinion that music should be free,
unconventional, and unpredictable in its flow. That's why I've never adhered firmly to  any arohana and avarohana, or allowed them to restrict mein my composition. Sometimes this could  get too tricky for
singers. Did you know that one Rafi-Lata duet needed more than 12  takes, because Rafi  couldn't get a grip on the erratic scale changes of a particular line? ("Maya"'s
"Tasveer teri dil mein").

I've worked with many lyricists but Shailendra was always my favourite. We made  a perfect team, and he's  written some of my best songs. Being unorthodox in approach, and not wanting to compose  for a pre-written lyric, my tunes would  invariably  composed first, and  then Shalilendra would write the words accordingly.

On Lata Mangeshkar: She is   the true phenomenon. Perhaps it  may be several hundred  centuries before we come  across such a talent again!
If I  knew that Lata was  sceduled to sing my composition, I would go all out to make it as complex as possible. It was like a challenge, at the same time like a game between us - but she never failed to rise to
the  occasion, and  she would even  suggest complex variations of her own.

Mukesh: Mukesh was my favourite singer. His octave range was limited - I tried not to give him  any note above the second  D after middle C -
and his ability to  sing lines with 'murkis' restricted. But he could sing with a mood and pathos that was unique.

Manna Dey:  I have used Manna in  my compositions right from "Do Bigha Zameen". While  his ability to sing  romantic melodies is rather limited, he was brilliant in singing classical songs, especially those
with a touch of  comedy. One of my favourites  is his rendition of "Ek samay par do barsaaten" from "Jhoola".

Mohammed  Rafi: Another versatile singer, skilled in the art  of infusing happiness, pathos or comedy into a song as the situation demanded. His ability to sing songs based  on rapidly changing Western
scales was limited, though.

Talat  Mehmood: An excellent ghazal singer,  but they don't make those kind of movies anymore.

Kishore  Kumar: My first film with  him was "Naukri". He  was the industry's all-rounder, and a clown  even in the recording room. Once, while I explained a song to him, Kishore, who had been standing, first
leaned against the wall, then sat  on a chair, and finally slumped on to the floor as the intricacy of the melody sank in! The next morning he said he had a  dream in which he fled,  screaming, "I can't do it!
It's too  difficult!" While I   supposedly chased him with  a stick, saying, "Oh  yes you will!" And  so he did. That song was "Guzar jaye din din" from "Annadata".

On Raj Kapoor: Raj was a very dear friend of mine. I  came to know him well when we met in Moscow  for a film festival. He then signed me up for "Jaagte Raho", and the music was well received.  We had decided to
do another film  together, but ultimately he had   to bow to strong protests from the pro-Shankar-Jaikishan lobby.

Dilip Kumar: Dilip's only song for a Hindi film was my composition. It was a thumri, "Lagi  nahin choote", to be recorded with Lata Mangeshkar.  He was in such dread  of recording a duet with the formidable   Lata, that he  wanted to back  out. Lata's repeated assurances  that he was  singing well did  nothing to boost his confidence. The  final take came about only  after he had downed three brandies in quick succession. Actually I think he has a pleasant light voice well suited  for a thumri. But Dilip swore never  to repeat the

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