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.
BOMBAY, BIMAL ROY AND "DO BIGHA ZAMEEN"
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
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.
TUNES AND LYRICS
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
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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