Salil Chowdhury’s timeless music defies definition and description. It is elevating, soothing, refreshing and very Indian. What set him apart from the musicians of his era was his experimentation with various symphonies.
Born on November 19, 1922, and affectionately called Salil-da by his admirers, he was one of India’s greatest composers. Not only did he triumph in the field of music but was equally profound in his poetry and playwriting. He was also a scriptwriter for several films. Much before fusion was introduced by the new-age composers, Salil Chowdhury fluxed the strains of folk music and classical music as also blues and jazz beautifully.
His formative years in Assam are reflected in the songs of Madhumati where he used natural sounds - the chirping of birds or the woosh of the wind. Mozart and Chopin were his big inspirations. Music experts say one can see Chopin’s influence in the haunting ‘Raton Ke Saye’ in Annadata. The score of ‘Itna Na Mujh Se Tu’ from Chhaya was inspired by Mozart’s Fortieth Symphony but Salil-da Indianised it by tinting it with Bhairavi. Manna Dey once recalled how Salil-da and Bimal Roy conceptualised the soul-stirring ‘Aiye Mere Pyare Watan’ from Kabuliwala. “Bimal-da described how the kabuliwala returns home late in the night. He is living in a one-room tenement with 15 others.
Salil Chowdhury was perhaps the first music director to have done the background score without composing songs for the same film. It began with Bimal Roy’s Devdas where, though SD Burman had composed the music, Roy asked Salil-da to compose the background music.
Salil-da once mentioned, "I want to create a style which shall transcend borders – a genre which is emphatic and polished, but never predictable."
Salil Chowfhury was adept in composing for songs in many languages. In fact, some of his biggest hits were in Kannada and Malayalam music. One of his most spectacular works outside Bengali and Hindi was composing for the Malayali-language film Chemmeen, scoring several hits in the evergreen Ramu Kariat-directed flick.
Legendary singer Manna Dey said in an interview: “Salil was brilliant. He made effortless fusion of folk tunes and western pop. He was a poet, scored music, arranged orchestra — he was an all-rounder.”
When he passed away on September 5, 1995, the music composer Naushad said, “One of the seven notes of music is lost forever.”
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