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Pioneer Singer – Composer Pankaj Mullick

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Pioneer Singer – Composer Pankaj Mullick

His music reflected a purposeful attempt to achieve a synthesis of tradition and experiment, of past achievement and future possibilities.

A feature to mark the maestro’s death anniversary (February 18).

The Illustrated Weekly of India February 22, 1981


A postage stamp issued in memory of the great composer.

KUNDAN LAL SAIGAL, Krishna Chandra Dey and Pankaj Kumar Mullick constituted the great trinity of New Theatres that lived and flourished in a period marked by genuine artistic endeavour, high aesthetic purpose and, above all, by a supreme dedication to music. That was truly the golden era of Indian cinema.

Indeed, for maestros may have toiled harder to enrich the quality of cinematic music as this triumvirate and, appropriately enough, in an atmosphere as yet unspoilt by petty professional jealousies and cut-throat rivalries. On the contrary, a spirit of mutual understanding and admiration imbued their creative activity – like when Pankajbabu would lend his voice to Saigal’s lips, or when both would cut discs of identical hits, such as Guzar gaya who zamana or Mahak rahi phulwari and watch with fun the amazement they created among their fans!

Viewed against a wider perspective, however, Pankajbabu’s achievements in the allied fields would seem to set him apart from the other two maestros. His talent and genius did not remain restricted to singing (he also featured as a singer-actor in the title roles in Mukti and Doctor) and composing the music for films; he was a vocalist well-groomed in the shastriya tradition by the eminent veteran, Durgadas Banerjee, and he had an abiding faith in our traditional values. But he was not so traditional as to be an uncompromising purist.

Purposeful Synthesis

His music reflected a purposeful attempt to achieve a synthesis of tradition and experiment, of past achievements and future possibilities. Music to him was no different from the story. He had an uncanny insight into the real import of the chosen song and he conjured for it a tune that was warmly expressive of its subtle nuances. The vast and varied repertory of tunes he created – and – sang for well over 100 films unfolds a whole gamut of mood and feeling – from the gayest abandon to the most poignant evocation of sorrow and despair.

How many of our present day cinegoers know that Pankaj Mullick was the first to pioneer playback music with his immortal Piya Milan ko jana? Or that Saigal was his discovery and precious gift to New Theatres? And how many, outside Bengal, know that he was also unrivalled as an exponent of Rabindra Sangeet – and as one who introduced it to the film audiences through Mukti?

Old music is like old memories. Both come welling up the heart’s core. And there is a plenitude of melodies which Pankajbabu came to create with the passion, the expressiveness and the intense absorption we associate with his genius.

Take, for instance, his Aayi bahaar in the very opening scene in Doctor or Chale pawan ki chal, heard later in the same film. Few could portray, so effectively, the gossamer eroticism sought to be conveyed by the singing hero. Now contrast with this joyous mood the feeling of utter desolation in Guzar gaya who zamana, heard in the finale of the story.

Or recall the songs Madbhari ritu jawani hai and Yeh kaun aaj aya savere savere from Nartaki. Their erotic content notwithstanding, how touchingly they reveal the detached intensity so typical of the ascetic who sings them!

What Sophistication!

Equally pioneering was Pankajbabu’s contribution in the field of orchestration and choral music. The degree of sophistication he achieved in blending the Indian and Western vogues, as in Pran chahe nainan chahen, or in his chorus, Duniya rang rangili, was a venture unattempted before.

Rabindra Sangeet, which made Gurudev Tagore the greatest pioneer of creative music in modern times, outside the rigid traditional fold, was a marvelous synthesis of music and song and a judicious adaptation of classical and folk tunes and rhythms. The musical form that emerged was marked by exuberance and freedom from formalism, in which lyric and melody shed their respective identities to give eloquent expression to a felt emotion with verve and grace.

It was only natural that Pankajbabu, who, in his formative years, benefited immensely from fruitful studentship with Gurudev Tagore and Dhirendranath Tagore, was destined to be the peerless interpreter of Rabindra Sangeet. So complete, indeed, was his involvement in this self-imposed task that, in the Bengali countryside, many of the Poet’s compositions were taken to be those of Pankajbabu himself.

Author Of Four Books

Pankajbabu also wrote four authoritative books on music: Geet Valmiki, Swara Lipika, Raga Lakshana Geet Manjari and Mahishasura Mardini. His writings reveal his profound scholarship and his equally consuming passion to impart music education to all those who sought it. He was also intimately associated with Indian Broadcasting since its inception in 1927 – not only as a radio artiste, but also as a music teacher. To him goes the credit for conducting the weekly music lessons on AIR Calcutta for an unbroken period of 38 years.

Curiously enough, the radio authorities reportedly dispensed with the popular feature in the wake of the emergency in 1975. In the process, the ageing maestro was coldly denied access to the AIR studios!


1 Comment

  1. Pankajbabu could not have been denied access to AIR studios in 1975 because he died in 1973

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