Among the stalwarts of the Golden Era (1950s, 60s), Salil Chowdhary has a special place in the hearts of music lovers and connoisseurs. And there is a strong reason for this special place. A number of his songs were light, elegant, easy on the ears and leave you enchanted with a pleasant feeling. He had a distinct style of composition that seemed to make the songs flow quickly with brisk and graceful movements among notes. His passion for Western classical music and flair for instrumentation also made his songs cheerful to lift your mood as if you were waltzing on the clouds!
He was a passionate man with strong views on a wide range of interests, I am restricting myself to his film songs here. I am not familiar with his songs in Bengali and Malayalam, so this post is only about his Hindi films.
Jaagte raho, Madhumati, Maya, Do bigha zameen, Anand, Rajnigandha were some of his major films with Madhumati recognized by many as his best with all the songs topping the charts.
Enjoy 18 of my favourite songs from Salil Chowdhary by clicking the link below. These songs are from the 1950s to early 70s and many of them feature brisk movements among notes and wonderful arrangements to create an enchanting experience.
(This link will take you to Gaana.com where you have standard features of Play all, Shuffle and Skip song available. Sometimes, you may have to skip Ads to enjoy the music! Unlike my earlier posts, this player opens in a new window/tab. Since the music player opens in a new window/tab, you can browse through this site or others and enjoy the music playing in the background while you browse!)
How did Salilda create songs that made you feel as if you were waltzing among the clouds? Many contemporary songs are percussion heavy and feature too many instruments (most of them electronic). The effect of such songs is to make you feel as if you have fallen to the earth with a thud. In contrast, Salilda used brisk movements among notes to create light, breezy melodies. In addition to these light, breezy melodies, his skill in arranging and creating effects like western symphonies transported you to the clouds.
Consider the song Itna na mujhse tu pyaar badhaa (Chaaya) where the prelude is like a piece from a western symphony. The mukhda itself is inspired by a Mozart symphony. And enjoy the brisk and graceful movements in Rim jhim ke yeh pyaare pyaare (Usne kahaa tha) that make the song a delight. The interludes contain a blend of western symphony type arrangements and Indian arrangements. And as a grand final flourish, Lata sings effortlessly in western classical style at the end of the song. Baagh mein kali (Chanda aur Suraj) is one more song where you can experience a delightful combination of Indian melody and western arrangements.
Two extremely popular songs from Madhumati, Dil tadap tadap ke and Ghadi ghadi mora dil dhadke also feature brisk movements among notes. At the same time, these songs are easy and light on the ears with attractive rhythm devoid of heavy percussion.
While Salilda’s songs may sound light and easy, they are not easy to sing! Some of the movements among the notes require mastery of pitch and ability to jump notes across the octave. The title song in Rajnigandha and Na jiya laage na (Anand) are two such examples. They are very pleasant and light songs, but try singing them and you will realize the difficulty in moving among notes quickly.
Apart from the light and brisk melodies, Salilda also created memorable masterpieces that come to mind as top songs in certain situations. Ae mere pyaare watan (Kabuliwaala) is one such masterpiece. Though this song is about Afghanistan, it will rate among the top songs that come to mind when you think of “motherland”. Mannadey’s emotion filled singing and the simple orchestration (mostly rabab – a stringed instrument) create a patriotic feeling and a longing to go back to your roots. Dharti kahe pukar ke (Do bigha zameen) is one more masterpiece that takes you back to your roots.
Apart from the above two earthy masterpieces, he created light songs that were a great fit for idyllic and picturesque settings. Two songs from Madhumati, Suhana safar aur yeh mausam (Madhumati) and Aaja re pardesi are examples of such masterpieces that also have strong appeal to a romantic heart. And when you think of rain and raindrops, perhaps the top song in your mind will be O sajna barkha bahaar (Parakh).
Salilda was passionate about Western classical music. He could also play many instruments and knew how to make the best use of instruments. Earlier, I highlighted a few of his songs that feature preludes and interludes that sound like elements from western symphonies. In addition to creating sounds like western symphonies, he also used instruments imaginatively.
Jaa re Jaa re ud jaa re panchi (Maya) starts with a beautiful piccolo flute. And in the antras he uses Saxophone imaginatively to accompany Lata’s voice. In totality, this song is outstanding for the melody and arrangements. O Sajna barkha bahaar also uses the same imaginative technique of using saxophone to back up Lata’s voice in the antras.
His knowledge of western music and flair for instruments stood him in good stead in transitioning into the 1970s. While he used saxophone in the 60s imaginatively, in the seventies he shifted to trumpets! Observe the beautiful use of trumpets in Zindagi kaisi hai paheli (Anand).
Jaaneman Jaaneman (Choti si baat) also uses brisk movements in the vocals as well as instrumentation to create a light and breezy effect. If you listen to Guzar jaye din (Annadata), the instruments and arrangements sound fresh, modern and relevant even today and can be easily used in any contemporary movie! The deep sonorous voice of Kishore was used to great effect in this brisk song. Try singing the song and you will realize the difficulty of moving from bass notes to higher notes.
Another song from Annadata, Nisdin nisdin has interludes with rich sounds of a full western orchestra. Salilda’s mastery of instruments and arrangements also gave him the reputation as an expert in background music. Sometimes, he was asked to compose background music even when the songs in a film were composed by someone else. Kanoon and Kaala Pathar are two examples of movies where Salilda’s background music was an attraction.
Salil Chowdhary was truly a man with many passions, flair and creativity. His unique talents created a special place for him in the history of film music and in the hearts of music lovers. Hats off to this creative genius who gave us many enchanting and evergreen songs.