Pankaj Mullick: A Creator For Every Era

Pankaj Mullick: A Creator For Every EraPankaj Mullick
Snapshot
    • Today marks the 111th birth anniversary of Pankaj Mullick, a musical maestro who made indelible contributions to Kolkata radio and Indian cinema.
    • Mullick was known as the ‘First Man of Rabindrasangeet’ and was the first to introduce the tabla in Rabindrasangeet.
    • Mullick also made many major contributions to film music, like playing a key role in introducing playback singing in Indian cinema.

Pankaj Mullick, born in Kolkata on 10 May 1905, was a multi-faceted performer. He was an excellent singer-composer and an occasional actor who also played the lead in some films. He received his training under Durgadas Bandopadhyay for classical and light classical music and from Rabindranath Tagore’s grandnephew Dinendranath Tagore he trained in Rabindrasangeet.

He introduced the use of the tabla in Rabindrasangeet – a significant contribution. Mullick, an acknowledged master of Rabindrasangeet, would have been an iconic musician had he confined himself to the performance of these songs alone. In fact, Rabindranath Tagore himself permitted Mullick to set the tunes for some of his songs, the most memorable being ‘Diner Sheshe Ghumer Deshe’ (The Land Of Slumber, At Day’s End).

Hugely impressed with his work, Tagore had said, “All those lyrics that I will not get the opportunity to set to tune during my lifetime, I leave to you to embellish them with your music.”

The year 1927 saw the birth of the Indian Broadcasting Corporation, which would eventually be known as the All India Radio. Mullick was one of the earliest employees of the newly born organisation, along with composer Rai Chand Boral with whom his musical association would become legendary. Mullick served the institution until 1975, and made two indelible contributions for which Kolkata radio will remain indebted to him for eternity.

The first was the introduction of Sangeet Shikshar Ashor, a programme in which he taught music and which was aired live for 47 long years. Sangeet Shikshar Ashar played a great role in emancipating Rabindrasangeet from its limited reach among the elite and made it immensely popular among the masses.

The second was the creation of Mahishashurmardini along with Bani Kumar and Birendra Krishna Bhadra. This programme evoked Goddess Durga and was first aired in 1931 during Mahalaya (the first day of Devipaksha, the holy fortnight for Bengalis, when Durga Puja and Lakshmi Puja are celebrated), Mahishashurmardini became so popular that its recorded version has been aired every year for 85 years.

Being an adventurous creator, Mullick did not remain confined to the world of Rabindrasangeet, and instead venture beyond the space in 1931 when he composed and conducted the orchestra of live music in two silent films—Chorkanta and Chashar Meye, produced by the enterprising B.N. Sircar. After these films, Sircar would go on to form New Theatres, a pioneering studio that introduced many major talents in Indian cinema, including K.L. Saigal, Prithviraj Kapoor and P.C. Barua.

Mullick made many major contributions to film music, one of the biggest being the key role he played in introducing playback singing in Indian cinema. Indian cinema without playback would have been infinitely poorer. Can we even think of films without playback today?

For those Hindi film music lovers who continue to enjoy these melodies from the distant past, many of Pankaj Mullick’s songs will remain immortal. One of them is ‘Sharaabi Soch Na Kar Matwale’, a duet with Kalyani from Mukti in which Mullick played the three roles of composer, actor and singer. ‘Sundar Naari Preetam Pyari’ from Manzil was composed by Boral, which Mullick sang in his inimitable style.

Matbhari Rut Jawani Hai’ from Nartaki is another classic in which Mullick’s voice and composition stand out; and ‘Piya Milan Ko Jaana’ (Kapal Kundala) is by far his best-known song that reaches out to listeners of Hindi film music even today.

Musician, voice culturist and ethnomusicologist Ashok Ranade makes several significant observations in his book Hindi Film Song: Music Beyond Boundaries. He highlights the use of the ‘four tuk’ format of dhrupad for Hindi film songs: “an overall quick tempo and opening passages with instrumental preludes as introduction to songs or for creating ‘atmosphere’ for them.” In ‘Ayi Bahaar Aaj’ (Doctor), notes the author, “he [Mullick] joins interjections to the opening line and skilfully spreads the opening line over many cycles of shorter and quicker rhythm.”

Pankaj Mullick’s body of work consisting of more than 5,000 songs was honoured with a Dadasaheb Phalke award in 1973.

A legend, an icon, an inspiration, Mullick will always be remembered for the songs that K.L. Saigal, S.D. Burman, Kanan Devi, Geeta Dutt, Asha Bhosle and Hemanta Mukherjee sang under his music direction. A part of New Theatres for around a quarter of a decade and Indian cinema for close to 40 years, he worked in Bengali, Hindi, Urdu and Tamil films.

Mullick also played a key role in establishing the Adhunik gaan, a genre of Bengali modern songs. He introduced Rabindrasangeet in films with the Bengali version of P.C. Barua’s Mukti, which seemed highly improbable if not impossible during those days.

He also recorded the version of Jana Gana Mana that set the benchmark for others. He chose to work out of Kolkata even after New Theatres faded away post-World War II and delivered quality musical work from this city.

Today,on his birth anniversary, let us return to the legacy he left for us. The journey will be a fascinating one, a reminder, that music of such quality can never fade away.

Having started out as a journalist at 18, Biswadeep Ghosh let go of a promising future as a singer not much later. He hardly steps out of his rented Pune flat where he alternates between writing or pursuing his other interests and and looks after his pet sons Burp and Jack.
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