Salilda, We Remember

Now that we get to watch Asianet on the net, I see the Idea Star singer competition on some nights and these days the Salil Chaudhary round is on. That reminded me of this draft on Salilda with Trivia collected some years ago, but had failed to post.

Some years ago (Asianet star singer 2007) there was a girl with a very unique name Mufeeda, who sang Salida’s ‘O Sajna’, a song from ‘Parakh’…not very well I am afraid, but when one of the judges gave a long and heartfelt speech on Salilda the person, my ears perked, eyes focused and I was all attention. When he made a remark that there is only one composition that Salilda truly made for Malayalam, which is ‘Manasa maine varu’ (for interesting details on that number, and the singer Mannadey, checkout my earlier blog). Sarath the eminent judge and music director also went on to say that Salilda’s other songs were recycled from various languages. Now I am a diehard fan of Salilda and well, my eyes said it all (I believed that Sarath was wrong) and my wife remarked….ah! ah! I see a blog under construction. Right she was… Actually I had been planning a tribute blog on Salilda for some days now, and this was good reason.

What follows is not a bio on Salilda, but a collection of difficult to find trivia for the avid Salilophile

Salilda (1925 - 1995) did music for about 150 films in many languages and also background music for numerous others, TV documentaries, jingles, advertisements and what not. He wrote at times, and like his music, you can easily figure out that his writing was also complex. He was a poet too, he wrote the lyrics for many of his songs, but most of the ones that we know and like were by his friends Shailendra, Gulzar, ONV & Yogesh. His singing was not bad either and I got to listen to his voice from a link on fellow blogger Ghosh’s site (look towards the end of the blog). Influenced in early life by Mozart and Chopin, he went on to create melodies that we remember even today and hum as and when they trail down the neurons of our memories. Salilda once said: 'I want to create a style which shall transcend borders - a genre which is emphatic and polished, but never predictable'.

Salilda commented aptly about pop music (he redid some of the Beatles numbers in Bengali – sung mainly by Sabita & Anthra – but did not release the tape) Why is today’s young society so enamored of 'pop' music ? How can one blame them? What does youth desire ? 'Something thrilling, something full of life'. They find that vital excitement in western music. Besides, look around the country and our society – we are surrounded by uncertainty and instability. In that environment they can hardly be expected to devote themselves to a steadfast cause (classical music?)…… So we must not be too hasty in judging what may be good or bad.

His secret in his own words - I have tried to apply the technique of harmony, a typical western musical technique, in my modern compositions. He was always famous for his need for a 40 piece orchestra to create the scores!! To quote an oft-used analogy, if composers of his time created tunes, Salilda crafted symphonies of four and a half minutes. A Salilda number was one-third prelude, one-third interlude, and the rest the basic tune. A detailed exposition on his composing techniques has been put together here by Manab Mitra and provided at

Snippets from Antara, his daughter (I don’t know where this interview was originally published, but many sites carry it)

He was a naughty man – my father! My brothers are married, so it was mum, my sister and me with dad - three women against one man, he would say and we never let him be. He loved Pan Parag and we would get after him to leave it so he would eat it on the sly.

He loved to cook and quite impulsive as well. Suddenly he'd say one day, ‘Today I'm going to cook!’ and we'd say ‘Oh God! Now the kitchen will be a mess!’ He drooled over non-vegetarian and generally loved to eat. He made deadly biryani and mutton curry. That's what I remember the most about him. Food… that was his single most important obsession! Fried stuff was banned for him. But he wouldn’t listen and dug into his favorite fried potatoes with absolute abandon. We have this thing in Calcutta called muri which is dipped in chane ka aata (gram flour) and eaten. He loved it and he'd have this flour and mirchi all over his face – just like a child but he didn't care. He would gorge into till as long as he wanted to.

Dad loved Rabindra Sangeet too and he was so upset when the poet passed away that he didn't eat for a whole month and walked without chappals. He enjoyed the music of Vanraj Bhatia, Iliyaraja and Madan Mohan. I believe a huge portrait of my father hangs in Iliyaraja's house. Such was his openness that he enjoyed listening to all kinds of music – some years ago the number ‘Ek do teen’ from Tezaab, became very popular and we kids were criticizing it when he said ‘Listen to it… Why has it become so popular? There's a fabulous rhythm and scanning there… hear it and see how attractive it is!’

Anthara continues - For him Lata Mangeshkar was like Ma Saraswati – he didn’t have to worry about scales and pitches when he was composing for her because he knew she could sing anything. I personally think the song she sang for dad in Annadaata is just fabulous - Raaton ke saaye has beautiful arrangement – and has been rendered equally well. I think the way dad has used Lataji’s voice was simply wonderful. Like in the Half Ticket, he used her to do the interlude which just has her crooning ha ha haha.... He adapted this bit from a Russian dance and she sang it to perfection. According to Salil Chaudhuri "Lata’s integrity as a singer lay in the fact that she never suggested a single change of note when he composed for her.

Shaji from Hindu explains in his article thus - The flawless harmony with which Salilda used an array of musical instruments suggests a unique understanding of instruments. Raj Kapoor once described him as a genius who could play everything from tabla to sarod and piano to piccolo. Salilda showed Indian popular music the way to use quaint western instruments. He has used instruments as varied as the oboe, French horn, mandolin and saxophone in his arrangements

Lataji says - Over the course of my life I have worked with over a hundred music directors. Of these, perhaps only ten understood both music and the cinema. And of these ten, Salil was the foremost. Salil Chowdhury's melodies were different from those of the others. Sometimes he would spend days on end without food or sleep in critical examination of one of his compositions, before deciding for himself how the tune should be developed. His songs were always the most difficult to sing (this quote from the Shradhanjali CD). Bimal Roy once persuaded Salilda to sing a complex Bengali song. Salil Chowdhary obliged and was alarmed to find that young Lata had fainted. She confesses, 'While listening to the song, I was overcome. I couldn't control myself'.

Chemeen was remade in Hindi as Chemeen Lahrein – The great ‘maanasa maine varoo’ was resung in Hindi - by guess whom, Hariharan! I have head it & it is pretty good actually ‘Pyaasa he man kya karoon’. Incidentally, ‘maanasa maine’s tune was also used for a Bengali movie and Yesudas sung it.

Salil Chowdhury composed jingles for Lipton Tea, Hamam Soap and Dulaaler Taal Mishri (palm sugar)? And did you know that the Hindi, Gujarati and Marathi versions of the Hammam Soap ad were sung by Geeta Dutt? Even the late O.P. Nayyar, a composer who rarely claims to be an admirer of any peer, has said that he is a fan of Salil Choudhury.

Lata & Mannadey duet ‘Ja tose nahin bhou kanhaiya’ (much like Vaathapi ganapathim), set in Raaga Hamsadhwani (probably the first time Carnatic found its way to Hindi movies) was introduced into Hindi by Salil in 1956 via Parivaar.

Raju Bharatan recalls – With becoming Bengali modesty, Salil identified himself as the Pele of Music. “Take the game of football,” said Salil, “all the rules are there – free-kick, throw-in, offside, penalty, yet there is a player like Pele who produces something outside the rules, even while being within them. I am that Pele in music!”

Mannadey recalls - Raj Kapoor, after listening to "Laaga chunari mein daag." had said the music score and its rendering was too complex for an actor to live up to on screen and director Salil Choudhary put his foot down saying: "I spent two months on this tune." And he adds - Salil had his unique style. He was totally unpredictable. From where he conceived his tunes-God only knows! I could never guess the base of his compositions. Mannadey continues - Once I recorded a song for Salilda. It was going to be picturised on a person smoking gaanja. 'Phir wohi hai raat, phir wohi jigar Phir wohi dard hai’...'Salilda asked me to give some expression to create the effect that a gaanja addict was singing the song. I obeyed him & coughed in a typical manner of a gaanja-smoker at the beginning of the song!

Aye mere pyare watan - During the recording of this particular song, Salil Chowdhury was surprised when Manna Dey started rendering it in a low & soft voice, and insisted that Manna resort to his normal voice which millions loved. Manna Dey simply asked him to wait and see the end result that we know & enjoy today!!!

Satya Saran recalls - The song "Guzar jaaye din " in Annadata... used a scale progression as a method... here was a marked departure from the accepted norms in film music. It was a difficult number which the composer wanted Kishore Kumar to sing because "Only he could give it 90 percent of its credibility." It's said that even Kishore Kumar was stymied; the song was recorded after 18 takes. Kishore apparently remarked to Salilda - 'I am passing through a nightmare where your tune is running after me'. When Kishore Kumar came to know that hero Anil Dhawan was singing the song on a cycle, he sat on the bench and enacted as if he were riding a cycle. Just to get into the mood to sing 'Guzar Jaaye Din’.

The picture shows Kishore singing one of those Salilda compositions, with Salilda looking on and exhorting for more…The early founding relationship with Kishore is best explained in the linked article by Raju Bharatan.

In Half ticket - While composing ‘Aake Seedhi Lagi Dil Pe’, the script demanded that Kishore be dressed as a woman and Pran who’s chasing him is dressed as a village bumpkin when they both sing this duet. During the recording of the song, Kishore Kumar convinced music director Salil Chowdhury that he would sing both the male and the female voices in the song. Salilda was a bit apprehensive initially but they went ahead with it.

Salil hardly used Kishore Kumar and later commented that never really understood the real depth of Kishore's voice till he gave him ‘Koi Hota’ in “Mere Apne”, a good seventeen years after Kishore first sang for him

Malayali’s remember Sabita for her song ‘Vrischika Penne’ from Thomasleeha- . Well did you all know that Sabita was sometimes unhappy (so she said jokingly) when Salilda, her husband gave his best compositions to Lata to sing?

"I met Salilda way back in 1965, during the recording of Chemmeen, a landmark film in Malayalam," says Yesudas. "I still remember accompanying him to the Mumbai residence of Lata Mangeshkar once. Salilda wanted Lataji to sing one of the film’s songs. To our dismay, she was down with a fever, and eventually the song Kadalinakkare Ponore was recorded in my voice."

Listen to Salilda sing ‘Amay proshno kore’ the Bengali version of ‘kahi door jab din aye’ original sung by Hemant Kumar. Salil Choudhury would say of Hemant Kumar, "If God ever decided to sing, he would do so in the voice of Hemant Kumar." And here is some trivia about this song. When Salilda made its Hindi version for Anand, Hemantda wanted to sing it. But Salil Chaudhury declined and had Mukesh do it. That created much bitterness between Hemant and Salil Chaudhury.

However there is another reason – Apparently Salil liked to work & work on his compositions, and do the score only using his big orchestra. Hemant wanted things done faster and sometimes even completed Salilda’s tunes without his presence. His stand was that if he had informed Chowdhury he would have taken months to arrange the music, balance the orchestra and finally record it to his satisfaction. Salilda provides some clarification in his linked obituary on Hemant Kumar.

All said and done, I felt that Salilda’s favourite was Mukesh. He created such wonderful songs with him. Dilip Kumar wanted Rafi to do Suhana Safar, we are thankful that Mukesh did it (Salil had originally planned Hemant). Raju Bharatan wrote thus in Times of India - "Each word from his lips was a pearl," reminisced Salil Chowdhury in August 1976. "No one could sing the way Mukesh did, with the right diction, inflexion and intonation. His vocal timbre was out of this world. "Almost each song I composed to capitalize on this timbre was an instant draw," noted the creator of "Nain hamare saanjh sakare" for 'Annadata'. "Initially, I thought of Hemant Kumar as Dilip Kumar's playback for "Suhana safar" in ‘Madhumati'. But Shailendra persuaded me that Mukesh suited Dilip Kumar no less than he did Raj Kapoor." "The moment I recorded "Suhana safar," concluded Salil, "I knew Mukesh's vocals had captured the spirit of that verdant setting in 'Madhumati'. Yet not far behind "Suhana safar", I would rate "Zindagi khwab hai" from 'Jagte Raho" and "Kaise manaoon" from 'Char Diwari'. In later years, Mukesh brought rare depth of expression to my "Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye" and "Suhana safar", I still feel, ranks as my best for Mukesh."

Salilda also did a couple of Bengali numbers (Eee Haashi & O Majhi) with another of my favorite singers - Usha Uthup in 1995, which are probably some of his last recorded songs.

Kunnankudi Vaidyanathan used to do ‘Maanasa maine’ and ‘Ajaare pardesi’ on his violin to end his concerts!! And, did you know that Salilda’s ‘Koi hota jisko apne’ is the background played with the sax during the last shots of the movie Anand?

And that Ilayaraja used to play for Salil and that ARR was influenced a lot during his visits to watch the maestro conduct music? Ilayaraja was introduced to the film industry as guitarist and combo organ player in Salilda's recordings and his influence on Ilayaraja is evident. R.K. Sekhar, Rahman's father, worked with Salilda as an assistant. Rahman himself testifies that attending Salilda's recording sessions at a young age left an indelible impression on him.

This brilliant eulogy from Anirudha Chatterjee completes the tribute- In an era when dancing means acrobatics and grace has come down to catwalks; when melody is sulking in the dark and music weighed in decibels, it needs more than a passing effort to feel the pulse of an artiste like Salil Choudhury. Fed on a sumptuous diet of the remix and item numbers, barring a few die-hard devotees, the Salilophile is a dying breed.

Salilda left us 12 years ago, on Sept 5th. Friends, I can proudly say that I remain one of the dying breed of Salilophiles…

An acknowledgement - If one is looking for a site dedicated to Salilda, visit ‘The world of Salil Chowdhury’ managed & set up by Gautam Chowdhry. It is an authoritative collection of everything about Salilda. Thank you Gautam, for your dedication, your site has always been my starting point for details on Salilda’s music, whenever I was in doubt, for the so many years that have passed by.

Let us now investigate what Sarath the Idea SS judge said. Did Salilda give Malayalam just one composition? Sarath was possibly wrong. Here are examples. In the 25 odd movies that Salilda did for Malayalam and the 100 odd well known and popular Salilda numbers that we Malayali’s hum now & then, he did roughly 25% unrepeated compositions for those movies (a total of about 23/99 which was calculated based on Gautam’s total research). Here is where you can find those ‘only Malayalam’ songs. My all time favorite is Nee mayum nilavo….. in madanolsavam.

Ezhurathrikal (1968) has about 4
Swapnam (1973) has 2
Nellu (1974) had one
Neelaponman (1975) had one
Raagam (1975) has two
Rasaleela (1978) has one
Aparadhi (1976) has 4
Tulavarsham (1976) has 2
Vishkani (1977) has one
Devadasi (1978) has 2
Puthiya velicham (1979) has 2
Thumboli kadappuram (1994) has one

Just some of my Salilda favorites
Ormakale kayvala charthi (Prateeksha)
Manasa maine varu (Chemmeen)
O Nodire (Sidhartha)
Yeh din kya aye (Choti si baat)
Zindagi Khwab he (Jagte raho)
Zindagi kaisi he paheli (Aanad)
Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye (Anand)
Kayi baar yoonhi dekha hai (Rajni gandha)
Jaare jaare udja re panchi (Maaya)
Aaj koi nahi apna (Agnipareeksha)
Nee mayum nilavo (Madanolsavam)
Raton ke saye (Annadata)
Sagarame santhamake nee (Madanolsavam)

Don’t forget to visit, read & listen at The World of Salil Chowdhury, managed by Gautam
Debajyoti Mishra – a Salilda assiatant will now take up work in reviving Salilda for Malayalam films.
Salilda’s violinists reminiscences

"Music will always be dismantling and recreating itself, and assuming new forms in reaction to the times. To fail to do so would be to become fossilized. But in my push to go forward I must never forget that my heritage is also my inspiration." – Salil Chowdhury


P.N. Subramanian said...

An in depth study of Salida's music. No doubt he was a great composer.

Sunil Deepak said...

It was good to be reminded of Raton ke saye ghane and guzar jayen din din from Annadata and so many other songs. I also love "Mere man ke diye" from Parakh - it was gem of a song, though it never got the kind of fame it deserved, like that of O sajana barakha bahar aayi.

Maddy said...

That Sunil - is a gem of a song, not many people know about. The restrained fashion in which Lata has sung it reminds you of Geeta dutt, actually!! Thanks a lot for reminding us all about it... Listen to waqt ne kiya and you will see the similarity..


Wow Maddy. What a comprehensive article. Thanks for bringing back memories of the old melodies. I could go on and on a about his beautiful melodies and orchestration.
'Chemmeen's popularity was no doubt heightened because of Salil Chowdahry's songs.

One doubt, though. Wasn't the music director of the song 'Laaga chunari mein daag' from 'Dil Hi To hai'? I always thought the music director was Roshan.

Maddy said...

Thanks PNS - he sure was a great composer - making everlasting melodies.

Maddy said...


That was an interesting one. Hindu reported it in an interview with Mannadey - which I should have cross checked. It is indeed Roshan who did that song - Laaga chunari..

regret the error...

harimohan said...

Salil chowdry has always been my favourite composer ,his songs have an etheral quality in them and fit to the mood needed ,Chemeen would not have been what it became if not for Salidas music .
knowing my penchant for his music one of my friends used to make fun of them telling that most of his songs the lyrics get broken like eg
true but still enjoyable

Indrani said...

I went back to my childhood days when I used to listen to Chemmeen songs and enjoy them. Haven't heard them for a long time. What a great post Maddy, enjoyed reading the details.

Kamini said...

I am not an "avid Salilophile", but I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Great piece, as usual.

Maddy said...

Thanks Hari..It is an interesting point. If you recall AR Rahman once mentioned that it is difficult to set tunes for Malayalam lyrics. Salilda did what he thought was sensible, he chopped the words to fit the tune..So he found a somewhat acceptable solution though some purists pooh poohed it at that time..

Maddy said...

thanks Indrani - now that was a surprise from you - i did not know chemeen songs were so popular...but glad you enjoyed them..

Maddy said...

thanks Kamini - Salilda did only a few numbers in Tamil - but the Azhiyatha kolangal songs were great..

Anonymous said...

Thank you sir

My twisted logic said...

Thanks for your post maddy .After reading your post i changed my caller tone now its "kathil Then mazhayayi" from the movie Thumpoli kadappuram.

Maddy said...

thanks thulasi - i enjoyed writing it as well

Maddy said...

December chills - that was an interesting song to choose!!

SSW said...

I don't think Salilda composed tunes with big orchestras in mind. He has a lot of songs with a limited number of instruments. He was just very particular about the arrangement. A lot of his music was based on chordal harmonies and variations around chords. Most other music directors composed the basic melodies and left the arrangements to their assistants.
In a lot of Salilda's compositions the orchestral accompaniment is very interesting to listen to, especially his use of counterpoint.
By the way I prefer Yesudas's "Aathira poovaniyam" to Lata's "Aaj koi nahin apna" though the Hindi version has more lush orchestration.

Maddy said...

Thanks Sadanad.
Salilda had written a very interesting article about this, take a look here
It is true that he used fewer instruments in regional music like Malayalam, but in bengali and Hindi, he was in full flow and the budgets he had were bigger.
another good article is by manab, also at the Salilda site
Yes, you are right, vocally Athira is better, but the orchestration of aaj koi nahin is fabulous.
The sax in Salildas music was always a great attraction for me, the songs of ranji gandha, choti si baat....

SK said...

thanx maddy for this attempt...Nicely captured many impressive moments with salilda..i dont agree with sarat..there is no is all his original creations...sometimes variants from other languages ..but he was simply fantastic..none can match someone said...he was the most underrated music director of Indian film music..he was with the leftist movement of bengal the peasants and the poor..and was never bothered about publicity,cliques and factions...his music will live ever in the hearts of indians...

s c kurup

Maddy said...

thanks Mr Kurup
appreciate your comments

Unknown said...

Scrolling down your site gives me the impression that Salilda was keen on harmonizing his tunes embellished by a 40 piece orchestra, I can particularly cite the instance of the song 'Rathri Rathri...' the only one perhaps to be rendered by the legendary P.B.Sreenivas for the movie Ezhurathrikal that has no percussion support. Just the chords of the piano to enhance the mood of 'night' which is 'rathri'. I simply love the song.

SK said...


someswar said...

well researched. but o nodirey is composed by Hemant Kumar originally for Mrinal Sen's Neel Akasher Neechey.
Mila hai kisi ka Jhumkaa
yeh din kya ayen
dil tarap tarap key
are few of my favourites.
Salilda has always been an inspiration to me.

SmilingBudha said...

Truly worthwhile, Maddy... Learnt so much about Salilda... Been a great fan of him for a long time now. I remember watching a TV serial in the late 80s in Calicut and remarking to another fan of Salilda that this music has to be Salilda. Since he didn't believe that I could make out, we sat there till the end of the serial and lo behold it was my favourite Salilda. My friend had to say "Maan gaye". The orchestration in all his songs is breath taking... Thanks for this treasure of information one of the greatest musicians of our times.

Maddy said...

thanks Moha, SK, Someswar & Smilingbudha...
What a great MD he was!!

AniBan said...

"Laaga chunari mein daag ..." was not composed by Salil Choudhury. It is a Roshan composition, from the movie 'Dil Hi To Hai'

Maddy said...

Thanks Aniban...
You are right....
Strange that Mannadey made a specific mention as quoted - see this Hindu interview. the link I had earlier was for the wwrong article
I guess the reporter got it wrong and I got it wrong too!! Sorry about that

Unknown said...

who knows more deatails about the russian song(dachhin dachhin) of salil da?from where is its origin? who sang it? who wrote it? it is from the movie neelaponman (malayalam).

Archie said...

An enjoyable article. Thank you for sharing.
A quick remark... 'laaga chunri mein daag', picturised on Raj Kapoor, was composed by Roshan, for the movie, 'Dil Hi To Hai'.

Stanley David said...

I really enjoyed your narrative of Salil-da.He was truly a gifted composer, and the stringed instruments allowed themselves to distill haunting melodies. Nain hamare, Manasa Maine Varu, the list is endless.Grateful to you for keeping the memories alive, residing in our ear worms...