Remembering Anil Biswas, The Singer

July 7, 2014

A tribute on Anil Biswas’s Birth Centenary (b. 7 July 1914; d. 31 May 2003)

Anil Biswas 2Songs of Yore heralded 2014 as the Year of Anil Biswas with Inaugural post by his daughter, Shikha Biswas Vohra – Anil Biswas: The Maestro and My Father. We have since had three more posts dedicated to him with his songs for Suraiya, Talat Mahmood, and his sister, Parul Ghosh The year is only half gone, and many more on Anil Biswas are yet to come to do full justice to him. So what is the best way to remember him today which is his Birth Centenary?

In my post on Talat Mahmood’s songs by Anil Biswas, there was an interesting discussion as to which male singer sang the most songs for him. Mahesh suggested that it could be Mukesh with his 24 songs. My response, based on my general impression, was that we should check up about Surendra, and Anil Biswas’s own songs. Venkataramanji suggested Manna Dey from the Golden Era must have sung the maximum number of songs, and added that Surendra would have done a few more than him, and Anil Biswas should also be close to 50. His filmography and detailed song list at Surjit Singh’s site makes it possible to compile a list singer-wise; and subject to marginal errors, it turns out Anil Biswas himself (with about 47 songs, including solos and with other singers) sang the maximum number of songs under his baton, Surendra coming almost in photo-finish. Therefore, in our tribute to the Bhishm Pitamah in his Centenary Year, it is important to remember him as a singer too.

I must, at this stage, mention that all the data or filmography we find at any source are derived from the same mother source, Hindi Film Geet Kosh, compiled by Harmandir Singh ‘Hamraz’.  With five volumes, brought out decade-wise (for the period 1931-80), running into about 4000 pages, and containing details of about 5700 films and 44000 songs, this is a monumental work of dedication and love for old Hindi film music by an individual. Knowledge about film songs can be clearly divided into before and after Harmandirji. Whenever I mention HFGK, in my heart I remember the awesome work of the man, even though I may not be expressly acknowledging him.

Coming back to Anil Biswas’s filmography, though derived from the same mother source, the one I have linked here mentions 86 films; Venkataramanji had mentioned 87; and Anil Biswas’s ‘official’ website, I had mentioned in my earlier post, listed 93. The difference arises due to interpretation of some films, which are officially credited to other music directors, but, anecdotally, one or a few songs in these films are said to be composed by Anil Biswas. One inconsistency in the purist approach is with regard to a very famous film with outstanding songs, Basant (1942). This film is available in full on YT. Its music is credited to Pannalal Ghosh, and in the credits you would not find the name of Anil Biswas. Yet, anecdotally, it is said that Anil Biswas was its music director, who could not be credited because of contractual problems, and Pannalal Ghosh did the orchestration and background music. This is now widely accepted, and even the ‘pure’ shorter lists include Basant in Anil Biswas filmography. Therefore, it would be prudent to take the same approach in the case of Bharat Ki Beti (Ustad Jhande Khan) and Manmohan (Ashok Ghosh), in which some songs (which happen to be the most well-known in these films) are recognized as composed by Anil Biswas.

It is interesting that the music directors, who earned great fame as singers as well, all happen to be Bengalis – Pankaj Mullick, SD Burman and Hemant Kumar. You expand it and you get Kishore Kumar. Manna Dey also gave music in some films. Outside, C Ramchandra (Chitalkar) comes to mind. Ravi’s ambition was to become a singer, but he is now known only as a music director. If you go further, probably you would hit Himesh Reshamiya, but I should not shock my readers.

Anil Biswas may not have earned the same fame as a singer as his fellow Bengalis I have mentioned. But born in a music loving family, music was in his genes. He was a trained and competent singer. At a very young age while he was in school, he got into revolutionary movement, and pursued by the police, he left studies and fled to Calcutta at the age of 15. There he joined the theatre, and soon earned fame as a musician and singer of bhajans, keertans and Shyama Sangeet.

Anil Biswas surely loved his voice. Some of his songs are truly outstanding and deserve to be known better. Since he is the most prolific singer under his music direction, I present some of his songs, as a tribute on his Birth Centenary.

1. Bhai hum pardesi log humein kaun jaane from Ek Hi Rasta (1939), lyrics Pandit Indra

The earliest song of Anil Biswas I could locate is a wonderful mystical song, This seems to be the precursor of Pradeep style.


2.  Jamuna tat Shyam khele Holi Jamuma tat from Aurat (1940), lyrics Safdar ‘Aah’

His most well known song Kaahe karta der baraati from Aurat has been included in the Inaugural post. Fortunately, most of the songs of the film are now available on the YT, some with good quality video too. It is clear Mehboob Khan’s original ‘Mother India’ was equally solid in music, and I can quite agree with those who say this was a notch better than his more celebrated later magnum opus. Both the films had a Holi song. Aurat had a two-part song. I am including here the second part which is more lively and follows the traditional folk/light classical tune.


3.  More angana mein laga abmua ka ped from Aurat (1940), lyrics Sfadar ‘Aah’

As per his filmography, Anil Biswas sang More ghar ke dwar laaga jamuniya ka ped re in Kokila (1937). I was very disappointed when I could not find it on the YT. But, lo and behold, he sings a similar sounding song in Aurat. His mastery over folk is unparalleled.


4.  Kiye ja sabka bhala from Bahen (1941), lyrics Safdar Aah

This extremely melodious song has an uncanny resemblance to Mukesh. Since Mukesh was not a known quantity then, it is clear he modelled his singing on his Mentor’s style.


5.  Gori kaahe khadi angana atariya mein aao (with Maya Banerjee) from Apana Paraya (1942), lyrics Pandit Indra

This song was mentioned by Canasya in my post on Songs of Atariya. You see his mastery of folk again, with right amount of naughtiness as demanded by the lyrics and the situation.

6.  Tara ra ra gaao Kabir from Jwaar Bhata (1944), lyrics Pt Narendra Sharma

‘Kabir’ songs refer to a class of Holi songs sung by unruly group of male revelers. The style and the words often border on ribald. Anil Biswas perfectly captures the folk style of North Indian villages in this debut film of Dilip Kumar.


7.  Badal dal sa nikal chala ye dal matwala re from Hamari Baat (1943), lyrics Narendra Sharma

Anil Biswas joined the freedom movement at a very young age, went to jail several times and remained underground. This marching song must be coming from that background.


8.  Saare jag mein pet ka dhandha from Bhookh (1947), lyrics Dr Safdar ‘Aah’

Anil Biswas now sings in the style of a wandering minstrel in a somewhat humorous style. Obviously it is coming from his theatre/keertan singing days.


9.  Humein maar chala ye khayal ye gham na idhar ke rahe na udhar ke rahe from Aarzoo (1950), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri

This is the film that catapulted Talat Mahmood’s career with Ae dil mujhe aisi jagah le chal jahan koi na ho. Himself a no mean singer, Anil Biswas sings this beautiful ghazal.


10.  Paas balam chori chori aa (duet with Lata Mangeshkar) from Laajwab (1950), lyrics Shekhar

This is a wonderful folk based duet with his most favourite singer, Lata Mangeshkar. While she sings the basic melody, Anil Biswas provides contrast with his chorus-backed rhythmic prelude and interludes.


11.  Paisa nahin hota jo ye paisa nahi hota (duet Manna Dey) from Sautela Bhai (1962), lyrics Shailendra

Anil Biswas joins his most favourite male singer in the 50s and 60s to sing this comedy song. He has composed different antaraas in different styles. He shows his prowess in folk, qawwali and bhajan in one song.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1 arvindersharma July 7, 2014 at 9:41 am

A K Ji,
I am thrilled to find a full fledged article by you on the Hundredth Birth Anniversary of Anil Biswas, my favorite, and the ‘Chacha’ of Hindi Film Music.
Let us all remember the legendary composer and singer on this day by paying him a tribute.

2 Mahesh July 7, 2014 at 11:42 am

AK ji,
Thanks once again for the unique and befitting post.
Anilda’s contribution to films is of immense proportions.
Regarding the “shock” mentioned in the post, it was powerful enough for me to jump from my seat. (easily avoidable).

3 N Venkataraman July 7, 2014 at 1:33 pm

AK Ji,
I was expecting a post on Anil Biswas on his 100th Birth anniversary. But the joy is doubled to find a post on Anil Biswas as a singer singing for himself. That was indeed a surprise. Thank you Ak ji.

I have not yet gone through the article in detail and listened to songs.
For now let me pay my tributes to Anil Biswas.

4 AK July 7, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Thanks a lot. I find Vividh Bharati remembered him today 7.30 in the morning. But no one is doing an exclusive programme on his singing. Probably many may not be aware that he sang the most songs of male playback singers under his baton.

Which ‘shock’ – the discovery that Anil Biswas himself, and Surendra Biswas each sang twice of what Mukesh did?

You and Mahesh triggered the discovery of which male singer sang the most songs for Anil Biswas. Once it was apparent that it was he himself, a post on him as a singer was warranted, and his Centenary was a very appropriate occasion. Thanks for your appreciation. I would look forward to your detailed comments.

5 mumbaikar8 July 7, 2014 at 6:53 pm

My tribute to the maestro on his 100 anniversary.
Ignorant me, I did not know he sang so extensively, thanks for enlightening.
I find kiya ja sabka bhala the best as singer.
Early 90’s we had a very dear neighbor Gosh uncle he was a close friend of Anil Biswas whenever Mr Biswas was in Bombay the lunch was provided by our Gosh Uncle I had a good opportunity to visit him but when you are busy with your life you always postpone it for tomorrow and the tomorrow never comes.
Initially Sardar Mallick wanted to be a singer too.
Are you kidding, you do not understand what shock Mahesh is talking about?

6 Arunkumar Deshmukh July 7, 2014 at 9:37 pm

AK ji,

Thanks for a post on Anil Biswas as a singer.
He was so successful and so highly respected as ‘the Bhishm Pitamah’ of HFM,that people forgot he was also a good singer.
While composing music for Lajawab-51,the story goes, Mukesh found that AB had 3 songs in the film and he had only one. He jokularly said to AB that if he is going to do their job,where will the singers go.
Anil Biswas realised this in his heart and from then onwards decided to reduce singing to only 1 song per year. Thus in Do Raha-52 he had 1 song,in Mehmaan-53 he had 1 song and in Mahatma Kabir-54 he had 1 song. It was only in Sautela Bhai-62 he sang 2 songs and then his music also stopped after one more film. It was revealed by the mestro himself in a chat once.

7 Sonal July 7, 2014 at 9:47 pm

I knew today being special a new post on Anil Biswas would surely be uploaded. And what a post!!!. Thanks a lot!!!!!! 🙂

8 N Venkataraman July 7, 2014 at 10:44 pm

Anil Biswas once said his mother was instinctively musical and he had learnt to sing from her the natural way. No wonder he could sing at age of five, he could play the table at the age of six. By the time he reached his teen he was ready and was an instinctive singer himself. At the age of 17, he was composing music and singing for plays, at Rangmahal. At the Megaphone Recording Co. he came in contact with Kazi Nazrul Islam. Later in the year 1938 Anil Biswas rendered a song in Mehboob Khan’s film Watan based on a tune composed by Nazrul Islam. I could not locate the song anywhere.

In the earlier part of his career he used to sing more often. He had a deep understanding of pure classical music, Thumri, Ghazal and folk music. It is surprising that although he was a Bengali by birth, as far as I know, he did not sing in any Bengali Film nor recorded any Bengali song. But he did pen a Bengali song which Manna Dey composed and sang! He had a thorough knowledge of Urdu. He wrote books on Bengali Ghazals, if I am not mistaken he wrote a book on the subject in English too. His understanding of Thumri was so through that he could demonstrate four different interpretations of the Mukhda through his composition. But we can discuss that in detail at an appropriate time.

Even though Anil Biswas had sung almost 50 songs, I believe roughly 20 songs may be available for listening. Considering this it must have taken some effort to locate the songs.

The first song, to my ears, sounded like an adoption of Bengali folk, to be more precise Baul.

The next two songs and song 5, amply demonstrates that he was not only adept in Bengali folk, but equally at ease with Punjabi folk and the folk varieties of the Hindi heartland.

Kiye ja sabka bhala from Bahen is a pleasing song.

The next song Tara ra ra gaao Kabir was wonderful. Some may not share my liking for such composition. During younger days I have seen and heard migrant settlers singing such songs during Holi, which they must have carried with them from their native villages. Anil Biswas, a astute listener must have absorbed their mood and rendition on one such occasion. Thank you AK ji for including this song.

Badal dal sa nikal chala ye dal matwala re. Anil Biswas gives expression to his revolutionary zeal through this song. He must have left behind those active days behind, but through this composition he stimulates the passion to overcome all obstacles and to break the shackles of oppression. A nice inspirational song.

Saare jag mein pet ka dhandha, as you have pointed, reminds us that he was also a theatre actor in the beginning. This song seems to be direct consequence of his theatre days.

Now a beautiful ghazal, Humein maar chala ye khayal ye gham na idhar ke rahe na udhar ke rahe. With this song it seems you have captured his entire repertoire of AB.

AK ji’s post without Lata Mangeshkar. Unthinkable. A beautiful song, the honey soaked voice of Lata Mangeshkar is captivating. The chorus seems to be based on North-east folk.

The last song, a medley of different styles, is interesting.

Before I part let me share this lilting duet,

Sambhalo Palla Gori with Asha Bhosle, film Abhiman (1957), lyrics Indeevar

Enjoyed the songs and thank you for the wonderful tribute.

9 AK July 8, 2014 at 9:47 am

Thanks for your appreciation and all the details about Anil Biswas you have given.

Thanks a lot for your appreciation.

Thanks a lot for your detailed comments, and a very interesting song you have added.

10 gaddeswarup July 8, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Tha main singer in the film was Hemantha Kumar but none of the male singers sound like him. I wonder whether one of them was Anil Biswas himself.

11 AK July 8, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Only the lead singer Ira Majumdar has been identified in this song. Anil Biswas has been part of such choruses earlier but his name was credited. I don’t think Hemant Kumar was there either in this song.

12 Ashok M Vaishnav July 9, 2014 at 8:54 am

I have really hit the blind spot. I never new Anil Biswas was such a prolific singer.

I have listened these songs once, and have now the benefit of a very lucid note from Shri N Venkataraman which makes it even more easier to appreciate these songs.

But, it will take a while for me to come on to board this journey.

AKji, this should rank as the best possible tribute to the Great Maestro.

13 AK July 9, 2014 at 9:54 am

Thanks a lot. In all the tributes to the Maestro, they generally miss him as a singer. Once it turned out he is his most favourite male singer, I had to do a post on this.

14 SHikha Vohra July 9, 2014 at 10:45 am

AKji, not getting any of these notifications.

Please put a note for anyone wanting to attend the centenary tribute being held on 13 July at Kamani auditorium Mandi House. Passes will be kept at Kamani gate in their names.

15 AK July 9, 2014 at 12:55 pm

I am out of town and miss the evening. But SoY regulars have noted and would co-ordinare.

I would take care of notification on return.

Thanks a lot.

16 Soumya Banerji July 10, 2014 at 5:59 am

What a wonderful article. A fitting tribute to Anil Biswas. I had heard some of the songs before but a lot were new. Especially enjoyed the Lata song – nice lilting melody and foot-tapping beat.

Touching on a topic that you have mentioned in the introduction, it’s because of the research done by folks like Harminder ji that the internet has become a treasure trove. What would have taken ages in the days of yore now takes seconds. No wonder you and your erudite readers come up with such interesting stats about Hindi film music.

17 AK July 10, 2014 at 6:26 am

Thanks a lot for your appreciation.

18 Shrirang July 11, 2014 at 4:27 pm

Bappi Lahiri deserves to be included in the list of music composers who sang for their own songs, and he is a Bengali too. Though the quality of his songs does not match that of the others mentioned above, for his age and time, Bappi Lahiri has produced good music.

19 AK July 11, 2014 at 10:04 pm

Yes, of course. But won’t people get a shock if we mention him along with SDB, Hemant Kumar, Kishore Kumar ana Anil Biswas?

20 Shrirang July 12, 2014 at 12:06 am

Bappi Lahiri is DC as compared to AC of Himmesh Reshammiya so the shock won’t register
Anyway, sir, “Yaar bina chain kahan re” is as good a duet as any on the 80s. So comparisons, though odious must give due weightage to the era in which misicians composed. No taking away from the premise that SDB,Hemamtkumar & other Bongs were great.

21 Arunkumar Deshmukh July 12, 2014 at 9:58 am

Shrirang ji,

I think, Songs of Yore is a place for ” A tribute to old Hindi film music .Songs of the 30s through the 60 “.
Bappi Lahiri and many others of the later period may be/ are good,but mentioning them here with old time maestros may not be appropriate.


22 Shrirang July 12, 2014 at 10:08 am

The original post contained a reference to Himesh Reshammiya in context of music directors themselves as playback singers. Obviously, there is no comparison attempted. The musicians of yore are in a different league.

23 arvindersharma July 15, 2014 at 7:37 pm

AK Ji, Shikha Vohra Ji,
attended the Centenary function of Anil Biswas held in Delhi and thoroughly enjoyed.
Sh Amit Biswas, alongwith Shikha Ji held all the listeners spellbound with their anecdotes.
A beautiful and rare recording of Anil Biswas singing ‘Dil jalta hai to jalne de’ was played by Sh Amit Biswas, which was just out of the world.
I am a real fan of Mukesh, but Anil Biswas’s rendering of the song was another experience, which cannot be described in words.
My salutations again to the maestro.

24 AK July 16, 2014 at 2:50 pm

It sounds so charming. Is Anil Biswas’s Dil jalata hai to jalane de on YT?

25 arvindersharma July 16, 2014 at 2:58 pm

AK Ji,
according to Amit Biswas ji, it was a private recording. So I don’t think that it could be on YouTube.

26 mumbaikar8 July 29, 2014 at 5:06 pm

Singer Anil Biswas singing for MD Vasant Kumar Naidu. Both the singer and the MD have done remarkable job.

27 AK July 29, 2014 at 6:15 pm

This is a fabulous song. Lalaji is probably the only film in which Anil Biswas sang for another composer.

28 SHikha Vohra November 14, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Now I guess it is understood why Anil Biswas sang his own songs initially. Playback singing was in its infancy and singers were also exploring their way through technical bylanes. SO a composer who could sing was able to express his compositions more adequately than a via media, and his songs were not a cakewalk anyway. Besides, his vocals are more in the genre of folk, which was his forte anyway.

29 SHikha Vohra November 14, 2014 at 12:11 pm

And yes, definitely Mukesh’s comment that if composers sang their own songs then what future was there for singers, did have an effect on the prolific number of songs he sang as he realised that “ladke ki baat mein koi dum hai.”

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