Article Hindi

Book excerpt — Bimal Roy’s Madhumati: Untold Stories from Behind the Scenes


Starring Dilip Kumar, Vyjayanthimala and Pran, the reincarnation-themed drama won nine Filmfare Awards as ,well as the National Award for best feature film in Hindi.

Our Correspondent

The renowned filmmaker, Bimal Roy's eldest daughter Rinki Roy Bhattacharya went down memory lane to write the unknown story behind one of Bimal Roy’s most beloved works, Madhumati (1958). Here, in an excerpt, she details how music composer Salil Chowdhury was finally finalised to score the now timeless music of the film.

The extract from Bimal Roy's Madhumati: Untold Stories from Behind the Scenes by Rinki Roy Bhattacharya has been published with permission from Rupa Publications.

Madhumati’s songs continue to enchant generations of listeners. It was strongly hinted that Salil Chowdhury was not amongst the original contenders considered to compose the music of Madhumati despite the fact that the composer’s brilliance was established beyond doubt with Do Bigha Zamin (his debut film). It is pertinent to mention here that he had also authored the story of Do Bigha Zamin. However, the vagaries of the film industry caused Salil Chowdhury to be declared a flop music director by Bombay’s populist standards.

Bimal Roy worked alternately with two composers and the two were Sachin Dev Burman and Salil Chowdhury. When Madhumati was still in the pipeline, SD Burman had already been assigned to compose music for Sujata which followed Madhumati. It was Salil Chowdhury’s turn therefore, to compose for Madhumati; he had been closely involved with the project, attending script sessions and going on locations. But in the final stage of the project, film distributors who advance funds, fiercely opposed Salil Chowdhury. Distributors had a big stake in films and their word was invariably law. They argued that in a project ostensibly designed for the box office there was no room for a flop music director. It was rumoured that Dilip Kumar, Madhumati’s hero, was vehemently opposed to Salil Chowdhury as a composer.

Gossip spreads like wildfire within the industry and when Dilip Kumar’s opposition became known, Salil Chowdhury and Shailendra were taken aback. Dilip Kumar’s resistance raised serious doubts about their talent, but the two refused to buckle and braced themselves to create magical music. Their determination was boosted by Baba’s infinite faith in them. And Baba confirmed his faith in Salil Chowdhury in his quiet manner, by signing Salil Chowdhury! The rest, as they say, is history. After the release of Madhumati, the composer Salil Chowdhury signed no less than nineteen films.

Another anecdote, replete with the grace of that bygone era comes to mind. Salil Chowdhury enjoyed a warm relationship with veteran SD Burman. After Madhumati was released, he carried its 33 rpm long playing record as a gift to the senior composer. The record played on the three in one system as SD closed his eyes in rapt attention. When the music came to an end, SD came back to earth and shifted the paan in his mouth from one cheek to the other before turning to Sholil, as he called Salil Chowdhury to deliver his verdict: ‘Sholil, if they still call you a flop, just pack up and go back to Kolkata!’

Not only were the two composers cordial to one another, they were often present during each other’s music recordings. Composer Pyarelal, a music hand those days, remembers their discussion about including the chirping of birds in the opening bar of ‘Suhana Safar’. It was a SD’s suggestion, says Pyarelal, that the chirping of birds preceded the music of the song.