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Kanu Roy, composer of some haunting minimalist melodies – Death anniversary special

As music director, Kanu Roy worked mostly with Basu Bhattacharya, a filmmaker who was known for working on very tight budgets.

Picture: Courtesy Vividh Bharati

Roushni Sarkar

Music director Kanu Roy is known for his work with filmmaker Basu Bhattacharya but is hardly remembered for his brief yet significant contribution to Hindi film music.

Apart from the fact that he assisted the maestro Salil Chowdhury and composed some of the finest songs sung by the great Geeta Dutt, his life remains mostly in the dark.

An interview by poet, lyricist and director Gulzar to Filmfare magazine in 2012 is considered the singular testimonial to Roy’s journey as a devoted musician and introverted soul, who was not highly ambitious or desiring popularity or fame.

Going by Gulzar’s account, Roy was a welder by profession and had worked on the extensive repairs on Howrah Bridge when he was young. His association with music began by assisting Salil Chowdhury.

Recalling the tall, lean, dark-complexioned man, Gulzar told the magazine, “I remember him as a very quiet person, thoda daboo, thoda humble. He had a bechara look about him.”

Roy received his first break with Bhattacharya as a music director with Uski Kahani in 1966. Bhattacharya was known to make films within a limited budget. “Kanu would never get more than six or eight musicians to record with," recalled Gulzar. "And poor Kanu couldn’t do anything about it. Though his melodies were awesome, he did not have the bargaining power. He did not get much work outside Basu’s banner. He wasn’t even in a position to go out and ask for work. He wasn’t that kind of a person. He couldn’t hard-sell himself.”

Roy’s composition 'Aaj Ki Kaali Ghata', rendered by Geeta Dutt, became quite popular. The song, written by Kaifi Azmi, was set to a unique semi-classical composition inspired by the ghazal genre.

Despite being a close friend of Bhattacharya, Roy would struggle to include an extra musician for recordings. Bhattacharya would tell him to hire instruments or musicians with his own money and, of course, Roy could not afford to do so.

Within those limitations, Roy composed songs such as 'Mujhe Jaan Na Kaho', 'Koi Chupke Se Aake' and 'Mera Dil Jo Mera Hota' for the last time for Geeta Dutt for Bhattacharya's Anubhav (1971). His composition 'Phir Kahin Koi Phool Khila', sung by Manna Dey, from the same film also became quite popular.

In 1979, Roy composed some of the finest songs of Bhupinder Singh and Yesudas for Bhattacharya’s Griha Pravesh. According to Gulzar, Bhattacharya would insist on putting heavy thoughts into the lyrics of songs such as 'Logon Ke Ghar Mein Rehta Hoon', 'Zindagi Phoolon Ki Nahi' and 'Aap Agar Aap Na Hote'.

“When Kanu composed the tune [for 'Zindagi Phoolon Ki Nahin'], it sounded good. Music lovers appreciate the song even today,” the writer-filmmaker remarked.

According to Gulzar, musicians in those days often used dummy verse to explain the metre of a song. While others used words like 'meri jaan', 'jaaneman', or something of that sort, Roy had his own way of doing it.

“Kanu Roy was the only music director I knew who used sounds like ti ta ti ti, ti ta ti ti. It sounded quite funny to hear. I don’t know why, but he would always be stuck on his ti ta ti ti. In that sense, he was very different from the other music directors of his time,” reminisced the award-winning artiste.

In 1980, Roy composed the music for Sai Paranjpye’s critically acclaimed film Sparsh, which was produced by Bhattacharya. The songs 'Geeton Ki Duniya Mein Sargam' and 'Khali Pyala Dhundla Darpan' by Sulakshana Pandit remain ingrained in our memories.

‘Kanu, of course, sincerely composed everything that came his way," Gulzar told the magazine. "His career ended with his life. Though we knew him well, he always remained aloof from everyone. No one knows much about his personal life. I don’t think he was married too. Sadly, he lived in poverty and died in poverty."

Kanu Roy passed away on 20 December 1980.

“Come to think of it, he played a very significant role in the world of music," the poet reflected. "Somehow he still lingers in our memories. And that’s the beauty of his work. His melodies also linger on like him.”